A Working Waterfront: The Boatyard

Looking around at the busy retail shops along the Embarcadero south of Harbor Street, it might be hard to imagine that this place was a productive working waterfront not long ago. Within living memory of many Morro Bay residents, the “Boatyard” was a boatyard where boats were lifted into dry dock for repair and maintenance.

In the first decades after World War II, the waterfront was home base for hard-working men and women who made their livelihoods from the sea, and for the businesses that supported them. Although the Embarcadero was created for the U.S. Navy’s Amphibious Training Base during the war, it also provided a perfect platform for the onshore activities needed to support a commercial fishing fleet.

Along the bay side, docks were built to allow fishing boats to tie up sideways to make the transition from land to boat and back again easier. There were many of these “landings” that locals knew by heart, most of which served sport fishing boats—Graham’s Landing, Rose’s Landing, Hart’s Landing, Virg’s Landing, and many more. Some landings consisted of a dock, a plant to process the catch for consumption, and a small restaurant on the front.

Marine Ways, the old boatyard, was built “on bare land” about 1958 by John and Erma Norek.   In 1972, Ralph and Shirley Gunther acquired the lease and operated the businesses until transferring them to Kurt Steinman in 1997. The boatyard was never a very profitable business: the better money was in restaurants, gift shops, and retail.

A short time after Steinman got the leasehold, a fire destroyed the old Marine Ways facilities, and he made the complete change to retail shops. This change is a good marker for the evolution of the working waterfront south of Harbor Street.