Sausalito Houseboat Life 1972: Shenanigans

Introduction by Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Poet and storyteller Keith Emmons lived as an anchor-out for ten years in the 1970s. Here he recounts a legend from that era which he heard from waterfront activist Piro Caro.

By Keith Emmons

Piro told me this story and it’s all about that great big barge-bottom down by the Main Dock in Waldo Point Harbor.

All week long a labor man and that foreman fella Tim Rose and sometimes the new developer, Lew Cook, come by talking. All week long they’re out there hosing off that huge hulk of green and muddy old wood and drift pins sticking up, so they can float that thing out of there and start fixing up the part of the Main Dock they wrecked up a couple of weeks ago. And here’s how that old barge bottom got there.

Donlon Arques on right with TJ Nelsen (author of Drugs Government and the 4th Estate) at left,Chris Hardman (2nd l.) and members of Hardman’s Snake Theatre in the 70s.  © Bruce Forrester

Donlon Arques on right with TJ Nelsen (author of Drugs Government and the 4th Estate) at left,Chris Hardman (2nd l.) and members of Hardman’s Snake Theatre in the 70s.

© Bruce Forrester

A prosperous woman, a lady of San Francisco, came by one day to Don Arques’ father, years ago. “I’ve seen people here on the waterfront and I’d like to live on a houseboat. I know where I can buy one – may I pull it onto your land?”

Well, of course,” said Don Sr., and told her what she would have to pay for berthage.

Soon enough, in floated a huge hundred-foot barge, loaded with buildings, the wealthy lady, and another, her French maid.

Well, after a year the rich lady disappeared! Nobody knows where she went, and the French maid was left behind. Many months went by and after a while Arques Sr. went out to the barge. “You know,” he said to the maid, “berthage hasn’t been paid on this boat for many months. What are you going to do?”

“O, je ne sais pas!” said the maid.

“You know,” he said, “soon I will confiscate this barge for all its back berthage. What are you going to do?”

O,” repeated the maid, “I don’t know.”

“I have an idea,” said Arques.

“Oui? What is it?”

“Why don’t you marry me?”

Oh, the maid didn’t know, so she told him to come back Tuesday and she’d give him an answer. When he returned she agreed – but with one stipulation: “Seulment deux fois chaque semain!” (Only two times a week.)

As Donlon Arques was seventy at the time, the forty-year old maid was a great temptation. The terms were acceptable, and in a week, if not sooner, the marriage was consummated.

Don Arques Sr. and his new bride began their lives together on the barge by the Main Dock and then one day a huge shark floated in from the ocean, right up off the bow, went belly-up and died. “The old shark dies,” said the people around the Waterfront. A lot of them were Portuguese then and they called the old man “the Shark.” Sure enough, just two weeks later Don Arques Sr. died. And just a little while after that, probably from a broken heart and a lack of exercise, the French maid died too.

Well, this was a problem, because when Arques Sr. died the whole Waterfront from Gate 3 to Gate 6 became the property of his new wife! And when she died it looked like our whole shore-side would go into the hands of her grown-up children and nobody even knew who they were.

And Donlon Arques Jr. was going to lose everything!  And to strangers!

But he had a plan.

Don Arques Jr. had a note from his Dad, an IOU for $40,000 which was a great deal of money at that time. So, in order to collect on his Dad’s debt, Don Jr. forced a public auction of his Dad’s Sausalito shoreline to raise the money. But Don Jr., was fond of this Richardson Bayside, and way too shrewd to lose it at a public auction. He had a plan.

Francine and Wally Mays, of the Bayhaven ferryboat harbor, were living around here then and they decided that, just for fun, they’d go to the auction on the steps of City Hall and bid up the price. They arrived at the steps at twelve noon, auction time.

obody there.

They waited till 12:15. Then 12:30. Then they went in to inquire.

“Oh,” said the Clerk, “that’s already been handled. Mr. Arques bid on that yesterday for $15,000. It’s his now.”

Don Jr. had fixed it all up behind closed doors and had already bought the place.

“And so, I just wonder about our situation today,” said Piro several years later, “‘cause it looks like Donlon Arques Jr. just now sold to developers a bunch of shoreline he bought at an illegal non-existent public auction twenty-five years ago. I guess maybe nobody’s owned it since then – just like we always thought. Or maybe it belongs to the widow’s long-lost kids. Too bad they’ve never been down here. We’ve been living and taking care of this shoreline all these years: it must be ours by now.”

Don Jr. left what had been the Arques Shipyard and Marina to a charitable educational trust and a maritime preservation foundation, but his heirs sold the property to developers Joe Lemon and his son, Joe Jr., in 2007. 

Keith’s collection of poems about the 70s waterfront, “Moondrifter Reverie,” 

is available at the Library, from the publisher (Red Mountain Press) and at Book Passage. 

Christmas on Richardson Bay

By Nora Sawyer

There’s nothing quite like Christmas in Sausalito. Lights twinkle on hill and on houseboat, and though the bay winds blow cold, warmth and good cheer abound. Gingerbread houses spring up all over town, and boat owners deck their decks with lights, wreaths, and even the occasional tree. And since 1987, the Lighted Boat Parade has lit up the waterfront with lights, music, and even fireworks.

Like many Christmas traditions, Sausalito’s have adapted and changed through the ages. While the annual Lighted Boat Parade just celebrated its 30th anniversary, the tradition of decorated boats in Sausalito goes back even further. In December 1951, the Sausalito News’ Tide Rip column announced that “the first boat decorating contest ever to be held in Marin” would take place at the Sausalito Yacht Harbor. Sponsored by the Sausalito Cruising Club, the contest offered several prizes, including traditional items such as a perpetual cup trophy, and a few more offbeat offerings, including “a dozen heads of cabbage, a haircut, and even a free divorce, donated by an Oakland attorney.” The paper does not report on the contest (or the free divorce’s) outcome.

By 1953, the annual boat decorating contest boasted even bigger prizes, with winner Robert G. Hocckeler winning “a haul-out and bottom paint job at the San Rafael Marine Repair Shop” in addition to his trophy. The “second most effectively illuminated boat,” Lady K out of San Francisco, won “a haul-out by Madden & Lewis for her Christmas pulchritude.”

Even before visions of haul-outs and haircuts danced in their heads, many Sausalitans’ holiday cheer was expressed nautically. In December 1895, the Sausalito News reported that “many of the yachts, launches and arks in this bay are beautifully decorated with evergreen.” And on Christmas Day in 1947, the Tide Rip column recounted that “a true Yuletide spirit prevails this holiday season down at the yacht harbor. No matter what size the craft, there is always room for a Christmas tree. You can see them perched aloft, decorating mastheads . . . Power cruisers and larger boats have not only outside trees but gaily-illuminated indoor (or belowdecks) trees as well . . . you would undoubtedly find novel Christmas decorations on every floating home.”

On Christmas Eve 1954, the only Christmas illumination in evidence at the Sausalito Yacht Harbor was “the big star on the Stuart Roses' boat” where carol singers planned to gather that night “and sail up and down the waterfront, dispensing the traditional Christmas tunes—as only Sausalito can do it.” 1964 brought carolers from The Hanna Boys’ Center choir, hailing from “the western ‘boy’s town’ near Sonoma,” who visited five Bay Area communities on 36-foot Chris-Craft, singing their way from San Rafael to Belvedere and Tiburon and then Sausalito before continuing on to San Francisco.

Marinship celebrated Christmas in many ways, including this cover of the December 1942 issue of The Marin-er, a house organ published by the Employee Relations Div. of Marinship Corp.  Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Marinship celebrated Christmas in many ways, including this cover of the December 1942 issue of The Marin-er, a house organ published by the Employee Relations Div. of Marinship Corp.

Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

But Sausalito saw perhaps its most impressive nautical Christmas display in 1944, when “Old Saint Nick rode down into the waters of San Francisco Bay” on the bow of the SS Rincon Hill. Painted with a $100 war bond in his hand, Santa Claus was launched with the ship on December 17th. In an adjacent slipway, a 20-foot Christmas tree decorated the bow of a tanker, which “added to the Christmas spirit.”

The Marinship didn’t limit its Christmas spirit to ships. In 1943, “the world’s largest outdoor illuminated Victory Christmas tree” was installed in the heart of the Marinship. Forty-five feet tall, the tree was erected using one of the yard’s cranes, sprayed with simulated snow, and “brilliantly illuminated with flashing lights.” At night, “surmounted by a ‘V’ fashioned of green lights, and a great star at the top,” the tree was “easily visible” from the main highway that passed the Marinship. With the yard’s night lights and “the blue blaze of the hundreds of welders,” the tree presented “a Christmas scene of beauty unrivalled since the days of the Treasure Island exposition.”

While the Marinship’s wartime displays are hard to beat, Sausalito’s post-war waterfront still showed plenty of Christmas spirit. In 1950, the Tide Rip columnist (who wrote under the name C. Leggs) observed that, though a “raw north wind” kept many boaters “in the snug cabins of their boats, toasting their feet and friends in the friendly warmth of the Shipmate stove,” many spirited decorators still rose to the occasion. The houseboat Aquarius radiated “noel from stem to stern,” with wreaths, greens, and mistletoe. On the power cruiser Nancy K, Santa Claus peered out from behind the ship’s chimney, wishing passers-by a Merry Christmas. Still other boats boasted Christmas trees, lights, and candles.

Still, the columnist couldn’t help but dream of a day when “some local organization might sponsor a contest for boat decoration and Illumination such as the one at Marina Yacht Harbor in San Francisco.” Even if the prize were small, the “spirit behind such a contest and the resultant blaze of lights in the rigging would indeed add a great deal of sparkle to Sausalito over the holidays.” And as we enjoy the afterglow of our town’s 30th Lighted Boat Parade, it does seem that, with all the glories of Sausalito’s Christmas past, we are fortunate to live in its sparkling present.

Celebration & War

By Larry Clinton

In his new book “Celebration & War -- The Sausalito Houseboat Community in the 1970s,” photographer Bruce Forrester recalls that era as “a place of creativity and high energy with theater, art, boat building, music and more... Every occasion was a cause for a celebration. Then came development that threatened this free wheeling way of life. New docks were planned along with rent increases. The community came together and fought back with every means at their disposal in an attempt to keep the Sausalito houseboats affordable housing.” 

