A Vested Interest in Sausalito: The Ice House

By Steefenie Wicks

Sausalito’s Ice House, at 780 Bridgeway. Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Sausalito’s Ice House, at 780 Bridgeway.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

In 1927, Mabel Eastman, a noted early columnist with the Sausalito News, described Sausalito as a place “Where morals are easy and suppressed emotions find expression: where matrimonial bounds grow loose and sometimes slip off; where every other person you meet is either famous or notorious; the only waterfront in this vicinity that smells like fresh clams and not like mud flats.   To the majority in San Francisco or anywhere, Sausalito is just some place to go through … the entrance to beautiful Marin.  And we, sitting on the hill, hold tight for fear they will find us.  The day we are discovered we are lost.  So this is not a complaint, it’s an exclamation.  Residents can remain undisturbed so long as the crowds go through.  And Heaven keep them going through! It’s Sausalito’s salvation.”

Things have not changed much and today the crowds still come through town. Recently I got to meet some of them up close, and the experience has left me thinking what a great place Sausalito has become.  I have written several columns on the Ice House visitor’s center, run by the Sausalito Historical Society; but you never really know a place until you get a chance to experience it.  The Ice House provides for tourists and residents alike a place that is cozy, full of information about Sausalito’s history, its amazing residents, along with its fabulous location on Richardson’s Bay. 

Tourists from around the world walk through the door, then into the little history exhibit.  They spend time with the displays, reading what they can but lingering over the images.  When they emerge from the room they stop by the desk wanting information on where they should have lunch, what is there to do in Sausalito, how can we get to Muir Woods and by the way where is the nearest restroom?  My favorite was the family that came in, young children running in before the parents, with echoes of “Wow, this is a cool building.”  As the wife followed the children into the history room, her husband approached the desk and asked, in a low voice, “Is there a restaurant that I can go to with 5 kids, someplace reasonable that won’t kick us out when the kids get over active?”  After some thought, I was able to suggest a place, and when they left he thanked me.

I was reminded of the image of Juanita Musson that hangs in the history room.  Juanita was a Sausalito waterfront personality who set up a very popular café in the 1960’s on board the ferryboat Charles Van Damme. She became known for her favorite saying of “Eat your eggs or wear ’em!” This, along with her collection of once-wild animals, made her another one of those Sausalito characters with their own place in the town’s history   Later that afternoon the same family decided to stop back at the Ice House to tell me that they had a great meal and thanked me. To quote one of the kids: “That was cool.”

It does not take long to realize that the Ice House has a vested interest in Sausalito.  The staff is mostly longtime residents.  Their backgrounds give them that special knowledge of Sausalito which they pass on to each visitor, even those who don’t speak English.  When the tourists walk into the history room, one item that makes them all feel a connection is the image of young immigrant children. For not many tourists or residents know that Sausalito was formed by large groups of immigrants from Europe, such as the Portuguese families from the Azores.  In the history room, this information is noted by an image of children, a powerful visual statement of Sausalito’s beginnings.

There are many images in this little history room that offer an understanding of how this city called Sausalito got started, along with its own moments in history, like the building of Marinship, and community participation in the WWII war efforts both here and overseas. 

People come to Sausalito because, as one tourist said, “Sausalito is now the French Rivera” of San Francisco.  Or the group of 20 from Bolivia who came to Sausalito for the best burger in the world.  I had to ask them, ”I give up, were is the best burger in the world?”  They all said, “It’s Hamburger, Hamburger!”  It took me a moment but I finally got it! “Yes, I said, “It’s Hamburger and that’s the name of the place -- Hamburger!”

These experiences are so worthwhile when I see how little effort can go into helping someone visiting our city.

The Sausalito Historical Society’s Ice House Visitor’s Center is not only a place for tourist but also for residents.  It provides a safe place to step into when the streets full of people get to be a bit much.  Besides an array of books, cards and gift items for sale, it provides a place of information about the town, places to see, where you might get a quiet meal and oh yes, where the nearest restroom might be.

Most of all this building says to the tourist, “Look how much they care about their city, they have a visitor center in an amazing old structure devoted to its history, and it’s free.”