Sausalito Art Car Zaboo 1984-2017

By Nora Sawyer

Sausalito is known for its eccentrics. Be they entrepreneurs like Sally Stanford, wry observers like Phil Frank, philosophers like Alan Watts, or one-of-a-kind writers like Shel Silverstein, Sausalito’s residents have a reputation for originality.

It’s no surprise, then, that our local landmarks are equally distinctive. Take for example Sausalito Art Car Zaboo, which has for nearly twenty years held court from its small flower patch by Galilee Harbor. Brightly painted and covered in toys, tchotchkes, and dismembered dolls, the Sausalito Art Car has appeared in TV guide, boasts its own commemorative t-shirts and a Facebook Fan page, and is even a Pokéstop on Pokémon Go. Tourists pose with it, children stop to peer in at the impassive stuffed animals that gaze from its portal-like windows, and fans even leave small art objects as tribute. It is, in short, an institution.

The ArtCar in all its glory. Photo by Heather Wilcoxon

The ArtCar in all its glory.
Photo by Heather Wilcoxon

Named for a late and much-loved dog, Zaboo is the creation of local artist Heather Wilcoxon, who bought the car new in 1984. “It was the year my father died,” she recalls. “I bought the car for $8,848, cash. It was the first new car I ever owned,” she laughs. “The only new car.”

It wasn’t an art car then. For several years, it was just a car. Then, on Wilcoxon’s 50th birthday, she asked her son Jonah to do something creative with the car as a birthday present. “He spray painted the whole thing for me. And my sister, Cici, brought me a toy and glued it onto the hood. The whole thing started from there.”

Wilcoxon drove the car, with an ever-growing collection of toys glued to it, until 2000, when it broke down for good. It sat for a while in Galilee Harbor’s parking lot before moving into its current spot alongside Napa Street, just down from Galilee’s painted mailboxes. Drivability concerns gone, Wilcoxon was free to let loose with her creative vision. Toys engulfed the car, covering its windshield and peering from its windows. Wilcoxon planted succulents alongside it, which grew to surround the car like a fairytale forest. “It stopped being a car and became a monument,” laughs local musician Joe Tate. “Long story short.”

The year 2015 was, Wilcoxon recalls, “peak year for the art car.” The car got a new paint job, with Wilcoxon’s fellow Galilee residents pitching in to freshen it up and spruce up the garden. Best of all, an anonymous donor dropped off an old upright piano, which Wilcoxon painted to match the car, writing “PLAY ME” on the upper front board to entice passers-by.

Once the piano left, things got little quieter. But the car still had plenty to say. Big red letters spelled ‘BELIEVE’ along the top. A small round sign asked viewers to “please be kind to the art car.” And, of course, there were custom Zaboo license plates.

Following the 2016 election, more political signs appeared. Right after Election Day, Wilcoxon placed one reading ‘Not my president” beside the car, but almost immediately took it down. “Someone else put a sign supporting Trump beside it, and I decided that wasn’t a debate I wanted to have here,” Wilcoxon recalls. Still, other signs reflected the tense political times, calling for an end to mass deportations and speaking out against the border wall.

But soon the car itself will be gone. On Saturday, July 22, much of the art was dismantled. The toys and assemblages that once stood atop the car were re-homed in Galilee Harbor’s vegetable garden, or given to passers-by as souvenirs. The car sits under a tarp, and will towed away to make way for the planned re-vitalization of neighboring Dunphy Park.

The car’s retirement has Wilcoxon feeling a little wistful. “I guess it’s time,” she says, “but I’m going to miss the art car.” The car’s departure follows closely on the heels of the death of artist and local institution Bo VanBo, who often painted and displayed his work alongside the car. “Sausalito is changing,” Wilcoxon reflects, “but that’s fine. Everything’s ephemeral. Especially art.”

Heather Wilcoxon has two solo shows currently up in the Bay Area: “Adrift” is at the Jack Fischer Gallery in San Francisco through July 29th, and “At Sea” is at the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art through September 10th. Check out for information on shows and upcoming workshops.

Rick Seymour: Sausalito, My Inspiration

By Steefenie Wicks

Rick Seymour: a true Sausalitan Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Rick Seymour: a true Sausalitan
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

The fog was thick and heavy on Bridgeway that morning.  Rick Seymour, age 12, was out delivering his papers when he heard someone yelling “Hello” throughsd the thick fog. He listened again and heard the voice, as it seemed to be getting closer.  So Rick yelled back “Hello.”  Then came the voice again yelling, “What ship is that?” and Rick yelled back “It’s no ship! I’m delivering the morning papers.”  Then he heard with some concern,” Oh no! Reverse engines! Reverse engines!”  The ship in the dense fog had come that close to running ashore; only this attentive paperboy stopped the shipwreck from happening.

Rick Seymour has lived in Sausalito most of his life.  No matter where he traveled, he always returned to the place he calls his inspiration, Sausalito.  He remembers growing up here during the 1930’s in a quiet little fishing village that was full of very creative people.  His mother and father, both artists, were in many ways visionaries.  His mother was the first woman to start her own co-operative here.  It took place after the death of his father, when he and his mother inherited funds from an uncle.  They took those funds and brought a piece of land on Harrison Ave.  His mother’s idea was to gather several friends whom she and her husband had been close to.  Together they formed a co-op housing complex.  She was able to sell the five apartment spaces, which enabled her to pay for the property as well as the construction costs.  Today Rick and his wife Sharon live in that complex, which was designed by his mother.

Rick attended classes at the old Central School, which is now City Hall.  He recalls that the location of the Sausalito Historical Society was once the schoolroom that he sat in when he was in the 7th grade.

Seymour spent time in the air force but when his duty was over he returned to his home in Sausalito, living in floating apartments and working at local establishments.  He knew, personally, the many characters who were here at the time.  He worked on board the old ferry, the City of Berkeley when she was docked in downtown Sausalito.  At one point Sterling Hayden was writing his book Wanderer in the aft wheelhouse of the Berkeley while Seymour used the forward one as his night watchman’s office.

Rick recalls how Hayden would call out to him, sometimes late at night, and invite him for a nightcap. They spent many an hour just discussing life.  “Hayden was a real Renaissance man, he was interested in everything, had had many adventures, was extremely well read.  I can remember that one of our first long conversations was about French impressionistic paintings; he was very knowledgeable about the subject.”

