Edith Heath – Sausalito’s Creative Ceramacist

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

The recent screening of the new documentary, Heath Ceramics: The Making of a California Classic, at the Sausalito Library led me to the following article from a 1995 MarinScope:


PHOTO COURTESY UC Berkeley EDA  Edit Heath in her studio


Edit Heath in her studio

January 7 through March 12, ceramicist Edith Heath is honored with an exhibit of “50 Years of Design,” on display at the San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum. Sausalito became the proud home of the Heaths’ timeless ceramic products when Edith and her husband Brian opened a studio here in 1946. Ever since, Sausalito and Heathware have been synonymous. Her first studio was located in the Village Fair.

In the 60’s, the Heaths moved to a new workshop on Gate Five Road to accommodate growing orders from Gumps, Neiman Marcus and Marshall Field. So great was the demand for Heath dinnerware that 1940’s production changed from hand thrown to mold. Throughout the decades, Heathware has been marked by Edith's simple design and clean glazes. Edith is originally a Midwesterner, born in Sioux City lowa in 1911. When she was attending the Chicago Teacher’s College, she saw a potter demonstrating her craft at the 1933 World’s Fair and decided she would like to be a potter. In 1941 she came to San Francisco and studied at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute. The first showing of her work was in 1944 at the Palace of the Legion of Honor where the personnel at Gumps saw her dinnerware and offered her the use of their clay workshop. She worked in their space until the end of World War II. The San Francisco Craft and Folk Art Museum is helping Edith celebrate 50 years of production by showing a sampling of her work through the decades.

Mrs. Heath passed away in 2006, at the age of 94.  Today, Heath Ceramics his run by Robin Petravic and

Catherine Bailey, Sausalito residents who took over Heath Ceramics in 2003.  During a question and answer session after the screening, Robin mentioned that tours are hosted at Heath’s Sausalito headquarters as well as at the firm’s Tile Factory in San Francisco’s Mission District.  For tour times, and to make reservations, go to https://www.heathceramics.com/pages/factory-tours.


Treats — No Tricks — at Early Hallowe’en Parades

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society



Over the decades, Sausalito’s leaders learned that organized fun can help cut down on Hallowe’en vandalism.

Back in 1905, the Sausalito News reported on a themed costume party that got a bit out of hand:

Hallowe'en was very delightfully celebrated at the Lantern Club by the giving of a "Looking Backwards" party, which proved to be one of the most enjoyable affairs which has taken place in Sausalito in many a day. The club rooms were very attractively decorated in true old Hallowe'en fashion. Pumpkin faces looked out from everywhere, and very clever faces they were, too. There was nothing lacking in Hallowe'en decorations and good old Hallowe'en fun. Most of the merry makers arrived in dominoes and all sorts of masks — both fore and aft. Many of the makeups were highly amusing. The music was good, and about midnight a light supper was indulged in. Downstairs the card players enjoyed five hundred [a popular social card game back in those days].

However, the paper’s unnamed “lady reporter,” noted:

It is whispered about that many of the youngsters of the most staid residents quite overdid the Hallowe'en celebrating by removing gates and doing many other seemingly harmless things. But lo! there is trouble brewing! Boys will be boys!

By 1939, the paper was warning residents: “Hallowe’en Fun OK—But Don’t Go Too Far”:

The News does not wish to interfere with any youngster’s fun on Hallowe’en night, October 31, but we advise all the younger generation in Sausalito to be careful that their mischievousness does not outstep the bounds of harmless fun. For Police Chief Antone Quadros announced this week that he would have twelve special cops on duty Hallowe'en night to see that no damage is done to property.

In the 1940s, a safe and sane Hallowe’en parade was established by a young men’s group called the

Sausalito 20-30 Club: Here’s how the Sausalito News announced the group’s  seventh annual Hallowe’en parade in 1947.:

The parade will start at 7 p.m. at the firehouse, Johnson and Caledonia streets. All members of the 20-30 Club will be in costume, and the club will sponsor a special float on a Hallowe’en theme. Other floats may also participate, joining the costumed children. Ice cream and cookies will be served by the P-T-A, after prizes have been awarded for the best costumes in all age groups. Every child who enters the parade will receive a gift from the 20-30 Club, and any child planning to enter is reminded that he or she has only one week more in which to get that costume ready.

