2009 SHS MarinScope Columns

Have a Drink on Sally and your dog can have one on Leland

Have a Drink on Sally and your dog can have one on Leland

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.

Sausalito, Past And Present Part I

This is the first installment of an article that appeared in the very first issue of the Sausalito News, February, 1885.

While not a very imposing figure among the early settlements of the State, Sausalito has a history that may be classed as ancient – for California.  Far back in the forgotten past, its harbor was visited by whalers and ships on voyages of discovery.  Its first regular settler was John Reed, who came to the locality in 1826.  He was followed two or three years later by Wm. A. Richardson.

These two received extensive land grants from the Mexican Government, and under their patriarchial rule a small colony of the English-speaking race had been collected in the old colonial days. Little, if any record is left of this period.  The adobe dwellings have crumbled into dust, and a couple of small mills have suffered a like fate.  With the rush of population when gold was first discovered, Sausalito profited but scantily. 

Some enterprising individual planned a city there which was considerably larger than London – on paper – but San Francisco monopolized the tide of immigration all the same.  There was no room for another competitor.  Besides, a dark shadow hung over the neighborhood.  There was no assured title to the land. The same litigation of Mexican grants that has cursed so many sections of California kept Sausalito effectually in the back-ground.  For fifteen years after the admission of the State, the town was little more than a shipping point for a not very extensive agricultural country, and a watering place for vessels.

In 1806 the title of S. R. Throckmorton to the Rancho Sausalito was finally established, and from that date something like life began to be infused into the community. In 1809 a most important sale of 1,000 acres was effected. The purchasers were several land speculators, who formed themselves into a stock association, under the name of the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company. The original incorporators were Messrs. Harrison, Hitchcock, Thompson, Easterby, Girard, Bosqui, McCrellish, Dore, Woodward, Spencer, Bee, De La Montagine, Currey, Platt, Romer, Tillinghast, Hooker, Cobb, and Cazneau. These organized with Messrs. Dore, Thompson, Girard, Romer, Harrison, De La Montagine and Platt as the first Board of Trustees.

The officers and managers went to work with an energy that should have commanded success. A ferry line between San Francisco and Sausalito was established forthwith. The newly purchased tract was laid out judiciously in blocks and lots by skillful engineers, streets and drives were constructed and thrown open to travel and a beginning of a water system made. But as in many enterprises in which the judgment of the originator has been ultimately fulfilled the gentlemen who first conceived the idea of the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company did not profit by the scheme, Nearly half a million dollars was paid for the land. Large sums were expended for the various improvements and the anticipated real estate boom did not come. Few lots could be disposed of and under the strain the Company became seriously embarrassed. Nearly all the original incorporators fell by the roadside and yielded up their stock. Of the twenty gentlemen by whom the Company was brought into existence only five now have other than a sentimental interest in its affairs. The balance, to be expressive though inelegant, were “frozen out.”

Still there was a constant progress -- a slow, but at least healthy development. Each year saw some new improvement added, some now houses built, some pain in point of population. The town received quite a little boom when the North Pacific Coast Railroad was constructed. The shops were naturally located at Sausalito, as the tide-water terminus of the line, and the presence of forty or fifty additional families made a very perceptible change for the better. Doubtless the advance would have been more rapid, had the Land and Ferry Company been less hampered financially, and able to carry into effect all the plans contemplated. The managers did their best, but could not compete successfully with the great corporations that were furnishing traveling facilities to other suburban sections with a lavish hand. The ferry-boat was a relic of antiquity, slow, ill arranged, and uncomfortable, and it was only profitable to run it two or three trips a day. When we

compare it to the floating palaces and half-hourly trips that Oakland and Alameda enjoyed, the only wonder is Sausalito was patronized at all.

In the fall of 1882 the town's first boom began.

To Be Continued

The Sausalito news is now online and searchable from 1885-1923.  You can access it by typing in www.cdnc.ucr.edu on your computer and scrolling down to the Sausalito News, the last of the newspapers listed in the window. You will have the choice of searching entire newspapers by date, or of doing keyword searches, much as you would on Google.

When you find an article that interests you, you can use the commands at the top of the screen to view the entire page of the paper, to zoom in or out, to “clip” a printable copy of the entire article, or to view the article as scanned text, which then needs to be proofread against a printed version for accuracy.

Both the Sausalito Library and the Historical Society expect to develop links on their websites to the newspaper site in the near future. Library  and Historical Society personnel are being trained to assist patrons with searches.



William Richardson, pictured here in 1854, exemplifies the range of fortune, for good and ill, that awaited many during the volatile years of mid-19th Century California.

Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Houseboats in the 1960s and 1970s

The following is excerpted from Phil Frank’s book Houseboats of Sausalito:

An exodus north from Haight-Ashbury after the Summer of Love and a national focus on Sausalito’s floating community caused a major spurt in houseboat building in Sausalito. The “Fat Rat Players” go into their routine in front of the ferryboat City of San Rafael at Gate Five. The “Fat Rat” himself can be seen at the far left behind one of his “hench rats,” who is handing out Big Bucks (fake cash) to prospective boat slip leasers.

Part of the legacy of the early houseboat community was the theatrical and musical events that were an important part of life afloat.  These events included all members of the community and provided opportunities for the youngest members to participate in the life of their neighborhood.

Chris Hardman’s Snake Theater was located for several years at Gate Three. The Snake Theater became the Antenna Theater and received international renown. In the 1970s, it focused its productions on Sausalito, the houseboat community, and southern Marin County.

The 1970s were exciting, hectic years in the Sausalito houseboat community.  There was conflict over development and the enforcement of county and Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) regulations. Art and music flourished; many times, music, dance and protest were combined.


An exhibition of Bruce Forrester’sphotographs of the Waterfront Community of the 1970’s will open  Monday, June 8 at the Sausalito Historical Society, Third Floor, 420 Litho St.  There will be an opening reception beginning at 6:30. Admission is free. No reservations required.


Houseboats of Sausalito, $19.99, Arcadia Publishing.  Available at the Ice House (780 Bridgeway), local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.


The Fat Rat Players show included songs, dances, musical accompaniment, and blowing the steam whistle on the old ferry.

(© Bruce Forrester, 2007.)

The Portuguese in Sausalito

by Jack Tracy

On May 31, new residents in town who happen to be downtown around noon and visitors just coming off the ferries will be in for a surprise. Winding its way down Princess Street to Bridgeway and proceeding to Caledonia Street will be a most remarkable parade, led by a bevy of young girls  dressed in resplendent white gowns, the older ones  wearing crowns  and trailing long royal  trains held aloft by the younger ones, whoappear to be their attendants.  Accompanying them will likely be a brass band, perhaps a small drill team, and  a contingent ofmiddle-aged men, looking very official in suits and ties, one of them carrying a giant banner inscribed with the letters I.D.E.S.S.T.  Here’s the story behind this unusual tableau, as told by Jack Tracy in an article that appeared in the May 13, 1975 MarinScope.  (Original text slightly edited and abridged.)


Many young Portuguese from the islands of the Azores found freedom in California around the turn of the last century, some eventually in Sausalito where they took up fishing, dairying, boatbuilding and various kinds of merchandising. Precisely why these men from the islands of Flores, St. Jorge, Pico, Faial, Terceira and others came here is lost in the generational gap between that time and this.  But no doubt mandatory army service for twenty years and feudalistic land monopolies had a great deal to do with it.

A known fact is that in the 1870s, many American whaling ships from New England, always in need of crews for their three-to-four-year treks to the Pacific whaling grounds, called at the Azores for the able-bodied seamen they could recruit there.  Many young Portuguese earned their passage to California that way, jumping ship when they arrived on this coast. 

