Saving Old Town’s Shelter Cove

By Larry Clinton - Sausalito Historical Society
Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Can you imagine a high-rise apartment building in the middle of Old Town’s Shelter Cove? It might have happened if not for the efforts of two unlikely allies: city attorney John Ehlen and ex-madam turned restaurateur Sally Stanford.

The following was reported in the Sausalito News in February 1957:

An excited and vocal cross-section of all facets of Sausalito society crammed into the City Hall last Tuesday night to implore, castigate, deride and offer escape clauses apropos of the proposed waterfront apartments scheduled to start construction this spring.

Last minute rescue

It was City Attorney John Ehlen who emerged as the knight in shining armor to save the waterfront, at least temporarily, for the city. Ehlen, armed with the code of the State Lands Commission, disclosed that the builders of the proposed Cove Apartments are not entitled to their building permit because at the present time there is not the required legal access to the property they have purchased – the submerged tidelands off the Boardwalk, bounded by Main and Richardson streets. The State Tidelands Commission will have to issue a permit for building on that site before further construction steps can be taken. At the present time, under the State Lands Act, the City of Sausalito has only an easement to the lots.

Time to rezone

In the meantime, while the builders are applying to the State Lands Commission for their permit (which they have said they will proceed immediately to do), the City Planning Commission will consider rezoning the land for condemnation proceedings on aesthetic grounds. Ehlen also quoted a precedent set in the United States Supreme Court that cited public welfare as having spiritual and aesthetic principles as well as safety and sanitary aspects. After this rezoning or condemnation is established, the burden of proof on the validity of the zoning will be placed on the developers, according to Ehlen.

Sally offers bail

Prior to the city attorney’s factual solution to the hassle, Sally Stanford, present with her attorney, James MacInnis, again offered to buy the property at a fair market price and present it to Sausalito for recreational use.

In an oral history recorded for the Historical Society, long-time community activist Bea Seidler told how Sally eventually prevailed, along with several other citizens who raised enough money to make a down payment on the property, and then deeded it to the City, which put up the rest of the purchase price. “Sally I think was the one who got the whole thing going,” recalled Bea, “because she was going to lose her view.”

Back issues of Sausalito News from 1895 through 1957 are available via the Sausalito Historical Society’s website at