2008 SHS MarinScope Columns

Afternoon Fog rolls over the hills of Sausalito Photo by www.westjetmagaazine.com

Afternoon Fog rolls over the hills of Sausalito
Photo by www.westjetmagaazine.com

Weekly history columns in the Sausalito MarinScope are provided from the archives of the Sausalito Historical Society.

Written by members and friends of the Society these columns provide an in depth look into many unusual and little known facts and stories about the people and places of Sausalito.

The Baraty Building

By Doris Berdahl   December 13,2008

Downtown Sausalito without Starbucks?  Inconceivable, no doubt, to those who gather daily on lower Princess Street for their morning latte.  But, in fact, Starbucks is only the last in a long series of ground floor occupants of the sturdy 19th century building at 12-20 Princess, originally called the Baraty Building.  Tenants have run the gamut of main street establishments from hardware store to plumbing services to real estate office to jewelry boutique (among many others).  Through it all, the building's second story has looked strikingly the same, hardly changed in 113 years.  Two squared bay windows, topped by dormer-like hoods which rise to triangular pediments in the gable roof.  Below the roofline, a boxed cornice with brackets and a frieze of vertical board and battens.    

            But what a difference a century has made to the ground floor – not just in appearance, but in the goods and services purveyed inside. The above photo of the 1910 interior of  the Baraty Building illustrates that difference in the most graphic terms.  Itsuggests a dramatically different world than the one we occupy today – one where the term “vegetarian” was virtually unheard of and where a hearty diet of red meat was considered a must on the daily menu.  In this scene, it's probably about 10 o'clock on aweekday morning.  Through the wide front windows, instead of long display tables of luxury goods luring tourists to buy--or a coffeehouse crowded with late-risers enjoying their daily caffeine fix -- one sees a serious workplace.  Butchers in voluminous white aprons, wielding glistening knives.  Great slabs of meat laid out on bloody butcher blocks and marble counters.  Carcasses of freshly slaughtered animals hung by hooks from the ceiling, interspersed with strings of sausages garlanding the walls, beckoning housewives to come in and stock up for the evening meal.                                  

            The business is the Richardson Bay Market, which, according to its ads in local publications, deals in "all kinds of meat, salt and fresh, with free delivery to hotels and families."  The proprietor is the head of a pioneer Sausalito family, Jean Baptiste Baraty,  who immigrated here from France in 1878.  Replacing a smaller butcher shop he earlier operated at the corner of Princess and Water Street (today’s Bridgeway), Baraty built this up-to-date structure in 1892 to house his business below and his wife and five children above, a common practice in Sausalito's business community.   

            The Baratys were typical in other ways as well.  Associated with the growth of Sausalito over several generations, they followed the tradition of many local merchants of the time in becoming active in civic affairs.  A son, Edward V. Baraty, who followed his father into the Princess Street business (shown on the far right in the photo), would become Mayor in 1912, and later President of the Chamber of Commerce.

            In 1916, a second civic-minded merchant family, the Trouettes, took over the butcher business at the Richardson Bay Market.  Many free-standing meat markets operated in Sausalito in those pre-supermarket days, continuing right up through the 1950s, when the last one in downtown was still functioning.  A cousin of Jean Baraty and also a native of France, Paul Trouette was proprietor of the Bay City Market (meat, milk and eggs) at the corner of Caledonia and Water Street before moving to Princess Street.  He was also an elected city official, serving as Constable in Southern Marin during the 1920s. 

Like the Baratys, the Trouettes have almost 20 index cards devoted to members of their family in the archives of the Sausalito Historical Society.  And like the Baratys, the Trouettes left their mark on the town over more than one generation. A granddaughter of Paul Trouette, the late Mignone Conner, 95,  lived here and remained active in community affairs into the past decade .  

The archives of the Sausalito Historical Society contain a rich store of information aboutSausalito families and family homes and businesses.  They are accessible, with docent assistance, to visitors who wish to conduct research during visiting hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The SHS research rooms are located on the upper floor of City Hall at 420 Litho Street.  (Note:  The facility will be closed over the holidays in order to accommodate a redecorating project at City Hall.) 

The Tall Victorian

by Doris Berdahl   December 5, 2008

It was built in 1895, a product of 19th century-style urban renewal. Downtown Sausalito had suffered a disastrous 4th of July fire two years earlier.  Someone at the old El Monte Hotel, directly up the hill from the vulnerable wood structures marking the west side of Water Street, had dropped a lighted firecracker on the roof of Hunter's Resort, a local saloon. By the time the town’s primitive hose carts and volunteer fire crews had subdued the flames, ten buildings had burned to the ground, wiping out most of the downtown business district.  Today, the tall Victorian we see at the turn of the road on central Bridgeway (number 749), its false façade vaguely suggesting something out of a western movie, became the most prominent of the new storefronts that revived the commercial life of the new city.  Sausalito had been officially incorporated two years earlier, the year of the fire.     


            The Sausalito News, in an item in its community gossip column, Brieflets

declared on October 5, 1895, that builder Manuel Barreiros -- presumably a turn-of-the-century equivalent of our modern day "developer" -- had completed his "new building on Water Street to the second story."  On November 2, the Brieflets columnist breathlessly reported that the Barreiros building was "now nearing completion, consisting of four stories including the basement.  It presents a fine appearance."


            Rising a full story above its neighbors, presenting a dramatic profile against the sky, it must have been impressive. And it still is, particularly in its upper portions. The most authentic of the downtown's remaining wooden Victorians, its square bay windows and ornamental moldings remain virtually unchanged.     


