Memoirs of An Old Sausalitan

These recollections of early Sausalito are excerpted from the unpublished work of an unknown author, who appears to have written them sometime in the early 1960s.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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