Seymour remembers the famous Juanita, who owned several restaurants in Sausalito.  He says that she had a very bad temper, which she would lose if customers were disrespecting her or her food.  “One time she lost it over these two customers, as they were driving away in their convertible, she ran outside, pitched a full plate of food at them, it landed in the car on top of them as they were driving away.” He smiles and continues, “That was Sausalito then -- you could not get away with that today.”

Rick had a long career at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco; he retired from that position when he was 70 years old.   He worked with the founder, David Smith, whose motto was and still is: “Health care is a right for all.”  Asked what it was like working in the Haight, Seymour tells of not only the excitement but also the horrors.  He explained, “This was during the time when most thought it was the Summer of Love but it was also the time of the Zebra killings and the Zodiac killer.  If you were on the street you had a good chance of being shot or shot at.  The Free Clinic had a number of sponsors; two who were very active were Dianne Feinstein, along with the late Bill Graham.”  Seymour recalls that when there were drug overdoses at concerts, people in the Haight Ashbury district knew that they could count on the free clinic to treat them and, in many cases, save their lives.

Seymour now spends his days working on various projects, including a series of mystery novels which are available on Amazon. As he puts it: “Artists do not retire.” In a recent article for Sausalito Village, he explored this issue.  “Sausalito has borne witness to continuing artistic endeavors throughout its history; many of its artists have long and illustrious careers.  Today many continue their creative activities in this town, which is well suited to nurture the lives and talent of these gifted individuals.”

So now when we think of the many talented characters who have lived, worked, and contributed to Sausalito, we can add to the list the name of Rick Seymour, writer, philosopher, historian: a true Sausalitan.

Sealing in 1885

By Larry Clinton

Many species of marine mammals were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century.  Here are annotated excerpts from a Sausalito News article of 1885, which describes the sealing activities that decimated local populations. Warning: descriptions of the hunting techniques may be disturbing to some readers:

Seal skinning in the 1880s Courtesy photo

Seal skinning in the 1880s
Courtesy photo

Among the trades which have grown to considerable importance within the past few years is that of sealing and a short account of these animals and the manner of hunting them may be of interest to our readers. The following article is furnished us by a gentleman who has much experience in seal hunting: Both fin and hair seals are numerous along the Pacific Coast, and many vessels are now employed in the sealing business, going as far south as the Galapagos Islands and north to the Bering Sea. Fur seals are the most valuable of all the seal tribe proper, a good skin generally bringing about $12 in its undressed state.

THE ALA EA COMMERCIAL COMPANY controls this branch of the trade, as the animals are so numerous on their islands that it is almost impossible for private individuals to compete with them. The chief hunting grounds of the Company are St. George, St. Paul and Copper Islands [in the Bering Sea]. Here the seals assemble in thousands and when a sufficient number is collected, they are approached by bands of natives who, getting between them and the water, drive the unfortunate creatures some distance up the country where they are slaughtered with clubs at their captors’ pleasure. In this manner are killed millions of seals annually, the steamer St. Paul alone bringing down 270,00 skins last season. When a private vessel engages in sealing, the method is to shoot the seal when in the water asleep and trust to his floating when killed, but very few are taken in this way as compared with the Company’s method. There is little or no blubber on these seals so the skin is all that the fur seal is killed for. It is a noteworthy fact that all the skins must be sent to London to be dressed and made into the beautiful saques [infants’ jackets] etc. the ladies so much admire. The process of preparing the fur is a well-guarded secret of which only the proprietors of the business have full knowledge.


The different species of the hair seal [seals with coarse hair rather than fur, such as harbor seals] are sought chiefly for their blubber which is boiled down into oil immediately after being detached from the body of the animal, but of late years, the skins have been converted into leather and consequently are now saved instead of being thrown away as formerly.

Many companies are engaged in this business, and the rookeries, as they are termed, being very numerous immense numbers of the animals have been killed. Among the favorite and best hunting grounds are Port Orford, Point New Year, Carmel Bay, Santa Barbara Island, Natividad Island and Bonita Islands. These places are crowded with sea lion, black and leopard seals all the year round. Last year one vessel, the Laura, hunted on the north island of the Farallones and made a good harvest, but the Government refused to allow it to be continued and no vessel went there this year.


Are the most profitable of the species as they are considerably larger than any other, an average size bull measuring about twenty [actually, more like eleven] feet from nose to tail. They yield from 13 to 20 gallons of oil which brings about 50 cents a gallon and the skin will weigh about 150 pounds worth 5 cents a pound; so, taken all in all, they are about as profitable as the fur seal.

Another branch of the business is



The skins of these animals are extremely valuable, a common skin bringing as high as $100, while a silver-tipped otter will bring sometimes as high as $700. They are scarce as compared with

seals but some vessels engage in hunting them exclusively as a few skins bring in such good returns. [Soon, otters were considered extinct in California waters until a small family were discovered in the 1930s].

Last winter a schooner went down to Mexico for the Smithsonian Institute to obtain the skins and skeletons of


Another variety of seal, which are even larger than sea lions, often measuring 35 and 40 feet in length [more like [thirteen feet, actually] and yielding sometimes as much as 90 gallons of oil. About forty of these animals were killed and went east to be mounted. Of all the varieties of seals the leopard seals are generally the most vicious, though in the breeding season with her young about her, a female sea lion is very savage. Some years ago, when some men were employed to capture some of these animals alive for Woodward's Garden, a large cow bit a man's leg clean off at the hip, causing his death shortly after. As a general thing however, anybody can avoid danger as the animals are very awkward on land though they swim faster than any fish when in the water.

Throughout the 1900s, safeguards were gradually put in place for most of these animals, culminating in the US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.  That legislation made it illegal to harm, harass or approach any marine mammal, and established a stranding network of organizations to provide rescue and rehabilitation efforts throughout the country.  Some populations have rebounded, but fur seals, sea otters and a few other species are still considered threatened, depleted, or endangered.  In Central and Northern California, The Marine Mammal Center has rescued and treated more than 21,000 marine mammals since it was founded in 1975.  If you see a sick or injured marine mammal within Mendocino County and San Luis Obispo county, please call 415-289-SEAL. For more information, visit  

Sausalito’s First Sawmill

By Larry Clinton

The following is excerpted from Jack Tracy’s book “Moments in Time”:

Commodore Jones Courtesy photo

Commodore Jones
Courtesy photo

By 1849 as the drive for California statehood got under way, the mil­itary commander of San Francisco Bay was Colonel Rich­ard Barnes Mason, with Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones in charge of the half dozen ships of the Navy's Pacific Squadron. Commodore Jones was well acquainted with Sausalito. His ships were supplied with water there and the anchorage in the cove gave quick access to the bay entrance, or "Golden Gate," as Fremont had christened it.

