Can blighted houseboat be salvaged?

We had a Kodak kind of moment this week,

motoring a sailboat out from the Head of the

Bay into greater Eagle Harbor.

Spring sunshine slipped nimbly through a cloud break to dust the rippling harbor with gemstones, and as we raised our eyes from the water, a brilliant tableau unfolded. The Seattle skyline filled up the distant horizon, while beyond, the still snow-covered Cascades glowed a fiery white. It would have made a spectacular postcard, the sort of tourist frenzy-inducing image that draws visitors eager to sample the fabled island lifestyle.

The image was pretty much perfect, but for one glaring detail – in the foreground, amidst a smattering of picturesque sailing vessels, the houseboat WICCA bobbed at a sullen and pathetic list, its deck awash and looking as though full submersion was just moments away. The floating home was a blight on the harbor, having languished in its abandoned state for months and months.

As reported Wednesday, the city has now seized the houseboat – said to be the oldest in Eagle Harbor – and plans to haul it out for destruction under nuisance abatement codes. Meanwhile, historic preservationist Jerry Elfendahl has championed the home and hopes to see the WICCA restored, enjoying as it does a certain informal heritage status amongst Bainbridge harbor dwellings. Built in the 1970s when sensibilities were more relaxed and competition for harbor space not so acute, it served as abode for a number of families over the years; as late as 1998, it was displayed in full pulchritude on the cover of Pacific Northwest Magazine, emblematic of some idealized, laconic lifestyle of anchor-outs.

Through a succession of owners, the houseboat has fallen into disrepair, but with the wrecking ball looming, Elfendahl hopes to see it granted historic status and restored. And it’s not like he hasn’t pulled bigger fish out of the fire; the long-delapidated Camp Yeomalt cabin is being patched up into a community hall. But that will serve a clear public need; what good is an old houseboat? What possible purpose would its preservation serve?

No effort should begin without a talk to local housing agencies to see if they have a place for it on their roster of subsidized units. The Housing Resources Board already manages apartment buildings, transitional units and standalone homes – would a subsidized houseboat further its mission? It’s a powerful question, given that Eagle Harbor is endlessly billed as the last bastion of island affordability. It’s worth asking the question, if for no other reason than we’ve already seen WICCA’s fate in private hands – a blight, an eyesore and a navigation hazard.

If a housing agency wants to take a chance on it, why not? But don’t preserve the WICCA for its own sake. Give it a purpose, something beyond mere emblem to a vanishing lifestyle.

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