Zaca – A Yacht with a Colorful Past

by Annie Sutter

The Zaca in all her glory. Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The Zaca in all her glory.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

In a recent article about the launching of the Matthew Turner, Chronicle writer Carl Nolte pointed out that the ship is the first large wooden vessel to be built on the Bay since the Zaca.  It seems only appropriate that we reprint an earlier column about that storied yacht and its colorful past.

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 sub-mitting 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' under construction in Nunes boatyard - 1929-1930." The SHS accession number for the photo is 95-135.

 'Zaca' under construction in Nunes boatyard - 1929-1930." The SHS accession number for the photo is 95-135.

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.

Chuck Bradley: Another Local Success

by Steefenie Wicks

Chuck Bradley, visionary from Marin City Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Jack Tracy notes in his book “Sausalito Moments In Time” that in 1950, after the turmoil of WWII along with the wartime crowds, a quiet had once again settled over Sausalito, which seemed to have not been experienced in decades.  It was during this period that Charles Bradley and his mother were living in what was known as the Flats of Marin City.  Built on the flat land, not in the hills, these units had been housing for families and single people who came to work in the shipyards during the war. 

Marin City’s Flats were very much integrated, and not limited to just one group. Bradley remembers going to Richardson Bay School were kids from Marin City and Sausalito shared the school grounds. “It was almost 10 years after the war, folks were just trying to get along,” He continues. “I was lucky because I got to know all of the kids. Later when I went to Tam High I would meet kids that I had known in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade.”  Growing up in Marin City he never felt any type of hostility toward him or his mom from their black or white neighbors.

He remembered that living near the water gave him a sense of freedom, which he took advantage of when he could, by going fishing down by Sausalito Boat and Tackle, now called the Trident. Every Thursday night he and his Mom would attend the two-for-one movie night at the Golden Gate Theater on Bridgeway.   He recalled, “You got two movies for 25 cents.  The first was the one that was advertised, then the second one was the surprise. You never knew what it was going to be, a western or Shirley Temple.” 

During this time he got to know Sausalito well because he had two different paper routs in town.  He delivered the San Rafael News, which later became the IJ, along with a paper that no longer exists, the Sausalito Bulletin. One of his clients then was Sally Stanford, who liked to have her paper delivered to her by hand.  When he would come into her restaurant, The Valhalla, she would let him pick two, just two maraschino cherries, which he looked forward to each day.  

He remembered that at the time his mother was working for the Goodwill Store, when Goodwill would only hire disabled men and women, whom he found out were really nice people.  One man took him aside one day and said, “If you are going to deliver papers you need a bike, so I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.”  With that he pulled out an empty clear glass jar. “Each Friday,” he said, “I’ll place a dollar in this jar. You’ll need to match this with your own dollar, and soon you’ll have enough for a bike.”  One year later he had a brand new Schwinn.

In 1963, Bradley became part of the National Reserves and served 6 months’ active duty followed by 5 ½ years of reserve meetings.  Eventually, he would return to Sausalito where he got his training as a journeyman manager working at the Big G Market, now Mollie Stone’s.  From there he went on to work at a rental store that had employed him when he was a teenager.  As a young man with a vision, he talked the owner of the rental company into selling him the business. He was able to make a down payment with an agreement to also pay so much a month.  In time he owned the company, which he then called Big 4 Rents.

He would own and run this company from 1965 to 1998 when Hertz equipment rental offered to buy him out at a price he could not afford to refuse.

Since then he has devoted himself to container housing. His new company, Global Portable Buildings and its WATERstorz division, are designed to help people in times of disaster. He wanted to be able to offer housing when people are flooded out, or when hurricanes or tornadoes strike.  He has been working with the U.S. government to perfect his designs as emergency units.  These units are now tested for their adaptability at the Texas Tech Institute.  He has also worked on water storage by developing a unit that can hold up to 7,000 gallons of water, in an approved USDA/FDA lined water container that keeps drinking water fresh.

Considering that Bradley is now in his 70s, he has not slowed down.  He has always been a bit of a visionary so when asked what he sees in his future, he remarks, “Lots of tennis and being on my boat; after all I’m like everyone else, I’m here for the water.”

Piro Caro and the Houseboat Wars

By Larry Clinton

Last week we told the story of how Piro Caro became the father of the early houseboat community.  He emerged as a community leader during the infamous Houseboat Wars of the mid-70’s.  A 1977 article in the Berkeley Barb mentioned that as early as 1969 “the county ordered the removal of 60 houseboats on grounds that they were in violation of building codes and therefore unfit to live in. The community challenged the order in court and lost. But the county’s legal victory was meaningless, as the boat owners simply chose to ignore the order to move.” In the ensuing struggles, Caro fought for the rights of houseboat residents, organizing protests and filing court actions to prevent Marin County officials from evicting them from Richardson’s Bay.

Piro being manhandled by sheriff’s deputies (© Bruce Forrester)

Piro being manhandled by sheriff’s deputies (© Bruce Forrester)

Joe Tate, another veteran of those wars, has published a blog,,  which includes a statement Caro made to the Marin Board of Supervisors in 1973, at the first public hearing on a new houseboat building code ordinance designed to eliminate the nonconformist Gate 5 and 6 community:

 “...I’ve lived on the waterfront for more than twenty years... For more than those twenty years on that mud flat, a very important, a very healthy community has come into existence... [Young people come here] to find a world in which they can operate and they can move. The reason that they come is because the world, your world, cannot accommodate their needs. They either have too much energy, or too much talent, or too much rebellion. In any case, they’re the young, and accommodations have to be made for them...

“Well, you can build more hospitals, you can build more jails, you can hire more police. You can have more social workers, probation officers... That’s what would have happened if these people had not come onto this waterfront.

“As it is, for twenty years I’ve watched these people come in. And now they’re all my old friends. A young man comes in and makes himself a home, finds a chick, and has kids; the kids are now grown up and in high school and college. It’s a very healthy and excellent community, where people live freely and well... I sincerely hope you do not pass this ordinance.”

The County ignored Caro’s eloquent testimony, and passed the ordinance.  That led Caro to become a spokesman for the Waterfront Preservation Association (WPA), a civic league seeking to halt construction of Waldo Point Harbor, which he called “odious and intolerable,” according to the Berkeley Barb. Vowing to use physical confrontation if necessary. Caro told the Barb, “We will continue to oppose this redevelopment project bodily,”

And he backed up his words when the going got tough.  A video on reports that on July 15, 1977: “Marin County sheriff’s deputies got more than they bargained for when they tried to arrest the Father of the Sausalito houseboat community, Piro Caro. Caro was accused of organizing a blockade on some land that was supposed to be bulldozed and developed.

“The usually peaceful residents of the houseboat community erupted into a full riot, throwing tires and debris after a deputy’s handcuffs accidentally cut Caro’s left wrist.

