Woman Warrior of the Waterfront

Catherine’s self-portrait | photo from Catherine Lyons-Labate | post by Claudia Kelly

Catherine Lyons-Labate’s beautiful, informative book beams out to the world the joy that is found within our waterfront community. If her photographs could actually make music, we would have the soundtrack to life on the water for her and the other lucky folks who blossomed here. Not sure the world was really any safer for a woman hitchhiking, but it felt that way in the 1960s. It was serendipity that a silly lost wallet stopped her worldwide travel adventure at Gate 5 road in Sausalito. Consider this article as a kind of book jacket to accompany Sausalito, Once Upon a Waterfront, a fabulous work of photographic art and stories.

Their waterside village was ahead of its time in recycling, composting and neighborhood watches. A special picture of her 3-yr old son meditating in a perfect yoga pose brings up “how did he know that?” The famed Sparrow Creek Montessori school taught these earth-savvy kids elementary basics along with yoga and composting. Children were involved in the early process as the gatherers of veggie scraps; later, the compost barrels were moved to the parking lot where they cooked in the sun for six months to become nutritious soil. Full circle of recycle and living off the grid for this family friendly community. Kids had their Funky Friends Club house and everyone–invited birthday parties as they grew up in this magical life adventure.

Midwives and home births were the usual then; except, in a difficult situation, a telephone land line could be needed. Problem was that the telephone company wouldn’t install a phone for her floating home. She was 8 months pregnant, young and agile getting on/off her boat, but Pacific Bell thought it was too dangerous for their crew to attempt. After a personal meeting with the Public Utilities Commission and an onsite inspection, her home got a phone.

Living so close to each other was part of the fun and any reason to celebrate was a given in the Gates Co-op and adjacent docks. Amongst the traditional celebrations, tango dancing, costume shows and every Sunday evening at the neighbors were perfect occasions to get together. After bath and jammies, her son, Angelo, took a bag of Oreos over to the neighbors to watch the Simpson’s ‘cause they had a TV. These same nice neighbors hosted pancake breakfasts on one of many big old ferryboats planted in mud nearby. In fact, these depleted boats, which were brought in to be scrapped, became a goldmine of marine goodies upcycled and appreciated by the entire community. And famous owners such a Jean Varda and Alan Watts attracted other party-loving players and vast empty cargo holds looked like dance floors for these people. Looking at her loving photographs sparked a “wish we had been there” feeling, but you will experience a bit of that joy in her photographs and personal stories. Sausalito, Once Upon a Waterfront may be the spark for your next adventure.

Catherine will be selling autographed copies of her book at the FHA Day in the Park, October 30.

(Ed. Note: the accompanying image, a detail from a full-page photo in her book, shows Catherine as a woman warrior/photographer with her first enlarger.)