In Marin City the Community Service office announced a similar event.  According to the paper:

In an effort to insure well-mannered spooks and goblins, come Hallowe’en, come October 31, plans got under way last week for a gigantic party for all of Marin City’s children. The program will open with a big parade held at the school grounds, with a prize awarded to some lucky student from each grade, for the best costume. Following the parade, the children will march into the Auditorium for a program which is still in the planning stage. The Boy Scouts will present a skit and the Sunday school children of the Community church will contribute to the program. There will also be a 20-minute movie, probably of cartoons suitable for Hallowe’en. A half-hour show is planned by members of the Carolyn Snowden school of the dance from San Francisco. Further details will be announced letter. Project Services, who are sponsoring the gigantic party, are asking for 30 adult volunteers, in order to place adults at the end of every four rows in the Auditorium, and to help in the distribution of treats to be given at the end of the program. In asking for volunteers, Mrs. Ethel Johnson, director of Project Services, said: “Everyone in the community has a stake in the Hallowe’en festivities. We feel that if the children are provided with an evening’s entertainment, that will forestall the usual mischief which is typical of Hallowe’en and often is destructive to community property.’’

The strategy must have worked, because on November 3, the paper reported:

Treats instead of tricks occupied Marin City youngsters so successfully last Sunday night that sheriff’s deputies reported no serious incidents in the celebration of Hallowe’en. Complaints to the sheriff’s office involved only one broken streetlight and one shattered car window. Deputies cruising Mann City on the lookout for mischief makers were able to stop trouble brewing before it came to a boil. They found hundreds of children of all ages and sizes, dresses in a weird assortment of masks and costumes, knocking at doors for treats on their way to and from the Hallowe'en party sponsored by the Go-Getters and Community Services. Several residents of Marin City estimated they each passed out treats to approximately 75 children between the hours of six and ten Hallowe'en night. Mrs. Dorothy Crawford of Dot’s Sweet Shop stated that she gave away 500 bags of candy, a tray of doughnuts, and “more bubble gum than I could count.”

Enjoy Sausalito’s 79th Hallowe’en parade.

When the Trains Came to Sausalito

Nora Sawyer Sausalito Historical Society

North Pacific Coast Railroad's Engine Number One, was a Baldwin eight-wheeler. She is shown here in service with the White Lumber Company. Photo Sausalito Historical Society

North Pacific Coast Railroad's Engine Number One, was a Baldwin eight-wheeler. She is shown here in service with the White Lumber Company. Photo Sausalito Historical Society

On May 10, 1869, bells rang out across the country. Firecrackers and cannons boomed, and Chicago held the largest parade the city would see in that century, thronged with crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. The transcontinental railroad, connecting coast to coast, was complete. At Promontory Summit in Utah, Leland Stanford and Thomas Clark Durant ceremoniously hammered in a Golden Spike to mark the connection of the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad lines.

For the first time, news broke simultaneously across the country. Telegraph wires transmitted the ceremonial blows to listeners across the country and even on the other side of the Atlantic. One reporter noted that the message rang out “the fartherest of any by mortal men.”

The ceremony marked a faster, more connected age. In the next twenty years, the mileage covered by rail in the United States more than quadrupled, reaching nearly 164,000 miles and increasing at an average of 15 miles of track a day. Voyages that would have once taken more than six months now could be completed in two weeks. Mail became faster and more reliable.

Of course, not every mile of track was as grand as the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads that thundered across the continent. Smaller, more modest ventures sprang up to serve local and regional needs.

A much smaller ceremony on April 10, 1873 marked the start of one such enterprise. “Amid much enthusiastic cheering,” Jack Tracy writes in Moments in Time, “a groundbreaking ceremony took place in Sausalito, marking the start of the construction of the long-promised railroad that would link Sausalito to the lumber empire to the north. “

Born out of a collaboration between the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company and the Northern Pacific Coast Railroad, the narrow gauge railroad offered a safer alternative to the trip by sea up the fog-bound, stormy coast. Less expensive than larger trains, the railway was also more nimble, able to handle tight curves and mountainous terrain. Its tracks were lighter, with smaller cars and locomotives, as well as smaller bridges and tunnels making it more adaptable to the varied landscape.

Railroad historian Lucius Beebe called the narrow gauge “the most personal of all rail roads… its diminutive tracks, locomotives and rolling stock… possessed of the endearing qualities of all small sympathetic things.” James Wilkins, a former mayor of San Rafael and the founder of the Sausalito News, took a less romantic view, describing the train that passed along the completed line in 1875 as “a ramshackle narrow gauge affair, built along the lines of least resistance, with lofty disdain of the laws of gravity and a preference for curvature instead of tangents.”