Santa (AKA Frank Anderson) visits the docks in the 70s in this image from Bruce’s book.  Anderson was a local character who owned a nursery on Bridgeway.        ©Bruce Forrester

Santa (AKA Frank Anderson) visits the docks in the 70s in this image from Bruce’s book.  Anderson was a local character who owned a nursery on Bridgeway.        ©Bruce Forrester

Bruce was an eyewitness and chronicler of those turbulent times.  He moved to the north end of Sausalito, across the street from the early houseboat community, shortly after graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1974 with a BFA in photography. While he remained a landlubber, Bruce became involved with the waterfront community and from 1975-1980 he extensively photographed there. His inspiration was the can-do spirit and passion for life that was the most important part of the waterfront community. While many of his houseboat photos have been published in books and magazines, his new book is a collection of Bruce's favorite historic black and white images in glossy, high quality reproduction.

"It was a community where people took almost every opportunity to have a celebration, a celebration of life," says Forrester. "One person's creativity inspired the next person's creativity."

Many of Forrester's photos ran in a Marin Scope a column called "The Freebox," also the name of a large container where houseboaters would drop off unwanted items for someone else to use.

Forrester has been a frequent contributor to Sausalito Historical Society projects, such as the Arcadia book “Houseboats of Sausalito.”

The Society presented an exhibition of Bruce’s waterfront photographs in 2006. Announcing the exhibition in the Society’s newsletter, Margaret Badger wrote: “Forrester’s camera captured the faces and places that made up that unique world…the incubator of an iconoclastic lifestyle based on voluntary poverty, creativity, unfettered individuality and a strong sense of community.” Bruce’s photos also grace the book “Moondrifter Reverie,” reviewed recently here, and he appeared with author Keith Emmons at the Sausalito Library earlier this month.

After photographing the local waterfront, Bruce went on to a successful career in photography, specializing in people and events. Town & Country Magazine once called Bruce one of the top wedding photographers in the country. His photographs of celebrities have been published in more than 30 countries worldwide and his photography has been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Bruce currently divides his time between Mill Valley and Maui, Hawaii. He continues his work as a photographer.

The book is available at

Remembering the Tides Bookstore

By Doris Berdahl

The following article reproduces, with some minor editing, a piece that appeared in the Marin Scope in the summer of 1972. It marked the sale of Sausalito’s celebrated bookstore of the late 1950s and 1960s, the Tides (749 Bridgeway), by its co-founder Herb Beckman, a leader among Sausalito’s colorful literary and artistic set of that period. Beckman is interviewed here. The author is unknown.

Artist Serge Trubach was the semiofficial chronicler of places, personalities and events around town in the 1960s and ’70s. This is how he saw the Tides and its clientele in their role as Sausalito’s counterculture of that era. He called his drawing “The Tides’ David by Michelangelo Trubach.”  Courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society

Artist Serge Trubach was the semiofficial chronicler of places, personalities and events around town in the 1960s and ’70s. This is how he saw the Tides and its clientele in their role as Sausalito’s counterculture of that era. He called his drawing “The Tides’ David by Michelangelo Trubach.”

Courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society

On July 31, 1957, when the Tides opened its doors, downtown Sausalito was like one big country store. There was almost no tourist business as we know it today. There were the people on the hill, there was Bridgeway, with its stores, its taverns, and there was the waterfront, which at that time was Bohemia, where painters and writers and other such lived with a kinship to the Beat Generation.

When Herb Beckman and Bill Ryan came to Sausalito, the most prominent features of Bridgeway were the Porthole, the Kettle, the Cobbler, Four Winds, the meat market and Rexall Drugs, where everybody ate breakfast. Sausalito went to bed, like lots of villages everywhere, at 8 p.m.

The Tides was started on a still sea, and on what Herb Beckman describes today as “a whim.” Both he and Bill Ryan were working in San Francisco at the time. Herb was installing a computer system for an insurance company. They continued working in the city for some time after the business got off the ground. Mary Beckman was the first employee. Very pregnant at the time, she served cakes and coffee and sold Greyhound bus tickets and books.

Robert Peterson, a poet and one of the first winners of the National Endowment for the Arts Award, and Don Umphreys were early partners, Herb recalls. After the first year, Bill Ryan moved to the upstairs office and started publishing Contact. Although short-lived, it became a nationally recognized literary magazine, attracting contributions from some of the most noted writers of the day. Among the most enduring employees were Pat Castle, John Bologni, Lenn Kanenson and Enid Foster, who, according to Herb, “built trees on the tables, made personal statements and gave the place artistic class.”

The Tides has changed over time. Books have crowded out the tables where originally people sat for hours over a cup of coffee. And items for sale have diminished the niches where, in the early days, conversation flowed, and musicians played. “When you’re in the book business, you’re always running ahead,” Beckman says. “You move with the changes in culture. And at the same time, you influence them by what you choose to do with the business, by how you contribute to things. In order to be both successful and creative, you must nurture a kind of ‘grace.’ I guess my philosophy is best represented by a card in the Tarot deck in which the character has one foot in the water and one foot on land.”

Sustaining the Tides has been what he calls a “balancing act,” embracing the economics of running a business, “playing store” and creating an open and free environment in which “you bring together the things you care about in a way that other people will participate if they care about those things, too.”

Beckman sold the Tides to Queva Lutz, a former fashion industry executive, and her partner Jerry Harrington, who told the press that under their ownership it would become “everyman’s bookstore,” with a larger and broader inventory. After launching her business on July 1, 1972, Lutz said in an interview in early 1973 that the ground level of the 1895-vintage building was to be “the thinker’s department” and would house books on psychology, philosophy, education, photography and poetry. The basement would be devoted to arts and crafts, art theory, and how-to and project books. She had plans to establish an art gallery, featuring one-man shows. Her view of a bookstore, she said, was that it should be a cultural center for the whole community. One tradition from the early days would never change, however: coffee would be served from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. 363 days of the year (Christmas and New Year’s Day excepted). “The Tides is the Tides,” she said, “and the doors are always open.”

That modified reincarnation of the original bookstore was replaced in the later 1970s with a third independently owned enterprise, Upstart Crow & Co., which attempted to perpetuate the special aura at 749 established by Herb Beckman and Bill Ryan. But tourism was on the rise by then and downtown rents and chain booksellers were driving out places like the Tides and its spiritual heirs. By the 1980s, the century-old Victorian at the turn of the road on central Bridgeway, its towering false façade vaguely suggesting something out of a western movie, had become home to a series of retail establishments catering to an altogether different clientele. For better or for worse, it remains so today.

Moondrifter Reverie

By Larry Clinton

Keith Emmons, who recently penned a memoir of the first attempted launch of Forbes Island, lived as an anchor-out for ten years in the 1970s. A poet and storyteller, he has written numerous observations of that Utopian civic experience.

Keith on the Bay, back in the day.        Photo by Bruce Forrester

Keith on the Bay, back in the day.        Photo by Bruce Forrester

In 1972, Keith and his fiancé were living in Oakland and planning a summer trip back East.  They gave up their apartment and were looking for affordable housing when they met the girlfriend (now wife) of waterfront photographer Bruce Forrester, who gave them a card advertising a converted lifeboat for sale at Gate 6.  The 21-foot hull was too small for them, but as they were walking off the rickety floating dock, Keith began feeling an affinity with the funky anchor-out community.  He’d learned to love the ocean sailing off Cape Cod as a kid. Then they spotted an ad for another residence, the Moondrifter, at Gate 3.  “It was beautifully rustic inside,” Keith recalls, “with picture windows that looked out on Belvedere, Angel Island, or Mount Tamalpais, depending on which way she rode at anchor.”

Each morning, Keith would climb a tripod mounted on a sunken barge off Main Dock, where he could see all the beached ferries, from the Van Damme to the Vallejo.  They inspired this poem:

Look at this ferryboat!
Look at this monster of wood,
a prehistoric hulk
sinking into the mud
like some mastodon into tar.

The stack
higher than Angel Island.
Gaping windows without glass.
You list heavily, old timber-rot.
Once you took automobiles into your belly
through your – gaping maw.
Steam whistle –  puff-up of white! –
deafened the ladies wearing lace
waving to friends from the balcony rail.

You are a dead hulk now, worms
gnaw at your bones,
your pilot house leans,
your iron-hubbed paddle-wheel elbows,
– greater than any man –  sink,
slowly settle into the silent centuries,
into the sucking mud.

This poem, and many others, appear in Keith’s new book “Moondrifter Reverie.”  He will be reading excerpts from the book and other writings at the Sausalito Library on Thursday, December 7 at 7:00 PM.

“Moondrifter Reverie” is available at the Library, from the publisher (Red Mountain Press) and at Book Passage.  Keith points out “It makes a good stocking stuffer.”

Thanksgiving Through the Years

By Nora Sawyer

This card depicts Thanksgiving in 1905 Courtesy photo

This card depicts Thanksgiving in 1905
Courtesy photo

Published from 1885 to 1966, The Sausalito News provides a time machine into Sausalito’s past. As our Thanksgiving approaches, I decided to take a deep dive into the News’ Thanksgiving reporting through the years, and invite the spirits of our predecessors to the table.

When the paper started publication in 1885, Thanksgiving was a well-established holiday. In the November 5th edition from that year, an editorial noted that President Cleveland had declared November 26th a day of Thanksgiving, and then urged Sausalito’s residents to “give from our share of the blessings of plenty to those around us who have been less fortunate.”

It was also a grand social occasion. From the 1880s through the early 1900s, the paper is littered with accounts of dinners, balls and concerts held Thanksgiving eve, drawing people from throughout Marin. In 1888, the steamer launch Ida conveyed revelers from Tiburon to Sausalito for a Thanksgiving eve dance, and an 1887 account of a ball held at the San Francisco Yacht Club (where the Trident restaurant stands today) notes that “it is said that the best dancers came from Tiburon, the prettiest ladies from Sausalito and the best looking men from Mill Valley.”

The Thanksgiving feast itself was celebrated “on land and sea” with the observation that “the most successful social dinners or parties can be given in the splendid apartments of a fine ship just as well as in the most stately mansions.”