Most of these new immigrants had no knowledge of English.  Many had no skills.  But Sausalito was a natural setting for a Portuguese settlement – close to the sea, the mountains and agricultural and grazing lands.  An 1887 town directory lists the names of Amarel, Azevedo, Barreros, Beirao, Bettencourt, Borba, Cardoza, Dias, Feira, Machado, Mancebo, Pedroza, Preira, Rossa, Santos, Sease, Semas, Silva, Silverira, Souza, Susavilla, Tasheira, Texiera, Vierra, Zaro and others.

The second generation of Portuguese in Sausalito brought the settlement into full flower.  The language barrier had, for the most part, been overcome, and the Portuguese were actively engaged in the affairs of the city.  But the traditions of their country were still a vivid memory.  Like the English, Irish, Germans, Italians, Jews and others before them, they formed societies based on these traditions, one of them the I.D.E.S.S.T., which means in English translation the “Brotherhood of the Holy Ghost and Blessed Trinity.”  In the Portuguese translation, the acronym stands for:  Irmanda, Dur divino, Espirte, Santo, Santisma, Trindade. 

The I.D.E.S.S.T., represented in Sausalito today by the I.D.E.S.S.T. or Portuguese Hall on Caledonia Street, was formed shortly after the first Festival of the Holy Ghost was observed in California in the late 1880s.  It was held here in Sausalito and honored an event in Portuguese history when Portugal under King Diniz and Queen Isabel was struck by a severe famine.  The Queen prayed for relief, and as with all legends based on a combination of fact and myth, it is believed that ships laden with food did indeed arrive and end the famine.  The Queen offered a High Mass and proclaimed a festival, according an opportunity for the populace to rejoice

Originally, Sausalito’s Festival of the Holy Ghost was marked by cattle being driven into town from as far away as Bolinas and Point Reyes.  Along the roads, children decorated the cows’ horns with flowers.  At one time a building at the end of Nevada Street (now the site of Rotary Club senior housing) was a slaughterhouse, where the cattle were taken in preparation for the feast that was to follow.  The meat was blessed by a priest and given away to the needy, with a portion reserved for the festival goers. A repast of sopa (stew) and carne e vino (meat and wine) was enjoyed, followed by the dancing of the Chama Rita, a ritual traditionally associated with the festivities and since adopted by many as the popular name of the festival.   . .

 Queen Isabel’s role in endingPortugal’s 13th century famine explains the procession of young girls in full royal regalia that fills the streets of Sausalito every spring.  Many of the Portuguese communities in the Bay Area take part, each sending its own Queen with a retinue of two attendants. The procession through town includes a stop for Mass at the Star of the Sea Church on Harrison Street, where the Queens are crowned.  The partaking of the traditional feast takes place at the I.D.E.S.S.T. Hall  

Although, historically, the significance of the festival has been chiefly religious, it has also served as an opportunity to meet friends, renew acquaintances from other parts of the Bay Area and hold family reunions.  Today, it is replicatedevery spring all over California and beyond. 

Of Whiskey Flasks and Bathtub Gin

Historical Society founder and Sausalito’s unofficial “town historian” Jack Tracy was preceded by a couple of decades by veteran local storyteller Swede Pedersen, who was born and raised here and had a rich treasure trove of memories of Sausalito from the 1930s on, which he wrote about during the early years of the MarinScope.  He was interviewed in the 1970s by Doris Berdahl about his recollections of Sausalito’s lively rum running scene in the early `30sand the co-conspiratorial attitude of the good citizens of Sausalito during that period. This article, somewhat edited and abridged, appeared on February 8, 1972.

“When I was only 12 years old,” Pedersen recalls, “we used to go down to Shelter Cove at night, and when the fog came in we’d tunnel under the pilings of the old Walhalla, the German beer garden that’s now the Valhalla, where we knew a lot of the stuff was stored.  I remember when I made my first sale to one of our leading citizens.  He said, `You’ve done your civic duty by turning this in, young man.  If you find anymore of these bottles, you just bring them straight to me’.”

The 1919 law that introduced Prohibition to this country was known as the Volstead Act, named after its sponsor, a taciturn country lawyer and Congressman from Minnesota.  But the culture from which this second-generation Norwegian sprang couldn’t have been more removed from the freewheeling Sausalito of that time.  All up and down the town’s social hierarchy, most locals turned out to be liberated from America’s puritan heritage, at least on this issue.

The distinct class divisions that existed in Sausalito at that time apparently vanished when it came to the forbidden pleasures of whiskey flasks ad bathtub gin.  While the hill people were making fig wine in their basements, the young men of the working class were flirting with prison terms for the sake of the big money offered by men like “Baby Face” Nelson, who spent a brief time in Sausalito in the early 1930s.

By and large, the attitude among the otherwise law-abiding citizenry was a wink and a nod.  From the stately homes of the Banana Belt to the proletarian flatlands, there was amused acquiescence -- or covert indulgence in guilty pleasures.  “Baby Face” Nelson’s custom-built Duesenberg used to be brought into Rose’s Garage on Caledonia Street (now the Real Foods store),” one old-timer recalled for this interview. “I’d wash and polish it, and I can still remember the bullet-proof windshield and the secret compartment under the seats where the booze was kept.”

“Sometimes we’d get together at the Women’s Club,” remembered a “hill lady” who didn’t care to be identified.  “Our local pharmacist would mix up some of his medicinal alcohol with a few juniper leaves, and we’d have a little gin party.”

According to Pedersen, a local Boy Scout troop was sometimes “chaperoned” by men posing as troop leaders who took the boys to a lonely West Marin beach, settled them around a bonfire, treated them to a wiener roast and encouraged them to sing camp songs at the top of their lungs.  In the meantime, the chaperones loaded up a long, black limousine down by the water with contraband brought in by boat. 

The prevalence of crude stills in private homes seems to have approached the

proportions of a cottage industry.  But since big money was often at stake, the fun and games of locallaw breaking inevitably came to be overshadowed by the deadly serious operations of big-time gangsters.  “There were more unidentified bodies found floating in the bay and laying in the back roads during that period than at any other time in the history of this area,” said Pedersen.  “Our Boys Club, who sponsored the Sausalito Bears ball club, held whist parties to pay for our uniforms.  Our headquarters were in the basement of a house on Spring Street where a speakeasy operated on the upper floors.  So it didn’t surprise us when we found a machine gun dismantled and cleaned one day out in our horseshoe throwing pit.”

The most notorious of the 1930s-style bandits associated with Sausalito was 24-year-old George “Baby Face” Nelson, who when he came here was on the lam after a shoot-out in Wisconsin between G-men and John Dillinger’s gang.  Nelson spent about six months in Sausalito, keeping more or less undercover while participating in a flourishing rum running operation between Marin and Sonoma counties and San Francisco.  He was reputed to have dyed his hair blonde, altered his features slightly, worked from time to time as a soft-drinks bartender, and dated local girls.

Nelson died young and in true gangster fashion in 1934.  His body was found under a culvert near Chicago following a battle with federal agents.   Clues that led to his whereabouts were supplied by Sausalito Constable Manuel Monotti, who had observed him here the previous summer and was able to provide positive identification.  Menotti, member of the large Menotti-Pasquinucci family, a longtime Sausalito clan, had attended the FBI’s school in Washington, D.C. and returned to Sausalito with a more professional view of police work than that of his hometown colleagues – a development that local bootleggers had probably never anticipated.