            In the early years of the 20th century, the tall Victorian was best known as the home of the Sausalito News, which occupied it from 1909 to 1925.  Longtime publisher George Harlan, writing in the MarinScope in 1979, recalled that the News "bounced around town five times in its 82 years," the Victorian being one of its longer-lived locations. 


In 1925, the building at 1065 (its pre-Bridgeway address) underwent a striking change of use, becoming the headquarters of Drechsler's Plumbing.


            But prior to either of these occupants, it had served purposes far less respectable than publishing or plumbing.  Soon after it was built, Sacramento gambler Frank Deroux opened Sausalito's first poolroom (a venue for betting on horse races across the country) in the Barreiros Building, as 1065 was then known.  Around 1900, when Daroux moved out, Barreiros quickly rented to a second gambling operation.  But by then Sausalito's poolrooms were encountering stiff resistance from a group of solid citizens calling themselves the Municipal Improvement Club, popularly known as the "anti-poolies."  In the end, following a lengthy city hall struggle during which the "poolies" were mostly victorious, Sausalito was relieved of its poolrooms by the California Legislature, which outlawed off-track betting in 1909.  


            Over the years, perhaps the most celebrated tenant of the building now known as 749 was The Tides bookstore.  Customers were encouraged to linger over its collection of serious literature, its fine art and marine books, free to sit on the floor for extended browsing.  The Tides pioneered the now-popular concept that music and coffee should accompany the reading experience.  Lectures and informal talks featured provocative figures such as Eldridge Cleaver, Alan Watts and Anais Nin.  A highly regarded literary magazine, Contact, was briefly published from editorial offices on the upper floors, attracting contributions from some of the most noted authors of the day.


            The Tides was followed in the later 1970s by Upstart Crow and Co., which attempted to perpetuate the aura established by its predecessor. But tourism was on the rise and Bridgeway rents were becoming prohibitive for small, independently-owned book stores.  In the 1980s and `90s, the tall Victorian at the bend in the road became the home of a series of retail establishments catering to an altogether different clientele.  For better or for worse, it remains so today .   



With the holidays approaching, drop by the Ice House (the Sausalito Visitors Center and Historical Exhibit) at Bridgeway and Bay Street and buy some uniquely Sausalito Christmas cards, ideal for sending to local friends.  All sales benefit the Sausalito Historical Society.     Note: the Society’s Phil Frank Research Room and Exhibit Room on the second floor of City Hall will be closed December 24, 27 and 31 over the holidays.        



The Tall Victorian housed the Sausalito News back in the horse and buggy days.  Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.

“A First-Class Lodging House”

In this issue of the Marin Scope, the Sausalito Historical Society begins a series of articles featuring some of the 19th and early 20th century storefronts that grace Bridgeway and Princess Street today, including a couple of then not-so-graceful, but now elegant facades that once housed Sausalito’s early parking garages.            

by Doris Berdahl   November 25, 2008

Jacob Schnell, believed to have emigrated from Bavaria to Sausalito sometime in the late 1860s, wasted little time capitalizing on the fact that the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company, the town's first developer, had launched its first ferry service in 1868 and was bringing over boatloads of people from San Francisco, some looking to buy land, some simply seeking sunshine and a good time.  The "Princess," a small paddle-wheeler purchased just days before the service began, made two trips a day from the city to a landing at the foot of what was soon to become Princess Street.     


            Given these promising circumstances, Schnell, an enterprising businessman, asked himself the obvious question:  What better place to build a boarding house and saloon than the convergence of Princess and Water Street?  Schnell's House, one of Sausalito's earliest businesses, was built in 1878, strategically placed directly across the street from the ferry landing.  The building continues todominate the waterfront’s key intersection today.


What was Sausalito like in the late 1870s?  Jacob Schnell and his boarding house are included in an 1878-79 District Directory, in which every property owner in the North Bay counties is listed.  In the "Saucelito" section, the town is described as "a place of resort during the summer months.  It has about 300 population, and supports a public school and a church."


With its simple, rectangular lines and boxed cornice with board-and-batten frieze, the original Schnell's House resembled a classic New England waterfront hostelry.  A third story was added in 1890, inspiring a Sausalito News gossip columnist to enthuse about the new addition's "airy, well-lighted rooms arranged in the most convenient manner possible for a first-class lodging house."


To this day 6 Princess Street retains a spare, restrained look.  True, its ground floor has been adapted to modern commerce and currently houses a series of retail shops.  Its original shiplap siding was at one point covered over with stucco.  But a more recent remodeling has brought back the original exterior.


In this 1910 photo, a lacy wrought-iron widow's walk tops the building's hip roof.  Unfortunately, that has been removed.  But one of the most endearing features of the early structure keeps coming back, like a ghost from the past. The words "Schnell's House," seen in the photo in bold letters across the façade, endured well into the 20th century, finally disappearing under the onslaught of sun and rain and periodic renovation -- until, in the 1980s, the owners briefly considered uncovering their building’s original name.  In fact, in the course of an ambitious restoration, the original letters began to make a dim comeback. The idea of restoring them was aired at Historic Landmark Board meetings, but finally abandoned.  When, a few years ago, 6 Princess Street was again due for repainting, "Schnell's House" was persistently making its presence known.  And again it was painted over.  If Jacob Schnell ever dreamed of immortality, it seems his wish has been granted. 