Richardson’s Bay wasn’t only for dining. Various yacht clubs hosted Thanksgiving regattas, with the Sausalito News itself contributing an “engraved silver cup” as a prize in 1889. Local fauna held its own celebrations, with the paper noting that though Thanksgiving 1890 was quiet, “the musical notes of sea lions are nightly heard in Richardson Bay.”

During World War I, celebrations became more subdued and civic-minded. The Marin County Women's Council of Defense baked pies for soldiers stationed at Fort Baker, and the Chamber of Commerce urged citizens to “buy nothing for the big dinner that is not grown or made in their in own community, or at least purchased from a merchant doing business in their own town.”

Still, Sausalito saw its share of revelry. In 1914, the San Francisco Yacht Club hosted its annual breakfast, proceeded by a plunge into the bay at six and followed by a row to Strawberry Point for lunch, where the “chicken and trimmings were so good that they eat and eat [sic] until they did not feel like rowing back.”

The Great Depression brought with it more Thanksgiving introspection. In 1931, state senator Tallant Tubbs wrote that “on Thanksgiving Day there were six million unemployed persons in the United States who had little to rejoice about.”

Still, Tamalpais Valley special correspondent Tom Philbrick found much to be grateful for. “I am thankful that I am alive to enjoy everything, such as good health and good neighbors,” he wrote, “and that it’s never so tough but what it could be tougher… That’s what makes one thankful and happy. My squirrels, my dog, Beauty, the chickens and the wild life that live on this place with me, for all this I am thankful… Even if they do provoke me at times by stealing my garden.”

During the Second World War, the needs of service men and women came to the fore. Residents were urged to “add a plate” for a soldier stationed in Marin. Work in the shipyards did not pause for the holiday, but “more than a ton and a half” of turkey meat was prepared and served to Marinship workers on Thanksgiving Day in 1944. Marinship’s role became especially poignant as the war came to a close the next year. For Marin City, “a city peopled by wartime emergency,” Thanksgiving of 1945 would be “the most joyous holiday the community has ever known.”

After the war ended, Sausalito remained a hub of activity. On Thanksgiving Day 1946, Orson Wells visited Sausalito to “look things over” before filming began on “Lady from Shanghai” that weekend. The News noted that the movie would feature local landmarks such as the Walhalla Inn and the schooner “White Cloud,” star Rita Hayworth, and that “Sausalito will play itself in the picture.”

Even before her movie debut, Sausalito had character to spare. In 1953, The Sausalito News published interviews with longtime local residents to mark the city’s 60th birthday. William G. Morrow, then in his eighties, recalled the days of legal gambling in Sausalito, when “every Thanksgiving and Christmas, boatloads of turkeys would arrive to be dealt out to those likely to support the gamblers at election time.”

Though its gambling days were past, Sausalito’s 60th decade was still hopping. Thanksgiving 1955 saw a party given by avant-garde composer and musical instrument designer Harry Partch. Attended by 75 people, the party took place in his studio in the Waldo Point shipyards, and featured “a jam session by Gate 5 Ensemble.”

As the paper ended publication in the 1960s, Sausalito’s spirit and character still shone through. For its final edition, published on November 2, 1966, reporter Maggie Citizen wrote an imagined conversation with her dog, Sheba, which ends with the following valediction: "wag your tail, yip like an idiot, eat, drink and be happy. The old Joie De Vivre. The world could be coming to an end Out There and it’d be all the same to you, huh? Joie De Vivre.” Though Thanksgiving was still weeks away, the message seems apt. So wag your tail, Sausalito, and remember that whatever happens Out There, we have much to be thankful for.

From Ferries to Fine Dining

By Larry Clinton

The property at 660 Bridgeway which houses the Barrel House Tavern and the year-round Holiday Shop has played several important roles in Sausalito’s history.

In the 1860s, the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company began to operate ferry service from a wharf built at the foot of Princess Street. The small steamer was thus named Princess, and became the first Sausalito ferry to serve San Francisco.  When rail service came to town in the early 1900s, a new ferry terminal was built to connect with the trains, on the site of the current ferry plaza. 

For a time after that, the property housed Sausalito’s City Library.  In 1941, a Purity Market was opened there, featuring a distinctive arched roof.  It was “our proto supermarket,” in the words of Sausalito native Rick Seymour. 

Purity Market in 1941                  Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Purity Market in 1941                  Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

According to the book Saucelito/$au$alito by George Hoffman, “The Purity store was well liked. Although it was one of a huge chain of stores, it had a homey feeling to it. It was not large, all the clerks were local, the manager was a native of Sausalito, the butchers knew everybody, and all customers knew each other. It was a very important business establishment, and although they had a monopoly in town the prices weren't high because the manager wouldn't be a part of it. The policy at Sausalito Purity was dictated by the manager mainly, and not by a hard and fast rule from Chicago. This was one store where it was safe to say that everybody shopped. The floor was like an old school room; heavily oiled, dark, worn in places and squeaky. The butcher counter was near the entrance so there was always a trickle of sawdust where you entered, and tracks leading further in. A favorite drinking fountain dispensed icy water that came through pipes within the heavily walled refrigerated meat storage room. Stepping into the store, you were immediately greeted by a friend; customer or clerk.

“What would be classified as a phenomenon today, was the manner in which the parking lot next to the store was operated. It was not policed, lined off, or attended in any way. Residents used the lot at will, but no one abused it. It's doubtful if ever a fender was bumped, or a door scratched. It held only twenty cars, but it served a thousand a day. The consideration for each other was unwritten and infectious. On Saturdays the shoppers hurried through, always with an eye on the parking lot to see if anybody was waiting to get in. No one waited long.”

The website reports: “When big supermarkets invaded the area the market was finally closed in 1968 and converted to a visitor-targeted mini-shopping mall, and throughout the 1970’s the building was extensively remodeled. The current facade dates to 1981.”

Since then, a series of restaurants have occupied the space.  Houlihan’s, a chain operation, was famous for its Houlihan’s to Houlihan’s fun run over the Golden Gate Bridge. The Water Street Grille was operated by Bob Freeman, who runs the nearby Trident and Ondine today. 

After an almost two-year renovation, which retained the arched roofline, the property reopened as the Barrel House Tavern, an award-winning restaurant with a bar that features classic Manhattans and Negronis aged (appropriately) in oak barrels, plus a seasonal selection of craft cocktails, and some adventurous appetizers, such as crab donuts.  From the bayfront windows, you can watch the ferries come and go ─ just like the old days.

The Day We Didn’t Launch Forbes’ Island

By Keith Emmons

A cum laude graduate of Harvard College, Keith Emmons lived on the Sausalito waterfront for ten years in the free-wheeling hippie days of the 1970s. He recently penned the following memoir for the 80th birthday celebration of Forbes Kiddoo, creator of Forbes Island.

I was a water rat. I bobbed anchored off an old mooring with my fiancée on Richardson Bay. We lived on an oak-planked Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel, the sort of boat you see dropping soldiers off into machine gun fire in D-Day movies. Bob Spotswood named it the Moondrifter, and converted it into a compact three-cabin houseboat. Our mooring was a pile of chain with ten-inch iron links lost in the mud after holding the five-thousand-ton Liberty Ships built on the Sausalito waterfront, launching a new ship every thirty days during World War II. But that’s another story.

I had a job working hard-ashore as a building maintenance man. But when I heard Forbes was going to launch the Island, I knew I had to be there.

Forbes Island in Richardson’s Bay in 1987. Photo courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society

Forbes Island in Richardson’s Bay in 1987.
Photo courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society

A Yellow Line tugboat piloted in. From atop the Island, Forbes Kiddoo directed with hand motions. It backed in, churning up turbulence. The tug was equipped with a three-inch diameter white polypropylene hawser. Forbes secured it as the Island’s tow line.

This tug was big. Four-stories tall. The last time I’d seen a tug this big it was pushing me in the three-stack, two-thousand passenger Queen Mary out of New York Harbor. I was three, on a ten-day journey with Mom and Dad to Europe. So maybe everything looked big to me then. But that’s another story.

Liberty Ship steel came into Sausalito during World War II on railway cars and one railroad stop – a triangular structure of creosote-soaked beams, massive enough to stop a rolling locomotive, still stood at the edge of the water. On the land side of the Island, Forbes set up a one-hundred-ton jack between the railroad stop and the Island. A hundred tons of push shore-side, and an eight hundred sixty-three-ton tug pulling from the water – Forbes didn’t do things small. Forbes Island was definitely going to launch.

Three hundred of Forbes’ friends jockeyed for standing room only along Lefty’s Pier to watch the spectacle. Shoulder-to-shoulder they chattered in the morning sunlight, full of anticipation and ready to party.

The launch began. Forbes signaled the Yellow Line Captain and the tug’s props began to turn. And it churned up rooster-tails, frothing and racing toward the shore and the water swelled toward me like a fast-incoming tide where I stood by the jack. The jack operator furiously pumped the jack handle: ten tons, twenty tons, fifty tons.

And nothing moved.

Forbes waved the tug on. Its diesels revved and black belched from its stack. The white braided tow line began to shrink. And that tow line began to bleed seawater like a twisted dish rag. Forbes peered over the Island’s lip to check, “Is the jack doing anything?” Sixty tons, seventy tons – I watched the jack’s red arrow advancing. The poly tow line shrank like stretched taffy as the tug bucked and lurched in its own turbulence but made no headway. The tow line shrank from three inches, to two inches, to one. And then it stopped stretching. And I had a vision. A vision I didn’t like.

I envisioned that poly line snapping in two and saw three hundred thrill-seekers’ slit neatly in two at the waist, before torsos and legs tumbled into heaps. Crack of the whip.

Eighty tons. Ninety tons. I watched the dial’s red arrow begin to shudder.

Lindsey told me – heavy loads: never use chain, it’ll snap unexpectedly and kill you. It’ll hit you or drop what you’re lifting, but one way or another it’ll kill you. Use rope. You can see it begin to fray, popping one fiber at a time so you know when it’s about to fail and you can call it quits. But that was back in the day of hemp, the rope of clipper ships and the days of Old Ironsides. This was polypropylene, made of plastic or oil or I-didn’t-know-what. I could see it striking like a rattle snake, striking so fast you couldn’t even see it until it was too late.