“Despite the reinforcements from the Mill Valley and Sausalito police departments, the 100-plus demonstrators forced the lawmen to retreat with only 12 people in custody, but not Caro.”

Caro’s beloved ferryboat San Rafael was eventually demolished, but the pilothouses and parts of the upper deck were put on a barge, which was renamed “Son of San Rafael.” Caro lived on it for several years before dying in 1984 at the age of 83.

At his passing, Caro’s godson and namesake, Piro Patton, who had lived with him for the last 2-1/2 years, recalled “He was one of the few very great men I’ve ever met. He was a spiritual leader to many, many people on the waterfront. He led the fight against the developers and really organized the waterfront community.”

Father of the Houseboat Community -- Piro Caro Part I

By Larry Clinton

The Sausalito houseboat community has had a number of patriarchs over the decades, from Donlon Arques to Ale Eckstrom to Larry Moyer, and many others.  But one, Piro Caro, was dubbed the father of the community by the media.

Caro was a gardener and landscape architect who lived at Waldo Point for more than 30 years.  His original home was the hulk of the ferryboat City of San Rafael which had been retired in 1938 and berthed in Richmond after 14 years of service, according to Annie Sutter, author of “The Old Ferryboats of Sausalito.” This vessel is not to be confused with the steam-powered ferry San Rafael, which was rammed and sunk in 1901, inspiring the opening of Jack London’s novel, “The Sea-Wolf.”

Piro Caro aboard the City of San Rafael (© Bruce Forrester)

As Piro told the waterfront journal Garlic Press in 1975, the San Rafael came to him by a route honored by waterfront tradition: nobody else really wanted it. The paper’s founder, Pete Ritardo, editorialized: “Who could be blamed, after all, for hesitating to stake claim to 220 feet of wooden ferryboat, mud-bound and at the mercy of Richardson's Bay's ruthless teredo worms? In fact, if someone could explain rationally why a man of venerable age (74 to date) should spend a great deal of energy and money to defend, against the worms below and the authorities in San Rafael, his right to live in the aging, tilted superstructure of a retired ferryboat, he would probably keep it to himself in the interest of preserving the mysteries of life.”

After the old hulk had been beached in Sausalito in the ’50s, it was bought and sold by salvagers and would-be entrepreneurs. In 1963, when he had been forced to move out of the last houseboat in Belvedere, Piro moved aboard. Then, Piro recalled. "two or three years later, who should show up but [legal owner] Pat Warfield, looking like a tourist with cameras slung on his chest. I said 'I'm living here,' and he says, 'That's fine ... I guess I owe Arques $8000 a year for wharfage -- do you want her?' I said 'Yes,' and that's how I came to own the San Rafael."

Piro Caro became a noteworthy public figure as early as 1972 when the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram, describing denizens of the Sausalito waterfront, wrote: “People like Piro Caro, a descendant of Rabbi Joseph Caro, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all times. He left his New York home to make films in California in the 20s, organize labor in Chicago in the 30s, and mine borax in Death Valley in the 40s. He moved into his ferryboat after it was vacated by actor-adventurer Sterling Hayden, who lived on it while writing his book ‘The Wanderer’.”

Years later, the London Independent mentioned that Caro kept some “very antic company,” including counter-culture icons Alan Watts, Jean Varda, and Kenneth Rexroth.

Next week:  Piro Caro’s key role in the Houseboat Wars.

Copies of the Garlic Press, including Piro Caro’s interview and other waterfront news and views from the ’70s, are on file at the Sausalito Historical Society’s Research Room, which is open to the public Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am to 1pm on the top floor of City Hall.

A Foglift on the Sausalito Hills

By Harold French

In 1893 – the year of Sausalito’s incorporation -- a 15-year-old boy, Harold French, boarded the ferryboat San Rafael in San Francisco and came to Sausalito on a day trip hike. The adventure he recorded in his journal was reproduced in the Historical Society’s Fall 1993 Moments in Time newsletter, with the permission of Fred Sandrock of the Mt. Tam History Project, which had published the remarkably crafted narrative in honor of Sausalito’s Centennial:

The Ferry San Rafael, which was rammed and sunk in another heavy fog just eight years after Fred Sandrock’s account.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.

During the latter part of October 1893, the elegant steamer City of New York ran ashore in the fog on a reef of Point Bonita, Marin County. Many sightseers went on tugs to see the wreck, and I decided to go over the hills from Sausalito. Going over from the city on the steamer San Rafael on the morning of November 4th I met my old climbing mate Hess and a friend of his named Jackson, who were going over for the same purpose. As they had been to Point Bonita once before, I let them take the lead. We reached Sausalito about eight in the morning, after crossing the bay in a very thick fog, and immediately pushed up the hillside through the town which at the time still seemed to be asleep. I had never before been out in so a dense fog, and to add to that we found ourselves on a wrong road and were obliged to head up a canyon which we knew led to the summit of a ridge. We climbed upward, puffing out clouds of steam into the dull gray fog which wrapped us in its gloom on all sides, obscuring our way so that we were almost bewildered and could see ourselves plodding onward like spectres in the mist.

Now we knew we were getting near the top of the ridge as the gullies were narrowing visibly, and the whistling of locomotives on the North Pacific Coast track, which at first echoed with startling distinctness through the still fog, now could be faintly heard, and shortly we came to a corral on the summit of the Sausalito Hills, which at that point are about 1200 or 1500 feet in height. A narrow cattle trail wound along the crest of the ridge for a hundred yards or so, and it was while following this, that we were suddenly brought to a halt, for the sun was beginning to make his presence known by dissipating the thin stratum of fog that clung to the summit. In an instant, almost, we were in bright sunlight, breathing the crisp, clear morning air above the fog, which was denied to us below the dense, foggy air, in the gullies; and now I was feasting on the most glorious fog spectacle I had ever seen. While the highest point of the hills on which we stood was like a little island just above the sea of fog, only a few yards below the fog was sweeping in all its grandeur down a deep canyon which sloped towards the ocean, and on its southern slopes, which form a portion of the Lime Point, the fog had piled up several hundred feet higher in the form of a huge impending wave, poising itself on its crest before it swept over the rolling sea of clouds beneath. It was sublime: the sun’s power like the fable of the Sun and the Storm of the Traveler, was driving the clouds before him, giving it the often-fancied resemblance to a sea of foam. Gradually objects became more distinct, for above this vast screen that shut out the view of the harbor of San Francisco, its great city and many miles of populous land, the higher lands were beginning to appear like the peaks of Ararat after the Deluge. Suddenly a long mass reared itself from the flying clouds. It was Tamalpais, and the intervening ocean of fog scudding seaward caused its long back to resemble a huge leviathan sporting in its element.