Over the years,  Schnell's House has at various times been known by other names -- the Sausalito News referred to it in 1890 as "Magnolia House," and in a 1950 city directory it was called "Princess Hotel"-- indicating that it has led many lives.  But perhaps its most prestigious role was played out during the last decade of the 19th century.  In the first months after Sausalito's incorporation in September of 1893, the city council more or less floated from place to place, meeting at various downtown locations until a permanent city hall could be established.  Consequently, Schnell's old boarding house and saloon today enjoys the distinction of having been the seat of local government for a brief, but important period between April and August of 1894, when Sausalito's identity as an incorporated city was being shaped.          

Chinese in Sausalito: Part II   November 18,2008

Willie Yee - Marin Fruit Company

Today the wood paneling in the tiny retail establishment at 605 Bridgeway, the small mezzanine encircling the room which enables the shopkeeper to reach merchandise stored up near the ceiling, the produce bins that once lined the room, receding into mysterious gloom at the back of the shop, are either gone or covered by a thick coat of white paint.  The faint scent of herbs and spices, garlic, freshly picked apples and newly harvested onions that once permeated the place has been supplanted by the brash new smell of synthetic fabrics, the latest in women’s fashions.         

All that remains intact from the past, unchanged by modern update, is the name of the business that long resided there, and whose identity is permanently embedded in stucco over the doorway, the MARIN FRUIT CO. 

            From the early 1920s, a few years after the south portion of this 1-1/2 story stucco structure was built in 1912, it housed a Chinese grocery and continued to do so until January 31, 1998, when the Yee family, operators of the business for 79 years, had to close their doors because the rent, under a new owner, had suddenly quadrupled. 

            The central figure in the story of this large and remarkable clan was Yee Tock Chee, or Willie Yee, as he was known throughout his 60 years as one of Sausalito's most beloved and respected merchants.  Born in China in 1891, from which he emigrated to this country in 1912, he bought the Marin Fruit and Grocery from Wing Mow Lung, a family friend from the old country, who had hired him to take orders and make deliveries when the business was still on Caledonia Street.  It cost him $350 for the merchandise, the scales, a horse and some hay to feed it. 

Over the years, operating from his new Water Street (Bridgeway) location, where the rent was initially $10 a month, Willie endeared himself to three generations of Sausalitans, making free deliveries up the hill, lending money whenever someone was in need, and helping many through the Great Depression by carrying them on his books for months, even years.  He housed his wife and five children "over the shop," as many Sausalito merchants did in those days, and stayed open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and until noon on Sundays. When Willie died in 1975, Princess Park at the foot ofPrincess Street was renamed Yee Tock Chee Park. The dedication was attended by top city officials and over 200 townspeople, and it is rumored that some slightly chagrined well-wishers used the occasion to pay their long overdue grocery bills.           

After Willie retired in 1957, the grocery was carried on by his children and grandchildren, having miraculously survived the coming of the supermarket age.  During the family transition, the store remained closed only six days, and then only to accommodate four weddings and two funerals.  Nathan Yee, who had  worked behind the counter since he was six, made change on the same cash register he was using until the day he closed.

Beginning in 1930-31,  the next door space, (607 Bridgeway) was occupied by a traditional hand laundry, a business founded by Chinese immigrant Hong Lee elsewhere on Water Street in 1890 and carried on at 607 by a member of a later immigrant generation, Lee Chong.  Descendants of Lee Chong, many of whom still live in the North Bay area, recall stories of their grandfather traveling the Sausalito hills in a horse-drawn wagon, delivering freshly-done laundry.  The business passed to his son and was operated by the family until the 1960s.                       

Prior to the addition of 507, the vacant lot adjacent to Marin Fruit Co. was a passageway leading to the stable at the back of the building.  During the 1920s, it's believed that this section of the south-of-Princess-Street commercial district underwent a face-lift in response to the coming of the Golden Gate car ferry service, which brought automobiles and increased activity to the southern waterfront. The stucco store fronts we see today probably date from that period.


(Place in box, in italics, at end of this article):    With the holiday approaching, drop by the Ice House at Bridgeway and Bay Street and buy some uniquely Sausalito Christmas cards, ideal for sending to local friends and benefiting the Sausalito Historical Society.)   

(Caption for the photo):   Interior of the Marin Fruit Co. in 1923.  Left:  Willie Yee, longtime operator of Marin Fruit and Grocery.  Right:  Wing Mow Lung, founder of the business.     Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The Chinese in Sausalito

An Early Survival Story   November 14, 2008

 The distinctive Asian flavor of some of  Sausalito’s most successful businesses today seems to suggest that we have long been home to a prosperous, well-received Chinese community.  Not so.

Or at least not so during long stretches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  True, the late Willie Yee is memorialized at Yee Tock Chee Park and remembered as one of our most revered businessmen/citizens.  And yes, the first rail line into town was largely built by Chinese laborers, some of whom went on to farming, fishing, small business enterprises and domestic service.  But the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act by the U.S. Congress in 1882 meant severe marginalization for those Chinese already here.   Not until 1943, when the Exclusion Act was repealed, was the Bay Area’s Asian community able to begin its long, slow move out of the shadows.          

            All of which made the persistence of a small, but enterprising Chinese presence in Sausalito, intricately woven into the fabric of local society, a truly impressive survival story.   