Ninety-three tons, the arrow chattered higher. Ninety-five tons. The railroad stop began to collapse.

“CUT!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

I looked up to Forbes pacing bow to stern atop the Island. I looked him straight in the eye – hey, I really had nothing to do with this, I just dropped in. I sliced my open palm across my throat and bellowed:


And Forbes shut down the whole operation.

He sent the tug back to San Francisco: five-thousand dollars down the drain.

Everybody wandered off Lefty’s, wondering what happened.

“We’ll try again tomorrow,” Forbes told me later.

I had some blame fool idea that I had get back to work, so I left while Forbes and his construction crew and a few friends went below into the Island to enjoy the champagne, bread and caviar set out to celebrate a successful launch. I suppose the celebration was a bit sad, as they wondered why, after five years of construction, the Island didn’t want to go to sea.

That evening, as the shore-side light was slipping behind Tamalpais, Forbes Kiddoo had a brilliant flash. While the team partied, Forbes himself slithered on his back with a flashlight under the Island to inspect each one of the twenty-four railroad wheels that were supposed to glide the Island into its aquatic life.

Sure enough. One of the wheels had been missed: it was still welded to the railroad rail. Forbes torched out that weld and the next morning the Yellow Line rolled that island out into open water as easily as dawn arriving without a sound.

Forbes and crew and a few diehard lookie-looks enjoyed a small quiet celebration. Peaceful. Aboard the Island. Under water. And afloat.

And that’s the story: The Day We Didn’t Launch Forbes’ Island.

After using the island as his personal residence, Forbes Kidoo turned it into a floating restaurant.  Approaching his 80th birthday, he decided to close the business and terminated his lease at Pier 39. The island is now in Suisun Bay, where plans are to turn it into a venue for private events.

Smitty’s – Sausalito’s Neighborhood Bar

By Swede Pedersen

Smitty’s exterior has changed very little over the years.  Photo by Larry Clinton

Smitty’s exterior has changed very little over the years.

Photo by Larry Clinton

Ralph “Swede” Pederson, who wrote the following article for MarinScope back in 1972, was one of Sausalito’s most venerable characters.  As a kid, he ran with a gang who called themselves Jackals of the Fog. At 18, he won a Golden Gloves light heavyweight trophy. After duty during WWII in the Pacific with the Army Engineers, Swede worked as a rigger at Marinship.  After the war ended he became a fireman, and was dubbed “that huge blond saint” by a woman he comforted after an auto accident.  He also was a legendary historian and storyteller.  Here are excerpts from his history of one of his favorite hangouts:

In tracking the history of Smitty’s Bar, as it has been known since 1938, some backtracking had to be done. 

Originally, the property belonged to Joe Bettencourt, who had a beer and soda pop bottling plant. In 1916 Joe Bettencourt had his beer bottling plant in a barn on what is now 2000 Bridgeway, next to the old Pembroke Hotel. In the 1960s, the upper floors were destroyed by fire.

During this time, Joe Bettencourt conceived his lager beer in 50-gallon kegs, shipped from the Santa Rosa Brewery.  Here, Joe would fill his from the kegs, the bottles standing in water vats. The bottled beer would be steamed at 140 degrees and then capped. The process took several hours to accomplish.

Bettencourt decided to move closer to the main drag, so he purchased the big bars by the Buena Vista Park site next to where Smitty’s now stands, 214 Caledonia.

Before Bridgeway was constructed, Caledonia Street used to be the main roadway of Sausalito, coming off of the Water Street and San Carlos intersection. He continued with his beer bottling operation, adding soda pop to the plant’s efforts during Prohibition.

In 1925, Bettencourt, whose barn set back off Caledonia Street, added a bar and saloon to further his endeavors in an already flourishing business with soda pop and beer bottling.

Jack Witsch and Hans Stritmatter took over after the bootlegging days, incorporating a card room with a “drinking palace.” Witsch, a good railroad man, and Stritmatter, a speculator, had a good business.

As the good money spending times faded, the building was vacated for a time and placed in the hands of the bank.

In 1938, railroad man Frank “Smitty” W. Smith leased the bottling works and saloon, turning it into a bar and Chinese restaurant. In 1941, Smitty was fortunate to win a good sum of money in a lottery.  With this money, he converted the bottling plant behind the bar and restaurant to three bachelor apartments and a family home as it stands today.

Smitty continued working at his establishment until 1948. (Danny Durant took over the place for a short time during the early part of the war years and then Smitty resumed ownership again.)

This ad from the 1948 Sausalito News pretty well describes Smitty’s today.  Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

This ad from the 1948 Sausalito News pretty well describes Smitty’s today.

Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

In 1948, Smitty’s daughter and her husband, Bill Masha, purchased the business. Bill and Susie successfully ran the business until June 1958 until Bill died. Susie, who had strong determination, continued to work behind the plank along with her bartenders.

During the time she ran Smitty’s she was awarded many plaques and commendations for her help at Vallejo Naval Hospital and also contributed generously to the Sausalito Boy Scouts, sending them to camp. She also contributed to the vacation fund of the Spanish classes at Martin Luther King school, allowing the students to visit Mexico.

Due to illness, Susie sold her license to her long-standing bartender, George Salata, in December 1968. George, his wife Virginia and son Danny continue making the bar a “family affair” with all pitching in behind the bar with the help of bartenders George Howpador and Jake Anfibilo.

Smitty’s sign still hangs in front of the bar for sentimental reasons and George and Virginia are seeing that the “last neighborhood bar” continues with their surprise feeds on days such as Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, and other special days – giving those customers without families a chance to sit down and eat with others, being a part of the neighborhood.

Smitty’s is the last bar in Sausalito that has retained its original construction. Here everyone knows each other by first names and can be challenged to a game of shuffleboard or pool or can just relax and watch football or baseball . . . it’s almost like home.

Since 1992, Smitty’s has been owned by three partners, and is well known for its annual pig roast, theme parties on major holidays, and participation in community events such as the annual Chili Cook-Off, Sausalito Art Walk and Labor Day Art Festival.

In 2003, Smitty’s was named one of the “Great Gin Joints” by the San Francisco Chronicle, and it proudly displays a Dive Bars plaque from Marin Magazine.


Ann Heurlin: Serendipity Adventure In Sausalito History

Story by: Steefenie Wicks

Ann Heurlin came to Sausalito in 1976 but did not become involved with the Sausalito Historical Society until 2009.  She was raised in a small sailing community very much like Sausalito, only located on the East Coast.

Her focus at the Historical Society is taking the raw information from the Society’s files and then then putting that data into digital archives that anyone will be able to access via the Internet.  A very private person, Ann agreed to do this interview but did not feel the necessity to have her photo included.

Since Sausalito is about to be 125 years old next year I asked her if she had come across anything that stood out in her mind as remarkable about our town.

“I guess you could say the people,’’ she began. “Most of the items that come to the historical society are donated by the families of people who have lived here or have returned, wanting to share the history of their families with future Sausalitians.”

Heurlin has uncovered stories of characters who have passed through Sausalito during the Civil War, like General Henry Wager Halleck.  In 1849 Halleck was the principle author of the California Constitution.  Heurlin continues, “Halleck was a very interesting fellow; he lost the election to become one of California’s first senators, so he resigned from the Army, married in 1852 and went into law -- later becoming part of a very prominent political family.”

Heurlin can go from the generals to some of Sausalito’s rather shady characters. For instance, in the 1890’s Sausalito was mainly a drinking and gambling town. One of her favorite stories is told by local author R. “Swede” Pederson in the book “One Eye Closed the Other Red,” by Clifford James Walker.   She explained that during Prohibition, it was still legal to produce whiskey in Canada. Ships would load up their cargo and sail down to California, making their way to Sausalito.  There small boats would meet them, then load up the booze, and drop it off beneath the Walhalla, located in Whaler’s Cove (now Shelter Cove).  Built in 1893, the Walhalla was a speakeasy during Prohibition years.  At this time a young Lester J. Gillis was working there; he would later become known as the gangster “Baby Face Nelson.”

The old Walhalla at night    Courtesy Photo

The old Walhalla at night    Courtesy Photo

Ann notes that one interesting point about the old town area was the fact that during WWI the United States government wanted to build a shipyard there; they even went so far as to draw up plans that were presented to the town council.  However, the Great War ended before the shipyard could be built.

Heurlin notes that the history of Sausalito, like the data that she records, can be found in the newspapers that were printed at that time.  The newspapers, she notes, were in the beginning filled with not only information about Sausalito but about Marin, because for the most part Sausalito was very small.  It was not until the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company was founded that the town began to change. 

She notes that in the 1870’s John Harlan printed the first paper called the Sausalito News. This was the first paper to focus was happening at that time in town.  For instance, when Sausalito first tried to incorporate in 1892, the idea was rejected by local citizens and businesses.  It would take another vote in 1893 for the community to come together and approve the idea of Sausalito becoming a town. At that time a Board of Trustees was set up which began the process of getting the town organized.

Heurlin says that you never know what will be donated to the Historical Society.  Sometimes it’s information on Sausalito or on San Quentin prison, which was built in 1859.  She said that it was really the first state prison. Before old ships that had been deserted by those who came for the Gold Rush served as jails.  She has run across documents that make reference to San Quentin as far back as1860, with mentions of the prison being maintained and occupied.

Recently Ann ran across a reference to the fact that during WWII, inmates from the prison were trained to do welding along with other skills that could be used on the assembly lines of Marinship.  The interesting thing was that this information was not to be made public because of concerns that workers would feel differently about someone if they became aware of the fact that that he was a San Quentin inmate.

Ann Heurlin is full of information on Sausalito, along with the history of California.

As we approach our 125-year anniversary, it’s remarkable that this Sausalito resident holds all of this information, which for her is never ending. Sausalito history is for her a serendipity adventure.

