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.