In addition to a liberal social climate, there were also fortuitous geographical reasons for a widespread flouting of the dry laws in Marin and Sonoma counties.  “Because of all the inlets up and down the coast west of here,” Pedersen pointed out, “there were plenty of chances for small, fast boats, carrying contraband from Canadian and Mexican ‘mother ships’ laying offshore in international waters, to come in and unload their cargo on the beaches.”

In the days before the Golden Gate Bridge was built, Sausalito was known among rumrunners as “the bottleneck” through which illegal liquor had to be funneled to San Francisco’s speakeasies.  They had to make it through downtown and onto a San Francisco-bound ferry without detection.  Pedersen told of how bootleggers would meet at the old Caesar’s Inn on Tocoloma Road, near Inverness, and make plans for a shipment to the city. 

 “A call would go out to a trusted telephone operator in San Rafael – often a girlfriend of one of the men – who would relay the message to Sausalito that everyone should be off the streets because a truckload was coming through.  The truck, covered with a tarpaulin, would time the run so that it could catch the last ferry of the night within seconds before it left, and that way keep a jump ahead of the federal inspectors.”

Obviously, in order for such an operation to run smoothly, almost everyone in Sausalito had to be an accessory to the fact, either actively or passively.  There were only two policemen on the force then, plus a night watchman.  The degree to which they looked the other way can only be a matter of conjecture today.



The wages of sin:  A local pharmacy was shut down for violating Prohibition laws in the 1920s.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Madam Mayor

By Doris Berdahl

Among the series of Jack Tracy historical articles planned for this space, we’ve promised an occasional piece by other writers who appeared in the MarinScope during its early years.  The following is an objective, but affectionate,  assessment of Sausalito’s local VIP, Sally Stanford, in her role as a member of the City Council since1972.  It appeared on March 16, 1976, following her swearing in as Mayor of Sausalito

She’s a continual delight to her fans in the audience.  Never at a loss for blunt put-downs of people and ideas that displease her, or for no-nonsense reminders that money makes the world go round.  Quick with a triumphant half-smile when the vote’s gone her way, or an expansive wave of her cigarette and a bold sweep of her eye when something amuses her, or a rakish wink and throaty aside behind cupped hand when slipping an in-group joke to her friends in the front row.

Combining the stylish pantsuits of the successful business woman with a few well calculated reminders of her past – a profusion of diamond jewelry, bright red fingernail polish, and deep décolletage (where she appears to keep everything from handkerchiefs to $100 bills) – she occupies her seat on the Council with all the aplomb of a generally recognized celebrity. 

But now Sally Stanford, San Francisco’s best known ex-madam and Sausalito’s most durable restaurateur and tourist attraction, has achieved what clearly has been her ultimate goal -- the acceptance, and indeed the admiration and goodwill, of a majority of  the community.

Contrary to what skeptics predicted when she took office four years ago , she’s never missed a Council meeting.  Although she occasionally dozes through the duller moments and doesn’t do her homework on the technicalities or the subjects that don’t interest her, she has represented her special constituency in a vigorous, if sometimes repetitive and single-minded, manner that leaves no doubt of her position on any subject.

She says the unsayable (“This country’s going straight down the road to socialism”) in a town where well-bred liberalism forbids such talk.  She states her motives as she sees them with stunning candor (“I’ll know if it’s time to conserve water when I look at my water meter”).  Although her judgments seem harsh and cynical to many, she never hesitates to say so if she thinks the emperor has no clothes.  “All you get when you go for these nit-wit planners’ schemes are a lot of dreams and a few bicycle paths.  I’m tired of dreams.”

Deprecating allusions to her lack of formal credentials for public life, to her age or her health, she answers with a quick and witty retort:   “I’m a lot more aware than these people think.  There’s nothing I’m not aware of.  Somebody said the other day they didn’t think I could hear and see well anymore.  Well, I can see across the bay, and I can also see the cash register across the room and how much it says on there.”

Only occasionally has she alluded to her 20 years in the oldest profession, but when she does it’s with subtle good humor.  “The rest of you may be tired, but I can go on all night.”

Who her constituents are and how they feel about her has never been quite clear.  She’s always attracted youngish social critics who have imagined that by voting for her they can thumb their noses at the full range of Establishment types -- from third generation hill families to policemen on the beat to Rotary Club regulars to big development interests. But they have generally been disappointed. Although she continues to maintain a mildly irreverent attitude toward established institutions and still often befriends individuals regarded as victims of “the system” (eg., her famous defense of death row prisoner Caryl Chessman), she is as strong for law and order and private property rights as any prosperous hill dweller in town. 

She’s worked for higher salaries for the police department and regularly stops by there in a GMC pickup with fresh fruits and vegetables from her Sonoma County farm.  She has been staunchly loyal to the downtown business community and sympathetic to its need to keep their cash registers ringing.  She has given almost automatic approval to development applicants, believing in their right to make maximum profits on their properties as long as they conform to the zoning laws on the books when they bought their land.

In short, with all her tough talk, Sally is a soft touch for the people she likes or has chosen to defend.  She’s a winner, seldom a loser, for reasons that she demonstrates daily in her business and political life.  She has intense powers of concentration, a psychological defense system that works extremely well for her if sometimes abrasively for other people, a compulsion for perfection, an earthy feel for basic human needs and the surprisingly simple ways they can be met.  Her long fought and ultimately successful campaign to get a public restroom for downtown Sausalito is a case in point.

More then anything else, she’s been able to convince even her enemies of her inner core of integrity in dealing with other people.  “I believe in spending other people’s money as carefully as I would spend my own,” she says when asked about reform programs financed by the taxpayer.  “Anybody who tries to reform the world is crazy.  I just try to help the young and the old and the ones who have lost their way.  That, and sticking to the Golden Rule, is about all you can do.”

These are the qualities she’s brought to city government.  Some of them – the strong, positive ones – have not been put to work for Sausalito as much as they might have mainly because of her love-hate relationship with the rest of city officialdom, her tendency to shoot from the hip, and her suspicion that she’s been excluded from the private strategies of the key decision-makers.

Now, as Mayor of Sausalito, she will herself be a member of the inner circle.  What she does in that role can’t help but be interesting. 



Sally Stanford celebrates after being sworn in to the City Council in 1972.

Photo by John Harlan, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

House Painting, Circa 1883

By Jack Tracy

This article, published in the MarinScope on October 28, 1975, was written by Jack Tracy in his capacity as Chairman of what was then known as the Sausalito Landmarks Committee (it was later made an official agency of city government and relabeled the Sausalito Historical Landmarks Board).  The following piece appeared just five days after the city’s Community Appearances Advisory Board (CAAB) voted on the question of what color would be most appropriate for the small Victorian at 108 Caledonia Street, a one-time home which was about to be restored for use as a commercial building. At that hearing, Tracy was asked to render his expert opinion about the color scheme most likely to conform to choices made by home builders of the Victorian era.  What follows reflects the information he conveyed to the CAAB that night.   

The period of the1880s and `90s has been preserved in many of the older homes of Sausalito’s hillsides, and one of the most interesting characteristics of the ones that remain authentic is their color schemes.  Contrary to present opinion, Victorians were not all painted white with green trim.  Nor were they all gray, which is typical of most San Francisco Victorians that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire.  Nor did they sport the garish color schemes that prevail today among older buildings on San Francisco’s tourist-oriented streets. 