            First a little history.  Chinese have lived in Marin County for over a century-and-a-half, having been among the first non-Hispanic immigrants to settle here after the start of the Gold Rush. Their first years were a relative success story.  They fished or gathered seafood from local waters from as far back as 1850, operating both in the bay, mainly off Pt. San Pedro from their villages at China Camp, and in the ocean off the Golden Gate Headlands.  With shrimp as their primary bay harvest, they launched the only important commercial fishery ever to thrive in Marin.  They were also abalone hunters.  Those operating off the rocky ocean coast west of Sausalito were the first people in California to put abalone on a commercial basis.

            The story of the Chinese in Sausalito comes into greater focus with the start, in 1869, ofconstruction of the North Pacific Coast Railroad, designed to run from Sausalito to the Russian River.  During the peak construction years, until the rail line opened for business in 1875, 1300 laborers worked on it.  After 1870, virtually all of them were Chinese, largely replacing the part-Caucasian crew initially hired.  In an uncharacteristic move, these usually uncomplaining workers struck midway through construction, demanding and getting a reduction in their workday from 12 to 10 hours.  For that, they earned $35 a month. 

About one hundred worked on the Sausalito segment of the railroad, twenty-five of whom died the first winter.  Along with some 15 to 20 Chinese fishermen, called “clammers,” they were confined to a lodging house at the north end of town near Spring Street which the townspeople labeled “Shanghai Valley.”  After the completion of the railroad, a few of them, still harshly segregated, stayed on raising vegetables for sale, only to give up within a few years and disperse. .  

 By 1900, Marin County’s recorded Chinese population had shrunk from the 1,827 it had been in 1880, when the Chinese were the largest minority group in most of California, to just 489. In fact, with a fewexceptions in the small business communities of San Rafael, Fairfax and Sausalito, they became almost invisible. 

In Sausalito, most became household servants, quietly working within the walls of affluent homes in the Sausalito hills.  In July of 1892, an employment agency specializing in Chinese and Japanese workers, sent along a “first class laundryman” to Mrs. George Harlan (grandmother of longtime Sausalito News publisher John Harlan.). According to a handwritten receipt unearthed from the archives of the Sausalito Historical Society, he was to be paid $25 per month.  The Society, with its large collection of Harlan memorabilia, has an extensive memoir of Harlan’s father, George Harlan, Sr., a prominent Marin County attorney, who recalls that his grandmother, residing in the historic Gardner house at 47 Girard in the latter years of the 19th century, employed “a Chinese cook which she had for years.  He was a little short man named Ah Loon and he was almost automatic in his preparation of the family meals.  We didn’t have many conveniences either.  The fire was stoked with wood and coal, most of the wood being cut on the place.”   

This, apparently, was the signal characteristic of the Chinese servant class in the Sausalito of that era.  They normally became part of these families, much valued (in some cases loved) and heavily relied on by family members to keep these labor-intensive domestic establishments going.        

But not all Sausalito’s Chinese were confined to servant status.  The best known of the exceptions was Yee Tock Chee, whose Americanized name was Willie Yee, proprietor of the downtown waterfront’s venerableMarin Fruit Company.  Next week, this space will recount the story of Willie Yee and his legacy.


Early family portrait.             Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Latin Influences on Early Sausalito

November 7, 2008

 The Sausalito of  today doesn’t suggest enough how strongly Latin culture influenced its early development.  True, “Sausalito” is a Spanish name, inspired by the little willow trees which Spanish explorers found along its shoreline in 1775 .  Butour few Spanish street names – San Carlos, Santa Rosa, El Portal -- are far outnumbered by streets  named after our Anglo city fathers - Harrison, Currey, Easterby.  .   

            But appearances are deceiving.  A little over 150 years ago, roughly between 1835 and 1846, Sausalito was the setting for a near-idyllic way of life (at least for the privileged) based on the ethnic heritage, traditions, and interconnecting family relationships of the Californios -- people of mostly Spanish descent who’d been born in or immigrated to Alta California and thought of themselves, not as European, but as Mexican.  Although distinct from the native Indians of the region, they were of all classes.  Some were patrician by origin and lifestyle.  Others were less elite.  Many were the  legendary vaqueros of Mexican cowboy fame. 

 The string of Mexican land grants that circled the bay during the mid-19th century, and dominated the social and economic life of what was to become Marin and Sonoma, were held by prominent Californios. It was from this group that Alta California’s social elites and ruling class were largely drawn.  The lifestyle that these dons or rancheros, the landed gentry, created for themselves was leisurely, pleasure-loving, hospitable, keenly appreciative of good food, fine wine, beautiful surroundings and festive gatherings.    Most were well-connected native-born Mexicans who are memorialized in place names still in use today (e.g., Pacheco, Vallejo), but some were European-born of non-Spanish backgrounds.  These men tended to marry into leading Mexican families – for instance, Irishmen John Thomas Reed, whose rancho encompassed the present Mill Valley, Tiburon, Belvedere and Corte Madera, and Timothy Murphy (“Don Timoteo”) who held sway in a large swath of the San Rafael area. 

            Among these adventurous immigrants was an Englishman, William Richardson, acknowledged today as the founder of Sausalito and the surveyor who laid out much of Yerba Buena (later San Francisco).  In 1838, Richardson received a land grant of some 19,571 acres, extending from the Marin Headlands to what is now Stinson Beach and including most of the land now comprising Sausalito.  He called his estate El Rancho del Sausalito and built his familyhacienda on a site near today’s Caledonia and Pine Street.   Notwithstanding his Anglo background, Richardson, who’d arrived in California in 1822, easily adapted to the relaxed, expansive life of the Mexican ranchero, as evidenced by his propitious marriage to Maria Antonio Martinez, the eldest daughter of the Commandante of the Presidio at Yerba Buena, his ready embrace of Catholicism and his adoption of the name Don Guillermo Antonio Richardson.                

