HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING SURVEY
GIG HARBOR NET SHEDS
BABICH NET SHED
(RICKARD NET SHED)
HAER No. WA-186-N
2915 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington
Wes Rickard, Land and Timber Investment Co.
Net and tool storage, workshop, general 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 extant 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 -- 1938
ARCHITECT / ENGINEER: Not known
BUILDER / CONTRACTOR / SUPPLIER -- Spiro Babich, Vince Skansie and others from the community.
ORIGINAL PLANS -- None known
ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS
Wes Rickard has done general maintenance to the Babich (Rickard) net shed and house over the 37 years he has owned the property, but has generally kept the structures in original condition. In the 1970s he replaced the original roofing with new shingles and added a ramp and low float for moorage. He replaced the low float in 2005. Most recently Randy Babich and Wes Rickard did a general study of the pilings supporting both net sheds, and it was determined that eight of the pilings needed replaced. Wes has not replaced the pilings as of the writing of this report.
The Babich family is related matrilineally to the original settlers of Gig Harbor, the Samuel Jerisch family that emigrated from Croatia in 1869. Spiro Babich, (grandfather of informant Randy Babich) was born in Croatia, and immigrated to the United States in 1910. The entire Babich property historically consisted of a house, a garage, two net sheds, associated docks, and waterfront land. Spiro Babich and his wife Julia (Skansie) purchased the property and built the house in 1934, and the shed and dock in 1938. The second shed was built in 1941. Spiro’s original craftsman-style home is upland from the shed. Spiro died at age 67, in 1957. He fished for salmon and anchovies commercially from age 20 to 67. Sardines are harvested in the winter and salmon in the summer, so his family lived in both Gig Harbor and California. Spiro left the house and original northerly net shed (HAER No. WA-186-N) to his son Paul and the newer southerly net shed to his son Peter. Paul Babich started fishing with his father as a teenager. Spiro and sons fished mostly in the San Juan Islands. The Babich family linkages to the fishing community are quite strong. Brothers Nick, Andy, and Mike Babich are Peter Babich’s nephews, and Joe and Bob Puratich (HAER No. WA-186-X) are his 2nd cousins. All of these men are currently operating commercial purse seiners. As the eldest son, Paul inherited the house and the original shed, while Peter inherited the newer shed. Wes Rickard bought the Babich net shed from Paul in 1971-1972, including the Babich family home. Rickard now has his business based in the home. Currently, the owner of a commercial herring vessel leases the net shed dock space from Rickard, keeping nets on the dock. In this sense, the outside dock space is still being used traditionally. Joe Pont owns the adjacent structure, the formerly Randy Babich (Peter Babich) net shed, see HAER No. WA-186-O.
PART II -- STRUCTURAL / DESIGN INFORMATION
The Babich (Rickard) net shed is approximately 1,672 square feet. The property is 26’-6” wide and 115’-7” long and the building is 23’-3” wide and 71’-9” long.
The 1982 Pierce County Cultural Resource Survey described the net sheds as: “A complex of wood frame buildings situated mainly on pilings over water…Windows are six pane casement. The open areas have wood post supports and wood bracing.” This description of the Babich (Rickard) net shed is still valid as confirmed by a recent site visit. A path leads from Harborview Drive along the south side of the house, and to the net sheds and dock. The main, interior net shed storage and work space is open in the middle, and nearly empty, though work benches with a few tools (including a large ships saw) remain. An east-facing dock extends from the front of the shed for loading and unloading nets to vessels and at the end of this dock a ramp leads to a low float with leased vessel moorage. The north side of the shed has a partially covered walkway, which reveals the exposed rafter tails of the gabled roof. Stringers are exposed, rough cut, old growth Douglas fir out of Gig Harbor. No serious modifications have been made to the original frame. One of the most unique aspects of the Babich net sheds are that they are oriented along the harbor in an area of the tidal zone that allows boats to be moored directly at the associated docks at all times.
2. CONDITION OF FABRIC
The Babich (Rickard) net shed has a strong original fabric, and is in good condition.
The Babich (Rickard) net shed is bordered to the south by the Babich (Pont) net shed (HAER No. WA-186-O) and to the north by 400 feet of shoreline in front of the original Babich family home. The two Babich net sheds lie on the south end of Gig Harbor. The shed is accessible via a walkway on the side of the building, which leads to open and covered sections of the dock. A ramp on the north end of the shed’s dock leads to a low float where multiple vessels are moored. A concrete bulkhead designed and built by Spiro Babich, separates the sloped yard of the home from the tidelands. There was once a gas pump on the property with a 500-gallon tank, as well as fruit trees of apple, pear and cherry.
PART III -- OPERATIONS AND PROCESSES
The following refers to the operations and processes of the Babich (Rickard) net shed in its general historic context, though the exposed portion of the dock is still being used to store anchovy nets.
Commercial fishing: purse seining, sardine fishing, herring fishing
Ships saw -- A large band saw is currently stored in the net shed. This is further indication that Spiro Babich did nearly all of his own maintenance on his wooden fishing vessels.
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.
Vessel Maintenance Grid -- Spiro Babich owned and fished only wooden boats, which required 2.5 months of boat maintenance per year. He would haul the vessels out onto a wooden grid he built in front of the house, along the tide line. He would bring the vessel in at high tide, and bring the bow within 15’ of the concrete bulkhead. Sister piles to the north would hold the boat in place. Spiro would do his own bottom work in late May to early June during the minus tides and before the approaching fishing season. The last year he used the grid was 1988. Remains of the grid can be seen underwater just at the tidelands from the house.
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.
Spiro Babich -- had 19 purse seine fishing vessels in his lifetime, his first boat was Ranger and his last two wereJulia B and Invincible. Sardine seiner Liberator and purse seiner Crusader were two others. In 1937 and 1938, Spiro had two seiners, one for sardine fishing in California and one for salmon fishing in the Puget Sound. He diversified to sardine fishing in the 1930s and bought a 92’ vessel.
Peter Babich -- inherited purse seiner Julia B When Alaska gained statehood in 1959, the length regulations for commercial purse seine boats changed from a 68’ maximum to a 58’ maximum. Thus, Peter sold the Julia B in1960 and purchased the shorter purse seiner Pacific Maid. He retired and sold the boat in 1988, at the age of 65.
Paul Babich -- inherited purse seiner Invincible
Randy Babich -- bought the purse seiner Paragon in 1982
PART IV -- SOURCES OF INFORMATION
Oral history interview with Randy Babich, June 25, 2009.
Ancich-Stanton, Lita Dawn. Gig Harbor Net Sheds Survey. City of Gig Harbor, 2006.
Andrews, Mildred. “Andrews Group Report.” 2008.
Gallicci, Caroline. “Net Shed (PC-133-14a)” Pierce County Cultural Resource Survey, 1982.
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 Joseph Pond
Interview with Wes Rickard
Engineered Drawings -- Plan 1
Engineered Drawings -- Profile 1
Engineered Drawings -- Profile 2
Engineered Drawings -- Profile 3 (Rickard and Pond)
Engineered Drawings -- Perspective 1
Engineered Drawings -- Perspective 2 (Rickard and Pond)