Still, it was an impressive journey. In San Francisco, passengers embarked from at the Davis Street Wharf. From there they crossed the foggy bay to Sausalito, where they were greeted by the railroad’s two steam engines (Sausalito and Olema) and “lemon-colored coaches.” Leaving Sausalito, the train would speed “gaily along the shore at the foot of the wooded hills, across the long trestle to Strawberry Point, over Collins summit, and through Corte Madera to The Junction.”

There, the tracks forked, with one rail leading southeast to San Rafael’s B Street Depot, and the main line continuing northwest over to the redwood forests.

Historian Gilbert Kneiss relates that passengers that on its inaugural journey, passengers “stared out the window in growing amazement as the pull up White’s Hill started; at the rugged beauty and the heavy railroading required to conquer it.”

Back in Sausalito, the railroad built a new ferry landing and railroad wharf, and purchased two elegant passenger ferries: the San Rafael and the Saucelito. Wealthy San Franciscans moved north, building homes in Sausalito and commuting by ferry to jobs in the city. Sausalito became a bustling gateway for both passengers and commercial cargo.

The cost of these improvements proved the railroad’s downfall. Massive debts and a sluggish economy forced the sale of the Northern Pacific Coast Railroad in 1880. A newly formed venture, the North Pacific Coast Extension Company laid new tracks, building track straight across the salt marshes from Sausalito to Alameda and Waldo Points, and expanding north to Cazadero.

Despite its struggles, the railroad transformed Sausalito, bringing visitors, new businesses, and entrepreneurs to the downtown’s bustling terminal. The city became more diverse, as the railroad brought first laborers and then merchants from a variety of backgrounds.

Today, not much physical evidence of Sausalito’s transit hub remains. But you can still follow the train’s route along the salt marsh toward Strawberry Point, and imagine the ribbons of track that used to twist northwest through the redwoods toward Cazadero.

The Sausalito Historical Society will host a dedication of the new Ice House Plaza on Saturday,October 26 at 10 a.m. The community is invited to celebrate the opening at a “Golden Spike” ceremony commemorating Sausalito’s railroad history.

Fire on the Waterfront

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Herb Madden Sr. served two terms as Mayor of Sausalito — the second after serving time on a rum-running rap during Prohibition


Herb Madden Sr. served two terms as Mayor of Sausalito — the second after serving time on a rum-running rap during Prohibition

During a recent library presentation featuring retired firefighters and chiefs sharing reminiscences, it was generally agreed that the fire that destroyed the Madden and Lewis shipyard in 1960 was one of the most disastrous conflagrations in our history.

The headline in the March 19, 1960 Sausalito News read: “MADDEN, LEWIS BOATWORKS RAZED - Ceramics Shop Also Destroyed.” Here are some lightly edited excerpts from newspaper reports of the day:

Property valued in excess of $lOO,OOO, belonging to J. Herbert Madden, Sr., and A. E. (Dick) Lewis, was demolished Wednesday evening in the torch-like blaze and series of explosions which brought regular and volunteer firemen from nine cities to the boatworks at Bridgeway and Locust. [The Mill Valley Record had already reported damages exceeding $750,000].

The conflagration, which was brought under control in about 75 minutes, was attributed to spontaneous combustion of rags in a construction building, the first structure which burned, according to Fire Chief Matthew Perry. The possibility of arson was, ruled out for the blaze, which started at 6:02 p.m. Herbert Madden Jr. was on the scene and raced across the street to the gas station to telephone the firehouse, about three blocks away. Exact financial damage may not be determined for another week, according to sources at brokers who handle the boatworks’ insurance. Three firemen received minor injuries, Capt. Harold Cardwell gashed his leg in a fall over the piers on which the plant was built. Harold Swift, volunteer fireman, received blistered hands while dragging a hose. Wallace (Wally) Wright suffered a cut hand from splintered glass. No other injuries were reported. The explosions were caused by exploding butane tanks. Two diesel engines belonging to the State Department of Fish and Game were burned. The engines were being stored gratis by Madden and Lewis. The company’s safe was so badly burned that firemen estimated Thursday it would take several days to cool so that it could be opened. Contents of the safe were not immediately ascertainable.

Approximately $lO,OOO damage was done to the La Paz ceramics shop next to the boatworks and there was some blistered paint on the Edgewater Boat Shop, according to Frank Pasquinucci, owner of both buildings. The Edgewater is leased to Clyde Kilian and Lawrence Zeiger. Their shop had burned down exactly one year ago Wednesday and it was only by quick work of the fire department that it was saved this week.

The ceramics shop was occupied by its owners, David and Helen Morris and their son Nicky 11. The Morrises lost everything but their kiln, potter’s wheel, and the handful of clothing they managed to grab while escaping from the building. George Gudckunz, part owner of Ondine, Thursday announced plans to sponsor a benefit buffet luncheon, with entertainment, for the Morrises, whose high-quality work has received praise in national and trade magazines.