As I stood bathed in the clear morning light and breathing the vivifying ozone, suddenly as though there had been a volcanic uprising, the wedge-shaped cone of Mt. Diablo, forty miles to the east, shot up above the fog sea.

How pure is the air on this hilltop! How bright is the new sunlight! All seems like a pristine world rising for the first time from the depths of the sea. Down m the canyons the air is close and heavily laden with moisture which rendered respiration difficult, but how different is it here on this islet above the clouds.

Gradually objects in the canyon below are becoming perceptible as the fog is fast sweeping out to sea. Gradually the outlines of numerous rounded hills loom out, and far off as the curtain of fog lifts lies the promontory of Point Bonita, which comes out in relief against the masses of fog in the Golden Gate.

Young Fred’s journal continues with his trek down to Point Bonita and back.  It is in the collection of the Sausalito Historical Society, which is open to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM. on the top floor of City Hall.

Rose Kissinger: The Queen of the Pacific

By: Steefenie Wicks

 Rose Kissinger holding her invention in a clipping from the 1953 Sausalito News. Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

 Rose Kissinger holding her invention in a clipping from the 1953 Sausalito News.

Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Rose Kissinger was the only woman to spend 22 years aboard the fully rigged ship the Pacific Queen, aka the Balclutha.  In 2012, I wrote a column on Rose, along with her husband Frank, telling the story of how they became the owners of the ship.   Recently, the San Francisco Maritime Museum has taken an interest in Rose’s life aboard the ship, along with its history.

The Maritime Museum Library has much information on the ship along with an old radio interview that Rose did in 1946.  At that time the announcer, Tommy Hotchkiss of KGER, made a point of saying that there was only one ship under the American flag.  He went on to explain: “A ship is a sailing vessel with four masts each squared-rigged.  There are other classifications, such as barque, barkentine, brig, brigantine, schooner, sloop, lugger, cat, ketch, yawl along with many others under sail.  But there is actually only one true ship left under the American flag; that ship is the Pacific Queen.” 

One should remember that this was 1946.

During the radio interview, Rose explained how she and her husband came to be the owners of this sailing ship. “It was in 1933 that we purchased her.  We knew at the time that the sailing ship was fast disappearing, we felt that one should be preserved for the younger generations to come.”   She went on to explain that her husband Frank was a showman, who believed the ship would be able to pay her own way.  Indeed it did, as over 200,000 people came aboard the Pacific Queen when she was docked at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, four months before the WWII.

During this radio interview Rose explained that the Pacific Queen was under yacht registry, which made her the largest yacht in the world at that time, 300 feet long.  Frank Kissinger believed that the Pacific Queen could out sail many of the newfangled yachts of that day.  

When asked how fast she could sail, Rose replied, “She has been recorded at 18 knots, that’s about 20 land miles an hour.”  Rose went on to say that the Pacific Queen had been used in sailing films, making her debut in the Clark Gable version of“Mutiny on the Bounty.”    From there the ship appeared in the Gary Cooper film “Souls at Sea,” then in “Rulers of the Sea” starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

It is interesting to note that at the time Rose was giving this interview her husband Frank had had some ideas of his own as to what should happen to the Pacific Queen.  In 1946 Frank had the idea to turn her into a gambling ship.  He planned to play draw poker onboard since it was then legal under state law.    Frank’s idea was to anchor the Pacific Queen in Richardson’s Bay, then hire a small fleet of water taxis to shuttle folks out to the new gambling ship.

Captain Frank had become aware that nearly 20,000,000 American males and perhaps a quarter of that many females had become devoted to the country’s most popular indoor sport, the game of poker.  “Hey Joe! Sell me another five bucks worth of chips, will you?”  This became the call onboard the ship along with the reply: “That’s the last time I try to draw to the middle of a straight.”

The Balclutha moored at the Hyde Street Pier

Courtesy Photo

In 1946, the Pacific Queen was docked in Sausalito; there were no laws that said she could not become a gambling ship.  However, the Marin County District Attorney, along with the Sausalito Police Chief, had yet to -- shall we say -- play their hand.   Frank was soon to find out that as long as the Pacific Queen was moored in Sausalito it was under the Police Chief’s jurisdiction.  Frank decided that he would not bank the game himself, but would take a cut from each pot, meaning that the law could not touch him.  What he did not expect was the fact that the District Attorney would draw up an ordinance to ban draw poker.  As long as the Pacific Queen was moored in Richardson’s Bay, it would be illegal to have gambling on board.

During all this, Rose was becoming an inventor.  When asked on the radio program about her development of a training aid to study navigation, she was quick to answer.  “Yes,” she said, “I invented a device which is a small globe of the earth within a larger transparent plastic sphere representing the sky.  Both globes are on the same pole, but the earth and sky revolve separately from each other.   In their proper places on the sky are various navigational stars and of course the imaginary lines in the sky that compare with latitude and longitude on the earth.  The Department of the Navy learned about it and took it over. It became the teaching aid that the Navy used in navigation instruction.  The Navy then secured a patent for me and I have all the commercial rights.”

The history of Frank and Rose Kissinger is part of the woven fabric of the history of the ship Balclutha aka the Pacific Queen.  These two individuals had a dream that is still alive today at the Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. 

Conversations with Donlon Arques

By Arnie Gross

The following is excerpted from a 1970s waterfront journal called the Garlic Press.  Arnie Gross was a regular contributor. Donlon Arques was the patriarch of the post-WWII houseboat scene, and a notoriously private and mercurial character:

To really know Sausalito one must understand two charismatic people who have an impact on the social and economic forces of our village. In November 1973 I set before myself the task of interviewing these two individuals, Sally Stanford and Donlon Arques. Sally has not yet invited me to interview her and Donlon is not always cooperative. So, to date I have not been successful.

This is important to me because Donlon, whom I count among my friends, once told me, “being paid with success” is where it's at and furthermore defined success as “accomplishing what one started out to do.” In fact, it was about three years ago that he said these words to me when he promised me an interview. Since then, my wily friend has somehow not been available at the times we agreed to for a formal interview. Yet he has encouraged me to take notes and hang around him when he's in town. That I have done from time to time over the last two years.

Out of personal frustration and a feeling of responding to the interest of our waterfront community I have informally edited some of my notes and experiences with Donlon, or Donnie, as some of his old-timer friends often call him.

Donlon Arques is a slightly overweight 68-year-old man with a ruddy face who would pass for being in his mid-fifties. He stands about 6 feet and is always clean shaven and neatly hair-cutted. He wears glasses, and has light clear soft twinkly eyes. He often smokes a pipe. He always wears the same comfortable work clothes (black pants and a striped shirt). He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and as far as I know has never lived outside of California. He learned to row his first boat at the “foot of the Napa Street Pier” when he was six, and delivered his first barge from San Francisco to Novato when he was fourteen or sixteen. He knows and loves the waterfront. Not just ours, but all of the West Coast.

