Ice House Plaza Project Progresses

By Dana Whitson, Vice President, SHS
SWA’s renderings of the proposed plaza looking south

SWA’s renderings of the proposed plaza looking south

Sausalito citizens can learn more about plans to vreat a new plaza adjacent to the downtown Ice House at a public open house on Sunday January 31 from 12 to 3 PM. The Open House will be held on the proposed plaza site adjacent to the Ice House at 780 Bridgeway.  Sausalito Historical Society docents will display the proposed Ice House Plaza plans and will be available to answer questions.

Visitors to the new plaza will be able to explore and linger on wooden benches and decks, and concrete seating walls designed to complement the adjoining historic Ice House Historic Museum and Visitor Center.

SWA’s renderings of the proposed plaza looking south.

SWA’s renderings of the proposed plaza looking south.

Five mature Canary Island Pines will be preserved on the site, but the design proposes to prune them to create more light and to open up views of the harbor and bay.  A “learning landscape” with native plants will create an opportunity for the 3rd graders to study plants used by the Miwoks and also for home gardeners to find out more about attractive, drought-tolerant plants suitable for Sausalito.

The new plaza design acknowledges the site’s historic roots with the addition of an allegorical rail line outlined in tile on the plaza, crossed by wooden benches symbolizing railroad ties.

The multi-use space is planned to be used as an outdoor classroom for the Historical Society’s acclaimed local history curricula for Sausalito Marin City School District third grade students. Replicas of historic Sausalito artifacts will be imbedded into the plaza to encourage exploration by the students. 

Ice House History

The land where the municipal parking lots are now located used to be the terminus of a passenger railroad that terminated at the Ferry Landing.  Those trains operated until 1941.

The Ice House also originated as a piece of railroad rolling stock, having been built as a cold storage hold for the trains in the 1880’s.  It was moved to Caledonia Street in the early 1900’s as an outlet where Sausalitans could restock their iceboxes.  Following the advent of electric refrigerators, the building was once again moved to Caledonia and Litho Streets, this time as an office.  Architect Michael Rex was the last commercial tenant of the building.

When the underlying land was to be sold in 1998, Mr. Rex offered the building to the City for $1.  After a public discussion on alternate uses for the building, the City Council voted to move the Ice House to its final home, a City-owned site at the corner of Bay Street and Bridgeway in downtown Sausalito, to replace a temporary SHS History Exhibit and Visitor Center opened during the City’s 1993 centennial at the former Village Faire (now the Casa Madrona Hotel and Poggio Restaurant.) 

Under the leadership of former Sausalito Historical Society President Phil Frank, the Historical Society raised funds for the relocation and conversion of the building into the Museum and Visitor Center in 1999, and has continuously operated it for the City since that time. 

Phil Frank was tireless champion of Sausalito history and a beloved community member.  He was also well known as the celebrated creator of the Farley comic strip in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The City and Historical Society always intended to improve the site around the Ice House once funds became available.  The plan for the plaza began to take shape following Phil Frank’s death, as his friends and fellow citizens sought to use funds donated in his memory to build a project that Phil would have loved.  In 2010, the Sausalito Foundation raised over $32,000 to build the Plaza.  The Sausalito Art Festival Foundation contributed an additional $30,000 to cast a life-size bronze statue of Phil to be installed in the plaza.

The project lagged when the Sausalito Foundation founder Bea Seidler became ill and passed away.  Like Phil, Bea was someone who made enormous contributions to Sausalito.  She was a pioneer in the advertising industry, creating the “Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco Treat” campaign in her capacity as a copy writer for a San Francisco PR firm.   Bea was also one of the founding Ice House docents.

Bringing the Ice House Plaza to Completion

In late 2014, the remaining Foundation board enlisted the Sausalito Historical Society to help finish the Plaza.  In the last year, this partnership enlisted a pro-bono panel of Sausalito architects, landscape architects, landscape designers, exhibit designers and planners to update the concept plan. 

Internationally recognized Sausalito landscape architecture firm SWA was brought on board at a deeply discounted fee to translate the concept plans into a design review submittal by the Sausalito Planning Commission.  Those plans are tentatively slated to be heard by the Planning Commission at its February 3 meeting.

The City and Historical Society have ramped up the fundraising by applying for a museum grant from the State of California to provide matching funds for constructing the plaza project. The City expects to learn about the State funding prospects in February. If approved, the grant funds will help pay for outdoor exhibits in the Plaza that highlight Sausalito’s rich history.

With funding prospects now in focus, the Historical Society and Foundation hope to begin construction on the Plaza in Fall 2016.


For further information about the Ice House Plaza project or the January 31 open house, please contact the Sausalito Historical Society at 415-289-4117 or info@sausalitohistoricalsociety.org .