Five boats were destroyed. One was the $lO,OOO, 40-foot cabin cruiser Hi Ho, which belonged to Herbert Madden. Jr. and was to have been launched within two weeks. Two smaller motorboats also were destroyed. Most of the boats, however, were saved by volunteers.

Regular firemen and volunteers from all over the county responded quickly. The city lost about 1900 feet of fire hose and a nozzle when chemicals flared up on the north side of one building. The hose was promptly re-ordered Thursday. Two 12th District Coast Guard boats stood just off the scene. The San Francisco fireboat Phoenix couldn’t get close to the scene because of low tide.

The entire Sausalito police force, aided by five state highway patrolmen and three sheriff's deputies, held back the traffic and curious onlookers most of the time. Volunteers such as Howard Peek helped to direct heavy northbound commuters’ traffic, which was routed from Bridgeway along Caledonia St.

Mayor Howard Sievers Thursday praised the many volunteers who rushed to aid in fighting the fire, serving refreshments and in carrying out boats and equipment from Edgewater Boat Shop. Volunteers included the Red Cross, hastily organized to serve hot drinks by Sally Stapp and the Sausalito Woman’s Club which donated coffee. Richard Phillips, husband of the Woman’s Club president, was seen passing out coffee from his station wagon. Members of the new Boys’ Athletic Club helped to cut boats loose. The Mill Valley Women's fire auxiliary passed out coffee. Mrs. Jay (Juanita) Musson provided coffee and hamburgers to the firemen. She was assisted by Mrs. Perry, wife of the fire chief, several other ladies, and members of the state patrol, the latter providing transportation.

About 25 persons assisted in carrying boats, motors and equipment from the Edgewater Boat Shop when it looked as though this building was going to burn. Among them was Mrs. Louis Souza, who carried two small motors on her back and later helped to move larger ones. “I didn't know I could do it,” Mrs. Souza said. Water pressure was described as “adequate” by Fire Chief Matthew J. (Mats) Perry, although some volunteers had complained of the lack of pressure. Out-of-town trucks hooked into the Caledonia street main. The county fire equipment pumped water out of the bay. Telephone service to seven subscribers was interrupted during the fire. Service was restored by Thursday to all except those whose buildings were burned.

Shortly after the fire, it was feared that Madden and Lewis would have to sell their property, but they persevered and developed it into the Sausalito Yacht Harbor. Today the SYH contains more than 600 berths, one of the largest harbors in Sausalito.

The Sausalito Historical Society’s latest exhibit, “FIRE!” features stories and photos of local fires plus artifacts, and ephemera from the Sausalito Fire Department. A timeline depicts significant fires, fire houses and fire chiefs throughout Sausalito’s History.  The exhibit is open to the public Wednesdays and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on the top floor of City Hall.

Drake Meets the Miwoks

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

In 1579, Sir Francis Drake was exploring the West Coast in search of the elusive “northwest passage.” The ship’s chaplain, Frances Fletcher, and others kept journals of that voyage, that were later compiled into a book, The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake, published by Drake’s nephew Francis Drake in 1628.

In June of 1579, Drake and his crew anchored near San Francisco Bay for five weeks to prepare for the long sail across the Pacific Ocean. There they met the native inhabitants, the Coastal Miwok. Here are excerpts from the journals describing what happened next:

PHOTO FROM WIKIPEDIA  Miwoks considered Sir Francis Drake and his men as gods


Miwoks considered Sir Francis Drake and his men as gods

Notwithstanding it was in the height of summer, and so near the sun, yet were we continually visited with like nipping colds as we had felt before; … neither could we at any time, in whole fourteen days together, find the air so clear as to be able to take the height of sun or star [latitude].

After our coming to anchor, the people of the country showed themselves, sending off a man with great expedition to us in a canoe. Who being yet but a little from the shore, and a great way from our ship, spoke to us continually as he came rowing on. And at last at a reasonable distance staying himself, he began more solemnly a long and tedious oration, after his manner: using in the delivery thereof many gestures and signs, moving his hands, turning his head and body many ways; and after his oration ended, with great show of reverence and submission returned back to shore again.

He shortly came again a second time in like manner, and so the third time, when he brought with him (as a present from the rest) a bunch of feathers, much like the feathers of a black crow, very neatly and artificially gathered upon a string, and drawn together into a round bundle; being very clean and finely cut, and bearing in length an equal proportion one with another; a special cognizance (as we afterwards observed) which they that guard their king’s person wear on their heads. With this also he brought a little basket made of rushes, and filled with an herb which they called Tabáh. Both which being tied to a short rod, he cast into our boat.