Jones's problems as Commodore were compounded by the discovery of gold in the hills east of San Francisco. Hundreds of ships, American and foreign, arrived in 1849, straining Jones's resources for keeping order. Thousands of men, crews and passengers, civilian and Navy, left their ships in Yerba Buena Cove and joined the mad scramble for El Dorado.

Not the least of Commodore Jones's problems was the lack of dry dock and repair facilities in California. While taking on water in the cove, Jones and other officers had observed the potential of Sausalito's flat tidal beach; so he established a makeshift dry dock there and put it to a test that summer.

In 1847, even before gold was discovered in California, Commodore Jones had requested the Navy Department in Washington to send a combination sawmill and gristmill around the horn to San Francisco where he needed lumber for ship repairs, and ground flour to feed his sailors. In November 1848 the sawmill and steam engine parts arrived and were dumped on the beach in Yerba Buena Cove and left scattered about as the ship's crew set off for the gold country. Commodore Jones, still eager to establish a repair facility for his ships, signed a contract with Robert A. Parker, a San Franciscan civilian entrepreneur to assemble and operate the sawmill in the cove at Sausalito.

When Commodore Jones informed Washington of his sawmill contract with Robert Parker, the Navy disavowed Jones's right to enter into a contract with a civilian, ordering Jones to reclaim the sawmill and settle accounts with Parker. But Robert Parker had assigned the contract to Lt. James McCormick, who had become superintendent of the Sausalito sawmill and was drawing a salary of $2,500 a year while still on active duty with the Navy.

Slowly, the Navy Department pieced together the whole story of the troublesome sawmill in the unknown little cove that they referred in dispatches to as "Sawcelito." Like so many instant towns that had sprung up during the gold rush wherever a speculator could get a large enough parcel to subdivide into lots, Sausalito had been hastily conceived, with a Navy sawmill as its big attraction.

Robert Parker dropped out of the picture in Sausalito, perhaps because his main interest, the gristmill, never ma­terialized or was stolen from the beach in Yerba Buena. In any case, during the gold rush, Parker was busy with his grocery and liquor business in San Francisco. There he also ran the "Parker House," where in 1851 he was charging $1,500 a month for a room.

The sawmill operation in Sausalito did a brisk business in 1850, selling pine planks and assorted redwood lumber to the Navy as well as to ranchers and builders. Even William Richardson bought lumber from the mill and in turn sold beef to McCormick for his sawmill crew, many of whom were moonlighting sailors. Even so, the mill never lived up to expectations. During the winters it was more difficult than had been an­ticipated to fell redwoods beyond Corte Madera Creek and raft the logs down Richardson's Bay to the cove.

Finally in 1851 the Navy demanded that the mill be seized from McCormick and sold at auction. McCormick made a detailed accounting of his and Parker's expenses and receipts. Referees for the Navy and McCormick's at­torney Charles Botts concluded that McCormick was owed $25,766.64 to cover the difference between his costs and revenue from the mill.

The Navy refused payment, not surprisingly, since McCormick had listed among other expenses payments to navy personnel for loading navy lumber onto navy vessels in Sausalito. The dispute over the $25,000 shifted from Sausalito to Washington, D.C. in 1851 when the "McCormick Case" went before Congress. Rep. Jonathon Minor Botts of Virginia, brother of Charles Botts, now owner of old Sausalito, had a bill introduced to appropriate $25,000 as a settlement to McCormick for the sawmill operation.

The Navy announced in 1852 that the site for a new Navy Yard on the West Coast would be Mare Island. A study had been conducted by Commodore McCauley, who had replaced Commodore Jones in 1851, to find the most eligible site for the naval arsenal and dry dock. McCauley, like Jones before him, recommended Sausalito. But other forces were at work. A group of enterprising men, with the support of General Mariano Vallejo, promoted Mare Island, the site next to the new town named by Vallejo's son-in-law John B. Frisbee in honor of the General. Mare Island was selected, possibly because of the cloud of doubt raised over Sausalito by the conduct of certain Naval of­ficers. Officially it was chosen because of its deep channel and its strategic distance from the Golden Gate.

“Moments in Time,” Tracy’s seminal history of Sausalito, is available at the Ice House Visitors Center and Historical Museum, which is open from 11:30-4:00, Tuesday through Sunday, at 780 Bridgeway.

Chris Hardman: Keeping the Magic Alive

by Steefenie Wicks

“It began when I was given a Walkman,” Chris Hardman recently recalled.  “I was in Europe at the time, it was 1982. I remember the first time I put on the earphones, turned on the music, then began to walk.  It was amazing how as the music changed so did my surroundings.  Soon, I was walking into museums with the sounds of violins and drums exploding in my head.  That’s when it came to me: why not use this medium as part of the story telling technique in my productions as a way of revolutionizing theater?  Upon returning to the United States I began a production called ‘High School’ using the Walkman, having the audience become part of the production. That is how Antenna Audio was born.”

Chris Hardman has lived in Sausalito for over 30 years.  At one time, he ran for City Council with a campaign slogan developed by Steward Brand: “A Hardman is Good to Find.”  Although he did not win office, later his wife Annette Rose would be elected to the Council, become Mayor of the City, then serve as representative from the 3rd District on the Marin County Board of Supervisors.   But Chris’s involvement with waterfront politics is legendary.  He was a founding member of the group Art Zone.   Hardman’s productions, always done with a sense of pageantry, had political themes that sometimes directed their message to the City of Sausalito on not developing the waterfront, taking into consideration the community that came to exist there, that lived in fear of being displaced.

Hardman was born in Washington State but raised in Los Angeles.  His father was a writer of TV westerns.  When Chris was 13, his family took a trip to San Francisco where he was exposed to his first never-never land, as he called it.  “Los Angeles is where people write about things, but San Francisco is where you make them happen,” he says. “After my first visit, I knew I would return.”