How the Richardsons Lost Rancho Sausalito

By Jack Tracy

The California Gold Rush, which made millionaires of some miners and entrepreneurs, was less kind to Sausalito founder William Richardson. In his book Moments in Time, Historical Society founder Jack Tracy tells how the Richardson family lost the 19,000-acre rancho ─ a land grant from the Commandante of the Presidio in San Francisco (then known as Yerba Buena):

William Throckmorton c. 1865. Photo courtesy of Mill Valley Library

William Throckmorton c. 1865.
Photo courtesy of Mill Valley Library

Unwilling to leave his fragile "empire" for the goldfields, Richardson also forbade his son Steven to venture to the dangerous mining camps. His hope for riches lay in somehow turning his Rancho del Sausalito to advantage. He became preoccupied with proving his Mexican grant before the United States Land Claims Commission in San Francisco. During this period his cattle business went untended, and his merchant vessels had new, fierce competition. Richardson also had an unfortunate but not uncommon habit of borrowing short-term money at high interest rates to cover debts. Unable to pay off one debt, he borrowed more, usually from friends, each time using his vast property as collateral. It is unknown how many times he did this, but for years after his death unrecorded promissory notes surfaced, each bearing Richardson's signature, each naming Rancho del Sausalito as collateral.

Still heavily mortgaged in the mid-1850s, Richardson was forced to liquidate his assets in a last attempt to salvage his ranch. His attorney, after successfully clearing Richardson's land claim, directed him to Samuel Reading Throckmorton, an attorney well known for his clever financial manipulations. Richardson and Throckmorton struck a deal wherein Throckmorton was given title as trustee to the entire remaining Rancho del Sausalito. He would have three years in which to raise money by selling off parts of the ranch to cover all debts. At that time, he would deed back to Richardson one-fifth of all remaining unencumbered property and assets, keeping four-fifths for himself as payment for his efforts. Throckmorton immediately restructured the ranch from a stock range to dairying, a more profitable business at the time. In 1856 the final blow came for William Richardson. Three of his uninsured coastal vessels, the backbone of his financial base, were lost at sea. Bankrupt, discouraged, and threatened with lawsuits, William An­tonio Richardson died April 20,1856, allegedly of mercury poisoning from tablets prescribed by his doctor for rheu­matism. Accidental or intentional, his death at age sixty-one remains one final mystery in his enigmatic life.

Although the three years allotted to Throckmorton to untangle Richardson's financial snarl had already elapsed, Throckmorton waited until after Richardson's death to report on his progress. He met with twenty-four-year-old Steven Richardson and Manuel Torres, Richardson's son-in-law, and told them a sad tale. Rancho del Sausalito was deeper in debt than ever, and the one-fifth promised them was in reality one-fifth of nothing but enormous debts. Under terms of the agreement, the entire property, debts and all, should have reverted to Richardson's heirs. But the resourceful Throckmorton had a proposal. According to Steven Richardson, Throckmorton offered him and Tor­res $5,000 each for the family's one-fifth share, which of course was "worthless" anyway. Like lambs to the slaughter, they signed over their interests to Throckmorton without even asking for an accounting of debts. It turned out the total indebtedness was far less than they had been led to believe. As Steven Richardson said in retrospect, "He [Throckmorton] was dealing with a pair of suckers. Thus, we parted with a principality for a beggarly pittance."

With control of Rancho del Sausalito, Throckmorton, also now in debt, set out to turn a profit. Eventually, he was able to offer a complete package to potential investors: a choice valley with long, flat shoreline, and excellent springs and creeks. On April 22, 1868, they sold 1,164 acres of the Sausalito rancho to a consortium of nineteen San Francisco businessmen for $440,000.

The partners in the new Sausalito venture formally incorporated on September 27, 1869, as the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company, thus launching the second attempt to create a city in Sausalito. Some of the partners were interested in the quick profit potential, while others were dedicated to the idea of founding a town.

Moments in Time is available at the Ice House, 780 Bridgeway.

Kerouac Letter “Disappeared” in Sausalito

By Larry Clinton

As recently reported in the local and national media, a long-lost letter mailed from Beat legend Neal Cassady to author Jack Kerouac has been acquired by Emory University in Atlanta. But not before the letter mysteriously “disappeared” here in Sausalito.

Gerd Stern (glasses, 3rd from left) and Ginsberg (to his left, also in glasses) aboard the Sausalito barge with Stern’s friends and family.

Gerd Stern (glasses, 3rd from left) and Ginsberg (to his left, also in glasses) aboard the Sausalito barge with Stern’s friends and family.

The 40,000-word single-spaced typed document, known as the “Joan Anderson Letter,” was the inspiration for Kerouac’s masterpiece On the Road. and was purchased at auction. The sale price was $206,250, according to published reports — one-tenth what it was once thought to be worth.

The Joan Anderson Letter tells of Cassady’s adventures, including an affair with a woman named Joan Anderson, thus giving the document its name.  In addition to inspiring Kerouac to rewrite his first draft of On the Road in a similar stream-of-consciousness style, the letter generated intrigue when it vanished soon after Cassady mailed it to Kerouac in 1950.

Kerouac said that in 1955 he loaned the manuscript to poet Allen Ginsberg who supposedly passed it along to another Beat poet, Gerd Stern, in hopes of getting it published.  Stern was living on a barge at Gate 5 at the time, and Kerouac accused him of losing the letter overboard in a 1968 interview with the Paris Review.  In reality, Stern claims, he returned the letter to Ginsberg, who then sent it to Richard Emerson at Sausalito’s Golden Goose Press.  Emerson didn't bother to read it, and after Golden Goose folded, Emerson gave his archives, including the still-unopened letter, to record producer Jack Spinosa, who took the material home. There it languished until Spinosa died, and his daughter found it while cleaning out her late father's house.

But Allen Ginsberg continued to blame Stern for losing the letter.  Stern lived with that accusation for 50 years, but not without a sense of humor.  "Yes, I'm the guy who dropped the letter off the boat, but of course I didn't," Stern said recently. "People have written to me and damned me for this. After 50 years, it's a blessing to be vindicated."

Asked to speculate on Ginsberg’s motive, Stern replied, “I'm convinced Allen lied which is not the only lie of his I recall of his from decades of friendship. But it doesn't matter now. Allen's dead. Jack's dead. Neal's dead. But I'm still alive."

Stern, now 89, no longer lives in Sausalito, but still visits Marin from time to time.  In June 2015, he made an appearance with Literary Kicks blogger Levi Asher at Fort Mason.  Here’s how Asher announced the event:

“Meet Gerd Stern, O.H. (Original Hipster), who became a part of the Beat scene when he befriended two confused young men named Allen Ginsberg and Carl Solomon in a mental hospital in New York City, who discovered the art of performance poetry with Maya Angelou while living with her on a Sausalito barge, and who then joined the thriving 1960's activist modern art scene at the height of the hippie explosion. Gerd will talk about his personal encounters with Bob Dylan, Richard Brautigan, Ken Kesey, Stewart Brand, Timothy Leary, Robert Creeley, Nam June Paik, Norman Mailer, Abbie Hoffman and Huey Newton, about his own unique and deeply moving life's journey, and about what it all means today.”

Sorry to have missed that one!

The full text of Neal Cassady’s original letter may be read at

Peter and Ann Arnott: Sausalito’s Dynamic Duo

By Steefenie Wicks
Ann and Peter: Sausalito’s Dynamic Duo   Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Ann and Peter: Sausalito’s Dynamic Duo   Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Peter and Ann Arnott are two of Sausalito’s most devoted residents.  They have been in Sausalito for the last 53 years, and have been involved in just about every event that has taken place here.  They are totally community orientated, have been members of or on the Board of just about every organization here in town.  When asked why neither has ever run for political office, Peter is the first to answer, “Because it just did not look like fun.”

The Arnotts met, were married, and had their first child while both were employed in Tokyo.  Ann took a government job in 1964 that took her to Japan.  While there she was appointed by the President to be the Physical Fitness instructor of all of the domestic schools in Japan during the 1964 Olympics.  Peter was there working in advertising for Singapore Airlines.  Ann tells the story of how she had always wanted to perform on stage, but it was not till she met Peter that this part of her life took shape. 

Peter explained, “The British were known for starting theater wherever they went.  At the time, as a hobby, when I was not working at the agency I kind of took up with these theater folks.  It was during one of the auditions that these two American girls showed up looking for parts.  When the part to be read was Ann’s, she was found sleeping on the floor; this was the beginning of our relationship.

“These performances that they did were readings.  Which meant that instead of spending all of your time learning a part, you performed by reading the part from a script. We performed these plays in Tokyo at the homes of very wealthy individuals, so when we returned to the USA, ending up in Sausalito this is what we brought back.”

Ann continued, “I had this idea that we could do this here in town.  At the time, I had just become a member of the Sausalito Woman’s Club, so I proposed this idea to them, and they accepted it.  The first production that we did was such a success that we formed the Sausalito Players.”   The Sausalito Players is now Sausalito’s established theater group going strong 40 years later. 

Ann is the first to say that she is never sure if she has been blessed or cursed with all the energy she has.  At one point in her life here in Sausalito she started the first restaurant on Caledonia Street.  She explained, “I have always loved cooking.   For years I made cookies for friends and neighbors so while speaking with a friend we got this bright idea to start our own restaurant.  We opened on Caledonia Street right were the Thai restaurant is located today.  At the time we were only open for lunch and served soup, sandwiches and my homemade cookies. But like most great ideas, the business took off; the place became so popular that I had to decide if I wanted to do this or raise my family; I chose my family.  I tend to be wrong with the same energy that I am right with, so as I get older I have learned how to take responsibility for that.”

For 33 years Ann and Peter have run the front gate at the Sausalito Art Festival.  They became involved with this event in the 1970s with the understanding that if the event ran in the black the organizers would make a donation of at least $100 to the Woman’s Club Scholarship Fund.  Eventually, the Chamber of Commerce took over the event and the donations started to increase.  Today the Sausalito Art Festival donates over $5,000 to the fund. Peter’s motto is “Never work for money, you just do what you have to do.”