Information about color schemes true to that period has until recently been almost nonexistent.  However, a book entitled Modern House Painting, published in 1883 and belonging to Dr. Joseph Baird of the Davis campus of the University of California, has just been located, and it has been described by historians as “quite an eye opener.”   Another book, also recently uncovered, Color Applied to Architecture (1887), published by the Sherwin Williams Paint Company, describes proper paint usage for structures of the late 19th century.

When all this data is put together, the following picture emerges:  Multi-color schemes were indeed fashionable in the 1880s and early `90s, but only earth tones, such as browns, yellows, greens, deep reds, and raw sienna were employed.  The rationale was apparently to try to simulate the color of rock, stone and brick.  Shingles were normally stained and oiled.  The body of the building was painted in a deeper tone than the second story.  Color highlights were used for moldings, window treatments and doors.

A statement regarding one building in the Sherwin Williams book is illustrative:  “This grand entrance, surrounded by a finely carved framework, was distinguished by a tan color and doors of deep red.”  Another passage states, “Subtle orange was used to highlight chimney and gable areas of this fine home, with tones of brown and gold setting off ornate trims and wide porches.”

A paragraph in ModernHouse Painting that reflects the feeling of this era declares, “These rich, and sometimes somber, colors give a house a certain character and dignity which the washed-out looking light tones and lavenders generally fail to produce.  Modern taste of the best kind does not seek for exciting effects, for decided hues, for glare, and for obtrusiveness; but for results which will be restful; for softness of color and for that subdued and quiet expression which should characterize the exterior of every house in which refinement is supposed to lodge.”

This recently discovered information, which the Sausalito Landmarks Committee was instrumental in uncovering, has been requested by the National Trust for Historical Preservation, which regards it as a distinct breakthrough in our knowledge of the Victorian age.

Five days before this piece was published, the CAAB, acting contrary to Tracy’s testimony and the evidence he presented from his 19th century sources, voted unanimously to grant the architect and the owner of the tiny turreted Victorian at 108 Caledonia their preferred choice of color:  lavender.



A Day to Remember

by Jack Tracy

On June 29, 1976, the MarinScope ran this(lightly edited and updated) article by Jack Tracy, founder of the Sausalito Historical Society, as one of a series of history pieces by Tracy and others which it published during the 1970s.  This one is about the great 4th of July fire of 1893, the year of Sausalito’s incorporationas a city.

In 1893, the majestic El Monte Hotel above Water Street (now Bridgeway) planned its annual display of fireworks.  Colonel J.D. Slinkey, proprietor of this fashionable 1890s resort, purchased fireworks with several hundred dollars which had been raised by local residents.  The selection promised to be spectacular:  parachute rockets,  willow tree rockets, twelve star Roman candles, Saxon wheels, Chinese musical candles, Japanese night shells, large surprise boxes, and some 15 union bombshells.

Perhaps it was the package labeled “surprise boxes” that started things.  At any rate, the residents of Sausalito were in for quite a surprise that night.

No one was ever sure what happened, but around 9:30 p.m. on July 4th an inferno broke out.  George Ginn’s saloon, the Hunter’s Resort, located directly below the grounds of the El Monte Hotel (where the former City Hall building now housing Gene Hiller’s menswear stands today) was engulfed, flames bursting out of doors and windows throughout its upper story. 

There was not much wind at the time, but the flames spread northward roughly from Excelsior Lane to the building which today houses the Casa Madrona hotel and Poggio restaurant.  The bakery of the Grethel Bros, the Jacque Thomas barber shop, the Tamalpais Stables, Joe Lawrence’s fruit store, Frank Jukich’s restaurant and, finally, the Tamalpais Hotel were consumed.  The boiler of the three-story hotel exploded and parts of the building literally flew into the street.  Pedro, the shoemaker, and Uncle Joe, the bootblack, lost their possessions. 

Ten buildings were destroyed and the fire damage totaled $30,000 – quite a sum of money then.  Fortunately no lives were lost.

According to reports of the time, everybody pitched in to save the town.  Mayor J.W. Sperry was on hand and Counselor Reade stood by his post of duty, even if he did soil his trousers.  Commodore C.C. Bruce lost an axe belonging to his yacht, the Rover.  To save the El Monte Hotel, Sausalito’s willing hands pulled down A. Brendeau’s one-story shanty, and another serious loss was averted. 

Nearly 1000 people witnessed the fire.  A headline in the Sausalito News of July 7 declared:  “MOST OF BUSINESS PORTION OF TOWN CONSUMED BY DESTRUCTIVE ELEMENT.”  The San Francisco Examiner blamed the El Monte Hotel fireworks display.  But nobody knew for sure.  Whatever the cause, it was a 4th of July not easily forgotten. 



The only sign of a business district still standing after the fire is the singed barber pole on the far left.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

DANIEL O’CONNELEarly Sausalito’s Poet Laureate

By Jack Tracy

Starting this week, the Sausalito Historical Society will be offering slightly abridged and edited versions of articles on historical topics by SHS founder and Sausalito’s long-time town historian, Jack Tracy.  Most were published during the 1970s in the Marin Scope.  Lightly edited pieces by other writers who explored, reported on (or sometimes recalled) highlights from Sausalito’s history in the pages of the fledgling newspaper during its first decade will also be included in the series.

Daniel O’Connell, whose life neatly spanned the second half of the 19th century (1849 -1899), was one of a kind.  The poet memorialized by the stone bench that occupies the northwest corner of the intersection where Sausalito’s Bulkley and Harrison streets meet was a true Celtic spirit who left his mark where ever he went.  .

Born in County Clare, Ireland, he was the son of a distinguished lawyer and grand-nephew of the great Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell.  Following a classic Jesuit education, he emigrated to New York, and then, heeding the popular advice to young people of that era to “go west young man,” he pushed on to California, where he initially taught at Santa Clara College.  But he was soon drawn to San Francisco , where he began writing for the daily newspapers and becoming involved with the city’s literary establishment of the time – with writers like Bret Harte, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Joaquin Miller and Ina Coolbrith.  According to a descendant of his, he seconded the motion of Colonel John C. Cremony naming the Bohemian Club in 1872.

In 1874, he married Mabel Ashley, the daughter of the late Senator Delos R. Ashley.  That union produced seven children, and for awhile he and his growing family lived in the “Octagon House” on Gough Street.  His first book of poetry, Lyrics, was published in 1883 and received some attention.  During these years, he collaborated on a novel, A Special Deposit, and wrote a play, The Red Fox.

We find Daniel O’Connell walking the hills of Sausalito in the mid-1880s and living with his family at Laurel Lodge, a home still standing at 41 Cazneau.  Legend has it that James W. Coleman, President of the North Pacific Coast Railroad Company, which brought the first rail line into Sausalito in 1875, built this cottage in 1886 and loaned it to O’Connell. The glen in which it was built was later often referred to as “O’Connell’s Glen.”

Although never a wealthy man, a dinner hosted by O’Connell at Laurel Lodge is said to have seemed to his family and friends like a “Roman feast” due to his presence.  As his friend Hero Rensch has written, “His desire to spend far exceeded his capacity to acquire.”

O’Connell died at Laurel Lodge on February 23, 1899, marking 27 years to the day of the founding of the Bohemian Club.  As was fitting, he was buried from the club’s GreenRoom.  A final tribute to him occurred in 1901.  Friends, including architect Willis Polk, General John Dickinson and members of the Bohemian Club, contributed $1500 to build a memorial in his honor.  The intersection of Bulkley and Harrison was chosen for an oval stone seat because it was a site that O’Connell had often frequented.  The seat was inscribed with his final poem, “Chamber of Sleep,” which he finished some ten days prior to his death. 