When it was time to go to college he chose to go back east to Goddard College.  Goddard has a history of focusing on creativity, chaos, invention, experimentation with growth, decline and reemergence.  There he met his mentor, Peter Schumann, a European artist who told stories using large puppets, sometimes 13 feet tall.  His work had political overtones and his plays and pageantry were so astounding that Hardman left school and moved in with Schumann and his family.  “I wanted to learn all of his tricks,” Chris recalls. “He was fantastic and he invented ‘Bread and Puppets Theater’.”

Bread and Puppets Theater just celebrated its 50-year anniversary as an underground, radical, political, experimental puppet-mask-and-pageantry theater that has fascinated any audience lucky enough to view a performance.

Hardman studied this form of theater, then brought it back to the Sausalito waterfront where his work would make each performance equal to that of his teacher.

I asked him how he knew he had made the right decision to move to Sausalito.  He thought it over, then told me what inspired him.  “I had been living in the City when the friend whose house where I was staying decided that he wanted to move back.  He had this studio at Gate 3, offered me the space but wanted me to know that there was this fear of development, so staying there would be a little touchy,” he smiled.  “Little did I know that I would be in that space for over 10 years.”   He continued, “The first night that I spent there, a knock on the door surprised me.  When I opened the door, there stood a woman in black face with an M-16 strapped around her neck.  Her partner was wearing a washboard and playing a kazoo.  This was Laurabell [Hawbecker] and Bob [Kalloch], both gone now but they became my friends for life.”

One of the first artists hired by the National Park Service, Chris was the inspiration behind the audio tour of Alcatraz. “I was always told that audio tours were boring but I didn’t see it that way, so I went on to change that theory.” He continues, “I envisioned audio tours as stories that were being heard for the first time.  As a matter of fact, the Alcatraz tours still have elements of the originals that were done back in 1986.  Most of the individuals whose voices were used have passed on, making those recordings one of a kind, valuable. Now you can go to any museum around the world, when they hand you the audio device to describe the exhibition, it was more than likely produced by Antenna Audio.” Hardman smiles at the thought. Some time ago Antenna Audio was sold; it is now called Antenna International.

For the last 7 years Hardman has been concentrating on a project called the “Magic Bus.”   The Magic Bus has 16 mini-projectors, plus sound systems with automatic screens that tell the story of the 1960’s magic of San Francisco.  He explained, “This is a moving movie theater -- when the screens come up it turns into a tour bus, it’s like an audio tour aboard the bus.” 

Hardman no longer lives here in town, but when asked what he missed about Sausalito he was quick to answer: “Community.” He feels that in these times people don’t know their neighbors. “But on the Sausalito waterfront,” he says, “People do know their neighbors.  They come together for social events that involve the community.  It’s called coming together to build strong structures that make it possible for a community to exist.  This I miss, but I do enjoy my ride on the Magic Bus. It somehow keeps this feeling alive.”

Chris Hardman and his Magic Bus          Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Chris Hardman and his Magic Bus          Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Water: Sausalito’s Liquid Gold

By Larry Clinton

The earliest European visitors to the Bay found that our area was home to high quality spring water.  The springs supplying that water were marked by groves of willow trees, which gave the town its early name: Saucelito, or “little willow.”  Whalers found that Sausalito water not only tasted better, it lasted better on long voyages.

Sausalito’s first water system was built by town founder William A. Richardson, who piped water from springs above the town to a great cistern for later distribution. Here's how the Sausalito News described the operation:

This photo, taken c. 1852, shows rudimentary buildings and piers in Whaler’s Cove, now known as Shelter Cove.  Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

This photo, taken c. 1852, shows rudimentary buildings and piers in Whaler’s Cove, now known as Shelter Cove.

Photo Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

“In connection with the records, the following local ‘point’ is of especial concern to those preserving the records of early-day Marin: Name of Historical Point—Water wharf, from which water for drinking and cooking purposes was shipped to San Francisco. Location— East Richardson street, between Water and Front streets, Sausalito, Marin county, California. Name of Owner—Town or City of Sausalito. History and Description — This wharf, so called, was really a sort of a trestle carrying a pipe from the shore to vessels, outfitted with tanks, in which the water was conveyed to San Francisco from Sausalito. There were many springs of surrounding the valley, formerly fine mountain water in the hills called Hurricane Gulch, now named Shelter Cove.

“It is the generally accepted theory that these springs were and are fed from the Sierras. In 1850, Capt. W. A. Richardson. one of the original settlers in Sausalito and the grantee of the Spanish Grant Rancho Sausalito, piped the water from these springs to a great cistern thirty feet square and fifteen feet in depth. The water was then carried in a large pipe to tanks and casks on the boat, ‘The Water Nixie,’ which conveyed it to San Francisco. It was then distributed to purveyors with horse or mule drawn two-wheeled carts carrying casks, and peddled by the bucket to consumers, bringing 25 cents a gallon or 50 cents a bucket [that’s $14 a gallon adjusted for inflation, according to Jonathan Westerling of Radio Sausalito].  The usual amount sold to a customer per day was two buckets. As San Francisco depended on wells for its water supply, and the water was brackish, Sausalito and Tiburon supplied the growing city with water, for drinking and cooking purposes, until the Spring Valley Water system was installed. Later these springs in Sausalito were developed and tunnels run Into the bills and Sausalito was supplied with water from this source.”

After Richardson died, the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company bought his property and water works in 1869 and by 1891 was serving much of the community. The Sausalito Bay Water Company was incorporated in 1887 with a capital stock of $50,000, divided into 50,000 shares, according to the Daily Alta Californian. That firm built a system that was bought by the Sausalito Spring Water Company in 1905. The city of Sausalito built its own water works in 1909 and in 1912 voted to join the new Marin Municipal Water District, which was incorporated on April 25, 1912, according to the.

Marin Municipal Water District.

The Home Shift

By Nora Sawyer

Poster girl Rosie the Riveter   Courtesy photo

Poster girl Rosie the Riveter   Courtesy photo

Rosie the Riveter is an American Icon from WWII. In Norman Rockwell’s painting, she perches comfortably on a stool, loafer-clad feet resting on a copy of Mein Kampf, one arm curled to hold a ham sandwich. In a song by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, she’s “making history, working for victory.” And most famously, she stares determinedly from J. Howard Miller’s propaganda poster, declaring “We Can Do It!”

I’m a practical woman. So I got to wondering recently just how she did it. Rosie and her ilk were often new to the workforce. In San Francisco, the number of working women nearly doubled during the war. Nationwide, the number of working wives grew from under 14 percent in 1940 to 25 percent in 1945.