            Here’s how American Charles A Lauff described Richardson at a lavish party given by Don Timoteo in 1847 at which he was a guest:   “Capt. William A. Richardson (was) dressed in a black suit, wearing a wide sombrero, with long boots, and riding a beautiful black horse.  His saddle and bridle were mounted in silver and gold.” (excerpted from Captain Richardson, Mariner, Ranchero, and Founder of San Francisco byRobert Ryal Miller). 

            The fact that so many of these land-holding families had intermarried, forming vast familial networks, meant that a great deal of time and effort was spent preparing entertainment and food (mostly with the labor of Indian servants, functioning in near serf-like conditions) in celebration of weddings, christenings and religious holidays.  In a series of articles in the San Francisco Call Bulletin in 1918, Richardson’s son Stephen, then 87,  recalled. that in those early days “mi casa es su casa” (‘my house is your house”) was an accepted way of life.  “It was necessary for the hostess to invite practically the entire population . . . you were sure to have at least 100 guests draw bridle at your door at the appointed day.  And . . . no feasts ever lasted for less than a week.“

            In the eyes of some strait-laced Protestant Americans, who’d begun entering this relaxed, easy-going scene by ship as early as the 1820s, the manners and mores of the Californios sometimes seemed shockingly libertine and self-indulgent.  Captain Wilkes of the American man-of-war Vincennes, having been entertained at some of the great ranchos, felt obliged to reciprocate – but at his peril.  Sausalito writer Annie Sutter, in her series on William Richardson in the MarinScope (1987), quoted Wilkes on his 1841 encounter with Californios on board the Vincennes anchored off Sausalito.  “A Californian needs no pressing to stay as long as he is pleased with the place; and he is content with coarse fare provided he can get enough of strong drink to minister to his thirst.”

The Arcadian way of life enjoyed by the rancheros came to an end with the Gold Rush and the American takeover of California.  Richardson cooperated in the admittance  of Alta California into the Union in 1850, and his wealth rose with the wave of Gold Rush prosperity that followed.  But after that, a string of bad investments, the loss at sea of three ships purchased for speculative purposes, and the successive sale or mortgaging of pieces of his rancho, caused his fortunes to rapidly decline.  In the end, he fell into the hands of an unscrupulous lawyer, Samuel R. Throckmorton, and died deep in debt and landless in 1856.                    


(Place in box at end of article)  With the holiday season approaching, drop by the Ice House at Bridgeway and Bay Street and buy some uniquely Sausalito Christmas cards, ideal for sending to local friends, offered by the Sausalito Historical Society.



Photo caption:   A vaquero, or Mexican cowboy.

Where Have All the Toadfish Gone

by Larry Clinton   October 16,2008

Long term Sausalitans remember the legend of the notorious humming toadfish, which stirred up quite a ruckus in Richardson’s Bay nearly three decades ago.  Back in July and August of 1981, some houseboaters first began noticing reverberations through the hulls of their floating homes from sundown to sunup.  The volume ranged from the sound of an electric shaver up to the level of an airplane engine at full throttle. When the noise returned in 1984, the dusk-to-dawn drone became intolerable at higher volumes, especially to those with bedrooms at or below the water line in steel-reinforced concrete hulls. Other forms of flotation do not seem to pick up on the toadfish “vibe.”

Theories as to the cause of the problem ranged from government navigational aids to diesel generators, sound “leakage” from an electric cable, emanations from a nearby sewage plant, or even extraterrestrials on summer vacation!

Responding to dozens of complaints, Waldo Point Harbormaster Ted Rose badgered various government agencies for help, only to be shunted from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Environmental Protection Agency to OSHA and on to PG&E. Some bedeviled residents funded private acoustic mapping and analyses of the harbor.  Eventually these studies eliminated the possibility of mechanical sources, so biologists from Steinhart Aquarium were contacted to determine if the source could be biological.  The search was finally narrowed to the humming toadfish (Porichthys notatus) aka Plainfin Midshipman (so called because the bioluminescent buttons on its ventral surface resemble those on a naval cadet’s jacket). John McCosker of Steinhart Aquarium trawled sonic “hot spots” in the mudflats, where the nightly humming had been recorded at 2-3 decibels above ambient noise. When lovesick and highly vocal individuals were caught at these precise locations, their sound signatures were compared with sounds recorded from within floating homes; they were identical, and the true culprits were unearthed (unmudded?).  Those who found the hum intolerable were advised to move their beds upstairs, wear earplugs, or try a few nips of scotch before retiring.  With so many environmental protections in place, there seemed to be no other recourse.  As John McCosker put it,  “You can’t sue a fish.”

Male toadfish ordinarily live at depths to 300 meters along the Pacific coast from Baja to Puget Sound, and enter bays and return to the shallows near the Golden Gate each year to breed. Once they find a suitable nesting spot, these eager bachelors summon likely mates by vibrating their gas bladders up to 150 times a second.. The phenomenon has been documented as far back as the 1800s, so it must work.

The Sausalito toadfish story created a virtual media shower in the mid-80s. Local papers had been reporting on the mystery for months, andCBS Evening News sent a crew along on one of McCosker’s trawling expeditions.  Several other national TV news shows picked up on this classic “only in Marin” story.

