Historic Sea Scout building transforming into 'EcoCenter'

Environmental Volunteers receives $146,000 to continue restoration of future headquarters

The nonprofit Environmental Volunteers has been given a $146,000 grant from the Santa Clara County Historical Heritage Commission to restore the exterior of the historical former Sea Scouts building in the Palo Alto Baylands, it was announced Monday (Feb. 14).

The boat-shaped building, designed in 1941 and used as the local base for the Sea Scouts before abandonment two decades ago, will be given a second life and a new name when it becomes the new headquarters for Environmental Volunteers.

"Our vision is that the 'EcoCenter' will be a community resource for environmental education and that it will teach inside and out," Allan Berkowitz, executive director for Environmental Volunteers, said.

The grant enables Environmental Volunteers to restore the lower "Promenade Deck" and the upper "Bridge Deck." Contractors will restore the deck's carpentry and fabricate custom railings that both meet safety codes and replicate the historical look of the original railings.

Visitors to the preserves and Bay Trail currently must leave the trail and return to the road, as the abandoned building broke up the trail, Berkowitz noted. The lower deck will be handicap accessible.

"As part of our project (to restore the lower deck), we're reconnecting the Bay Trail. It's going to enhance visitors' enjoyment of both the Bay Trail and the preserve, because the decks are right over the marshes. As you go over the deck, you're going to have an opportunity to observe the flora and fauna of the Bay," he said.

The completed upper decks will provide a birds-eye view of the Bay as well as a view of the birds, Berkowitz said.

"The upper deck, because it's open-air, has an absolutely incredible view of the bay and will be a great opportunity for bird-watching," he said.

The restoration project, which began in 2008 and is projected to be completed in 2013, is already 75 percent finished. Mayor Sid Espinosa and Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss will tour the facilities and see the progress made in Environmental Volunteers' restoration efforts on Feb. 28 at 11:30 a.m.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Wil
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Yea for the EVs. Some were beginning to wonder if this was going to be one of those long term partially completed projects. It will be nice to see this completed and open.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I was wondering why that building was still fenced off. The signs on the fence say that it is scheduled to reopen in 2009 so it's about two years past due.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

A pity that the building was not allowed to remain Sea Scout property.

Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm

The building was not "abandoned" by the Sea Scouts. They were forced out when the City decided they'd rather have a mud bog then a small recreation harbor that had been used by thousands of sailors over the years. The two major programs were run by the Palo Alto Yacht Club and the Sea Scouts.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm

There's $146,000 in Santa Clara County funds that will never live to generate anything truely useful.

Do we really need a new EcoCenter with $146,000 decks?-there is already a bird watching/nature center on the baylands just down the park road 250 yards.

The interior of the 'EcoCenter' is unfinished. It is bare framing. How much is it going to cost to finish it? Without an interior this building is of no use at all-even to the EV crowd.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 12:49 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The building was given to the Eco Center specifically to disinherit the Sea Scouts. It was and is a poltroonly action.

Like this comment
Posted by Jane
a resident of University South
on Feb 16, 2011 at 10:26 am

It seems incongruous that at a time when we need to cut, when we have the Baylands Interpretive Center, the Foothills Park Interpretive Center, the Center at lovely Horseshoe Lake, etc. etc. and we're spending public money on yet another such center.

Like this comment
Posted by bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:48 am

Thank you, Jane. My thoughts exactly. Egos are involved which always cost taxpayers money.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm

According to people 'in the know', the Eco people ran out of money and could not finish it. The city should have required up front money-in-the-bank to complete the entire project before granting permission to even start. The area is now a eye-sore.
It should not be public money to finish it. And finishing the outside and not the inside is ludicrous.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It should be Sea Scout money and effort.

Like this comment
Posted by Al
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm

You are not reporting accurate info. The group did not run out of money. They completed Phase One and intentionally paused for one year. They just launched Phase Two, have already raised an additional couple hundred thousand. And the vast majority of the funds they have raised are private funds.
The EV had nothing to do with any city decisions to close the harbor or to negotiate or not negotiate with the Sea Scouts. Kudos to the EV for saving this iconic building and giving the community a great educational resource.

Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm

From what I understand, when completed, the Eco Center will be a wonderful community asset. Science education is in decline and many people -- children, teachers, parents interested in helping their kids learn and even curious adults -- will benefit from the project. In this challenging environment, I'm grateful that EV is sticking to its plan.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

It still should have been a Sea Scout building as originally intended. That is why it was shaped like a bridge. The subsequent plunder of the baylands has belied the original "Save the Bay" excuse.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:49 am

Stop whining Walter. The sea scouts were not forced out by anything other than man messing with Mother Nature. When the San Francisquito creek was re-routed to its current location next to the airport and golf course, the harbor started silting in. The water in the creek use to flow through the harbor and naturally dredge the mud. Without the creek's water flow, the demise of the harbor soon followed. With the harbor filling naturally with bay mud, the sea scouts had to find another base for their ship along with the other small boats or they would have been stuck. It was the 40s or 50s generation that permitted changing the creek to its current location. Since then, Mother Nature reclaims the harbor, the county walks away from running the harbor in the mid 80s and hands the whole area off to the city. With no occupant in the old sea scout building, mother nature and vandals make it worse until there is a push to restore and do something useful with the dilapidated structure. The Environmental Volunteers were the only group that stepped forward to restore the building keeping some of the historical aspects of its past (sea scouts) while moving forward to attract future visitors and stewards to help the area as other changes happen such as the landfill closing, and the widening of the San Francisquito Creek.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 17, 2011 at 10:36 am

My prediction: the building will be a place environmental groups draw peninsula youth to in order to make them feel guilty about their consumptive ways. Here's to hoping against hope that the EcoCenter focuses on fostering our youth's enjoyment of nature & not a 'humans are evil' agenda.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2011 at 11:53 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Dave - the decision to stop dredging the harbor killed Palo Alto boating and, incidentally, Sea Scouting. The rationale behind halting dredging was subsequently belied when we had to purchase dirt to cap the landfill.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Feb 17, 2011 at 6:11 pm

"Dave" Thanks for your contribution and attempt at rewriting local history.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 17, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Whereas I think it is a wonderful idea that this building is being renovated with a link to the past, I do not think public money should be spent on it.

The fact that there was a vibrant yacht harbor in the dim distant past shows that in the past there was not enough forethought then, just as there isn't now.

I hope that when our grandchildren are running Palo Alto, there won't be nostalgic remembrances, historic photos, and much talk about what a shame that "they" let the airport, or the Caltrain, go.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2011 at 2:04 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

So hundreds of El Toros skimming the bay of an evening is less a communing with Nature than 5 or 10 mudflat walkers? With a resumption of dredging the harbor could be back before summer.

Like this comment
Posted by Sailor Sam
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2011 at 9:48 am

I was one of those El Toro sailors. It was great fun, but an El Toro is no match for the currents filling the harbor with silt. You can't complain about $146,000 for the old Sea Scout building, and then recommend the much more substantial expense of moving huge amounts of mud.

Sea Scouts and the yacht harbor were fun while they were sustainable, but they are not anymore. Better to move those activities to where Nature is on your side.

Like this comment
Posted by Ronald L
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

It is my understanding that the creek being rerouted did lead to the
harbor being dredged.The dredging was one issue in the election which
closed the yacht harbor. The Sea Scout Base was placed in limbo per the baylands master plan, which only showed support for the intpretive
center and harbor master shack. Sea Scouts were given a chance to save
the site but were unable to raise enough capital. Maybe if the harbor were open that would have been different. We our fortunate that a group
came forward with enough donors to save this historic gift from Lucie Stern.

Like this comment
Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 18, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Jane, I wonder too if this renovation is necessary. There are already school programs there at the interpretive center, so given this is not good economic times, tax payer money is not well spent on the old building.

And a little off topic but also mentioned above are the other interpretive centers -- the new snazzy on Arastredero Preserve -- I like the bathrooms, but why such a big building there? We need more parking! Many times on the weekend there are not enough parking spaces. Some of the new space there would have been better served by making more parking spaces.