In 1900, Ina Coolbrith, later to become California’s Poet Laureate in 1915, edited O’Connell’s last book of poetry, “Songs of Bohemia.”  Its closing poem is “Chamber of Sleep.”

(Photos courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society)



Memorable Sausalito figure Daniel O’Connell

Memorial bench at Bulkley and Harrison streets

Building Waterfront Art Colony

The following is an excerpt from Phil Frank’s book Houseboats of Sausalito:

The Arques boatyards became havens for sculptors, painters, jewelry makers, and bon vivants in the late 1940s and 1950s. The beats of San Francisco’s North Beach came to consider Sausalito their summer home. This classic image from Sausalito’s heyday as an art colony captures jeweler Loyola Fourtane and her sculptor husband, Ed Fourtane, on the bow of the lumber schooner SS Lassen in its berth at the Arques Johnson Street boatyard. The schooner Lassen served as a gathering spot for the art colony in Sausalito for many years.

Sausalito Historical Society President Larry Clinton and Richard Cunningham of the Larkspur Heritage Preservation Board will co-present an illustrated talk on houseboat history from the Larkspur Arks to today’s Sausalito floating homes community on Wednesday, April 22 from noon to 1 PM in Room 330 of the Marin County Civic Center.

Houseboats of Sausalito, $19.99, Arcadia Publishing.  Available at the Ice House (780 Bridgeway), local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.



See an exhibit of photos and memorabilia from the Lassen at the Historical Society Exhibit Room, top floor of Sausalito City Hall.  Open 10-2 PM, Wednesday and Saturday.

Photo Courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society.

Creating a New Floating Community

The following is an excerpt from Phil Frank’s book Houseboats of Sausalito:

This delightful image from the Arques family album captures brothers Donlon (far left) and Bub (far right) with their buddies on the waters of Richardson’s Bay, where they spent most of their early years. Donlon Arques described growing up on the water: “I was brought up as a kid on boats. I was broken in like that.” Beginning in 1913, the family operated several boatyards on the Sausalito waterfront, the first at Napa Street, then at Johnson Street, and finally at Gates Three, Five, and Six. In later years, Camillo Arques and his son Donlon, Sausalito shipyard owners, acquired a fleet of abandoned ferryboats, grain and vegetable barges, steam schooners, and piledrivers idled by the newly constructed bridges, highways, and trucks.

Sausalito Historical Society President Larry Clinton and Richard Cunningham of the Larkspur Heritage Preservation Board will co-present an illustrated talk on houseboat history from the Larkspur Arks to today’s Sausalito floating homes community on Wednesday, April 22 from noon to 1 PM in Room 330 of the Marin County Civic Center.

Houseboats of Sausalito, $19.99, Arcadia Publishing.  Available at the Ice House (780 Bridgeway), local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.



Life on the water started early for the Arques brothers.

Photo Courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society, Arques Family Archives.

Changing Times Afloat

The following is an excerpt from Phil Frank’s book Houseboats of Sausalito:

The San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 was the initial trigger for numerous changes on the Marin waterfront. Almost overnight, the early arks became full-time floating homes for the owners who had lost their homes in San Francisco. Between 1910 and 1930, most of the early arks became moored to shore or were raised and placed on pilings to provide shore-side cabins for their owners, or they were sold and turned into housing for fishermen, Italian gardeners, and train workers. Some were moved to the delta area to become hunting and fishing clubs. The last ark was built in Sausalito in 1926. Beginning in 1930, the bridges were built, which left many of the ferryboats without a job or permanent mooring. Many of the area’s largest ferries were moved to the Sausalito waterfront, where they were pulled up along the shore, relics of another era waiting for new uses.

Sausalito Historical Society President Larry Clinton and Richard Cunningham of the Larkspur Heritage Preservation Board will co-present an illustrated talk on houseboat history from the Larkspur Arks to today’s Sausalito floating homes community at Noon, Wed. April 22 in the Board of Supervisors Planning Chambers, Room 330, at the Marin Civic Center, San Rafael.

Houseboats of Sausalito, $19.99, Arcadia Publishing.  Available at the Ice House (780 Bridgeway), local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.



Moving this ark to shore-side pilings allowed for easier access.

Photo Courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society, Phil Frank Collection.

Arks: Houseboat Forerunners

The following is an excerpt from Phil Frank’s book Houseboats of Sausalito:

Larkspur, like Sausalito to an extent and Belvedere to an extreme, had its own “Arkville”—a community of floating homes. Its glory days were from the 1880s to 1900. Boardwalks were built that extended from Magnolia Avenue to the creek. The residents of the long line of early houseboats—or, as they preferred, arks—relished the lifestyle of living afloat at high tide and having their floating houses nestle in the marsh grass when the tide had gone out. The line of pre-1900 arks extended for a mile along the western edge of Corte Madera Creek adjacent to a series of boardwalks, portions of which still exist today. The structures were inhabited by the same characters who gravitate toward harbors, fish shanties, and abandoned ferryboats today.

Sausalito Historical Society President Larry Clinton and Richard Cunningham of the Larkspur Heritage Preservation Board will co-present an illustrated talk on houseboat history from the Larkspur Arks to today’s Sausalito floating homes community at 7:00 PM, March 19, at Larkspur City Hall, 400 Magnolia Avenue.

Houseboats of Sausalito, $19.99, Arcadia Publishing.  Available at the Ice House (780 Bridgeway), local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.



Photo courtesy of the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society Historical Collections, Kimball Collection

Waterborne Lifestyle and Architecture on San Francisco Bay

The following is an excerpt from Phil Frank’s book Houseboats of Sausalito:

Five lasses are making the social rounds on the Belvedere arks in the 1880s. Corinthian Island is in the middle right background with a sprinkling of arks around its base. The little floating structures, the haunts of fishermen and boatbuilders of the 1860s and 1870s, were discovered by San Franciscans hungering for the Victorian pleasures of leisure summer escape. The early houseboats prior to 1900 were called arks because of their ability to float on the tides or rest on the mudflats of the bay, not unlike Noah’s Ark. Arks were built in shipyards around San Francisco Bay. The structures were placed atop flat-bottomed scow hulls and built with pocket doors and windows that slid into walls. The roof of each was arched. Gangways went around the structures, with the bow and stern ends being larger and serving as decks. The bow entrance usually had French doors at the center with a single window on either side of the doors.

Larkspur, like Sausalito to an extent and Belvedere to an extreme, had its own “Arkville”—a community of floating homes. Its glory days were from the 1880s to 1900. Boardwalks were built that extended from Magnolia Avenue to the creek. The residents of the long line of early houseboats—or, as they preferred, arks—relished the lifestyle of living afloat at high tide and having their floating houses nestle in the marsh grass when the tide had gone out. The line of pre-1900 arks extended for a mile along the western edge of Corte Madera Creek adjacent to a series of boardwalks, portions of which still exist today. The structures were inhabited by the same characters who gravitate toward harbors, fish shanties, and abandoned ferryboats today.

Sausalito Historical Society President Larry Clinton and Richard Cunningham of the Larkspur Heritage Preservation Board will co-present an illustrated talk on houseboat history from the Larkspur Arks to today’s Sausalito floating homes community at 7:00 PM, March 19, at Larkspur City Hall, 400 Magnolia Avenue.

Houseboats of Sausalito, $19.99, Arcadia Publishing.  Available at the Ice House (780 Bridgeway), local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or (888) 313-2665.