Both Ann and Peter have shared their talents over the years with audiences from around the world and locally in Marin.  Peter plays banjo, and performed at the Hungry i in San Francisco; he also had the honor of being the opening act for Ella Fitzgerald. Ann not only did catering and got involved in local events but also won a number of bowling championships. Between the two of them it seemed only fitting that their son David would follow in the family footsteps.  David Arnott is not only a composer but also a talented screenwriter who worked on the screenplay of “The Last Action Hero“ for actor and former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

When you ask these two what has been the biggest change they’ve seen in Sausalito, Peter is the first to answer with just one word: bicycles.   “We learned a long time ago never to try to do any shopping downtown on the weekends; the streets then were full of cars, now it’s bicycles.  They have taken over not only downtown but also up in the hills. No place is safe from this type of traffic.”

Both remember when there were three grammar schools in Sausalito.  They feel encouraged that presently there seems to be an influx of families with children returning to the area, which tends to make Sausalito a more stable environment for growth.

Ann ends the conversation with one of her favorite quotes about Sausalito: “There are a lot of people in this community that remember Sausalito like it never was and they are working very hard to keep it that way.”

How lucky Sausalito is to have two such global residents like Peter and Ann Arnott.

The Long, Peaceful Life of BB 1623

By Sophie van Romburgh and Norm Rosenberger

Sophie owns a unique home at Yellow Ferry Harbor, one of ten balloon barges (hence “BB”) built by Hickinbotham Bros. Construction Division in Stockton, Ca., between Fall 1943 and Spring 1944. The first five, numbered BB 1623 through BB 1627, have all become residences on the Sausalito waterfront. The home will be visible from the outside during the Sept. 30 Floating Homes Tour – although not open to the public.  Here’s a report Sophie and Norm prepared on the history of these unique vessels.

Norm’s fanciful rendering of BB 1623

Norm’s fanciful rendering of BB 1623

Balloon barges were built to fly a barrage balloon from a long steel cable to protect strategic and sensitive locations from attacks by low-flying aircraft. When a huge balloon was raised up to several thousand feet with a winch, its cable could slice an airplane wing, thus creating both a real and a mental barrier to enemy planes. Alternatively, a smaller “VLA” balloon could be flown at a “Very Low Altitude” to thwart an aircraft’s aim. These balloons were colossal, aerodynamic shapes of lightweight neoprene-coated fabric with puffy tailfins. They had to be filled cautiously with highly flammable hydrogen — helium was still scarce and limited to army balloon training. Floating in slow-motion like overstuffed parade balloons, they required being operated by specially trained crew on specially prepared sites. For protection of the homeland, balloon sites were commonly on land; the barges added the option of flying balloons in harbors, following the British example.

Balloon barge construction swiftly stepped up in the defense of the West Coast following the surprise air attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, where balloons had been wanting. Britain contributed several thousands of them. From February 1942, an Army balloon battalion was stationed at Mare Island, Vallejo, to service the San Francisco Bay Area. They were, first, the 305th balloon battalion, and from June 1942, relieving them, the 309th. They worked the balloons in direct communication with the coast artillery in the anti-aircraft batteries, such as Cronkhite and Barry. By March 1943, “you look across fields of barrage balloons suspended awkwardly in midair like tail-heavy sausages,” La Verne Bradley reported in her National Geographic article on the buzz of the war effort in the San Francisco Bay.

Hickinbotham Bros. Balloon Barges were specifically designed to meet the requirements of balloon barrage defenses. (The wooden “bungalow” on BB 1623 is of later date.) They measure 52 ft. by 16 ft. and are constructed of 1/4-inch steel. Modeled after freight barges, they have a 140" x 62" hatch that provides access to a hold forward below decks. That is where the balloon could be bedded, if need be, and where the gasoline-powered winch (type A-9) for controlling and storing thousands of feet of steel cable under even tension would have been mounted.

Rather than go straight up from the winch to the balloon, the steel cable was to be diverted by pulleys to the deck, then anchored with a snatch block to a heavy, one-inch-thick steel ring that is mounted amidships.

Some further weld marks on BB 1623’s deck suggest that there used to be additional supporting structures for flying the balloon. 

To top up the balloon’s gas, moreover, “a 60-foot length of hose (it may be strong garden hose) is lashed to the balloon cable,” the 1942 Coast Artillery Field Manual instructs, “so that the balloon can be topped-up with the balloon flying a few feet above the deck, and with the long axis of the balloon parallel to that of the ship.”

The crew’s quarters were aft below decks, and included a galley with a stove and fridge, a fold-up table and benches, bunk beds, a washroom with a shower and a w/c.

There was no engine: the barges had to be towed to location. For that purpose, Hickinbotham Bros. produced two 52-foot balloon barge leaders with double engines (BBP 1621 and 1622). (Another Stockton shipyard, Kyle & Company, also built ten balloon barges, BB 1633 through BB 1642; these measured 75 feet.)

Just like Marinship, the shipyard of Hickinbotham Bros. Construction Division had been opened in 1942 in response to the call to build ships for the war. It was a limited partnership of two Stockton steel companies, Hickinbotham Bros. and Guntert & Zimmerman. They built many and different army vessels; in 1943 alone, according to The Log of the West Coast Maritime Industries, they produced five of the balloon barges — probably BB 1623 through BB 1627 — one of the balloon barge leaders, five 74-ft. steel tugs, six 60-ton crane barges, two 62-ft. steel tugs, and 38 task lighters. The shipyard was awarded an Army-Navy “E” for Excellence in 1944.

As the Stockton shipyards were working to fulfill their balloon barge contracts, the Theater of War was changing. The barrage balloon was no longer deemed necessary for anti-aircraft defense of the West Coast. The army discontinued the program here in August 1943, and deactivated the West Coast balloon battalions, including the 309th, the next month.

Hickinbotham Bros. delivered BB 1623 to Mare Island on 3 January 1944. While other balloon barges were shipped on top of cargo ships for deployment overseas, BB 1623 through BB 1627 were kept in the Bay Area in Army stand-by, but not deployed during the war, as far as we know.

With a new assignment as war surplus, they were discovered as pleasant houseboats.

The Floating Homes Tour will showcase BB1623 plus 15 open homes, as well as live music, swing dancing, vintage vehicles, art exhibits, and food and drink for purchase, from 11a.m. to 4 p.m. on the 30th.  Advance reservations are highly recommended, and can be purchased at

The Madonna: Short-Lived Colossus of the Waterfront

By Larry Clinton

“Among the most creative of the houseboat builders was Chris Roberts, who was well known among the locals, as well as the authorities who took a dim view of his activities,” says musician and historian Joe Tate in his blog Joe adds, “Though somewhat impractical, his creations were stunning and beautiful. The ‘Madonna’ was built around an old piledriver which had a tall wooden structure about 70 feet high around which he created his vision of Mary, mother of Jesus.

“We generally referred to the Madonna simply as the ‘Tower’ and often employed it as a place to have parties. Although horizontal space was limited, Chris was always happy to make the place available. This allowed him to recruit cheap labor from the drunks who showed up.”

The Madonna towers over its neighbors (upper right).  To the left, past the ferry Vallejo, is the next-highest structure, the Owl.        Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The Madonna towers over its neighbors (upper right).  To the left, past the ferry Vallejo, is the next-highest structure, the Owl.        Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Chris Roberts told the short-lived waterfront newspaper Garlic Press that he began building the massive structure in 1967.  "Well, we worked on it for about a year and a half. About three or four hundred people have lived on it over the years, because that's the kind of place it was, anybody could stay there. It was never locked.”

One night just before Christmas, 1975, the Madonna erupted in flames.  Here’s how Pete Ritardo recalled it soon after in the Garlic Press:

The flamboyant tower, the Madonna of Gate Five -- star of Life Magazine, Paris Match and others, yet cut off in a strange way from the life force of the waterfront, as it sat unfinished for years on its slowly rotting barge -- burned Saturday night, December 21; the charred skeleton, timbers of the retired pile-driver on which the tower was built, now sits two hundred yards offshore on a piece of underwater property leased by Don Arques to Marin County.

The paper quoted an unnamed neighbor, who was one of the first to notice the flames: "Well, I was just peaking on peyote, which I had been eating all day, and just getting out of the bath tub when I heard like this huge crash, and saw this huge flame shooting out of the Tower. . . For a minute I thought I was having an hallucination, and then it hit me that the Tower was really burning, and I went outside and started yelling, 'Fire! Fire in the Tower!'

"I saw this guy, and he was either trying to beat out the flames or trying to fan them, I don't know which. "When I left my boat, I said to myself, well, this is it, I've lost everything, because I'm right next to the Madonna you know. . . It was beautiful -- like at one point I saw Mescaline in the flames -- beautiful, and at the same time scary. . ."

According to the paper, the Marin City fire department received a call at 9:24 P.M., and responded with three vehicles. When they arrived on the scene, help was immediately called for and eventually twelve vehicles were summoned. The flames were visible for miles around, and a crowd of spectators numbering in the hundreds gathered.

By the time a hose had been stretched to the end of the access pier, it was clear that the fire would have to burn up the 1/4-inch redwood sheathing of the main tower before it could be brought under control. Efforts were concentrated on trying to save the boats to the south and east of the Madonna, especially the Helmet-Dome boat inhabited by Alan and Cassandra. Bucket lines were formed to wet down roofs, and neighborhood fire-fighters were forced to pour water on their heads to keep from being burned by the constant rain of sparks and chunks of burning wood.

"We'd been talking about this for years," said Cassandra later, "that the worst thing that could happen would be a fire in the Madonna with a wind at low tide." And of course, that is exactly what happened. With the tide receding, Martine and Bennett's houseboat -- which had been tied up to the Madonna's bay side, was removed by frantic efforts with just inches of water to spare.

The Helmet-Dome boat was not so fortunate and was forced to sit out the fire just a few feet down- wind. Steam rose from the aluminum-sheathed portion of the roof: the water directed at it vaporized on contact.

After about 45 minutes,  the Madonna's sheathing had been pretty well burnt off; the front lower portion still remained, and the windward northerly wall. Under the swaying, burning 2x4 frame the yellow-suited firemen worked their way into the Madonna. As the fire's intensity diminished, they were finally able to turn water on the pile-driving tower, and by shutting off the other hoses to increase the water pressure, reached the top.

The crowd began to head home hours before the fire fighters, who stayed until 3 A.M. cleaning up and stowing their equipment.