Sausalito’s Marinship had plenty of women like Rosie. The first was welder Dorothy Gimblett, a mother of three who started work in the summer of 1942. Others soon followed, and by November of that year, there were more than 500 female employees working in the Marinship, 53% of whom were married, and half of whom had kids.

Starting in January 1943, the Marin-er, Bechtel Corporation’s in-house newsletter for workers, started publishing “The Home Shift,” a column geared toward “you women and girls who work here at Marinship, and the wives and mothers at home.” The bulk of the column was devoted to meal-planning. Eating well was “just as important to shipbuilding as good steel and good welding,” and the menus reflect the need to keep the workforce in peak condition, while dealing with the practical concerns of women working outside the home.

The column’s peppy, can-do attitude and in-depth nutritional advice had me curious. What could I learn about Rosie by eating from her lunchbox?

So I decided to try it, starting with the column’s inaugural menu. A “low meat” dinner for “days when there just isn’t any,” the suggested meal (lima beans with wieners served with baked squash, cornbread, and a “peppy cabbage salad,” with a dessert of fresh fruit) was attributed to “a woman welder who carries the torch for Uncle Sam during the day and runs the home shift for her rigger husband.” All this in “only 45 minutes, actual kitchen time.”

I began my quest at Driver’s Market, housed in what was once Marinship’s hiring hall. Shopping for dinner provided my first revelation about Marinship workers: they ate a lot. Hard, physical labor requires a lot of fuel, and each meal featured a smorgasbord of filling, nutritious food.

Graveyard workers especially needed meals that were nutritious, appealing, and could stand up to “cold reality.” An April 1943 issue of the Marin-er recommends five meals for night-shift workers. The meals were designed to be light, appealing (since working nights might diminish workers’ appetites), and extra nutritious. These suggested “light meals” include a breakfast of grapefruit, wheat cereal, and baked eggs and bacon served with toast, cocoa and milk. This was followed by a “wake up snack” of vegetable juice, a fried ham sandwich, a baked apple, and coffee.

The second revelation: it required planning. Running out the door, I nearly forgot to set beans to soak for that night’s dinner. Instead of relaxing after my epic dinner, I needed to start preparing the next day’s meals. No wonder women workers in Marinship had higher absentee and turnover rates: running “the home shift” on top of a day’s work outside the home must have been exhausting.

Rationing was another factor. In a May 1943 Marin-er column, “Prudence Penny” lays out a week’s worth of lunch and dinner menus designed to maximize a family’s ration points. Tuesday’s unexpected point hog was, to my mind, the least exciting thing on the menu: one can of string beans, at eight ration points (that’s three more than the pound of beef for Wednesday’s stew).

But after a few days of cooking like a Marin-er, simply opening a can was a welcome respite. One less thing to worry about was eight ration points well spent.

Still, some of the suggested meals provided quick, easy and simple pleasures. The suggested “remedies for lunch box blues” -- including cream cheese and radish sandwiches on rye bread -- suggesting a tea room more than a shipyard. Many of the salads, including tomato and olive aspic and stuffed prunes, proved both simple and delicious, evoking a dinner-party elegance.

These sophisticated, tasty meals provided my final insight into Rosie and her fellow working women: food could be more than fuel. A good meal was something to savor. Undoubtedly, planning and cooking added to women’s workload. But food also could be a respite from both shipyard and war, a moment of peace.

Nora Sawyer is a docent at the Sausalito Historical Society’s Research Room, which is open to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:00 to 1:00, or by appointment (send a request to, including the subject you’d like to research).


Diebenkorn and The Sausalito Six

by Larry Clinton and Wood Lockhart

The recent Matisse/Diebenkorn exhibit at SFMOMA, contained a lot of biographical information on Richard Diebenkorn, but one glaring omission – the time he spent living and painting in Sausalito.

Wood Lockhart PhD, art historian and former Board member of the Sausalito Historical Society, told this story in an earlier MarinScope column.  Here are some excerpts:

Portrait of Richard Diebenkorn as a young artist.   Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Artists have been living and working in Sausalito since the 1930’s, but it was not until the years after World War II that the town became known as an important American art colony. Of the many artists who contributed to this reputation none were more significant than those who came to be known as the Sausalito Six. Between 1947 and 1950 Richard Diebenkorn, Frank Lobdell, Walter Kuhlman, John Hultberg, James Budd Dixon and George Stillman studied together, painted together, exhibited together and created a body of work which represents Sausalito’s most important contribution to the history of art.

The friendship between these artists began at the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA) in San Francisco, which all six of them attended immediately after the end of the Second World War. The post-War students were mostly military veterans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill of Rights, which provided free tuition and a subsistence allowance to any former soldier who wanted to continue his education. By the end of 1946 the student body at the CSFA was composed mostly of these older military veterans including all of the Sausalito Six.

The most famous of the Sausalito Six was Richard Diebenkorn, one of the best and most important American artists of the second half of the twentieth century. Diebenkorn was educated at Lowell High School in San Francisco and at Stanford University. After his discharge from the Marines, he enrolled at CSFA in 1946. In 1947 he was promoted from student to faculty member and moved to Sausalito. Diebenkorn’s Sausalito paintings are among the very best examples of west coast Abstract Expressionism – a uniquely American combination of Abstraction, Expressionism and Surrealism.

Beginning in 1948 the Sausalito Six began regular meetings in one another’s studios, usually in Sausalito but sometimes at Dixon’s studio in San Francisco. These get togethers often involved what the artists called “pen and ink jam sessions” where each artist would produce a pen and ink drawing. In an effort to make their work available to a wider public at an affordable price, they decided to put together 200 portfolios of these drawings in the form of signed lithographs that were published and made available to the public.

In a memoir in which he spoke of his association with the Sausalito Six, George Stillman wrote: “The Bay Area was filled with artists making pretty pictures. To fall into the trap of providing social entertainment on the level of drawing room decoration was to be avoided at all costs. About five or six of us shared this opinion at the time: Diebenkorn, Hultberg, Lobdell, Kuhlman, Dixon and myself. But it was more than just a negative attitude toward drawing rooms that brought us close; there was a real kinship in our basic reason for painting. We showed together, published together and somehow knew when it was time to leave each other’s company.”

