HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING SURVEY
GIG HARBOR NET SHEDS
IVANOVICH NET SHED
HAER No. WA-186-D
3617 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington
Francis (Frank) Ivanovich and Vincent (Vince) Sareault
General fishing gear storage.
The seventeen extant net sheds in Gig Harbor, Washington, are significant as remnants of the community’s cultural heritage and economic development. Families, mostly of Croatian ancestry, have passed down the net sheds and fishing vessels for several generations. Many of the extant net sheds are an integral part of successful commercial fishing operations and are used for storing and mending fishing nets as well as repairing the equipment used for commercial vessels. Except for the remaining commercial fishing boats in the harbor, net sheds are the only surviving architectural connection between the community and what was once one of the most successful fishing fleets on the west coast.
Shelly Leavens, summer 2009
The City of Gig Harbor has taken steps to provide incentives for property owners who retain historic net sheds, and in 2006, conducted a general survey of the seventeen remaining structures lining the harbor’s waterfront. In 2008, Mildred Andrews of the Andrews Group completed an independent survey of Gig Harbor’s historic downtown. The city secured grant funds from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation to document the net sheds for the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER), a division of the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Todd Croteau, of the HAER Maritime Program, supervised the documentation team, which consisted of Brian Diveley and Shelly Leavens, both Sally Kress Tompkins Maritime Documentation Interns. A survey team of students from Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Washington, also lent support to the documentation effort. The documentation team’s liaison to the net shed owners is the City of Gig Harbor’s Special Projects Coordinator, Lita Dawn Stanton.
PART I -- HISTORICAL INFORMATION
PHYSICAL HISTORY OF BUILDINGS
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: 1937
ARCHITECT / ENGINEER:
BUILDER / CONTRACTOR / SUPPLIER: Mato Ivanovich and Anderson Shipyard
ORIGINAL PLANS: None known
ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS:
In 2002 – 2003, Frank Ivanovich hired local people to put new caps on the shed’s pilings, add new decking where needed, add floor joists to the outside decking to help shore up the structure, and add a fence to protect the property. In an interview Frank said that he wants to keep the shed in working order for the memory of his father, and that he spent approximately $20,000 on the maintenance.
Mato Ivanovich immigrated to Tacoma, Washington as a late teen from Janjina, Peljesac, Croatia in 1910. He had a distant relative and friends in Tacoma and worked at the Tacoma smelter. According to interviews with his son Frank, Mato worked ten-hour days for $2 a day, seven days a week. His cousin and some Dalmatian friends from Tacom and Gig Harbor were commercial fishermen. Mato joined Pasko Dorotich’s crew of Gig Harbor as a greenhorn fisherman. He loved the work and decided that he too could skipper a boat. Initially he ran a cannery-owned boat before having his own boat built. Mato’s son Peter relates that his father had borrowed money from friends so that he could build and operate his own fishing boat. Mato’s fishing venture was so successful he was able to repay his friends and began a career building, operating then selling boats. During is years as a fisherman he owned and operated more than a dozen commercial salmon and sardine boats. Among some of the boat names: Forward, Silver Wave, Mayflower, Arizona, Southland, Frances and Maria Rose. His success allowed him to provide financial support to his siblings and the children of his late uncle, Ante Ivanovic. This support allowed them to pursue professional careers in law, medicine, mathematics professorship, the priesthood and the maritime industry. In the 1920s Mato returned to Janjina, Croatia, where he married the village beauty, Maria Anticevic and brought her to the new world via a wedding trip and shopping spree in Paris. Their first son Francis (Frank) was born in December 1926. Peter was born in November 1928. Rosemarie, their only daughter was born in April 1941. Frank and Peter traveled by ferry to Tacoma for high school at Bellarmine. Rosemarie commuted to Tacoma’s Aquinas Academy over the newly constructed Narrows Bridge. Both sons obtained their BS degrees at Seattle University and Rosemarie pursued a degree at Long Beach University. Throughout their school years, the sons spent summer’s fishing with their father. After a brief tour of duty in the Army at the end of World War II (1945-46), Frank went back to Seattle University. He lived his entire life in the area. Frank began seine fishing at age 13. At 14 he was paid a half-share as crew. Mato gave both sons fishing boats to skipper while they were still quite young. Frank assumed Mato’s fishing business and also pursued a career in real estate and insurance. Peter chose medicine and now lives in Chicago. Although Frank sold his father’s fishing boats after his death, he purchased the Equator in 1971 and resumed his fishing life in Alaskan and Puget Sound waters until his retirement in 1992. Christopher, (Frank’s son), Matthew, Peter A. and Francis (Peter’s sons), and Vincent Sareault (Rosemarie’s son) all fished with Frank during their school summer holidays. Before Mato built the net shed he kept his boat anchored in the harbor. Usually boats were anchored because the sheds were close to shore and subject to minus tides. Frank recalls that a vessel had to be out at least 150-200 feet to access water. He recalls the Spiro Babich docks (HAER No. WA-186-N, O) as being one of the only places where boats could be kept regardless of tide. He noted that people did not build the sheds further into the harbor because they were frugal, and that they would either row out to anchored boats or stay at the Union Oil dock (no longer there) where one would often find at least ten boats rafted together. Mato stayed with purse seine fishing for the rest of his life until retirement, and Rosemarie Sareault inherited the net shed from her mother, bequeathing it to her son Vincent. Frank recalls that the net shed and associated upland family home would be a gathering place for local Croatian fishing families. They would get together every Sunday to eat dinner and play cards at the homes of fishing families around town. Frank Ivanovich and his wife, moved from Seattle to Treasure Island where he now owns an upland home and a dock, providing moorage for the Equator. Vince Sareault (Frank's nephew) still owns the net shed.