Like this comment
Posted by JT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2011 at 1:32 am

I understand the city will call it the Ed Power EcoCenter in honor of the Palo Alto man who contributed countless hours raising the public's awareness of the Sea Scouts.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2011 at 9:10 am

The EV's have saved a historic building that the city did not or could not conserve themselves.
It has nothing to do with driving the sea scouts out of palo alto or the funding of our schools etc....
The EVs should be commended for saving this historic resource and repurposing the use to the benfit of all.

The facts from the Palo Alto History Project:

Saving the Sea Scout Building

You would think that this sort of thing would happen more often. A beautiful and historic city-owned
building is no longer needed for its previous use and has been eroded by time and tide. A group of
volunteers from a local non-profit devise a plan to completely restore the structure. They fix it up, buy it
from the city for next to nothing and have an ideal new home --- plus the building is saved from demolition.
Everybody wins.

If all goes according to plan over the course of the next year, this scenario will play out in Palo Alto. The
building is the celebrated and award-winning Sea Scout Building located just off the tip of Embarcadero
Road out in the Baylands. The lovely old structure was built facing the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor in 1941 by
the local architects and brothers, Birge and David Clark.

Built in quintessential 1940s “streamline moderne” style, the Sea Scout Building with its porthole windows,
navigation bridge, flag hoist and smoke stacks was designed to resemble an actual ship. From its beginning,
it was the home to the local Sea Scouts, an off-shoot of the Boy Scouts, that taught boys and girls aged 14-
20 how to excel in water activities such as sailing, sea customs, riggings, compass reading and knot-tying.

On the weekend of May 30th, 1941, Palo Alto’s “fairy godmother” and greatest benefactor Lucie Stern ---
who had given $13,000 for the base’s construction --- christened the building by smashing a bottle of
Atlantic Ocean seawater on the deck rail. The three day extravaganza of dedication activities included a
bonfire, jiu-jitsu, magic show, barbeque and formal dance; all emceed by radio performer Hal Burdick. On
Sunday, the event concluded with the formal inspection of over 150 Palo Alto and visiting Sea Scouts in
their dress uniforms.

As the largest Sea Scout base in the region, the Palo Alto structure hosted many regattas and rendezvous in
subsequent years, bringing together Sea Scouts from around California. The building was even offered as a
base for emergency use during the war as an airplane spotting post.

But in 1985, after a bitterly fought citywide election, the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor closed forever. By voting
to stop the dredging of the harbor, Palo Altans let the area return to its natural state. Within a few years, the
harbor silted and the Sea Scout Building became landlocked.

Although the Sea Scouts slowly moved all their operations to Redwood City, in 2004, they submitted a
tardy and hand-written application to turn the building into the “Lucie Stern Maritime Museum,” celebrating
the history of the San Francisco Bay. The city rejected the offer, claiming that the proposal was “low on
facts” indicating how the money would be raised.

Now the Environmental Volunteers, a group which provides environmental education to kids, want to
completely renovate the Sea Scout Building and use it as its home. The City Council has approved their
plan for restoration, for which they have already raised $1.9 million, and they hope to begin the project this
fall. It will be no small task. 16 years of abandonment has left the building exposed to water damage and
vandals. For years, water has flooded the building at high tide, and the resulting dry rot is not the building’s
only blemish. Graffiti and shattered windows also obstruct the building’s former glory.

But if they can do it, the building will have a second sail --- and it will be a worthy voyage indeed for a
building that was built to proudly serve.

-Matt Bowling

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2011 at 11:45 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

And the rejection of the Sea Scouts had absolutely nothing to do with the Boy Scout rejection of Gay leaders?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Local Transit to the Rescue?
By Sherry Listgarten | 27 comments | 3,328 views

Round Table Pizza bites the dust in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 2,323 views

Eating Green on the Green – August 25
By Laura Stec | 6 comments | 1,297 views

Moral Panic, again on guns
By Douglas Moran | 18 comments | 976 views

Why does it take so long to hire an auditor?
By Diana Diamond | 1 comment | 673 views


Register now!

​On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info