GARIBALDI - To get to home each day, Ian Chun walks more than an eighth of a mile out over Tillamook Bay, past the seagulls and crabbers who crowd the narrow, slippery pier. Chun has cormorants and oystercatchers for neighbors, and a bald eagle who perches on an old piling and stares in his bathroom window.
Directly beneath the floor of the Pier's End boathouse, a 76-year-old decommissioned Coast Guard building, is sea water. It's a perfect living situation for Chun, who has leased the building from the Port of Garibaldi for just over two months.
Chun works as a commercial underwater harvester, collecting butter clams for the Oregon Coast Aquarium. He also works as a scientific diver, doing live specimen collections and dredging for clam samples at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility through the Port of Newport. It's part of a study through the Oregon Department of Forestry to determine habitat impact of invasive species.
As a hobby, Chun is also interested in underwater photography and video.
"There are not many places where I can do what I do," Chun said. "I have such a passion for the water. This is my ideal."
Originally built in 1935, the Pier's End boathouse is the only remaining building of its kind in Oregon. The 2,000 square-foot building has three wide doors that once opened in the back to a marine railway, which would roll boats up out of the water, using the equivalent of a trailer and winch, to store the Coast Guard's 36-foot motor lifeboat.
The Coast Guard decommissioned the boathouse in the 1960s, building a new boathouse in the Garibaldi Marina with a motorized lift.
"When the 44-foot motor lifeboats arrived in the early 1960s, they were too big for the marine railway on the back of the boathouse, so a new boathouse was built," said David Pinyerd of Historic Preservation Northwest. Pinyerd is known for his research on Coast Guard buildings, lifesaving stations and light houses on the Oregon Coast.
The Port of Garibaldi took over the Pier's End boathouse around that time, and the building has gone through various stages of use and disrepair in the years since. According to Pinyerd, little else is known about the building's history.
"The history is a bit sketchy on the boathouse," he said. "It's still being written." What is known about the boat house's history in the years since the Port took it over is a vague recollection.
"I think we traded the space where the current Coast Guard station is in exchange for the Tillamook Bay Boathouse where Darus Peake's store is, and the Pier's End boathouse," said Port of Garibaldi Manager Kevin Greenwood. "I think that was in the late 1970s."
A 1,200-square-foot apartment was added in above the boathouse in the early 1990s, and Chun is not its first tenant. In the late 1980s, the building served as a bait shop, open to the public.
Both Chun and Greenwood recall hearing a rather gruesome story about the state of the boathouse when the Port first took it over.
"They were knee deep in dead starlings," Greenwood said. "A man named Virgil, who was a port employee, he claims that when the Port took possession of the building in the 1970s there were starlings two feet deep and they opened that little hatch and just started shoveling birds out of it."
A previous tenant in the apartment, Steve McGraph, lived there for about 10 years, and it stood vacant for three or four years before Chun moved in with his dog, Jack. His father, Steve, is also staying with him for a while and he is visited often by his girlfriend, Josephine Ward of Newport.
Chun leases the space from the Port, but he and his father are also busily working on upkeep and maintenance of the building, which is no small task.
While the boathouse is fenced off with no public access, the pier itself is open to the public and is a popular spot to access the tidal flats below or toss crab pots from above. The wooden boards that make up the narrow pier are often slick from layers of sea water, sea weed and crab bait remnants such as fish heads and chicken parts.
"I spent a straight week just power-washing the outside just to bring it up to safety standards," he said. "There's a culture unlike anywhere else on the coast where people will come out here and crab all day long. Anywhere else, if it's storming out they won't be out, but here they'll have their garbage bags on and be crabbing."
Chun and his father are also busy cleaning out and remodeling the wide open area of the boat house to suit his needs as a diver. It has original hardwood floor boards, men's and women's restrooms and an area that was once the bait shop. He plans to build a holding area for his saltwater specimens.
"I am going to be collecting hundreds of specimens for the (Salt Lake City, Utah) Hogle Zoo's new Pier Piling and Crash Pool exhibits soon and will be setting up a temporary holding facility to complete the job before I renovate downstairs," he said. "Their entire representation of our waters will be coming from Tillamook Bay and offshore near Twin Rocks and Cape Meares."
A rare find, the Pier's End boathouse is ideal for Chun, who searched up and down the Oregon coast for a living situation to suit his uncommon needs.
"It's a very unique building - I think Ian is the perfect person for that," said Greenwood. "He has some personal interest the building. That's the kind of situation you have to have because it's so old, it takes a lot of TLC, most people aren't able to keep up with it."
Upstairs, the apartment, with one bedroom, kitchen, bath and a loft, feels almost like any other living space. It has wall-to-wall carpeting, and clean, bright countertops in the kitchen. One major difference, however, is that even on calm days, it sways a bit on its wooden pilings.
"It can vary from little boat waves to constant movement from storms," Chun said. "I'll be sitting here typing and the table will be moving. It's not like living on a boat, but I'll go to a place on level ground and have the reverse sea leg effect."