PART II -- STRUCTURAL / DESIGN INFORMATION
The Ivanovich net shed is 1,092 square feet. The property is 26’ wide and 77’-8” long, and the building is 20’ wide and 42’ long.
The Ivanovich net shed is an unpainted one-story wood frame building with a shingled, low pitch gable roof and exposed rafter tails. The structure, including a dock area on the water side, rests on pilings. The building itself is separated from the shoreline where a narrow wood ramp leads to a large door that slides on an upper rail. The main, interior net shed storage and workspace has work benches along the interior perimeter with tools and shelving for storage. Rafters store nets, long pieces of wood, and other large pieces of fishing gear. There is a small skiff and a large pile of seine nets in the middle of the room. A northeast-facing dock extends from the front of the shed. The shoreline area is unkempt with overgrown foliage and a deteriorating wooden boat resting in the mud of the tidelands.
2. CONDITION OF FABRIC
The Ivanovich net shed is in fair condition.
The Ivanovich net shed is one of a cluster of four sheds along this section of the harbor shoreline. Frank recalls that the first shed of this group was the shed neighboring to the east, the Ancich shed (HAER No. WA-186-F), built in the 1920s. The neighboring Bujacich shed (HAER No. WA-186-C) was built in ca. 1939-1940, just to the west. The upland area of the property includes the Ivanovich family home with a sloped grassy yard area leading to the shoreline and net shed.
PART III -- OPERATIONS AND PROCESSES
The following refers to the operations and processes of the Ivanovich net shed in its general historic context. It is currently in use for general storage of fishing gear.
Commercial fishing: purse seining.
Purse Seine: A purse seine is a large net hauled out by a smaller boat or “skiff” to form a large circle. Fishermen pull the bottom of the netting, “pursing” it closed to capture schools of fish. Once the net is pulled aboard by a “power block” or “reel”, the final length of net full of fish is either pulled on-board, or a smaller “brailing” net is used to scoop the catch and load it into the vessel’s hatch. A cannery boat or “tender” typically transfers the fish to the cannery. Historically, fishermen of Gig Harbor have used this method to catch salmon, sardine and herring.
Cotton Nets: In the 1930s and 1940s, while the Stanich net shed was in high use, fishermen tarred their cotton seine nets in order to hold their shape and keep them from rotting. The community had a large vat where the Millville Marina (HAER No. WA-186-G) is now, where they would soak the netting in the hot tar, then wring the net in rollers, to be stacked in the back of trucks and spread it out in a nearby field. As the nets dried, the crew would take the net strips and spread them apart to prevent the pieces from sticking together. Typically the crew of the seining operation would do the tarring and mending of nets 2-3 months prior to leaving to fish, as part of overall preparations. Cotton nets would also need more mending and patching than nylon nets, which did not come into use until after WWII in the early 1950’s.
A crew of five men generally operate each purse seiner. Prior to restrictions on large vessels, the advent of the nylon seine net and the power block in the 1940s and 1950s, seine vessels usually had crews of 8 to 10 men. Women are generally not involved in Gig Harbor’s Croatian seine fishing businesses, although local memory indicates that in the early 1900s women played a large role in providing support for the fishermen. The fishing vessels were so small, they did not eat on the boats. The families would go out to Eagle Point on San Juan Island, (they called it Old Camp), where women would set up camp and cook for the fishermen, who returned each evening. They would stay for one to two months of the summer. However, by the time Frank Ivanovich was fishing with his father, this was no longer happening.
Mato Ivanovich -- purse seiner Equator, built in 1923 at local Anderson Shipyard
Frank Ivanovich -- purse seiner Equator: moored at a dock in front of his home on Treasure Island. He fished with the vessel until 1992. The vessel only fished in Puget Sound because it was built as a cannery tender and was over the length limit to purse seine in Alaska.
PART IV -- SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Oral history interview with Frank Ivanovich, June 25, 2009.
Ancich-Stanton, Lita Dawn. Gig Harbor Net Sheds Survey. City of Gig Harbor, 2006.
Andrews, Mildred. “Andrews Group Report.” The Andrews Group, 2008.
Harbor History Museum photo archives. Accessed June 2009.
Lepow, Hannah. “Washington’s Fishing Sheds Get Boost.” National Trust for Historic Preservation. July 8, 2008. http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2008. Accessed June 2, 2009.
“Living on the Edge: Most Endangered Historic Properties List – 2008.” Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, 2008.
LIKELY SOURCES NOT YET INVESTIGATED
Interview with Vince Sareault.
Engineered Drawings -- Plan
Engineered Drawings -- Profile
Engineered Drawings -- Perspective