Jean Varda (1893-1971) was born in Izmir, Turkey to French and Greek parents. He had close ties to the modernist movement in France and England. He moved to California in 1940 and spent the war years in Big Sur and Monterey. He moved to San Francisco in 1947 to accept a teaching position at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). That same year, while wandering around the Arques shipyard, in Sausalito, Varda and another artist, GordonOnslow Ford, came upon an old ferryboat, the Vallejo, which had been towed to the shipyard from Richmond and was scheduled to be torn up and sold for scrap. The two artists bought the old ferryboat, tied it up by a small plot of land purchased by Onslow Ford, and remodeled it for use as studio space for Onslow Ford and studio and living space for Varda. In approximately 1960, Onslow Ford sold his interest in the Vallejo to Alan Watts, the Zen popularizer and writer, and from that time until shortly before his death in January 1971, Varda shared the ferry boat with Alan Watts. Today the Vallejo remains at the same location, moored off of an area now designated as Varda Landing, off of Gate 5 Road.
Jean Varda is widely regarded as a leader in Sausalito’s development as an art colony in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. He was one of the founders of the Sausalito Art Festival in the early 1950s. In 1968 he was responsible for the overall design of the Art Festival.