Landmark floating restaurant Reuben E. Lee sinks at local shipyard

Barge anchored off Harbor Island for decades

SAN DIEGO - The once majestic Reuben E. Lee restaurant that was anchored off the eastern end of Harbor Island for decades before it was towed away for repairs has sunk.

It was an ill-fated excursion that took a bad turn over the weekend. The restaurant sank on Sunday at R.E. Staite Engineering's boatyard. The upper deck is visible but the lower deck is underwater.

Vessel Assist Capt. Eric Lamb took 10News out in the bay to take a look and said there are primarily two options to re-float it. One is the method used in open water.

"That's nothing but float bags where we put divers in the water, put float bags underneath and raise it back up to the surface and then just keep pumping water out," said Lamb.

Being at a shipyard, though, there are cranes available.

"They may very well try to crane it up," said Lamb. "Just depends if they have sturdy enough structure still on a boat of that age to be able to hold it without it breaking up on them."

He recalled serious leaks even when the floating restaurant was open for business. Water pumps were running around the clock to keep it afloat. 

The restaurant, which was built on a barge and styled to look like a riverboat in long ago New Orleans, prospered. Lamb remembers the Reuben E. Lee as a major attraction.

"I know a lot of people that used to wine and dine in that restaurant for many years and everybody around the community was sad to see it go," he said.

Martha Mowry is one of them. 

"Oh, we really miss it, yes," she told 10News. "It's a good landmark for us when we're coming in by our sailboat."

It has been closed to the public since 2003 when it was determined to be structurally unsafe. It remained a landmark until being moved this past spring.

Frank Mowry told 10News, "We'd been here 14 years and every time we took a walk, we'd see the paddle wheeler and we were astounded to see it go."

It was scheduled to undergo major renovations, perhaps as much as $9 million. Now, it will be even more costly.

"It had a lot of water problems when it was off Harbor Island," said Lamb. "They kept pumps running full time just because of how much water it was always taking on and at low tide it would be sitting on the bottom anyway."

Is it salvageable? Owner Sunroad Enterprises has not announced any plans in light of the sinking.

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