No one had been hurt, and nothing at Gate 5 had been severely damaged except for the Madonna itself. Though the fire had started suddenly and had reached an intense level in a matter of minutes, everyone in the adjoining houseboats had been able to get to safety.

Chris Roberts provided the epitaph for his epic creation: "It was a sculpture, that's all. And at the same time a place for people who had nowhere else to stay, a kinetic sculpture in a sense. And that's all I can say about it."

Roberts also built the “Owl,” another unusual houseboat on which he lived. It was constructed around an old wooden stiff-leg crane which also had a towering structure. Though much shorter than the Madonna, it was still huge compared with the neighboring houseboats.  The Owl is still afloat on South Forty Pier.

Sausalito Yacht Club – Part II

By Larry Clinton

Last week we recounted the beginnings of the Sausalito Yacht Club 75 years ago, as told in a book produced by club members in the 80s.  The following excerpt, updated by Jerry Tarpin, a member of the club’s Executive Board, tells the story of the design and construction of the clubhouse, and the formation of the junior sailing program, which remains a major focus of the club today.

Sections of the Yacht Club’s distinctive vaulted roof being lifted into place. Photo courtesy of Sausalito Yacht Club

Sections of the Yacht Club’s distinctive vaulted roof being lifted into place.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Yacht Club

On Saturday, September 24, 1960, the formal ceremony and dedication of the new Sausalito Yacht Clubhouse took place. A triumph of many years effort, the project's completion definitely warranted a grand celebration for club members and the Women's Auxiliary who had donated an enormous amount of labor.

John Ford, Jr., a four-time successful defender of the San Francisco Bay Perpetual Challenge Trophy for the club, officiated at the ceremonies where more than 300 people attended the formal opening of the new home of the Sausalito Yacht Club.

Sausalito's former Mayor Phil Ehrlich, Jr. was the guest of honor, along with the Sausalito Council members, former Chief of Police, Howard Hoerndt and former Fire Chief, Matthew Perry.

The building's exterior, decorated in red, white and blue, reflected the colors of the club's burgee, which was raised and flown during the ceremony on a new signal pole that was presented to the club by one of its members, Neil Munro.

The structure features a molded vaulted roof and enveloping outside deck. The members were further gratified with the results of their efforts when the clubhouse won an award from Progressive Architecture, a prominent architectural journal.

A highlight of the clubhouse dedication ceremony was the presentation of a hand-rubbed ebony plaque, with a sterling silver plate engraved with the names of the seven men who had originally founded the club in 1942. Presenting the plaque were J. B. Ford, Sr., Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. Enzensperger, Mr. and Mrs. R. J. Hooper, the Mesdames Carl Finn, John E. Koenig, Roy Ashley, M. K. Densmore and Marian Stelling, parents of the founding members.

A 40-piece U.S. Coast Guard Band played for the dedication ceremony that was held on the deck of the clubhouse. Commodore Peter Fromhagen greeted visiting guests and Mrs. Fromhagen, President of the SYC Women's Auxiliary, presented the club with a bound volume of all copies of "The Squeegie-Weegie Gazette," its newsletter.

Following the formal proceedings, a champagne cocktail party was held as guests, including the commodores and wives of other yacht clubs, admired the new clubhouse.

In July of 1961, the yacht club made its official entry on the major racing circuit sponsoring a two-day regatta with the official blessing of the Yacht Racing Association.

The club's horizons broadened considerably with the completion of the new clubhouse. An enormous increase in the number of memberships included many sailors with boats meeting YRA qualifications. A fleet of more than 300 yachts marked the entry of the yacht club into the larger yacht circuit. In addition to its entry in the YRA and SYRA, the club is also a member of the Pacific Interclub Association and the U.S. Yacht Racing Union.

In the mid-fifties, the Sausalito Yacht Club initiated the Junior Sailing Program and began providing sailing and boating safety classes to youngsters age 12 and over. This program assured the membership that young people would not face the same difficulty as the club's founding members in pursuing their interest in racing and cruising.

Under the supervision of John Ward, Chairman of the Junior Sailing Program and instructor, youngsters began to learn the nomenclature of lines and nautical terms, splicing and whipping of ropes, rigging and tacks, reefing and mooring methods, safety procedures and how to pick up a person who has gone overboard. The club also agreed to co-sponsor an intensive course in sailing safety for youngsters with the Red Cross.

The Junior Sailing Program became such a success that the Pacific Interclub Association presented the Sausalito Yacht Club an award for the best youth program on the Bay in 1968.

By the end of the 1966 racing season, the Sausalito Yacht Club had 49 boats which "qualified" (raced in 5 different races designated by the Yacht Racing Association as championship races.) This was the largest turn-out ever, and put the SYC in third place among Bay yacht clubs.

In 1967, the club started off the new year by enacting a plan for major work to expand and improve the clubhouse. The work included adding on the new section, expanding the galley, rebuilding the storage area and improvements to the entrance hall. In addition, a new secretarial cabinet and serving station cabinet were added to the list of improvements.

The details of racing and crewing became a focus in 1969 when the Sausalito Yacht Club sponsored a series of racing seminars. In addition to a rundown of procedures, a guest speaker spoke at each meeting on subjects such as starting tactics, apparent wind and balance and sail handling.

As the club evolved from a small group of sailing enthusiasts to the prominent social and sporting group that it has become, the members have never lost sight of the value of how their voluntary efforts help the club to prosper.

Many work parties were scheduled and well-attended as the members made improvements to the clubhouse. These included paving the clubhouse parking lot, building a concrete wall, painting floats and gangway, installing new overhead lights, building a new float and installing a new charbroiler in the galley.

As the membership grew, the traditional fare of spaghetti dinners gave way to more sophisticated meals. By 1963, an increased number of members and their comparative degree of affluence (they were then in their early 40's) made it possible to employ a part-time staff for the bar and galley. At first, the galley only served hamburgers, but gradually the food improved with the desire for change by the members.

On September 23, the Sausalito Yacht Club will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a gala dinner dance.

The Sausalito Yacht Club Turns 75

By Larry Clinton

On September 23, the Sausalito Yacht Club will celebrate its 75th anniversary with a gala dinner dance.

Here is the story of the Club’s beginnings, excerpted and lightly edited from the book “Sausalito Yacht Club,” produced by Club members in the 80s.

In 1942, a group of young sailors: Roy Ashley, Park Densmore, Bob Dinehardt, Jim Enzensperger, John Ford, John Hooper and John Koenig, decided to turn their common enthusiasm for small-boat racing and cruising into something more.

Bill Whitaker, John Hooper (founder), Henry Mettier, Henry Easom, Rob Hobart, Jim Enzensperger (founder) in late 1940s.            Photo courtesy of Sausalito Yacht Club

Bill Whitaker, John Hooper (founder), Henry Mettier, Henry Easom, Rob Hobart, Jim Enzensperger (founder) in late 1940s.            Photo courtesy of Sausalito Yacht Club

At the time, there were several organized yacht clubs, but the members tended to be twice the age of these junior sailors and they did not have any junior member programs.

These young men felt they could better pursue their interests in racing and sailing by starting their own yacht club with rules appropriate to their interests. Thus, the club was formed and initially named the Richardson Bay Yacht Club. It was soon discovered that that name the club was owned by the San Francisco Yacht Club. It was then renamed "The Sausalito Yacht Club."

The first rule was that no member could be older than the age of the oldest founding member. At the time, the oldest member was 18, having two years on his sixteen-year-old companions. The age restriction was important to the young sailors because they did not want older sailors to join and take control of their club.

During the first few years, the members of the newly formed club tended to party together, organize intraclub races, cruise, or visit other yacht clubs on Saturday night.

The founding members held numerous races amongst themselves, as well as taking two weeks off in the summer and cruising up to Steamboat Slough. The early meetings were held in the homes of the members. The first clubhouse was the "Santa Barbara," a steam schooner grounded to form the breakwater where the channel dredging spoils were deposited to dam what was then known as Shell Beach. Even allowing for the fondness of memories, the old boat was considered rather grubby by the members. The only room remaining was the wood paneled officers' and passengers' salon. In it was a long wooden table surrounded by fixed swivel chairs, seating a couple of dozen people. It was here that the first board meetings were held. Social events were never held on the "Santa Barbara," as things got pretty musty what with a lot of dry-rot; it wasn't exactly a party atmosphere.

Before the tide completely absorbed the "Santa Barbara," the club moved into the upper floor of the old San Francisco Yacht Club building, now the Trident-Ondine building. Several fund-raising events and board meetings were held there, though its barren atmosphere by no means filled the bill for a clubhouse.

To improve these conditions, the club moved into an old army building adjacent to the Sausalito Yacht Harbor in 1945. This clubhouse was located on piles at the end of the pier parallel to Bridgeway. Over time, the space under the pier got filled in with mud from harbor dredging. The young club members took advantage of this and built a patio and barbecue. It was here that the club met and socialized for more than a decade.

Memories of these early years in the old SFYC building include a fund-raising dance with a live band that wasn't doing very well until the open-air dance at the Rose Bowl in Larkspur got rained out. Frustrated dancers returning to the City saw our banner stretched across Bridgeway and flocked to the Sausalito Yacht Club to make this a very successful fund-raiser.

In 1945, the club was incorporated. January of 1946 made a mark in the memories of early members, as the date of a spectacular initiation ceremony. The initiation was in the form of a football game between the new members, and true to form with the club's previous experiences, mud played a significant part. The day before the game, it had rained and rained, mak­ing the erstwhile football field into a sea of mud. Not to be discouraged, the members agreed to go on and play anyhow.

Well, if you've ever seen a group of men scrambling around in the mud playing football you can imagine what a sight it was to see. Many members and townspeople came by to watch, quickly spreading word to others. Member Dave Sheldon showed up at half-time in a brand-new, clean, white football uniform and joined in the game when it resumed. By this time, the "initiation" had turned into a town event, and when the game ended, the members made sure there was no way to tell what color Dave's uniform had been.