He knows most of the barges and maritime machinery and craft that dot our bay and ply our waters. He has a feeling toward machinery such as a poet would have toward words. He once handed me his oil can to oil my bicycle chain and suggested I do so in such a nice way that I actually put other thoughts out of my head temporarily, and committed myself to oiling my chain properly and unresentfully.

He is one of the most amiable bullshitters I have ever known, hence lies his charm and amazing knowledge of trivia. He likes people, he likes life, he “likes to eat well, sleep well” and keep clean and organized.

He raises cattle on his ranch up north along with organic vegetables. Most of the time he prefers his own cooking to eating out and I suspect likes to dine alone when he can.

I caught the “old man” (he's often referred to that way by Gate Three old-timers) early one cool Saturday morning in 1974 as he had just fixed something. As we walked up the stairs to his office he smiled at me and said, “In a cool wind my knees get stiff, but machinery must be serviced.” He went on, “I feel good when I'm building something, I do some of my best thinking then, too.” I figured the “old man” was nice and relaxed, and this be a good time to lay out some questions and have some fun (being that Don has a horrendous reputation for coming out with flip statements about what he is going to do, or not do and then changes his mind, to be misinterpreted, which leaves confusion all over).

I asked “Why don't you sell out?” He answered, “I'll stick it out. Everybody here is happy.” “What would you like to see here?” Don moanfully answered, “Marine enterprises, there's so little left in the country.”Then Don looked at me and said: “This place is very valuable, regardless of you or I. Meanwhile all these boys and girls will never forget this place. Seven infants have been born here -- at Waldo I don’t know how many.” He looked at me in silence as I scratched away at my notes. Moments later he went off to build something.

One Friday afternoon I caught the “Old Man” as he was jawing away with friends. A stranger had departed from the circle. Don said (referring to the departing person): “people who fidget around a lot generally are not around too long.” I guffawed, and sped off towards home on my bicycle to jot that one down.

On another occasion, “Old Man” was not too happy because he had been conned into being taken out for dinner. He came out with this, rather deliberate and slow:
“I'm not a club man”
“I'm not an anti-social man
“I never come to you
“I never thought of it that way”

Donlon likes to read, and always has some book around that he's into. I lent him my books by Carlos Castenada on conversations with Don Juan. He found them interesting, and we spent a good deal of time talking about them. I asked him what he thought about Carlos being sent off to talk to plants. He quipped back: “I know women in Stockton who talk to their plants every day.”

I asked him about power which is talked about a lot in the books. He replied: “Now did Nixon learn anything! People can get drunk with power as easily as with alcohol.”

Setting Records at Marinship

The following is excerpted from the second issue (August 1, 1942) of The Marin-er, a house organ published bi-weekly by the Employee Relations Div. of Marinship Corp. Sausalito’s WWII shipyard became famous for meeting --- and, in some cases, exceeding -- these bold predictions.

With every worker taking part, Marinship is today aiming to set a new world record for speedy construction of steel cargo vessels.

Steve Bechtel speaks at first Keel Day program.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The race to bring the world record crown to Marinship for its very first Liberty ship was begun on June 27, when the yard's first Keel Day was observed with brief "shirt-sleeve" ceremonies at Way No. 6. The race has been going on every hour of every day and night, and the ship has been growing before our eyes.

And if the men and women of Marinship can put it over — then they will show every other shipyard on the Pacific Coast and throughout the nation how we do things at Marinship—

And if we can follow this ship with many more in short order, we will show the Son of Heaven that his sun is about to set!

Some records have already been set at Marinship—

The war schedule called for pre-assembly of ship sections to start on June 1. This date was kept.

The war schedule called for the first keel to be laid on July 1. This deadline was beaten by four days!

Here's the confidence that S. D. "Steve" Bechtel, President of W. A. Bechtel Co., has in the men and women of Marinship. At Keel Day ceremonies, he prophesied that we will set a new world's record for fast shipbuilding at the time of our first launching! And he also prophesied that Marinship will produce more ships per way than any shipyard in the entire world!

He was introduced as "My brother Steve" by Kenneth K. Bechtel, Vice President in Charge of Marinship, who stated that this firm which started in 1925 as a "family business" has now grown into a "business family."

Representing Uncle Sam was Carl W. Flesher, Pacific Coast Regional Director for the Construction Divi-sion of the U. S. Maritime Commission, who told why our nation needs ships so desperately:

"To win this war we must carry our soldiers and equipment across 6,000 miles of water."

He commended the progress at Marinship as "more than satisfactory."

Chester L. Nelson, principal hull inspector at Marinship for the Maritime Commission, told why he expects big things:

"The Maritime Commission has installed the finest tools and equipment at Marinship for us to use."

About a thousand workers and guests attended the first Keel Day program which was put on under direction of Robert W. Adams, Employee Relations Manager.

While the crowd watched, cranes lifted two heavy steel plates and placed them end to end on the keel blocks. There amid the glare of a welder's arc the two sheets were joined—the beginning of a great ship, and perhaps a world record for Marinship.

Then, as the workers returned to their jobs, without a lost second the work went ahead at Way No. 6. Day and night the work has continued and still continues—

—to turn out our first ship in the fastest time ever seen, and to help speed Victory for our nation!

A new documentary, "Marinship, World's Most Amazing Shipyard" will debut at the Sausalito Library on Friday, March 3 at 7:00 PM.  Following the screening, the Historical Society will host a reception in upstairs, launching its new exhibit “Marinship – What it Was.”

The Ties That Bind Us

By Steefenie Wicks

This story marks my 60th article for the Sausalito Historical Society, so I decided to explore my past work only to be pleasantly surprised to find that there is a thread that binds them all.  That thread is the water.  Each person I have interviewed has had a history of being on the water since they were very young.  Take Hank Easom, who at age 10 would sail his moon boat from Belvedere Island to the Sausalito waterfront. back in the 1930s.  Hank’s mom ran a flower business on the Island but during WWII she was one of the first women welders on the production lines in Marinship.  If you have visited the Bay Model and viewed the Marinship display, you have seen Hank’s mother.  She donated the doll that was made in her image as one of the first women in a leather welding outfit. 

Then there is the story of Mary Crowley and her ship the Kaisei, which is one of the few boats at sea focusing on global cleanup of the oceans. Mary Crowley has been a “voyageur” all her life.  Born and raised in Chicago, she learned to sail at the age of 4 on her grandfather’s 26-ft. wooden sailboat.  Her first Sausalito adventure took place in 1969.

The 19-year-old Mary got an expected late night call, and responded that she was ready to meet everyone at the docks.    When she arrived at her destination she found around 20 people who would be her cargo.   She led them over to a 32-ft. sailboat that she had borrowed from the owners and, once they all boarded, she set sail.  It was now around 2 a.m., yet she was able to take them to the dark side of Alcatraz Island, under sail with no engine.  She landed the small vessel and her passengers disembarked.  This was the beginning of the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz.