The glory days of the Sausalito Six lasted only a few short years. By the end of 1950 they had all gone their separate ways: Diebenkorn left for Albuquerque, Lobdell and Kulhman went to Paris, Hultberg to New York and Stillman to Mexico. Only Walter Kuhlman returned to Sausalito where he continued to paint until his death at the age of 90. His work together with that of the others of the Sausalito Six stands as an eloquent testimony to the importance of Sausalito as a true artists’ community.

Wayne “Boats” Bishop: Native Son

by Steefenie Wicks


Wayne “Boats” Bishop   Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Wayne “Boats” Bishop
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Wayne Bishop is known on the Sausalito waterfront simply as “Boats.” This has been his home for the last 50 years of his life.  As a child who was raised in Mill Valley, he spent most of his childhood in Sausalito with his grandfather, who fished off of a 28ft Monterey named the Nancy Jean.

“My grandfather taught me the love of going to sea, being on boats.  My mother and father really had nothing to do with it, but coming to Sausalito on my bike to be on my grandfather’s boat . . .  that was sheer joy.  He would tell me the stories of our family, how they got their land from Spanish land grants long before California was a state.  He was a Bickerstaff; the family owned a ranch with headquarters on Rancho Corte Madera, so you might say I’m a native son.” The Bickerstaff ranch, an 1852 adobe, is listed with the Historical, Cultural and Archaeological resources in the City of Larkspur.

Boats became part of the original Gate 3 Co-Op that was around during the 1970’s and 80’s.  One of the first boat co-ops on the waterfront, it was sponsored by Donlon Arques, who was a major player when it came to helping people who wanted to live on the water.

“It was Arques that allowed people to have both living space along with working space.  When you work on a boat like I did, I was building my boat, needed a space to crash, he made that possible for just $65 a month rent.  So, I built my fishing boat, the Santa Lucia, at Gate 3 with the help of the maritime workers who lived there; they made it all possible.  I fished for 20 years off that boat, lived on her for over 40.”

Boats continued, “The cool thing about Gate 3 was it was a cul-de-sac, so you could drive in but not drive through.  The place was well policed by a number of us at the time; then young dudes, we protected the community, and never had to call the police.   There was always something going on at Gate 3.  There were artists, boat builders, wood workers.  I don’t think that anything was ever stolen; we were a small close knit community who trusted each other and protected each other.  As fishermen, we would have fish barbeques where everyone would come, eat and be part of the community.  It was really like one big family.”

Before Boats built his craft at Gate 3 he spent a tour of duty with the Navy in Vietnam.  He says that when he came home he was just full of hate; he was one angry ex-combat soul. So he decided to apply to become a merchant marine.  Once this was accomplished, he became part of the Scripps Research Institute on their scientific testing in Antarctica.  The Institute was conducting studies on how penguins change their temperature when they dive into cold water.  It was his job to make little life jackets that would fit onto the penguins and carry probes to make these measurements.

He says that this was such a good place to be because he had so much hate inside himself that he was unsure of how he was going to deal with it.  Being at sea in the Antarctic, living with nature, viewing something that was more powerful than himself, gave him a better view of himself.

It was this adventure at sea that would bring him back to Gate 3 where he began to build the Santa Lucia, which he fished very successfully for years.  But as the years went on the little boat started to fall apart as wooden boats will do.

He continued, “I remember the date -- it was July 4th in 2011 -- when the United States government decided to give to me a long over due medical settlement.  This award from the VA department was tax-free.  It meant that I could retire the Santa Lucia, get another boat. Hell, I could retire.”

Boats has lived as an anchor out, and is now a member of Galilee Harbor.  He feels that there are a lot of people on boats in the anchorage who have no idea what they are doing, which makes it hard for everyone else.  He has been on the water all of his life. “Every 72 hours, the new rules states, that a boat has to be moved.  But who is going to go out there and chalk the waterline of the boat to see if and when it moves?” He also feels that most of the real anchor outs would like to see all of the boats out there inspected, regulated for the safety of everyone.

It you ask him what was one of his most memorable experiences being part of the Sausalito waterfront he’ll tell you: “Taking the Wander Bird north was the best gig I have ever had.  I got to sail this beautiful vessel, we were welcomed in every yacht club that we sailed to.  I had never been so well accepted in my life.  There I was at the helm of this classic schooner being treated like the captain of a really fine vessel.”


Early European Explorers Part II

By Jack Tracy

Last week, we presented Jack Tracy’s story of early explorers Juan Ayala and Juan Bautista de Anza.   Here is Tracy’s account of other Europeans who landed in California, decades before Captain William Richardson founded what was then known as Saucelito:

The first non-Spanish ship came in 1786 and anchored off Monterey. Le Comte de Laperouse, under orders from the French government, was stopping over briefly on his "voyage of discovery." In reality, of course, he was looking for potential French colonies, and, more specifically, to see what Spain was up to in California. In defiance of edicts from the Spanish Crown, Laperouse was welcomed; and he learned all there was to learn about Spanish defenses and commerce. Before sailing off to an unknown fate at sea, he ventured the opinion that there was little in upper California to interest France or any other European power for at least one to two hundred years.

Captain George Vancouver, in full regalia      Courtesy Photo

Captain George Vancouver, in full regalia      Courtesy Photo

The next non-Spanish explorer to show up on the northern coast was George Vancouver of England, who landed in San Francisco Bay in 1792. He too was welcomed and even escorted overland to Monterey for further receptions. It should be mentioned that the governor was away at the time, and when he heard of the hospitality shown the foreigner, he was, to put it mildly, not amused. Least welcome of all foreigners were the Americans. Either because these "Boston Yanquis" were considered particularly aggressive, or because their antimonarchist, Protestant republic was on the same continent as California, Americans were forbidden absolutely to land in San Francisco Bay.

In time, as a new governor took over in Monterey, American ships were permitted to lay over long enough to take on food and supplies and to off-load their sick; the first of these was the ship Otter in 1796. The Spanish residents even grew to like and accept some of these "Yanquis." Of necessity, the Spanish also began simple trade with foreign visitors, even though this too was illegal. In this period ships first came to the cove in Sausalito for fresh water before setting out to sea.

By 1795 the age of innocence was over for California. Word of its natural wonders had reached the courts and governments of Europe. Although, as Laperouse had predicted, it was not yet practical to pursue aggressive colonization, still it was attracting increasing interest. Then the flow of newcomers to the New World slowed to a trickle while Napoleon and his armies were overrunning Europe. But the time was clearly coming. For in 1795 there had occurred in England an event unrecorded in history then, but of primary importance to our story now: William Richardson was born.