Although the mystery was solved, no solution to the problem has yet been devised.  McCosker even tried disrupting the cacophonous courtship by dropping M-80 fireworks into the Bay.  As he told Discover Magazine, “All that happened were some dull thuds, a few flashes of light, and the continuing hum of toadfish.”

In a classic case of making lemonade from lemons, floating homes residents created a Humming Toadfish Festival, which drew hundreds of curiosity-seekers to Sausalito’s Bay Model.  John McCosker served as Grand Marshall the first year, and Phil Frank devised the festival’s humming toadfish logo. Lappert’s ice cream parlor even developed a toadfish flavored confection to sell at the site (it’s no longer on their menu). The festival was discontinued in 1990 when the fish took their act on the road, so to speak.  They have returned to the floating homes community only sporadically ever since. However, the floating homes community’s Humming Toadfish Marching Kazoo Band pays tribute to the amorous critters in each Fourth of July parade.

Last summer, there were no reports of intrusive thrumming among the floating homes. John McCosker theorizes that abnormally low rainfall last winter affected toadfish-preferred salinity levels.  Although he hasn’t been studying the toadfish lately, he suggests that fewer than usual may have visited Richardson’s Bay this year, or they may have clustered elsewhere for their mating rituals. 

Wherever they set up housekeeping last summer, you can bet the toadfish baritones were humming their hearts out, because these hand-sized critters, which look like the black sheep of the catfish family, clearly need all the help they can get in the dating game.


Toadfish logo by Phil Frank.  Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Historical Society Looks Ahead

by Larry Clinton   October 13, 2008

I hope you’ve been enjoying recent columns in this space focusing on two of Sausalito’s most venerable legacies: art and boating.  This week, I’d like to look forward instead of back, and bring you up to date on what’s new at the Sausalito Historical Society.

First, the SHS Board has initiated a number of special events for members and the general public alike.  In September, we enjoyed a walking tour of Fort Baker, led by historical docents from the NationalParks Service.  Our outing ended with a reception at the Cavallo Point Lodge, with its sweeping view of the Golden Gate. 

On October 19, we’ll be visiting the replica scow schooner Gas Light at Schoonmaker Point, and learning about the design of the Schoonmaker property from architect Michael Rex. On November 7, we’ll be staging a Literary Sausalito night at the Sausalito Women’s Club.  It will be a fast-paced evening of readings from the works of writers who have lived in or written about Sausalito. 

In December,  the Industrial Center Building is celebrating 40 years of artists’ open studios, and the SHS is pleased participate. On December 5, we’ll enjoy an early preview of the ICB’s annual holiday open house. In addition, SHS members will participate in a series of programs sponsored by the ICB Artist Association. Betsy Stroman will present an illustrated lecture on  Sausalito’s artist colony (from the 1930s to the post-war era) on November 1. Then, on November 14, I’ll speak on the history of Marinship, along with co-presenter Nicholas Veronico, author of the book “World War II Shipyards by the Bay.”  Both talks will take place at 7:30 PM in the Bay Model Lecture Hall.

Additional public events are planned throughout 2009 as well.

If it’s been a while since you’ve visited our downtown historical exhibit and visitor center in the Ice House, this is a good time to get re-acquainted.  You’ll find lots of Sausalito-related gift ideas, including the Images of America book, Sausalito. We anticipate an enthusiastic response to two brand new items: holiday greeting cards showing a Sausalito snow scene from 1913, and postcards with an unusual view of the fountain at Vina del Mar Park.  The Ice House is located at 780 Bridgeway, across from Poggio Restaurant.

The Board is also planning technological advancements which will help everyone access our archives at the Phil Frank Research Room at City Hall.  This project involves substantial investments of time and money, but will make it much easier for researchers to find what they’re looking for.

To find out more about how to become a member or about our many programs, please contact:

Sausalito Historical Society

P.O. Box 352

Sausalito, CA 94966

415/289-4117 -  Research Library Telephone (answered Wed. and Sat. during open hours)




Greeting cards and post cards now available at the Ice House, 780 Bridgeway.  Photos: Al Hayes

The Story of the Ferryboat Berkeley

by Annie Sutter   October 6, 2008

The grande-dame Berkeley, a “gay nineties ferry,” was the epitome of turn of the century opulence with white pillars, polished bronze, stained glass windows, Victorian scrolls, frills and filigrees. In personality she was more like a frisky young colt — at least in the early days before the captains had time to get used to her revolutionary double propellers. They were the first of the kind, and, incidentally, the last of the kind to be ordered by the company. Built for Southern Pacific by Union Ironworks in San Francisco in 1898, the Berkeley represented a lot of “firsts”— first propeller driven ferry on the bay, the first steel hull ferry to be built in San Francisco, a triple expansion engine, and the first to sport electric lights. She was soon dubbed the “slip destroying monster” by captains used to more sedate paddle wheelers. The first captain quipped that he had to turn the engines off in mid-bay to avoid hitting the ferry slip. The willful lady bumped a tug in 1925, collided with the El Paso in 1936, and took out 30' of dock piling in 1954.

