Friday, August 10, 2007

Restaurant, Museum Slated For Waterfront

Restaurant, Museum Slated For Waterfront
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN/Times-Herald staff writer
Vallejo Times Herald

A BICYCLIST passes the former home of the Mare Island Ferry Service on the Vallejo waterfront. Plans call for a restaurant and museum at the site. (J.L. Sousa/Times-Herald)

As Vallejo's grand downtown and waterfront redevelopment plans struggle to gain traction, a smaller project is already under way.
The Raahauges, longtime owners of the Mare Island Ferry Service, are creating a ferry museum and eatery on the waterfront, said matriarch Jean Raahauge, 90, and her 57-year-old son, Erik.

Perched on the water, Vic's Wheelhouse will feature an unobstructed view of Mare Island and the strait as well as local maritime artifacts and memorabilia, some of which dates back more than a century, the Raahauges said.

Across the promenade from The Front Room at the Wharf, the Wheelhouse site functioned for decades as a terminal for a Mare Island-to-mainland Vallejo ferry shuttle, which the Raahauge family owned and operated since the 1920s.

Among the artifacts that may be displayed are antique lanterns, anchors and two 127-year-old, 6-foot steering wheels that belonged to the Vallejo, a sidewheel steamer built in 1871.

That's the same year Robert Raahauge, the father of Jean's husband, the late Vic Raahauge, was born. Robert Raahauge came to own that steamship when he purchased the Mare Island Ferry Co. in 1922. When he died in 1937, his son Vic took the helm and later built The Wharf, now The Front Room. That restaurant became a landmark under Vic's direction, hitting its zenith in the 1970s. But business declined with the shipyard's closure.

"We carried 55,000 passengers a day during the war," Jean Raahauge said. "My husband was the first to hire a woman boat operator when the men were all at war."

"He had to go to Washington to do it," Erik Raahauge said. "At the time, the Coast Guard didn't even allow women to sit for a license."

Erik Raahauge, a ferry captain, hopes to resurrect the site as a tribute to Vic Raahauge, his mother said.

"It's a way of keeping his father alive, I think," she said. "And we're trying to bring the waterfront to what it was."

The Raahauges also plan to reclaim an old shuttle boat, the Pelican, which is now in Sausalito, as part of the exhibit, Jean Raahauge said.

The idea for the museum and restaurant came to Erik Raahauge about a year after his father's death in 2002, he said. A permit was approved for the project by the city last year, said Katherine Donovan of the city's planning division.

"The permit is for a seafood-themed restaurant and museum in the old Mare Island Ferry building and on a dock attached to it on the water," Donovan said. "But he had a lot of work to do.

"He had to have a kitchen built. He had to get (Bay Conservation and Development Commission) permits approved and health department approval. It's not as simple as just opening the doors."

Vic's Wheelhouse will likely be finished by early 2008, Donovan said.

E-mail Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at or call 553-6824.

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