This excerpt is from Jack Tracy’s book Moments in Time, which is available at the Ice House Visitors Center at 780 Bridgeway.

Early European Explorers Part 1

By Jack Tracy

Juan Bautista de Anza on horseback Courtesy Photo

Juan Bautista de Anza on horseback
Courtesy Photo

Englishman Sir Francis Drake first discovered the California Coast in 1579, but his precise location was carefully guarded to keep it secret from the Spaniards.  Nearly two centuries later, in 1775, Lieutenant Don Juan Manuel de Ayala became the first European to discover what later became San Francisco Bay. That same year, another Spaniard -- Juan Bautista de Anza -- was charged with establishing a permanent presidio or military garrison here.  Jack Tracy tells the story in his seminal Sausalito history, Moments in Time:

De Anza had blazed a trail overland from Sonora across the desert to Mission San Gabriel near the pueblo of Los Angeles, in order to avoid the arduous sea passage north from Mexico against prevailing winds. He and his soldiers had safely brought to San Gabriel 240 colonists on this first of many planned journeys overland. From San Gabriel, he marched up the coast from mission to mission until he reached the bay.

According to Spanish plans, de Anza's route would open all of upper California to colonization and provide a reliable pathway for supplies to the new colony. But the once-cooperative Yuma Indians, over whose lands the trail passed, attacked and destroyed the isolated trail settlements along the way. Hence, Spain was forced to fall back on the ocean route to supply her northern colonies. Failure to establish an overland passage meant that what the Spanish called Alta California, supplied only by sea, would remain remote and under colonized for many years, a fact that would bear heavily on California's fate when, decades later, Americans began arriving in large numbers.

Life in the provinces of New Spain reflected few of the changes occurring in Europe. Outward change came slowly in the small pueblos and missions in California during the last two decades of the eighteenth century. Daily life there alternated between a difficult pastoral existence and an outright struggle against famine and disease. Captured or lured to the missions, the Native Americans, now universally called "Indians," became serfs on the land and forced converts into the Church. Soldiers of the Crown who had risked their lives with Portola and de Anza were rewarded with land grants, large tracts of real estate at first intended as little more than grazing rights. These later grew into a pivotal political issue for Californians.

Concerned by the growing vulnerability of her overseas colonies, Spain laid down rigid laws to protect her investments abroad. Instructions from the Crown, via Mexico City, to the governor of Alta California, were explicit: foreign ships and foreign visitors were not to enter Spanish territory. The less other nations saw of the miles of fertile land, fine harbors and rich forests (and the thin scattering of Spanish occupants), the better. However, the hundreds of miles of open coastline and the increasing number of fur trappers in Pacific waters made it inevitable that other Europeans would find their way into Spanish ports.

Next week Tracy tells the story of later European explorers and settlers.

Celebration of Jean Varda and the Summer of Love

By Larry Clinton

In addition to 2017 being the 75th anniversary of Marinship, this is also the 50th anniversary of San Francisco’s fabled Summer of Love. The kickoff of that months-long celebration was the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival on June 10 and 11, 1967 at the Amphitheatre on Mount Tam. According to Wikipedia, at least 36,000 people attended the two-day concert and fair that would become a prototype for large-scale rock festivals.

The Hippie Voices performing at a recent Jazz and Blues by the Bay event. Photo by Bruce Forrester

The Hippie Voices performing at a recent Jazz and Blues by the Bay event.
Photo by Bruce Forrester

The colorful and eclectic line-up featured local bands such as the Charlatans (starring Dan Hicks), the Sons of Champlin, and such nationally famous acts as Canned Heat, Dionne Warwick, Blues Magoos, Country Joe and the Fish, Captain Beefheart, The Byrds with Hugh Masekela on trumpet, The 5th Dimension, Jefferson Airplane and The Doors.

Stanley Mouse, legendary poster artist for Bill Graham, the Fillmore Auditorium and Grateful Dead, created a poster for the event.

The Sausalito Foundation and Antenna Theater will present “Sausalito Celebrates Varda & the Summer of Love” on Sunday, May 21 at Marinship Park from noon to 4:00 p.m. This admission-free celebration kicks off a fundraising drive to restore a mosaic in the park designed by artist Jean Varda, a luminary of the 1960s Sausalito arts scene.

The mosaic will form the backdrop for the May 21 festivities. Jonathan Westerling of Radio Sausalito will spin ’60s music, and Joe Tate & The Hippie Voices will perform. Drinks and eats will be available. Prizes will be awarded for the best Summer of Love looks. Early birds will form a human peace sign at 12:15 p.m.

Event-day volunteers are needed; please contact if you’re interested.

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.”

The Women’s Club of Early Marin City

By Larry Clinton

By the end of 1943, Marin City's population was nearly 6,000.  Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

By the end of 1943, Marin City's population was nearly 6,000.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

We’ve heard lots of stories about how busy Marinship was during WWII.  But there was plenty going on in the broader community as well.  The following 1943 article, excerpted from The Marin Citizen newspaper --published by and for the first residents of Marin City during the war -- vividly recalls the activities of the Marin City Women’s Club, which was formed on October 1, 1942:

Women’s Club Members Proud of Many Activities

 Charter members recall the activity of the club in setting up the "Kids Korral," a playground set aside for school age children. Committees of the club during the winter carried on volunteer war service, started adult education extension courses, and launched a sewing and knitting club.

1943 Big Storm

Women's Club members were attending their first war nutrition class when the big storm of 1943 hit Marin City. Roofs were torn off apartments, heat and electricity were cut off, a baby was born prematurely. The class went into action, produced a hot dinner at the community kitchen, fed 100 war workers and their families within two hours. That class was next day accepted as a Red Cross canteen unit.

A steady flow of money has gone from the club's treasury to worthwhile causes. Checks for such amounts as $100 to Red Cross, $322.94 to the National Infantile Paralysis Foundation and most recently $62.50 to the Red Cross Blood Donor Service.

Quoting from the by-laws, the purpose of the Marin City Women’s Club "shall be to aid, through organized effort in the furthering of our country's war effort and such worthy causes as may enlist its sympathies and to create a center of thought and action among the people for the promotion of whatever tends for the best interest of this city." Qualification for membership in the club is residence in or employment in Marin City.

Man Member

One man is listed as an honorary member of the club, Mr. Hal Dunleavy, who was Community Relations director for Marin City at the time the club was organized, and who assisted the women in getting under way, sometimes in the capacity of "madam chairman."