In the early years, since most members raced small boats, it was natural that the Sausalito Yacht Club should join the Small Boat Racing Association (SBRA) and start to sponsor SBRA races at Sausalito. The also club held "Fun" races on Saturday and a dance on Saturday night. This whole package was called the "Sausalito Regatta Days" and was co-sponsored by The Sausalito Chamber of Commerce. Also at that time, it was customary for the sponsoring club to provide lunch for the crews between races on Sunday, Jim Enzensperger relates his memory of one such occasion. "We had decided on beef stew for Sunday's lunch and prepared the food in a huge restaurant size stew pot on Saturday morning. We put the heat on low and went off to participate in the Regatta Days. By Sunday morning, not only was the stew done, it was cooked beyond all recognition. But, we served the stuff up with French bread anyhow!"

Next week: Construction of today’s clubhouse and berth of the Yacht Club’s signature youth sailing program.

Boats on Streets -- Revisited

by Larry Clinton

The following is updated from a 2009 Sausalito Historical Society column.

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.

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

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

According to a paper by Michael Wilmar, ex-director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, “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-60s, 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 shore side 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, some 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.

Eventually, authorities declared that houseboats needed to be brought up to code and regulated.

Approximately 400 floating home berths were eventually permitted in 5 designated residential marinas. A number of residents refused berths in the new harbors, and instead banded together to form the Gates Cooperative in 1979.  Today, after years of legal wrangling, some of these homes are being placed on code-compliant docks, including the new Van Damme Dock off Gate 6 Road. This reconfiguration will also include a shoreline park, bike paths and bay views.

The modern floating homes community is presenting its 32nd Open Homes tour on September 30.  Themed “Homefront on the Waterfront,” the tour ties in with the 75th Anniversary of Marinship, which helped to foster today’s waterfront community.

It’s a full day with music, artists, exhibits of vintage vehicles, food and drink for purchase and more. To make advance reservations or to volunteer to work on the tour, visit

Eugene Huggins: Blues by the Bay

By Larry Clinton and Cindy Roby

Regular attendees at Sausalito’s summertime concert series, Jazz and Blues by the Bay, know that the final performance will feature local bluesman Eugene Huggins.  What they may not know is that this homegrown performer has closed the summer series virtually every year since it began.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Parks and Recreation Department.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Parks and Recreation Department.

Eugene’s roots in the Bay Area blues scene go back to his high school days, as he told Cindy Roby for a MarinScope profile back in 1982.  Here are some key excerpts from that interview:

One of the songs that Sausalito's Eugene Huggins and his group The Casuals really relish is entitled "Don’t Go No Further,” a rhythm and blues classic but a title increasingly inappropriate to the top billing destiny the group Is beginning to enjoy.

Their ascent was formally recognized on March 3rd when they received nominations in two categories at the Bay Area Music Awards (the cognoscenti just call 'em the "Bammies"). The Casuals were nominated in two categories: "Best Blues Band" and "Best Club Band".

"We came in second for Best Club Band," Eugene says, "And that was especially great because it was a write-in category."

Pretty heady stuff for this Sausalito son. But when we met to talk during his break at the Sausalito Gourmet on Caledonia Street, where he works during the day, it was clear Eugene Huggins is still pretty down-to-earth and unassuming — well, I'd guess you'd call him casual!

"I've worked here for five years," Eugene told me as he settled down with a cake. "Frank (Hountalas) is very nice about my music and lets me go early when I need to." Eugene appreciates the steady income he makes dispensing opulent sandwiches and other savories for the daytime locals. "It's getting so The Casuals are making pretty good money now but I still can't depend on it because it is so inconsistent."

If music's in his blood, Sausalito's in his soul. "Sausalito is it for me. I wouldn't want to be anyplace else. I've met really nice people," he says. And Eugene's had plenty of time to meet them; he's spent most of his 21 years here. "My family moved here in I960. My father was bead of PR for the Army Corps of Engineers. I looked up to him a lot and he always encouraged my music. He liked music himself a lot. My mother used to be PTA president and has worked as cashier at the Spinnaker for 15 years."

At 21, Eugene is pretty much of a Sausalito old-timer. "I've seen Sausalito go through a lot of its changes. I remember when they closed Vina del Mar Park [during the hippie era]. My Dad used to take me to the Glen to play when I was a little kid. There were no houses there at all and you know what it looks like now. I went to elementary school at the Old Central School which is City Hall now."

Along with just about every teenager in the world, Eugene got into music playing with a rock group. "The Casuals bass player, Steve Webber, and I played together in high school. While everyone in Marin was still listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash, I was listening to Jimmy Reed. The other kids thought I was weird."

Eugene plays the harmonica and sings. "There is a different harmonica for each of the 12 different keys,” he points out. “So I have a little shaving kit packed with harmonicas that I take to each gig.

"We gig a whole lot," Eugene says. "We play at the Sleeping Lady in Fairfax; all the Keystone Clubs — in San Francisco, Berkeley and Palo Alto and at the Old Waldorf in the City and many others. We have a young audience — mostly teenagers, high school students — and I think we are the only blues band that does. We are not really into hard rock."

He continues, "My heroes are people like Muddy Waters, Junior Walker, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells."

And last fall when The Casuals were tapped to back up Guy and Wells at the Old Waldorf they performed impressively enough to generate a two-column rave review by Michael Snyder and a picture in the Chronicle’s "Pink Sheet."

Some excerpts are typical of the tone.

"At the Old Waldorf for a one-nighter, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells used the quintet, ranging in age from 16-21, as their back-up band with no rehearsal. Wells was so impressed he called for an unscheduled second set, joining the band on stage during ‘Key to the Highway....’

"Junior said, ‘I like to plug in and play and see what happens,’ added genial Eugene Huggins, 21, whose lead vocals and harmonica stick close to the blues tradition. 'And what happened was a lot of spontaneous interplay’. "

So there's no doubt there's a rosy future ahead for Eugene and The Casuals and I look forward to witnessing it some night. In the meantime, I can only vouch firsthand for Eugene's sandwich making abilities and I say give the guy the "Sandy" award!

This year, Eugene Huggins and Friends will perform on the Gabrielson Park stage Friday evening, August 25, as he has appeared “Pretty much since the beginning.” Recalling this long string, he says, “It means a lot to me, being a hometown boy, and I have lots of happy memories of playing there.”  For more information, and a preview of Eugene’s music, check out his Website:

Dredgetown and the Shaman of Rainbow Bay

By Larry Clinton

In a 1981 MarinScope article, Phil Frank reported on the City Council’s plan to pursue the abatement and eviction of the offshore settlement known as Dredgetown.  As Phil put it, “This collection of floating boats, sunken barges and hulks surrounding the permanently moored three-story dredge directly offshore of Dunphy Park has been a thorn in the side of the city, the Cruising Club and numerous hill dwellers since Its creation ten years ago.”

The day they burned old Dredgetown down                                            Photo by Saul Rouda

The day they burned old Dredgetown down                                            Photo by Saul Rouda

Phil dug into the Dredgetown controversy with his usual gusto, asking, “Now that the city has its ordinance the next question might be ‘What is the city up against in the person of the Dredgetown dwellers’?”

Then he summarized his interview with Michael Woodstock Haas, a fairly consistent occupant of the dredge for the last six years:

“It's long been my belief that If one is to be successful in battle it's best to know one's opponent. Since Michael Haas is the present holder of the title to the dredge and will thus be ticketed, summoned, served and sued in upcoming months, he could realistically be called an opponent.  But here’s the rub, for Michael Hass also is the Shaman of Rainbow Bay. Michael is a deep believer in astrology and the spirit world.

“Hass explained, ‘At sunrise on Easter Sunday three years ago, I was visited by Indian spirits in a vision. These were the spirits of the former inhabitants of the area. The Coast Miwok Indians were also known as the Hoo Koo Ee Koo Indians. They declared me the protector of these tidelands by making me the Shaman of Rainbow Bay. See, Rainbow Bay is what the Indians called these waters before William Richardson arrived on the scene. These spirits were real upset by the desecration of their burial grounds for the building of Sarky's Square.’ At this point Hass went on to explain to me about resulting ‘Curse of Sarky's Square’ placed on it by the spirits, but that would take another whole column.

“Working with a totem pole carver, Hass helped with the erecting of totem poles along the Sausalito waterfront to ward off evil spirits. To date seven have been erected, the most recent a 40-foot tall pole on the dredge itself. This one was slipped into place at sunrise of Easter Sunday morning.

“Haas continued, ‘The poles are all in place now and the energy which these totem poles attract will protect we, the spiritual descendants of the Hoo Koo Ee Koo.’

“Whether a 48-hour mooring ordinance governing anchorage of underwater streets will be any match

for seven totem poles and the Shaman of Rainbow Ray remains to be seen. The bumper sticker on the Volkswagen currently running around town says it all: SAUSALITO, it’s not the real world, Jack.

According to the newspaper, Hass had acquired the Dredgetown barge from waterfront bandleader and ringleader Joe (“Redlegs”) Tate, who had purchased it for $1.00 several years before.  When the Marin Superior Court supported the city's desire to maintain the property for public use, thereby prohibiting residential use by an individual, Haas took his case to the California State Appellate Court which issued its decision in February 1982. The Appellate Court ageed with the city's right to preserve all of the Dunphy Park parcel for public use.

In April 1982, the city exercised its option to demolish the dredge. Appearing before the City Council, Haas declared, "It wasn't until today I really understood this is the end for me. I have been defending the bay, defending the space because as long as I have been there, you haven't been able to develop it."

After Haas' personal possessions were removed from the barge, the Sausalito Fire Department prepared the structure for a controlled burn. Shortly after noon, the first columns of smoke filled the sky above Dunphy Park. Curious spectators joined a handful of people who had come down to watch the demolition. MarinScope reported: “The remainder of the barge will be removed in a few weeks.”

Haas told Marinscope, "I have nothing but blessings for Sausalito. I try to look on the positive side. Everything happens for a reason. So many people are upset by this, but how are we to know who is responsible to what degree for what has happened. This is an end. but it's abo a beginning. I plan to take my show on the road and then I will come back to Sausalito."

Joe (now “Gramps”) Tate, still active on the Sausalito music scene, recalls that Michael Haas moved to Mexico to work with indigenous peoples.  He was eventually murdered for his collection of Indian jewelry.

Back issues of MarinScope are available for viewing at the Sausalito Library, and at the Historical Society, one floor above it.