A Sausalito Boyhood

By Larry Clinton

Robert Williams being interviewed on NBC Bay Area in 2013.

At age 79, sixteen years ago, Sausalito native Robert Beresford Williams figured he had done everything of note he was going to do in his life, so it was time to write his memoirs. It had been a remarkable life: Eagle Scout, Naval Academy graduate, World War II veteran, highly successful insurance salesman and veterans advocate. Here are excerpts of his memories of growing up in Sausalito in the 1920’s:

Often, as a young boy, I would telephone home from a friend's house or from downtown Sausalito. I can still hear Mother's cheery voice or Dad's drawn out "Hello" on the family two-piece telephone, in answer to my operator-connected calls to Sausalito 306.

In the 1920’s and 1930's, Sausalito was primarily a San Francisco bedroom community, with a population of about 3000. Bounded by San Francisco Bay in front and with hills behind to the west, Sausalito was a small, picturesque village.

Sausalito seemed to be divided into three sections: "Old Town" at the south end -- ethnically mixed European; "New Town" at the north end -- primarily Portuguese, descendants of fishermen; and the "The Hill", where I lived -- totally white, Republican, a large British colony, predominantly commuters.

Social life revolved around the Sausalito Woman's Club, the San Francisco Yacht Club (then in Sausalito) and churches and various fraternal organizations, primarily Portuguese flavored.

Civic days, so very festive, were important in Sausalito: Flag Day in June, with the ceremony in the town plaza. Navy Day in October, often with a destroyer at anchor off "Old Town" — an opportunity for a small boy to get unlimited quantities of ice cream, free! Armistice Day in November, celebrating the end of World War I (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918) with its parade, wreath-laying in the town plaza, and other remembrances.

As a boy, I was comfortable in Sausalito. I was aware of who lived where, over large areas of the town. As one might in such a small village, I knew so many there -- Frost the Postmaster, Smith the Dentist, Barker the Insurance Man, Miller the Realtor, Ratto the Grocer, Ohlemutz the Butcher, Ellis the Jeweler, Smith the Ferry Boat Captain, Boyd the Theater Owner, Laroy the Druggist, St. George Buttrum, the Vicar. In 1996, while driving slowly around Sausalito, this memory of "Oh, that's so and so's house", was still so very clear in my mind! There was an atmosphere of friendliness in Sausalito. Saying hello with a smile as one passed, often going out of my way to say hello, became a way of life — one of the important lessons I learned in my hometown.

In 1922, I moved into our newly-built home, on the "down the hill" side of Sausalito Boulevard. The letters on the yellow front gate prophetically spelled out " The Anchorage".

Our home had a nautical theme. There was a long porch on the bay side, also a deck from which to admire the magnificence of San Francisco Bay, a large telescope for detailed viewing, room for me to entertain my friends, a play area for forts and battling armies of small lead soldiers and a dog run for Mac, my Scottie. There was a lower yard filled with narrow, mud-hardened roads painstakingly constructed by brother John and myself, for our miniature toy cars of the day.

Redwood tree with official city plaque outside Williams’ Sausalito Boulevard home

Photo by Larry Clinton

For a lower yard update, here is a story relayed by my daughter Cara about her 1994 visit. The 1990's owners, for reasons unknown, had brought in a metal detector to comb the lower yard. Unearthed were five of brother John's and my miniature, vintage cars of the day, restored and now displayed in a place of honor on the owner's kitchen front window sill. A small stack of fused-together coins was found, probably brother John's. Also unearthed were Grandfather's sterling silver cigarette lighter and, a thin oval-shaped medallion with Grandmother's name and address lettered thereon.

Our Sausalito home has been remodeled repeatedly and extensity since Mother sold it in the mid-1960's for the seemingly high price of $50,000!!!! What reminders might now be there of my happy boyhood years in Sausalito? Out front is a one-time 18" Mark West Creek, Sonoma County, redwood sapling, painstakingly transported to Sausalito and planted by me as a young boy, now grown into a mature, beautiful redwood tree. In the 1960’s, this redwood was judged to be a tree of such significance to Sausalito to be designated a city-dedicated tree. Affixed thereto is a plaque. Presumably, this redwood tree, with its protected status, will stand as a reminder for many, many decades to come. Long gone is the wooden street number sign, nailed to the back gate, so carefully crafted by me in my seventh grade Manual Training Class. Perhaps, if one rooted around in the lower yard, one might find buried, a small, old, rusted or disintegrated toy car or two of brother John's or mine.

Williams’ Sausalito memoir is in the collection of the Sausalito Historical Society, which is open to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM on the top floor of City Hall.