Generally, however, she kept her nose to the grindstone and for 61 years ran millions of passengers between San Francisco and Oakland and played a major role in evacuating residents during the quake and fire of 1906. She yearly carried passengers to the Big Game, and thereafter hosted football parties and drunken college reunions on board. Although quite capable of continuing in service, she was retired in 1958, last of the commuter ferries, for her customers were using the buses and the bridge, leaving the ferries to tourists and nostalgia buffs. Instead of rewarding the lovely old lady for her years of service, Southern Pacific sold her, complete with stained glass, filigree and teak seats to the Golden Gate Fish Rendering Co.

The Berkeley was saved from a future of boiling oily fish by Luther Conover who installed her in the old Northwest Ferry slip in Sausalito and opened the Trade Fair — a sort of early Cost Plus tucked in between the Sausalito Yacht Club and the ferry dock. Amidst placemats, ashtrays, cups, glasses and nautical gimcracks she played hostess to tourists — but only on the main deck. The upper deck, the one with the stained glass and fine craftsmanship, called “one of the finest rooms in California maritime history,” remained off limits.

But, by the early 1970's, cursory maintenance, time, wear and tear and economics had once again conspired and won in that endless battle the ferries faced. Looking at a $50,000 to $75,000 estimate for bottom work alone, Conover was forced to sell the Berkeley. He offered Sausalito the first chance to buy. Preservationists and historians argued with the “floating dime store” and “just another rotting hulk” proponents, and while they argued, the City of San Diego came up with a cash offer for the old ferryboat. And so, in 1973, the Berkeley was towed out the Gate and down the coast to a new life as a maritime museum. Today she has been beautifully restored and is on display on the San Diego waterfront as a turn of the century maritime treasure.


by Annie Sutter   September 29,2008

Something old - something new. That’s the vessel, Gaslight, that Billy Martinelli built over a period of eight or ten years in Sausalito, depending on whether you count from 1990 when he began welding the steel plates of the hull, or the bare hull launching in 1991, or in 2000 when all the pieces that make up a vessel had been assembled, and Gaslight became Coast Guard certified to carry 49 passengers.


The blond kid who came to Sausalito in the 1970s still looks like the beach boy and surfer that he was. He’s been a familiar face around the waterfront for years, charter member of the group of young and energetic would-be boatbuilders who learned their trades by putting Wander Bird, the 100 year old pilot schooner back together in the 1970s. Martinelli learned from Harold Sommer, owner of Wander Bird and the boatbuilding and restoration “guru” of the waterfront.


Gaslight looks like the traditional sailing vessel she’s modeled after, a turn-of-the-century scow schooner, fashioned after the vessels that were once known as “the trucks of San Francisco Bay,” hauling produce and hay to the City from farms in the Delta. Complete with bowsprit, gaffs, and traditional schooner rig, she’s 74’ on the water and is the same type of vessel as Alma, a scow schooner restored and maintained by the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, and which is sailing on the Bay once again over 100 years after she was built. Martinelli chose to build a scow schooner because “I built it as a home, first. I wanted something comfortable, and a scow schooner is a simple boat, economical to build,” he explained. He named her Gaslight after an 1874 vessel which ended up beached in Gallinas Creek in San Rafael in the 1950s. ”The name evokes a turn-of-the-century feeling, and has a lot of local history and character,” says Martinelli. “Gaslight - in those days it was a modern name - like Laser is today. It’s not an exact replica,” he says, ”but the same size.” The vessel is 50’ on deck, 74’ overall from the bowsprit to the end of the main boom, 19’ beam, and draws 7 1/2’ with the centerboard down, 4’with it up.


He set the keel in June of 1990 at the foot of Turney St., a site that was once part of the Madden & Lewis shipyard. Martinelli did the lofting, the layout and the form work, “bending in the beams and stringers. The hull is built of l/4” steel plate - there’s 16 tons of steel in the hull, the deck is steel, and everything from there up is wood.” After launching the bare hull, Martinelli proceeded to build the deck, and a deck house, installed an engine, and bit by bit began accumulating all the pieces that go together to make a finished vessel. And with a lot of help from his friends, Martinelli is quick to say. Fittings, fastenings and parts were donated or built for her by Sausalito’s many talented boatwrights, a community which helps each other when a project is underway. He trucked two huge trees from Northern California for the fore and mainmasts. Harold Sommer donated a solid piece of fir, and shaped it into a 20’ bowsprit. Pieces from old scow schooners and vessels which had been dismantled in Sausalito over the years were donated, and an anchor from the old Arques Shipyard.


Martinelli is chartering  Gaslight out of Schoonmaker Marina in Sausalito for groups of any sort,  sail training, day sails just for the pleasure of being out on the Bay, 3 hour trips up the SF waterfront, out the Gate, and around Angel Island, and for private parties, corporate meetings, seminars, history cruises, and naturalist programs. For more information, visit his website at www:gaslightcharters.com.

Zaca - A Yacht with a Colorful Past

by Annie Sutter   September 20, 2008

What does the razzle-dazzle career of Errol Flynn have to do with Sausalito? His legendary white yacht Zaca, reportedly the scene of on­going parties and continuous seductions, was built at the Nunes Bros. Boatyard in Old Town in 1929. She was commissioned by the original owner, Templeton Crocker, one of the heirs to the Crocker fortune.


