HISTORIC AMERICAN ENGINEERING SURVEY
GIG HARBOR NET SHEDS
BABICH NET SHED
(POND NET SHED)
HAER No. WA-186-O
2700 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington
Social gathering place
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 study of the net sheds 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 -- 1941
ARCHITECT / ENGINEER -- Not known.
BUILDER / CONTRACTOR / SUPPLIER -- Spiro Babich, Vince Skansie and others from the community.
ORIGINAL PLANS -- None known.
ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS
Ca. 1970s Peter Babich added a wall to reinforce the merging of the two sheds and provide a windbreak, replaced some windows and added another dry dock ramp (underwater grid) to work on his power skiff or other small boats. In 1971 Randy replaced the shingle roof with anodized steel laid over the original low pitch gable frame. Recent major changes were made to make the shed seismically stable. The Babich (Pond) shed is the only one in gig harbor with this feature. Randy contracted for a study of the piles (using core samples) and found that eight needed replaced. All of the piles under the dock have 6”x8” cross bracing with through-bolts, 15 creosote piles were replaced with steel piles and those that could not be replaced were given “inserts” for stabilization. Recent minor additions (2000 to 2008) include, adding surface material to the dock for an anti-skid surface in wintertime, replacing the ramp that leads to a to low float with a steel version that has grating for more light to fish, and the addition of new low float in 2007. Randy estimates that he has invested about $500,000 in renovation, maintenance, taxes and insurance during his ownership of the shed. With the sale of the Babich (Pond) net shed to Joe Pond in 2008, Randy also gave him plans for an additional $90,000 in possible renovations. Electricity was built in to the original shed, but during the subsequent 2008 remodel, the shed’s electricity was upgraded – it formerly had one 200-amp service, and Pont added another line so that his boat and the others moored on the low float could have shorepower. Pond also added a handrail on the ramp leading to the dock, changed the timbers along the sides of the dock and placed brackets around the piles. For the interior, Pont removed all evidence of net shed use, added new flooring over the original timbers, and painted the entire building.
The Babich family is related matrilineally to the original settlers of Gig Harbor, the Samuel Jerisch family that immigrated 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. Peter Babich was born in 1929, and started fishing with his father at age 15 as a summer job. Spiro and sons fished mostly in the San Juan’s, but when Peter was 24, he bought a boat and went to False Pass, Alaska in the Aleutians. He fished in Alaska for the remainder of his career. Peter left the shed to his son Randy who had started purse seining at age 15 ½. At the time, the mean age on the boat was 53. The crews in general were older and professional. Randy commented that the professionalism of fishermen has declined and this has been a major shift in the industry. The Babich family linkages to the fishing community are quite strong. Brothers Nick, Andy, and Mike Babich are Randy’s cousins, and Joe and Bob Puratich (HAER No. WA- 186-X) are his 2nd cousins. All of these men are currently running commercial purse seiners. Wes Rickard owns the original adjacent Babich net shed, see HAER No. WA-186-N.
PART II --STRUCTURAL / DESIGN INFORMATION
The Babich (Pond) net shed is approximately 4,525 square feet. The property is 24’ wide and 115’-7” long, and the building is 24’ wide and 83’-8” 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 (Pond) net shed is still valid as confirmed by a recent site visit. The main, interior net shed has been cleared of its original contents, is open in the middle and nearly empty except for chairs and a table. French doors open to the covered portion of the shed. An east-facing dock extends from the front of the shed for (traditionally) loading and unloading nets to vessels and at the end of this dock a ramp leads to a low float with leased vessel moorage. 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 (Pond) net shed has a strong original fabric, and is in excellent condition, considering the recent maintenance and its conversion to a social gathering place.
A path leads from a parking area along the south side of the net shed, and a new ramp leads to a door to enter the shed. One can also walk around the west (shoreline) side of the building to go to the Babich (Rickard) net shed. The two Babich net sheds lie on the south end of Gig Harbor.
PART III -- OPERATIONS AND PROCESSES
The following refers to the operations and processes of the Babich (Pond) net shed in its general historic context.
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.
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 feet 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. In 1937 and 1938, Spiro had two boats, one for sardine fishing in California and one forpurse seining 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
Engineered Drawings -- Profile 1
Engineered Drawings -- Profile 2 (Pond and Rickard)
Engineered Drawings -- Perspective 1
Engineered Drawings -- Perspective 2 (Pond and Rickard)