I continued with a story about Bob Darr, whose father was captain Omar Darr, the skipper of Sterling Hayden’s boat the Wanderer. Bob was raised on the Wanderer; it was his love of this vessel that led him to be the major force in the restoration of the gaff-rigged sloop Freda, originally built in 1890.  The value of this project was important because the elements of the FREDA’S design are part of history.

Most of my articles are about people who have made the Sausalito waterfront their home.  There was the story of Larry Moyer, whom one could call a Sausalito original. Larry came to the waterfront during the SF “Summer of Love.”   He made the waterfront his home, becoming involved, in many cases a spokesperson for what has come to be known as the Houseboat Wars.  Today’s waterfront community misses his wit, charm, and voice. 

Then there’s the very talented Ron MacCannan, who has been on the water since he was a youngster, but had no idea that his dreamboat would one day be the 82–ft. sloop Pursuit. He once told the story of how he would dive under the boat at high tide so he could fit himself under her stem and place his arms up on to the hull, just to hold the mighty structure in his arms.  At the age of 90 this is truly an act of love.

Recently, during a conversation with fellow Sausalito Historical Society Board member Bill Kirsch, we discovered that we had a thread that bonded us both: our friendship with the jazz musician John Handy.

Bill Kirsch is a Sausalito abstract artist and architect.  Since 1958 he has worked as a full-time architect, sometimes with his friend, the great woodworker Al Garvey.  Al’s work in wood led him to build one of the first hot tubs in Marin.  Al’s work on hot tubs brought him in contact with Bill, who at the time was working on remodeling projects in San Francisco.  One of these projects turned out to be a new kitchen for John Handy.   Al and Boill had known John for some time, but had not seen him in almost 25 years. I decided to get these three together.  

When John Handy was contacted about our possible meeting he was overjoyed with the idea of reuniting with these two men he once called his, “jazz carpenters.”

It was remarkable to be in a room with these three talented men: musician, architect, and wood worker, now tango teacher in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. They told stories from the past, went over who was dead, who was still alive, wasn’t life wonderful.  But through it all, I could not get over this thread that had bonded us all, and made this very special moment possible.   That thread that started on the Sausalito waterfront is long, forever tightening to show us how our history connects us all to the beginning.  As always that beginning starts with the water.

The Lost Autobiographical Works of Once Famous Sausalito Author Frederick O'Brien

By Charles Willcox

The following is excerpted from a 1993 article in the Historical Society’s newsletter:

Portrait of Federick O’Brien from Sausalito News

By any definition, Frederick O'Brien was a vagabond. O'Brien travelled more in any given year than most travel in a lifetime.

O'Brien, who lived the latter part of his life in Sausalito, has also largely been forgotten, yet the visions he shared in his three books, White Shadows in the South Seas, Mystic Isles of the South Seas, and Atolls of the Sun, created lasting and haunting images of places and people, now long gone, who once dwelled on the many lone­ly islands strewn throughout the South Pacific.

At 18 years of age, in 1887, he dropped out of college and signed aboard an American Clipper ship bound for South America. He found, however, that life aboard didn't afford the freedom he sought, and so when the chance came to jump ship in Brazil, he took it, and began the life of a nomad, tramping through the then little known interiors of Brazil and Venezuela.

Eventually, with his fill of South America, and still essentially a hobo, he ventured out onto the Caribbean before finally returning to the States.

Settling down, as best he could, O'Brien began a respectable career as an accomplished, though itinerant, journalist. Over the next 25 years, he managed to write his way around the globe from Paris to the Yangtze Kiang delta. Of all his writings, however, his most endearing stamp was left on his descriptions of the fading people and cultures inhabiting the islands of French Polynesia.

Although his life during sojourns in the South Seas was well chronicled in his three books, the rest of his life, equally filled with adventure, remained for the most part undocumented. It wasn't until later years that Frederick O'Brien, urged by friends, started his autobiography, titled On Paper Wings. Unfortunately, O'Brien never completed this work before his death in 1932.

There are many questions. Why didn't anyone write O'Brien's biography, given that one was fully expected? Did O'Brien's personal secretary, Margaret Watson, ever publish her "memoirs" and include the contents of it? If not, did she at least keep her copy and pass it on to someone else? Although married once, O'Brien had long been separated from his wife at the time of his death, and he never had children. Nor did he have any close relatives that lived in the area.

In all probability, most of the possessions of O'Brien's went to close friends who were with him at the time of his death. It is known that among his closest friends were Dr. Leo Stanley (the famous San Quentin physician and Sausalito resident), as well as William M. Simmons, a well-known attorney, and Dean of Hasting's School of Law. Simmons was also the executor of O'Brien's estate.

This raises the question, why is there no will or probate on record in Marin County? Did any of the three key people close to O'Brien at his death —Stanley, Simmons or Watson — ever receive any of his estate belongings, such as his unfinished manuscript, photographs, or any of the countless rare objects and curios O'Brien had collected.... like the smoked head of a Solomon man O'Brien used to keep in his closet?

At the end of his essay Willcox asked the aid of local residents “who may remember something about O'Brien himself, or information that will help in the recovery of the lost.” He concluded: “The lack of trails may be symptomatic of the fact that although O'Brien had many friends from around the world, he was at heart, a loner. He once wrote that he was ‘always a lover of sunsets on far shores, of books, of men, of women and animals, of speculations upon life and morals, customs and reactions, of merry song and brave deed, and also of being alone.’ When death claimed Frederick O'Brien, it was in the sunset of the day as he had always wished. It could be that nothing remains of On Paper Wings, or his personal belongings, and given his quiet and reticent nature, maybe he wanted it that way.”

The Historical Society has been able to unearth only a few reports of O’Brien’s time here. In a 1932 Sausalito News tribute after his death, Edmond Terence Casey (who described himself as O’Brien’s  friend and familiar”) recalled the author’s “great full-length windows with matchless view of San Francisco, Angel Island, Tiburon and the beautiful scape of bay,” adding: “Frederick O’Brien passed his more serene and Olympian years, sybaritic, happy, poetic, greatly honored; Sausalito's most illustrious and acclaimed citizen and one of America’s most distinguished literary men.”

In the 1962Sausalito Pictorial Quarterly, nationally known writer Edward H. Dillon, a native of Sausalito, called O’Brien “One of the first ‘discoverers’ of Polynesia,” pointing out that “His forward to Mystic Ideas is datelined, “Kahoa, Sausalito, California.”

Dilllon told of how O’Brien was followed here by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall “who also did much of their writing of the Bounty trilogy in Sausalito. What drew them?  Perhaps something of John Webster’s 1851 description remained in ferryboat days: ‘Saucelito is a safe anchorage, inside the harbor. . . The village of the same name, surrounded by an amphitheater of hills, contains but a few cottages in the modern style of architecture…It enjoys advantage of San Francisco in the salubrity of the air, in the possession of good water, and in the absence of dust’.”