Photo courtesy of the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society Historical Collections, Kimball Collection

The Galilee in Sausalito Part II

by Margaret Badger

Over Galilee’s half century of retirement, several owners lived aboard her. British Captain John Quinn, who purchased Galilee in 1936 and brought her to Sausalito, spent weekends and vacations there with his family. “Old San Francisco gas lamps illuminated her by night and pots of flowers cheered her appearance by day,”  the Marin Scope of 7/22/75 quoted an earlier account of that period. Quinn gave up ownership in 1958, and Galilee temporarily lay abandoned until Walter Leaskin and his family bought her and lived aboard until 1962.

 Old photographs are the best record of the changes that occurred to Galilee over decades. In 1948, Galilee still had two masts and maintained her regal presence on the water. By the late fifties, the masts were gone, the bowsprit broken and the rudder invisible in the mud.  In the 1970s, the enormous hull emptied and filled with the movement of the tides and the deck boards cast shadow patterns on the enormous interior bulwarks.  Toredo worms weakened the mighty beams and, in the final photographs, the hull is only held together by supportive pilings.

By January, 1962, the City Council decided that the hulk was a health and sanitary hazard and ordered she be abandoned and destroyed.

With demolition imminent, new interest in preserving something of Galilee was born. In November 1962, Belvedere architect John Lord Kingstepped forward and purchased her from Leaskin “to save her from being destroyed. ” According to the San Francisco Chronicle, King hoped she might “form the nucleus of a maritime museum for Sausalito.” He was supported by the director of the Maritime Museum, Karl Kortum, who had gone over the Galilee with King and “was as enthusiastic about the project as he.”

A few landmark events determined Galilee’s ultimate disposition. Habitation was ended in 1962, but no aggressive action was taken to destroy her. In fact, a campaign was mounted to preserve parts of her. Although John Lord King did not live long enough to create a marine museum in her hull, in 1975, long-time Sausalitan and boat-lover Ron MacAnnan (owner of the Trident-Ondine building) became decisively involved.

MacAnnan, working with Kortum of the Maritime Museum and Harry Dring of the State of California and Aquatic Park convinced the City of Sausalito to let him chain saw off a 20’ section- the whole stern - for restoration. MacAnnan volunteered the machinery and labor, along with Herb Madden who loaned a tractor loader and Barry Hibben who negotiated the use of a crane, to remove the transom, barge it across the bay to San Francisco, and heft it up onto land. Today, the restored stern of the Galilee is on display outside the Maritime Museum thanks to MacAnnan’s efforts.

In the mid-1980s, the Benicia Historical Society and the Benicia Historical Museum Foundation negotiated with Sausalito to remove “by sawing” the bow of Galilee and, in another Herculean engineering effort, successfully moved it to Benicia where it presently rests under a tin roof at the Benicia Historical Museum.

Call of the Sea, a local organization founded in 1985 with a vision to build a New Galilee and to provide “education before the mast,” three years later won from the City of Sausalito a site on which to build the New Galilee.

As for the rest of the hull, the remaining beams can still be seen resting in the mud just north of the foot of Napa Street, in the community known as Galilee Harbor. Harold Sommers, Sausalito’s veteran seaman and maritime historian,  reports that the original rudder is still perfectly preserved under the mud.

Is Galilee’s  future still unfolding? Some are dreaming of one day uniting the bow and stern. The activists of Call of the Sea are realizing the mission of Galilee as first envisioned in their New Galilee project. Their schooner Seaward docked at the Bay model is a successful educational and sea-adventure program in the tradition of tall ships.

 Galilee was an iconic sailing ship beloved for her beauty, her speed and her utility.  Her legacy may still be emerging.



Galilee rests on the Sausalito mud in the mid-60’s.

The Story of the Galilee Part i

by Margaret Badger

Galilee, the fastest and finest west coast brigantine of the late 1800s,  was built locally in Benicia in 1891 by innovative ship builder Matthew Turner.  The beautiful wooden ship fulfilled her destiny as the “Queen of the Pacific” for almost forty years. The second phase of her life, retirement from the sea, began in Sausalito around 1936 and continued for more than half a century. Galilee, named by missionaries traveling aboard to the South Pacific, was and remains inspirational to seamen, shipbuilders and countless more Sausalitans fascinated with the town’s maritime history.

                                                Period at Sea, 1891-1933

Galilee was the last built of the three speedy packets of Matthew Turner’sTahiti Packet Line, which sailed from San Francisco to Papeete between 1891-1896. Besides Galilee the line included Tropic Bird and City of Papeete. Not simply cargo carriers, they were also designed for passengers andlight freight such as mail and perishable fruits.  Galilee set two records on her maiden voyage, 19 days from San Francisco to Tahiti and 22 ½ days on return, a straight windward haul. As summarized in Mordecai ben-Herschel’s “The Ballad of the Galilee:”

                                    A record coming home was broken

                                    As if Neptune’s soul had spoken, no

                                    Sister ship could hold a token

                                    To the Galilee

                                    Her bold name on the transom did they see.

Galilee’s  reputation was built on beauty as well as speed. Of the 228 ships built by Turner, Galilee was deemed the loveliest, “a real thoroughbred.” An article written in 1899 in The Rudder described her as follows: “She has invariably out-sailed and out-pointed every vessel with which she has ever been in company, and has long had the reputation of being the smartest sailing vessel out of San Francisco.”

The design of the “Queen” was only one of many extraordinary innovations pioneered by Turner. Rather than following the traditional brigantine model, he built his ships long and sharp forward and full and short in the stern. He was warned that his brigantine would “pitch and dive into the water and be always wet.” But this did not turn out to be so and his sleek ships traversed the Pacific with enviable grace for decades.

By the early 1900s, steam ships were beginning to compete with the great sailing ships of the previous century, but Galilee’s reputation for speed kept her in service well into the steam era. She was recruited in 1905 by the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institute in Washington to conduct a magnetic survey of the Pacific Ocean.  A “wood-built, non-magnetic sailing vessel” was called for in the proposal. “The steel rigging was replaced with hemp and by removing as much ferrous metal as possible the vessel’s deviation was reduced to nearly nothing so the scientists could observe and determine the deviation caused by the earth’s magnetism.” She completed three Pacific Ocean expeditions ranging in length from 10,000 nautical miles to 35,000.

When Matthew Turner died in 1909, Galilee was sold to the Union Fish Company and converted to a three masted ball-headed schooner. She carried cod fish from the Bering Sea to the cod fish cannery on Belvedere Island for over a decade. After serving a final two years in the tuna fishing industry, she was sold into retirement.


Next week: Galilee’s retirement to Sausalito


Line drawing of the graceful Galilee in her heyday. Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.

John Perry - A Sausalito Moment in Time

When Phil Frank was president of the Sausalito Historical Society in the ’90s, he found many classic photos in the Society’s archives, and solicited recollections related to those photos from long time residents.  Several of these ran in the Marin Scope, and from time to time we’ll be bringing a few of them back. 

 “That's my grandfather John Perry in the wagon.

The picture was taken on Bulkley near the O'Connell seat, probably in the 1890's. The woman he's talking to is Phoebe Hearst, William Randolph Hearst’s mother. Grandfather was their gardener at the Hearst home on Bulkley where he had plans to build his mansion. Grandfather had a disagreement with Mrs. Hearst. She thought he'd lied to her about something so she fired him. Willie Hearst found out and hired grandfather back. The next day, he's working in Mrs. Hearst's garden when she comes out and says, ‘What are you doing here?’ My grandfather says, ‘Mrs. Hearst, I don't work for you. I work for Willie!’

Grandfather died in 1911. I was seven years old at the time. I thought he was a pretty great guy.”