The Nunes yard, located on what is today known as the Valley Street beach, won the job by sub­mitting a low bid of $350,000, thus bringing to Sausalito a welcome infusion of money and jobs. The Depression was apparently no deterrent for Crocker, who commanded great wealth throughout his life. In the midst of hard times, a luxurious pleasure ship rose from the shores of Shelter Cove with money no object. Nunes had to build a special shed at the foot of Main St. to accom­modate the 118' hull. The yacht was 127' in­cluding the bowsprit, and was two masted, gaff rigged, and had an unusually broad 23' beam. The ship had hot and cold running water, and on deck they carried a full sized power cruiser for side trips


Crocker is said to have spent an additional $100,000 just on fittings and furniture for Zaca. Her decks were built of solid teak, white primavera was used throughout the main salon, and the spars were Oregon pine. However, the decks didn't turn out to be all teak when Zaca came off the ways. Somehow she ended up with teak forward and aft, with pine decks amidship. There are whispers that teak was snitched from Zaca to embellish the cruisers turned out at the yard during that time. The vessel, modeled after the famous Nova Scotia fishing schooner Bluenose, was drawn up by the yard’s designer, Manuel Nunes. One unusual feature was the placement of its two diesel engines, which are normally found astern. But Crocker ordered them placed amidship. Nunes' daughter, Bertha Basford, says that when Zaca was launched, her nose pointed downhill because of the engine placement, and so they had to add ballast at the stern which made the boat ride beneath the waterline.


Zaca was christened at her launching in Sausalito in April 1930 by silent film star Marie Dressler. Eyewitness accounts of the event vary widely; however everyone agrees that perhaps Miss Dressler had made use of a few bottles of champagne herself. Everyone agrees that as the huge yacht began to slide down the ways, she swung the champagne bottle. Some say she missed, some say she hit, and the bottle didn't break. Some say she swung, missed, and fell into the water and was then hustled into a speedboat which raced after the departing yacht. In any case, there is a great deal of confusion about Zaca's christening. Also confusing are memories of her color, because she was launched as a white hull, and a few days later was painted black.


Zaca, with a crew of 18 including a doctor, photographer and Crocker's valet, started off on a Round the World cruise shortly after the launching, visiting the Marquesas, Tonga, Java, Sumatra, India, Europe and the Caribbean. The ship returned to San Francisco after exactly one year as scheduled and they sailed her past the cove to salute her builders. Zaca went on many scientific expeditions in the next years. Two crew members still living in the 1980s told stories of trips to the Galapagos and South America, bringing back turtles and iguanas and live fish in tanks for the SF Aquarium. They recall taking specimens for the Academy of Sciences, dragging so deep that they brought up fish with lights on their heads which, when they came up, exploded.


The War put an end to the expeditions. The Navy took Zaca and used her for a coastal patrol boat, and painted the teak, the hull and the interior battleship gray. In 1945, Flynn bought her, and it’s been said that he could never erase all the gray. He spent $50,000 on new furnishings however, and decorated her all in white, with red rugs and a white ermine bedspread. His shakedown cruise was to Mexico, and in 1946 Zaca was chartered for the film Lady From Shanghai with Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, and returned briefly to Sausalito. The film ends at the Nunes yard, it’s worth renting the video if you’re a history buff; great shots of the boatyard and the docks, the boardwalk and the Valhalla in 1946.


Flynn took the vessel to Mexico and the Caribbean, and is reported to have enjoyed a luxurious life aboard. He had planned on a world cruise, but got the yacht only as far as the French Riviera until his death in 1959. There she slowly deteriorated as debtors, heirs and boatyards argued about her fate. Slowly she became a rotting hulk in the harbor of Villefranche, mastless, the interior gutted, the hull rotten and kept afloat by pumps.


Salvation arrived in 1991 when Roberto Memmo, sailor, yachtsman, and businessman from Monaco who was experienced in expensive and expensive restorations, foundZaca. Today she has been beautifully restored, sails throughout the Mediterranean, and carries a full-time crew of four. A worthy ending for a yacht apparently destined for a lifetime of luxurious living.

Elizabeth Enquist

July 15, 2008

Elizabeth Enquist was both a respected artist and one of the early promoters of the arts in Sausalito. Her father was an architect and she learned drawing and perspective from him. Otherwise, she had little technical training, believing that “if the artist hasnot the instinct to paint correctly without outside influence, he has not found his right vocation.”

               In 1939, jointly with her friend and fellow artist Enid Foster, Elizabeth organized a cooperative gallery on Bridgeway. She was also one of the founders of a club, called the Hub, where artists could meet and have a meal. At that time she wrote in the Sausalito News that “Culture draws cultured people and educates uncultured people. Sausalito is not an industrial city, it is a scenic spot … an escape from the noise and rush of big cities and we must develop its true capacities.”

               After World War II, Elizabeth, who had left town for several years, returned and moved into a Victorian house she had bought on Main Street. She continued to be one of the major organizers of arts events and reported regularly on artistic goings-on in the Sausalito News. She also exhibited in local galleries and shows and taught an art class for children at Bern Porter’s Contemporary Gallery in Sausalito. Children, she believed, were natural artists because they were unhampered by learning and unafraid to express frankly what they see and feel. She was the vice president of the Sausalito Little Theater organization when it was formed in 1949 and also one of the major organizers of Sausalito’s first Outdoor Arts Fair that year. She was one of the judges at a children’s art show in the Contemporary Gallery, and participated, along with Enid Foster, George Hoffman, Bern Porter and others, in a study of the creative process conducted by the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Society. In 1951 she hosted a benefit at her house for an art center the artists were trying to form. “What a night!” she wrote. “Thunder, lightning. The Golden Gate Bridge was closed for the first time. Fearless followers of the arts braved the tempest as I dashed about lighting candles. … We were out to spread culture beyond the present perimeters.”