Early Sausalito Immigrants

By Helen Kerr

Sausalito can trace its history in the waves of immigrants who settled here.  In her soft-cover book “Sausalito Since the Days of the Dons,” copyrighted in 1967, Helen Kerr described some of these early immigrants.  Here are a few annotated excerpts:

On Christmas Day, 1840, when Captain Leonard Story arrived at the site of what was to be Saucelito’s Old Town he found there only a saw-mill building and a shanty where the workers lived.  He nonetheless deemed it an agreeable place to live and invested a thousand dollars in a house-frame that had been brought around the Horn. Others took up residence in the next few years, among them Robert Parker, who built a hotel, Fountain House, and a government store.  But this first spurt of growth was short-lived, for when the town of Sacramento was badly damaged by fire in 1852, many of Saucelito’s buildings were dismantled and the lumber sold up river to rebuild Sacramento.

Between 1853 and 1868 Saucelito could hardly have been called a town, but 1868 saw the formation of the Saucelito Land and Ferry Company, a partnership of twenty “San Francisco gentlemen” who purchased some three miles of waterfront property, amounting to over a thousand acres, and proceeded to divide it up into “town lots and country seats.” They also laid out avenues and streets and established a regular ferry service to San Francisco. [Saucelito was an alternative spelling of our town’s name until the U.S. Post Office mandated Sausalito as the official name in 1888.]

Business was anything but brisk in the first days of the ferry run – often the passengers numbered only five or six – and it was the custom of the captain of the steamer Princess to call the roll of commuters before casting off the hawser.  “I can’t afford to leave one behind,” he explained to strangers.

By 1880 the dairy industry had developed steadily, with San Francisco as a convenient and ready market.  With the dairy industry grew Saucelito’s New Town, for beginning in the 1870’s the dairying attracted a host of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. Sober-minded, hard-working men, they brought their families with them or married into the Marin clan, encouraging their relatives back on the islands to join them.

A memberof the original colony, Mrs. Mary Ann (Josie) Rosa, bright-eyed and clear-minded at the age of 93,  described her childhood in Sausalito of the late nineteenth century.  Her father, Joseph Silva, had come to Sausalito aboard a whaler, settled at the end of town and married a girl from Sao Jorge who had been brought over to keep house for her brothers.  Josie and the other children walked several miles back and forth to school each day.  As the youngsters passed the scattered homes along the way to school on Hannon’s Hill, their classmates fell in with them, and the walk constituted their social life for the day.

Their route took them past Shanghai Valley, now a part of Marinship, where a number of Chinese railroad workers lived.  There were no women and children in Shanghai Valley and the men, certainly homesick for their families, made friends with the children and offered them sweets on holidays.  The Chinese lived quietly in Sausalito until the North Pacific Coast Railway was completed, [early in the 20th Century] when they disappeared.

Some of the Portuguese worked for the railroad too, and others were fishermen who hired out to the large companies that fished the waters from Alaska to Baja California. 

The men from the Azores also participated in Sausalito’s boat building industry, and the Nunes Brothers Boat Works made an impressive showing in the field of yacht design.

The Portuguese played as hard they worked. Weddings and christenings were traditionally celebrated for three days and three nights, but the big event of the year for the Portuguese was, and still is, the Pentecost Festival of Feast of the Holy Ghost.  The “Chamarita,” as the festival is sometimes called, after the traditional dance of that name, is still observed in Sausalito each year on the seventh Sunday after Easter.

In early days the holiday began with a cattle drive, which started from Bolinas, on the ocean side of the coastal range, and wound its way along the trails and roads to Sausalito. Ranchers along the way donated calves for auction, and Portuguese cowboys, dressed in their finest riding clothes, picked up cattle and drivers as they moved toward Sausalito.  On the trail they decorated the animals with ribbons, bells and flowers for the gala entry into town. This custom lasted until 1925 when the automobile began its interference with tradition.

Helen Kerr was a Marin journalist who once edited the Sausalito News.  She was also on the Board of the Sausalito Arts Festival as early as 1956.  Her beautifully calligraphed book is in the collection of the Historical Society, and in select Marin County libraries.

Memoirs of an Old Sausalitan, Part III

This is the final installment from recollections of an unknown early Sausalitan, apparently written in the early 1960s. As in the two previous excerpts, what follows is a knowledgeable, often gossipy, sometimes inaccurate account, of people, places and events in Sausalito before and after the turn of the century.

The original San Francisco Yacht Club faced Belvedere on the coast of Hurricane Gulch. The club had to be abandoned when the Golden Gate Ferry came in because the wash from the boats made anchoring impossible and launching hazardous.

About 1884 or 1886 the Sausalito Bay Land Company, O.C. Miller, undertook a [land] boom to open up the gulch with a picnic. The wind came up, as it can on a summer afternoon, and blew the tablecloths off the tables and the cutlery and everything around. That is when the Gulch got its name — “Hurricane Gulch.” The eucalyptus grove was planted as a windbreak. The boom didn't go well.

Pen-and-ink illustration of Excelsior Lane by Leonard Sutton Wood, who died in Sausalito in 1970. Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Pen-and-ink illustration of Excelsior Lane by Leonard Sutton Wood, who died in Sausalito in 1970.
Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Excelsior Lane used to be called “Limejuice Alley” because the Englishmen all came up and down the lane, a main thoroughfare before automobiles took over. They were known as Limeys, Limejuicers, because English Law required vessels to carry lime juice to prevent scurvy among sailors. The lower part of Excelsior Lane had wooden steps, but from there up to the top, until the 90's was only steep, red clay with triangular rocks sticking up.

El Monte Lane was called “Pig Alley” because at the foot was a pig sty.

There was always a Bachelor's House. One on Pine and Girard and the “Old Hutch” on Bulkley Avenue, now apartments. The bachelors always married and a new lot took their place.

When the streets were paved and gas was put in — I said to my husband “This is the end of Sausalito as we know it.” How right I was!

Telephones came to Sausalito in the early 1900's. You ground out the number you wanted on a wall phone. If you were on the same line you didn't need the operator – Central,  she was called then. You ground the ball to get her and said: “Get me Fiedler's”, the grocery store; “Mecchi's”, the Italian fruit and grocery store and Oh, such good, good things did they have to eat, or Mrs. Mason or Mrs. Corson. Central knew everybody, without their numbers, and probably listened in.

