Famed Jewish writer Shel Silverstein is best known for iconic children’s books such as “The Giving Tree” and poetry collections like “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Less known about the famous children’s author? He lived on a houseboat dubbed “Evil Eye” in Sausalito from the late ’60s to mid-’70s.
And you can now buy that houseboat.
“We’re getting thousands of inquiries, from all over the world and across the U.S., both curiosity calls and serious ones,” a Sausalito real estate agent told J. “There’s an amazing fascination with Silverstein, and the lifestyle he had there.”
Silverstein died in 1999 of a heart attack at age 68, owning the 1,200-square-foot houseboat until his death. Photographer Larry Moyer, a friend of Silverstein’s, took over as owner until his own death in 2016.
The boat is a decommissioned World War II balloon barge — Navy vessels designed to snare low-flying kamikaze aircraft — that was repurposed into a houseboat after the war, Jeff Greenwald reported for Smithsonian magazine in 2012.
Silverstein bought and converted into a home in 1967.
According to the 2007 biography “A Boy Named Shel: The Life and times of Shel Silverstein,” the Chicago native wanted to leave the hustle of the San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the serenity of Sausalito, then a laid-back bohemian community of artists and others who enjoyed the low-cost living on the wharfs.
“In the beginning the houseboat community was essentially a community of squatters who had only salvage rights. … The whole place was a bit like living in Never Never Land. Since Shel was a modern day Peter Pan, the two fit together perfectly,” author Lisa Rogak wrote.
Indeed, the home Silverstein fashioned, with dark wood interiors and stained glass windows, looked much like the pirate ship that pursued Peter Pan. One of the bedrooms even had a bed that hung from ropes at each corner.
After Moyers’ death in 2016, the property went up for sale, and the new owner gave it an extensive remodel. “Evil Eye” remains whimsical and zany, but it now has new bathrooms, a refurbished kitchen and skylights to illuminate the darkness. The interior is surprisingly spacious and offers glorious views of the bay.
The upgraded houseboat went on the market about two months ago, according to Dianne Andrews of Engel & Völkers real estate agency in Sausalito. Because it is vacant, agents said they have been able to show it to interested buyers with social-distancing precautions in place.
The houseboat is listed for $783,000, nearly $400,000 more than it sold for in 2016 (before the remodel). Until it is sold, it is available as a long-term rental (30 days or more).
“There’s a huge number of people who are interested in staying there — creative people, musicians, photographers and a lot of single women, who say they feel safe there,” Andrews said.
Silverstein, born in 1930 to a Jewish family and raised in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago, was drafted into the Army. While serving in Japan and Korea, he drew cartoons (eventually published in his first book, “Take Ten,” in 1955). After leaving the army, he drew illustrations for Playboy magazine. “I never planned to write or draw for kids,” he said in one interview.
In his Sausalito years, the boat served as Silverstein’s workspace. According to Rogak’s biography, the boat “was a place that made Shel’s imagination run wild.” Yet, ironically, Rogak added, Silverstein became seasick “at the drop of a hat.”