Rummage Sale

The Women’s Club, in a feeling of spring house-cleaning, announces a two-day rummage sale to be held the week-end of August 21. The Cub pack of Scouts, which was recently adopted by the Women's Club, will cooperate in collecting material from all sources. Fifty per cent of the proceeds will go to Marin City’s USO-Travelers Aid Cottage, whose work the Women's Club feels eminently worthy of its support.

Nursing Activities

Mrs. Art Wolenta, secretary of the club, and chairman of home nursing activities, announced the opening of a new class to held on Tuesday nights, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the home nursing center at A41 Apr. 363.

Mrs. John Kahrt, club president, played a Chopin nocturn for the women. Mrs. S. Frisby conducted two brain teaser games with prizes high and low in war stamps. The evening concluded with tea and coffee served by Mrs. Gailbraith’s tea committee.

In recognition of the 75th anniversary of Marinship, the Sausalito Historical Society invites everyone to view its new exhibition, “Marinship - What it Was.” This collection of 124 images with captions or story boards which shows and describes various parts and features of the shipyard. Docents welcome the public at no charge Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 1 PM in the Society’s Exhibition Room on the top floor of City Hall. 

For a full calendar of the Marinship 75 events, go to and click on Marinship 75 in the left hand column.

Zaca – A Yacht with a Colorful Past

by Annie Sutter

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

The Zaca in all her glory.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

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

What does the razzle-dazzle career of Errol Flynn have to do with Sausalito? His legendary white yacht Zaca, reportedly the scene of ongoing parties and continuous seductions, was built at the Nunes Bros. Boatyard in Old Town in 1929. She was commissioned by the original owner, Templeton Crocker, one of the heirs to the Crocker fortune.

The Nunes yard, located on what is today known as the Valley Street beach, won the job by sub-mitting a low bid of $350,000, thus bringing to Sausalito a welcome infusion of money and jobs. The Depression was apparently no deterrent for Crocker, who commanded great wealth throughout his life. In the midst of hard times, a luxurious pleasure ship rose from the shores of Shelter Cove with money no object. Nunes had to build a special shed at the foot of Main St. to accommodate the 118' hull. The yacht was 127' including the bowsprit, and was two masted, gaff rigged, and had an unusually broad 23' beam. The ship had hot and cold running water, and on deck they carried a full-sized power cruiser for side trips

Crocker is said to have spent an additional $100,000 just on fittings and furniture for Zaca. Her decks were built of solid teak, white primavera was used throughout the main salon, and the spars were Oregon pine. However, the decks didn't turn out to be all teak when Zaca came off the ways. Somehow, she ended up with teak forward and aft, with pine decks amidship. There are whispers that teak was snitched from Zaca to embellish the cruisers turned out at the yard during that time. The vessel, modeled after the famous Nova Scotia fishing schooner Bluenose, was drawn up by the yard’s designer, Manuel Nunes. One unusual feature was the placement of its two diesel engines, which are normally found astern. But Crocker ordered them placed amidship. Nunes' daughter, Bertha Basford, says that when Zaca was launched, her nose pointed downhill because of the engine placement, and so they had to add ballast at the stern which made the boat ride beneath the waterline.

Zaca was christened at her launching in Sausalito in April 1930 by silent film star Marie Dressler. Eyewitness accounts of the event vary widely; however, everyone agrees that perhaps Miss Dressler had made use of a few bottles of champagne herself. Everyone agrees that as the huge yacht began to slide down the ways, she swung the champagne bottle. Some say she missed, some say she hit, and the bottle didn't break. Some say she swung, missed, and fell into the water and was then hustled into a speedboat which raced after the departing yacht. In any case, there is a great deal of confusion about Zaca's christening. Also confusing are memories of her color, because she was launched as a white hull, and a few days later was painted black.

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

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

Zaca, with a crew of 18 including a doctor, photographer and Crocker's valet, started off on a Round the World cruise shortly after the launching, visiting the Marquesas, Tonga, Java, Sumatra, India, Europe and the Caribbean. The ship returned to San Francisco after exactly one year as scheduled and they sailed her past the cove to salute her builders. Zaca went on many scientific expeditions in the next years. Two crew members still living in the 1980s told stories of trips to the Galapagos and South America, bringing back turtles and iguanas and live fish in tanks for the SF Aquarium. They recall taking specimens for the Academy of Sciences, dragging so deep that they brought up fish with lights on their heads which, when they came up, exploded.

The War put an end to the expeditions. The Navy took Zaca and used her for a coastal patrol boat, and painted the teak, the hull and the interior battleship gray. In 1945, Flynn bought her, and it’s been said that he could never erase all the gray. He spent $50,000 on new furnishings however, and decorated her all in white, with red rugs and a white ermine bedspread. His shakedown cruise was to Mexico, and in 1946 Zaca was chartered for the film Lady from Shanghai with Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, and returned briefly to Sausalito. The film ends at the Nunes yard, it’s worth renting the video if you’re a history buff; great shots of the boatyard and the docks, the boardwalk and the Valhalla in 1946.

Flynn took the vessel to Mexico and the Caribbean, and is reported to have enjoyed a luxurious life aboard. He had planned on a world cruise, but got the yacht only as far as the French Riviera until his death in 1959. There she slowly deteriorated as debtors, heirs and boatyards argued about her fate. Slowly she became a rotting hulk in the harbor of Villefranche, mastless, the interior gutted, the hull rotten and kept afloat by pumps.

Salvation arrived in 1991 when Roberto Memmo, sailor, yachtsman, and businessman from Monaco who was experienced in expensive and expensive restorations, foundZaca. Today she has been beautifully restored, sails throughout the Mediterranean, and carries a full-time crew of four. A worthy ending for a yacht apparently destined for a lifetime of luxurious living.

Chuck Bradley: Another Local Success

by Steefenie Wicks

Chuck Bradley, visionary from Marin City Photo by Steefenie Wicks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piro Caro and the Houseboat Wars

By Larry Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father of the Houseboat Community -- Piro Caro Part I

By Larry Clinton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Foglift on the Sausalito Hills

By Harold French

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

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

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose Kissinger: The Queen of the Pacific

By: Steefenie Wicks

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

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

Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

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

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

One should remember that this was 1946.

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

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

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

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

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

The Balclutha moored at the Hyde Street Pier

Courtesy Photo

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

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

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