Fred Russell, tall, handsome, with big dark eyes and puffy fingertips was Cashier of what [became] is now the Canadian Bank of Commerce for many, many years. He had four wives. The last one surviving him, a charming French woman, Miss Melville. John McNamara, who worked in people's garden, said when Mr. Russell married for the fourth time, “I should think the women would be scared of him — He's got the Red Liver.” I later found out that the Red Liver [Gout?] was authentic Elizabethan. I think it was Wully Corson who said, “Fred Russell is the kind of man who should have a wife in the drawing room and a ...wench in the woodshed.” Mr. Russell was the only man in Sausalito who still paid dinner calls forty years ago. He was always punctilious, well bred, courteous. His children were by his first wife who was a sister of Mrs. Mason's. Florry Philpotts wrathfully followed him and the girl he was wooing about the streets of San Rafael. But in spite of that he outlived three wives.

Gossip about Sausalito, as we first knew it, would not have been complete without mention of the Corsons. A delightful couple. He, a black-eyed Edinburgh man with a lovely accent, and she a New Zealander with the most complete knowledge of everybody else's business that she passed on discreetly without venom. The Ideal Gossip. If there was anything to know about...Mrs. Corson Knew It. They were hospitable, kind, and their house, “Red Gables,” [is] still in 1962 standing and occupied, with tennis courts, an aviary, was the Headquarters for much British Sociability. The Billiard Room on the ground floor was used for dancing. Somebody had to play piano. No records, no radio in those days. We had the Steam Cars and the Telegraph and the Ferry-boats and didn't miss what we didn't have.

Telephones were new.

Where Have all the Herring Gone?

by Steefenie Wick

In the 1880’s the felucca was the dominant vessel plying the waters of Richardson’s Bay.  Today things have changed dramatically; the fishing industry in Sausalito is not the dominant force it once was. 

Seabirds flocked to Sausalito waters during last year’s herring run. Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Seabirds flocked to Sausalito waters during last year’s herring run.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Captain Heather Richards, who in the past has been the force behind the annual Herring Festival, is even feeling the change.   She has a personal take on the situation, saying: “Historically, Sausalito has been a thriving part of the fishing industry, becoming one of just a few major locations for the annual herring spawn on the Pacific Coast.  Currently, the climate change is affecting the timing and location of their spawn.  This year the fishermen are watching as the herring are spawning at a later time because of the weather change.  The Bay is running warmer than usual, along with the rain producing runoffs that change the salinity of the local water.  Herring need shallow, sheltered rocks, with vegetation like eelgrass to lay their eggs where large wave action will not wash them away before they hatch.  Now, with the rise in the Bay’s temperature, the herring may be forced to travel further north.” Captain Richards’ point is well taken when even local residents notice a lack of herring fishing vessels off of Sausalito, yet the cries of the large seals still hang in the air.  Gone are the days of the flocks of cormorants, along with the brown pelicans that travel with the schools of herring.

And along with the herring the boat builders have also started to fade away.  The herring are leaving because of rising temperatures.  The boat builders leave because of the rising cost for shop space.

Captain Richards feels, “Currently, there are a dozen or so herring boats fishing commercially, a handful of folks throwing casting nests for personal consumption.  Industrialization of fishing along with the low market price has led to most of the fish going to foreign markets.”

This year there will be a change in the annual herring event.  Instead of the festivities of past years, this year’s event will try to enlighten the public on the current dangerous situation that is affecting our Bay waters, along with its inhabitants.

For several years Captain Richards has been the head of the Sausalito Community Boatbuilding Center at Cass Gidley Marina.  Their mission is to preserve a gathering place on Sausalito’s unique waterfront to engage and educate the public about our rich small craft heritage through affordable direct experience.  The community boating center will advocate environmental awareness, seamanship and safety, promote traditional wooden boats and maritime crafts and teach life skills through maritime education.  It will be a place for local maritime groups to hold classes, access the waterfront and build community through outreach.

This is also the same group that has for the past several years produced the Herring Festival event, which has become their fundraiser.   This year, they have decided to put together a smaller version of the Herring Festival, presented at the Bay Model Visitor’s Center. This year the event will spotlight the film “Of The Sea.”

The film deals with the issues that are now present for all Northern California fishermen, including sustainability.  The filmmakers hope to inform the public of what is at stake with the current conditions that plague the herring fishery industry.  Local herring fishermen will be on hand after the film to take questions.  Captain Richards and her group want to share with local residents the importance of the local fishery industry: its history, plus the importance of the Sausalito waterfront, in order for a better understanding of the significance of the current situation. 

Along with the film, local restaurants have agreed to participate once again producing delightful herring treats.  Chef Davey Jones is preparing herring roe dressing on green salad; Alfredo of Angelino’s Restaurant is preparing pickled herring crostini; Joinery, a new restaurant on the waterfront, will be serving Portuguese fisherman’s herring stew.

It’s interesting to note that at one time the herring were staple foods of Sausalito during the winter months. Now, with the exception of a few local restaurants, nearly all of the fish caught in local waters is shipped elsewhere for processing and consumption.

For more information about the event:  SCBC Sausalito Herring Celebration, Sunday January 29, 2017, Bay Model Visitors Center from 10:30 am to 4pm: you can check out the website .

Memoirs of an Old Sausalitan, Part II

These recollections of early Sausalito are excerpted from the unpublished work of an unknown author, who appears to have written them sometime in the early 1960s. As in last week’s excerpt, what follows is a knowledgeable, often gossipy, sometimes inaccurate account, of people, places and events in Sausalito before and after the turn of the century.

Julia Morgan, who designed Hearst Castle at San Simeon, also worked with Willie Hearst on his plans for a Sausalito castle. Courtesy Photograph.

Julia Morgan, who designed Hearst Castle at San Simeon, also worked with Willie Hearst on his plans for a Sausalito castle.

Courtesy Photograph.

Sausalito used to be a happy family. The County Road, beautiful among its woods and unspoiled roadsides, wound along the base of the hills. It was beautiful Marin in those days. There were of course no pavements, no gas, no electricity. In the winter; rubbers were a necessity and you were lucky if you didn't leave them in a hole.

These were the happy days before the Pool Rooms came. The Hill and the Waterfront got along together. Then San Francisco closed its pool rooms, (i.e., places that existed for betting on the races) and they moved in mass to Sausalito. The waterfront changed. There were 25 saloons, almost as many pool rooms, to a community of 1000 people.

On the days of the races the Ferry Boats were crowded to standing room only with an undesirable crowd. On race days a decent woman didn't like to pass through Water Street, now Bridgeway, to get to the Ferry. The whole downtown smelled of stale beer. There was a large mud hole between the Ferry and the other side of the street with a bouncy plank on it. Long skirts, high collars, long sleeves, hats pinned on with long hat-pins — It was something to navigate.

The Hill was inhabited by people of the Bank President, successful Lawyer class, who lived here because they like quiet and the country, and who had big houses in the midst of big pieces of ground — and isn't it a pity that the Zoning Commission didn't get the idea of large building lots before these lovely estates were cut up and built upon! Imagine their wrath.