Fritz Perry, 1992       

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

19 Princess Street

By Doris Berdahl

Princess Street was laid out in the late 1860s, part of an ambitious land development scheme to sell “view lots” in the hills above the central waterfront.  The steep, winding little street, just one block long, was meant to provide access to what is now some of the most expensive real estate in California, the warm, fog-free zone known locally as the Banana Belt. 

The street, ascending straight from the bay, derived its name from Sausalito’s first ferryboat, the Princess, a 130-foot paddle wheeler which brought prospective buyers twice daily from San Francisco, docking at a hastily-built landing where this tiny street intersected with Water Street. 

By the end of the 19th century, Princess Street had become the hub of one of Sausalito’s busiest industries, the wood, coal and hay business.  On the evidence of early photographs, Princess Court, today an arcade of upscale shops, hosted a dusty swirl of horse-drawn express wagons, daily picking up and delivering their goods.       

Last week this space described how rapidly the foot of Princess Street moved with the times: the high technology of the early 20th century, the automobile, transformed it, making it the site of Sausalito’s first auto ferry service.  Photos of the period show a swarm of Model Ts, either waiting to make the bay crossing or returning from it.  The wood, coal and hay business was long gone, and the San Francisco Yacht Club, immediately to the south on Water Street, had retreated to a less frenetic, more elite   environment in Belvedere.

Today, the water end of Princess Street is graced with a small park, suggestive of a waterfront plaza on the Italian Riviera, named after a beloved local merchant, Yee Tock Chee (Willie Yee).  From the park the street winds up past a diverse assortment of shops andgalleries, among them a small, unassumingstorefront on the left which until recently housed the Sausalito Salvage Shop -- the oldest still-standing commercial building in town.

The tiny gable-roofed cottage at 19 Princess Street was built in 1874.  On the 1891 Sanborn Map, a primary data source for historians of Sausalito, the use ascribed to that site was "Wood and Coal," the building itself probably serving as a storage facility.  On the Sanborn Map of 1894, the little storage shed had come up in the world.  Its use was described as "Express Wagons," probably suggesting a livery stable, or a kind of late 19th century version of a parking garage. 

This 1910 photo of Princess Street shows it to be a no-nonsense, dirt road, still frozen in the horse-and-buggy era, but near the end of its days as a bustling trading center.  Number 19, on the far right one door down from its sister cottage next door, has undergone another change of use.  It now sports a sign clearly signaling the rising standard of living of 20th century Sausalitans by proclaiming it to be "The Mason Engineering Co.; Dwellings Heated--Steam--Hot Water.  PLUMBING."

By 1924, the earliest year for which we have Sausalito property tax records, the building is still designated as a "Shop (Hardware & Plumbing)."  The assessor estimated its construction cost to have been $651, but due to depreciation over 50 years, its value in 1924 was said to be $460.

In 1957, the Sausalito Salvage Shop, after moving among a number of temporary homes, settled into 19 Princess, carrying on a charitable tradition that began with a "Bundles for Britain" bazaar in 1940, the first volunteer effort of that kind in Marin.  The event was planned as just a one-day affair.  But because "the stuff (donations) just kept pouring in," as one of the founders recalled in a newspaper interview a few years ago, "we just kept going."  At first the founding group, Sausalito women dedicated to raising money for good causes (initially for wartime Britain and then for a wide variety of philanthropies), called themselves British War Relief, but switched to Allied War Relief after the United States entered World War II.  When the war ended, devoted customers continued to come, eager to buy everything from designer evening gowns, to Franklin stoves, to Christmas tree ornaments at bargain prices.  And once again, the shop volunteers "just kept going," choosing for their permanent name the Sausalito Salvage Shop.

The building underwent very few changes over the years.  Some time between 1910 and 1924, its original drop-siding exterior was shingled over.  Later, the front windows of its Mason Engineering days were enlarged.  But now, engineers have concluded that the building is unsafe, and major changes are in the works. The aging structure needs major rehabilitation, and the Salvage Shop organization has had to disband and move out.

That doesn’t detract, however, from the miracle of the Salvage Shop and the fact that this locally-inspired charitable organization was able to remain so many years in one of Sausalito's prime retail locations -- due in large part to the generosity of landlords who kept the building's rent affordable in recognition of the good work that went on inside.  Maybe the story is true – although there’s no documentation to prove it -- that the building at one point was used for Sunday prayer meetings. Which could mean that it’s destined to lead a charmed life, and its future is still promising.



Princess Street in 1910: hardly the fast track.                       Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Mason Garage

By Doris Berdahl

The big, bulky structure at 801 Bridgeway--originally a parking garage and purveyor of "gasoline, oils, greases, tires, tubes and accessories," later the Village Fair and now an elegant inn, spa, and restaurant serving award-winning Tuscan cuisine -- has come a long way since it began servicing Sausalito's first horseless carriages back in 1924.  With the introduction of Poggio on the ground floor, gentrification has become complete.        

In fact,  this photo says it all.  As the Chamarita parade passes down Bridgeway, the man standing in front of his Model T Ford at far right, apparently pouring water into an overheated radiator, avails himself of one of Sausalito's newest amenities--a gas pump and water hose.  They grace the front of the building in a straightforward, no-nonsense display of what the new garage has to offer.

Bridgeway's first concrete and steel structure was built for the impressive sum of $61,924 by Clinton Dewitt Mason, son of John Mason, San Francisco's first brewer.  The older Mason came to Sausalito in 1892, soon after foundingthe Mason Distillery, site of present day Whiskey Springs.  "Clint" was an aggressive entrepreneur.  The garage and his other business, the Mason & Co. Bottling Works on Litho Street, did well until he fell on hard times at the height of Prohibition, and the Bank of San Rafael foreclosed on his downtown holdings.  Under new management, it became the Empire Garage. 

Given the temper of the times and the Mason family's questionable associations --there were persistent rumors that the distillery at the north end of town was carrying on "business as usual" via an illegal still out at the back of the property -- fanciful stories abounded about what went on in the upper recesses of Mason's Garage in the 1920s and early `30s.  In fact, the rumors, real or imagined, never died. As late as the 1970s, when the building had long become the law-abiding Village Fair, town historian Jack Tracy began a December, 1979, MarinScope article with this teaser paragraph:  "Can you imagine a miniature golf course in the Village Fair?  How about a Chinese gambling operation or a hide-out for illicit booze?"   

            By the 1940s, it was clear that the massive parking garage in the middle of town, meant to serve San Francisco commuters in the days before the bridge, had to be demolished or put to some other use.  Happily, there were creative people around who saw its possibilities.  Heath Ceramics, then just developing its popular tableware line, moved into the third floor.  The building became the birthplace of the Trade Fair, which showcased local artists along with then-avant garde furniture, pottery, jewelry, handwoven fabrics and other arts and crafts. 

            When the Trade Fair moved to the ferryboat Berkeley, then moored on the Sausalito waterfront, a kind of natural evolution took place at the former garage site. New owners pioneered the concept of transforming a once-industrial building into an attractive shopping arcade, setting the stage for the later development of Ghirardelli Square and The Cannery in San Francisco.  Small boutiques, selling unusual, often imported, merchandise not found anywhere else, began to fill the old place, converting its former automobile ramps into walkways and stairs.  These ascended to the top floor past lush plantings, fountains and waterfalls. A favorite feature for many years was the lower ramp, dubbed Little Lombard Street.

