At Sea, But All Ashore
Photos and story by Joe Ditler
ENCINITAS, CA -- The decks leak and are slanted, and none of the doors are plumb. They have a drift-wood decor, a galley, and forepeak sleeping. They are cramped at best, and in a storm they shift on their stilted pedestals in the most uncomfortable of motions. These are the iconic Boat Houses of Encinitas, and have been treasured by generations for their uniqueness.
(click to enlarge)
Like a scene from Robin Williams' movie "Popeye," the 1929 Boat Houses of Encinitas leap out from their seaside neighborhood of quietly modest homes in stark contrast to their lubberly surroundings.
It's impossible to walk by without smiling, or drive by without stopping. And when a current occupant rings the large ship's bell, everyone takes pictures.
They may not be the most beautiful or seaworthy ships along this stretch of coastline, but they are certainly the most unique.
The SS Encinitas and SS Moonlight are homes built in the shape of boats as mirror images of one another. In ship-talk, the slab sided, plumb bowed "vessels" are 84 feet (LOA) and constructed of stucco-over redwood frames.
Their landscapes are created from colored stone and garden growth designed to simulate bow wakes off a boat. When the porthole glass breaks you can usually find an old 33 RPM in its place And when the wind blows they create their own unique renditions of being piped aboard a ship.
Yet the Boat Houses have been home to thousands of renters since their construction in 1929, and are considered cultural icons to San Diegans who live along the remnants of Coast Hwy 101.
The sleepy coastal hamlet of Encinitas is located half an hour north of San Diego-proper. The two homes sit perched on land just a few blocks from the beach. They were constructed with timbers salvaged from the old Moonlight Beach Dance Hall and Bathhouse on the eve of the Great Depression.
The designer and builder, Miles Kellogg, constructed them by sight and feel (no plans, no models). He wanted to create a tribute to his seafaring ancestors, and build something to reflect a community with strong ties to the ocean.
They were built at a time when hamburger restaurants were shaped like burgers, churches like temples, and music stores like large discs. The entire community has embraced the eclectic construction which defines something few can explain, but all enjoy being a part of.
Today the Encinitas Boat Houses are geographical icons along the coast, and serve as rental units for the odd college student or surfer in the area looking for affordable rent and a chance to romantically live aboard an old boat, well, sort of ...
"Their popularity has drifted from actual history into legend and lore," said owner Mark Whitley. "If everyone lived in them who claimed to, the Boat Houses would have to be another century older than they are."
Before Whitley came along the City of Encinitas had nearly given up on them. Various tenants had added a collection of unsightly additions to the craft, and the solution of consensus by some at City Hall was to bulldoze them. Whitley purchased the Boat Houses in 2001 and has been actively restoring them to their original simplicity.
Whitley bought the property as a tribute to his own father, who had long carried on a love affair with the unique structures. Although they have become a bit hogged over the years, he says they are literally and figuratively "ship shape."
Future plans include replacing their masts, although no sails are expected to be set. Other discussions have included adding anchors and chain, and figureheads to the bows of the "ships."