In those happy days anybody could vote who had been two weeks in a community. The saloon or waterfront element imported stew bums and barflies, fed them, gave them all they wanted to drink and voted them.

There was no fire department in those days. The first one who could make Christ Church rang the bell. Anna Sperry was the champion. Then all the women went to the fire and carried out possessions and guarded them from souvenir hunters. Wullie Corson, black eyes flashing, in his beautiful Edinburgh accent, said, "If ever my house catches fire I'll stand in the front door and shoot everybody that tries to come in — I supply no souvenirs."

Everybody had to have a water tank on top of the house as the water was turned off at nine o'clock in the morning and not turned on until five in the afternoon. The uninformed and un-provided got the shock of their lives when they tried to wash cloths on Monday morning. The roof tanks were useful in time of fire. When Mr. Berg's house on Bulkley Avenue, across from

the Tillinghast front yard, burned, about 1903, Willie Harrison and Clay Miller on the roof of Yellow Jacket, close to Mr. Berg's house, saved it by soaking bed comforters in the tank and hanging them over the edge of the house. The north side of the town was supplied from the spring in Wildwood Glen. The Sausalito Bay Land Company serviced the south side, Old Town, with water tunnels, still to be seen along Sausalito Blvd.

The first club, not a woman's club, was in the old H.C. Campbell house, where Mrs. Petherick now lives. It was called the "Lantern Club". If you went out at night you carried a lantern.

The Catholic church was in New Town, as the North side of town was always known.

Christ Church began in the loft of the Shoobert's barn, on the corner of Harrison and Santa Rosa. The rector kept a cow and a horse down below and moos sometimes interrupted the service.

Oh, the wide open spacious days of old, when there were patches of woodland and wild flowers grew everywhere. "Red Gables" and the old stables; later converted into a house, were the only buildings on the property between Spencer, Miller Avenue and San Carlos Avenue. Where there used to be one house there are now at least seven.

The massive masonry on the upper side of Bridgeway, that everybody wants to know about was built by William Randolph Hearst with some grandiose plan for a castle. But after he was invited to leave town by a delegation of the husbands and fathers of the Hill, he stopped building. He continued to buy property until he owned everything from the "Hacienda" across Bulkley Avenue from the "O'Connell Seat" all the way to North Street. Sausalito was on edge, knowing Willie Hearst to be vindictive. Willie Hearst, who always had a special lady, after his gay weekend parties left her in command. He had a launch and could go and come as he liked. The Lady, a striking blond; walked the roads and was seen and passed by the mothers and daughters of the blessed. In those days a respectable woman was not supposed to breathe the same air as a fancy lady. The fathers were indignant. For Old Timers, Willie Hearst was a bad word. He and his millions held no terrors for men themselves well to do and well established. There is a wonderful little book, "Imperial Hearst", by a newspaper man, an ex-employee of the Examiner who knew all and told all but the Sausalito Father's Episode. Too bad he didn't know that too! It is picturesque.

Memoirs of An Old Sausalitan

These recollections of early Sausalito are excerpted from the unpublished work of an unknown author, who appears to have written them sometime in the early 1960s. The manuscript was on the verge of being destroyed when discovered by a local history buff, who realized its value. What is related below is a knowledgeable, often gossipy, sometimes inaccurate account, of people, places and events in Sausalito before and after the turn of the century. It was a fantastic era, with a style of life that has long since disappeared.

The Gardner House, now Sausalito’s oldest home, as it looked in the 1800s.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Marin County, properly pronounced Mahreen for it is the Spanish spelling of an Indian name, became Marin after the earthquake (1906) when everything changed. Marinaro or Marin was the Indian who sailed the small boat between Sausalito and San Francisco. No Ferryboats then. Tamalpais, the Land of the Tamal [Miwok] Indians who lived in these parts, made the kitchen middens. The shell and ash mounds, such as the one at Pine and Caledonia streets where stone artifacts could be dug up.

Not until 1852 [1869] did the Gardners build the old house which still stands on the corner of Girard and Caledonia [Cazneau] and is still in use. It must have been on part of the site of the Richardson Ranch which was in that general neighborhood.

Richardson's Bay at the turn of the century, when steamers were superseding sailing vessels, was known as the "Boneyard." There were sometimes as many as twenty-five beautiful, big sailing ships anchored there waiting patiently for a cargo — sometimes year after year. The Captains were hospitable. Some had their wives with them and kept home on a delightful scale, in a spit and polish, wood and brass, Captain's Cabin at the stern of the boat. It was something to see them, two or three at a time under sail, crossing the Potato Patch, the reef outside the Golden Gate. The foam makes it white as a potato patch in blossom. Some of the ships remained in the Boneyard for years and were used as residences.

Richardson's Bay was not a preserve, and anybody in a boat or a canoe might hear a shower of live shot around him from some unnoticed blind. The beaches were beautiful.

People used to drive over with a spanking pair of horses and sparkling buggy, on the ferryboats, which carried anything and everything. The Ferryboat "Princess", for which Princess Street is named, made two daily trips to Meiggs Wharf in San Francisco and back again. The Captain would wait if he knew you were going to be late for the boat.

Sausalito used to be a week-end and summer town. Many of the old smaller houses were built as week-end cottages. There were many places for lunch and refreshment.

The first house on the Hill was the long narrow building behind a hedge, backing on San Carlos Avenue a little beyond the little park at the intersection of San Carlos and Spencer, built in 1868 by Commodore Harrison. They say that Commodore Harrison got in his little two-wheeled cart and drove backward and forward on the sides of the hill and wherever he drove he declared a street and named them. Harrison for himself, San Carlos for himself [Charles], and Santa Rosa for his wife — Rose.

In the beginning, there were more English people than Americans on the Hill. It is not true, what has been said, that Saucelito [sic] was populated by remittance men [immigrants who received money from home]. It was populated by younger sons who were thrust out into the cold world without training, knowledge of money, or business, or anything practical. They usually wound up as bank clerks. Some of them married American girls. The English crowd used to meet the men at the San Francisco Yacht Club, now the Ondine, with dinner. The men would change into white ducks, get out the boats, and row across to Belvedere or Strawberry Point, where a fire was built on the beach and certain things heated. Individual pork pies were one woman's specialty.

When the Dixons moved to Sausalito, bag and baggage, on June 2, 1902, it was still an unspoiled British colony. There were more British people on the hill than Americans. The English crowd worked together and the American crowd had their set. They mingled in a friendly way but the English set the tone and quality to the general life; informal and natural, but when there was a formal party it was properly conducted. Most of the English were upper middle class. Young men who had come to California to ship or mine and wound up as book-keepers on Montgomery Street. Some of them rose above this, but not all.

Next week, we’ll run another excerpt, describing the “happy days before the Pool Rooms [gambling parlors] came.”