HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING SURVEY
GIG HARBOR NET SHEDS
NOVAK NET SHED
(STEARNS NET SHED)
HAER No. WA-186-K
3313 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington
Stanley (Stan) Stearns, Isamira’s Restaurant, Gig Harbor Marina, Inc.
Vacant space for restaurant lease.
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 -- Ca. 1910
ARCHITECT / ENGINEER -- Not known
BUILDER / CONTRACTOR / SUPPLIER -- Tony Novak
ORIGINAL PLANS -- None known
ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS
The Novak (Stearns) net shed was first remodeled in the 1940s. It was remodeled again in 1999 in conjunction with an adjacent café and sandwich shop, Poseidon’s, with a fuel dock attached. The new owner, Pete Darrah, placed a second story over the net shed and left a 4’ wide breezeway between the two buildings. The property was transferred to the bank, where Stan Stearns purchased it in 2003. The third renovation on the Novak (Stearns) shed occurred in 2009, when Stearns and Co. put in a new floor over the original floor joists, added a metal footbridge between the deck and a shoreline walkway, enclosed the breezeway, and added pile caps on 22 of the original piles.
Built by Tony Novak and used by the Novak family for commercial purse seining operations. The Novak family is one of the earliest arriving families in Gig harbor and helped to establish the Millville plat in the late 1880s. The land occupied by the Stearns’ net sheds (Novak and Gilich) is zoned "Waterfront Millville (WM)” by the City of Gig Harbor. A complete remodel of the Novak (Stearns) net shed resulted in Poseidon’s, then Isamira’s Restaurant, prior to the historic designation. The shed was sold to Pete Darrah, who developed the property in 1999 as a café and fuel dock. The bank sold the property to Stan Stearns of the Texas-based company Gig Harbor Marina, Co. in 2003, who remodeled the building as Isamira’s Restaurant. At the time of the site visit, the restaurant space was recently remodeled and vacant. Stearns is currently looking for a tenant who wants to lease the space for a delicatessen.
PART II -- STRUCTURAL / DESIGN INFORMATION
The net shed is approximately 20’ wide and 30’ long, around 600 square feet, not including the newly attached building to the south.
The original Novak shed, in community memory was only used as storage due to its position in the harbor, and the extreme tidal fluctuations that it experienced. Occasionally, the shed comes very close to being flooded at highest tides.
2. CONDITION OF FABRIC
The Novak (Stearns) net shed has been completely remodeled and in this state, is in good condition. It has retained its rectangular shape as is typical of the vernacular, but has very little visible original fabric.
The original Novak family home is directly adjacent to the net shed, upland to the south. As of 1999, “The Stearnses own four-and-one-half contiguous lots on the Gig Harbor waterfront, comprising 1.7 acres upland and 1.3 acres tidelands.”1 The Novak (Stearns) net shed occupies one of those lots. The Novak (Stearns) net shed is bordered directly to the south by the Ross (Whittier) net shed (HAER No. WA-186-L), and to the north is the Gilich (Stearns) net shed (HAER No. WA-186-J), the Arabella’s Landing Marina complex.
PART III -- OPERATIONS AND PROCESSES
The following refers to the operations and processes of the Novak (Stearns) net shed in its historic context (pre-1985). It is not currently in use as a net shed.
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, though before the advent of nylon nets (post-WWII) and the power block (1954), seining crews were usually made up of 8 to 10 men.