            The Village Fair lasted for a half-century, attracting devotees from all over the world.  It closed with the transfer of ownership in the late `90s, a victim of a deteriorating building, changing times and the fact that its marketing concept had been extensively copied in other places.  For a long time regular visitors to Sausalito couldn't believe it was gone.  To this day, they come into the Visitors Center across the street, often after a long absence, still cherishing memories of the Sausalito of 20 or 30 years ago.  And the first question they ask, often indignantly, is, "What have you done with Little Lombard Street?" 

             Fortunately, while Little Lombard is gone, the building that housed Mason's Garage lives on, playing ahandsome new role in the life of downtown Sausalito. Who would have predicted the European sophistication of Poggio, or the luxurious accommodations of Casa Madrona, back in the days when a constant succession of little black cars rumbled up the runways and you could fill up your tank right out at the curb.    

Lincoln Garage

A few years ago, an expansive remodeling job elevated the shabby storefront at 599-603 Bridgeway into sleekly modern offices.  The change was dramatic.  Today you’d never guess that, 80 years ago, this once-drab building played a role in Sausalito’s evolution from a quiet village, where folks got around by horse and buggy, to a raucous transportation hub, where long lines of  Model T Fords daily snaked  through town to the car ferries.  With the advent of the internal-combustion engine, Sausalito, the last stop in Marin for San Francisco-bound travelers, had become the place to pause for gas and repairs or to park and ride.  

The two-story structure with the cavernous open space at its center, located a little south of Princess Street, was known historically as Lincoln Garage, but was also Gazzola's Garage, Pistolesi's Garage and Bert's Garage at various times in its long and varied career. In more recent times, its uses changed, and it housed a succession of discount boutiques and T-shirt shops on the ground floor and an antique showroom, open only by appointment, at the upper level.  In short, it was not one of the more dynamic engines of economic growth along Bridgeway.  But it originally came into being in response to a powerful growth incentive -- the introduction of auto ferry service on Sausalito's southern waterfront.

Constructed in 1927 at a cost of $8,500, it was described by the Sausalito News as "one of the most modern buildings in Sausalito."  Its location couldn't have been more propitious. In 1922, the Golden Gate Ferry Company had commenced service just south of today's Yee Tock Chee park, in fiercecompetition with the Northwestern Pacific's existing auto ferry operation at the foot of El Portal Street.  Golden Gate’s more aggressive promotional tactics, carried out by flashing directional lights, might today be labeled “negative advertising.” (In a bid to direct southbound motorists away from the wharf of its older rival, it exhorted them: "Don't Turn Here!").  Five years after the new upstart company built its landing, Lincoln Garage opened for business, sporting a ramp from its first floor, which housed an office and shops, to its second floor, where parking for 10 to 15 cars and an auto repair facility were available. 

While this development was welcomed by local merchants, it wasn'tembraced by everyone.  Indeed, in 1903, Marin residents (among them, many Sausalitans) had signed a petition urging a law prohibiting use of automobiles on county roads.  It declared, in part,  "The automobile can never be anything but a toy for the wealthy. . . . Marin is first, last and always a horse loving and horse keeping county, . . . and would attract many more residents were it to become known that here at last there is a refuge from the constantly increasing menace of the horseless carriage."

The protests of early-day environmentalists notwithstanding, on the July 10th weekend of 1926, the combined Golden Gate and Northwestern Pacific ferries carried over 70,000 automobiles from Sausalito to San Francisco.  Traffic backed up on Water Street to well beyond the north city limits.  And garages, repair shops and filling stations sprang up all over town.  The Sausalito section of the 1925 Marin County Directory is full of them.  A few of the most interesting:

·       Mason's Garage and filling station.  Built in 1924, by mid-century it had become the Village Fair, four stories of small shops and boutiques. Today, it houses the Casa Madrona Hotel and Spa and, on the ground floor,  Poggio.

·       Doyle's Garage.  Dating from 1930, its letterhead read J.F. Doyle and E.F. Dunphy (i.e., Earl Dunphy, longtime city councilman memorialized at Dunphy Park).  They advertised themselves as "Goodrich dealers, blacksmithing and welding."

·       Golden Gate Garage. This building, developed in 1922 , now houses Venice Gourmet.  Its original occupant was the Sausalito, Mill Valley, Ross Valley, San Rafael Express Company.  

·       Tamalpais Garage.  Formerly the Tamalpais Livery Stable, built in 1894 following the devastating downtown fire of 1893, the building was converted to a garage in the mid-1920s.  Today it houses the small shopping arcade at 743-745Bridgeway (Golden Gate Jewelry, Collector's Gallery, Classy Sports).

·       Marin Livery Company (built in 1909) became a garage for a few short years.  Today it's the site of the Marin Theater. 

·       Sausalito Garage & Machine Works (1921) once accommodated bootleggers,  who brought in their false-bottom automobiles to be serviced away from the prying eyes of the law. During World War II, the building, now housing the Real Foods Company at Caledonia and Pine, was the hiring hall for the Marinship yard. 

Next week, the story behind the most legendary of these:  Mason’s Garage. 



Cars pouring off the Golden Gate Auto Ferry in the 1920s gave rise to several auto repair businesses, including the Lincoln Garage.   Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Boats on Streets

by Larry Clinton

Visitors to Sausalito’s floating homes community frequently notice what appear to be vacant berths on the docks.  They’re always amazed to discover that these openings are actually underwater streets, vestiges of unrealized plans to fill in Richardson’s Bay back when California first became a state.

According to a paper by Michael Wilmar, ex-director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and now an attorney specializing in real estate, land use and natural resources, “When California became a state in 1850, it acquired title from the United States to all of the tide and submerged lands within its new boundaries.” Shortly thereafter the cash-strapped State Legislature began to authorize the sale of tidelands, and set up a Board of Tideland Commissioners to oversee the process.

In Sausalito, a group of investors bought several parcels and the Saucelito Land & Ferry Company (as it was known then) had a survey completed and a map drawn up showing future streets and lots available to the public. A copy of the 1875 Land & Ferry Company map hangs outside the Historical Society rooms at the Sausalito Civic Center. At one point the plan was to fill in all of Richardson’s Bay, creating a West Coast Venice with canals connecting the Sausalito and Strawberry shores. 

In 1879 a public backlash against the sell-off of the Bay led to a new provision in the state Constitution forbidding the sale of tidelands.  Submerged lands already in private ownership were declared a public trust, with the guarantee of public rights to reach and use navigable waters.

The state retained title to the underwater streets, as a way of establishing boundaries for future development.  The State Lands Commission, founded in 1938, took over stewardship of this underwater real estate.

When the Bay Conservation and Development Commission was formed in the mid-60’s, Sausalito’s northern waterfront was a jumble of residences cobbled together from old vessels, war surplus, and spare parts, sheltering a gaggle of self-described “boatniks.”  To clean up the community, the County and BCDC authorized the construction of floating home marinas, which would provide shoreside hookups for power, telephones and – most important – sewage.  Where a floating home dock crossed an underwater street, no home could be berthed.

Over the years, the old houseboats morphed into floating homes. Many grew to two or three times their original size, or were replaced altogether by larger, more elaborate residences.  In time a few encroached on the mythical underwater streets, creating a new hot topic in always-Byzantine waterfront politics: Boats on Streets.

BCDC permits for the three largest marinas (Waldo Point Harbor, Yellow Ferry Harbor and Kappas), lapsed in the early 90’s.  To renew the permits, the BCDC demanded mitigation for un-permitted growth, including Boats on Streets. Today, those permits are still pending as the marinas work their way through the labyrinthine approvals process.  



The author crossing Petaluma Avenue.         Photo by Gabrielle Moore-Gordon