Our General [Drake] intended to have recompensed him immediately with many good things he would have bestowed on him; but entering into the boat to deliver the same, he could not be drawn to receive them by any means, save one hat, which being cast into the water out of the ship, he took up (refusing utterly to meddle with any other thing, though it were upon a board put off to him) and so presently made his return. After which time our boat could row no way, but wondering at us as at gods, they would follow the same with admiration.

The 3 day following our General first of all landed his men, with all necessary provision, to build tents and make a fort for the defense of our selves and goods: and that we might under the shelter of it with

more safety (whatever should befall) end our business; which when the people of the country perceived us doing, as men set on fire to war in defense of their country, in great haste and companies,

with such weapons as they had, they came down to us, and yet with no hostile meaning or intent to hurt us: standing, when they drew near, as men ravished in their minds, with the sight of such things as they never had seen or heard of before that time: their errand being rather with submission and fear to worship us as Gods, then to have any war with us as with mortal men. Which thing, as it did partly show itself at that instant, so did it more and more manifest itself afterwards, during the whole time of our abode among them. At this time, being willed by signs to lay from them their bows and arrows, they did as they were directed, and so did all the rest, as they came more and more by companies unto them, growing in a little while to a great number, both of men and women.

To the intent, therefore, that this peace which they themselves so willingly sought might, without any cause of the breach thereof on our part given, be continued, and that we might with more safety and expedition end our businesses in quiet, our General, with all his company, used all means possible gently to entreat them, bestowing upon each of them liberally good and necessary things to cover their nakedness; withall signifying unto them we were no Gods, but men, and had need of such things to cover our own shame; teaching them to use them to the same ends.

And so began the Westernization of the native Miwoks. They were able to continue living peacefully for two centuries, until the Spanish discovered San Francisco Bay in 1769.  By 1776, Mission Dolores had been built and the subjugation of Miwoks as laborers and servants was in full sway. 

Within 20 years, a combination of European illnesses and harsh treatment devastated the Southern Marin Miwok population, according to Miwok historian Lucina Vidauri, who spoke recently at City Hall on Miwok history and current attempts to preserve the tribal culture.

Golden Gate Bridge War on Ferries

By Robert L. Harrison and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

This lightly edited article comes from the website of the Anne T. Kent Room at the San Rafael Civic Center library:

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  The ferry Sausalito approaches its home port


The ferry Sausalito approaches its home port

The August 27, 1937 Sausalito News bore the headline: “Bridge Income Drops; Directors Decree War on Golden Gate Ferry.”  The Bridge District’s Board was concerned that competition from the San Francisco-Marin ferries would reduce traffic on the bridge.  Shortly after the May 1937 opening of the Golden Gate Bridge to traffic, the District’s attorney reported a 12 per cent decrease in bridge traffic following reduced ferry fares.

The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed using the funds from a bond measure passed in 1930 by the voters within the Bridge District’s six counties.  The $35 million bond measure was very popular with the electorate; it passed 145,057 in favor and 46,954 against.  Despite the election results the opposition continued to hinder sale of the bonds.  In 1932 a committee of Bridge District officials, including Chief Engineer Joseph Strauss, appealed directly to A. P. Giannini, chairman of the Bank of America.  Gianni pledged his bank’s support and with it building the bridge was assured.

In the 1930s the Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors worked to maintain the project’s financial viability.  They sought every means possible to assure maximum use of the bridge in order to bolster toll revenue.

The attorney reported to the District Board that the Railroad Commission had created a “deadly situation” when it permitted ferry fares to be cut by 50%.  Prior to the fare reduction both the bridge and the ferry each charged a round trip fare of $1.00 per auto. The Railroad Commission cited three factors for its decision to permit a reduced ferry fare: Ferries allow a diversion from the long, steep bridge approach [Waldo Grade] that add to the expense for heavy vehicles; the ferries provide an alternative service for drivers who cannot afford to pay a higher fare; and, the ferry system should be preserved to be available in time of emergency on the bridge.

As reported in the Sausalito News the Bridge District’s attorney proposed two courses of action: “…one is to reduce bridge tolls to the ferry level or lower. This will result in a ruinous rates war, which might make it necessary to go [to] the taxpayers for additional funds.”  The Board directed the attorney to take a second approach and go to the Railroad Commission for a rehearing and, should it become necessary, appeal the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Bridge District tested an experimental round trip toll of just 50 cents per auto for a ten-day period in December 1937.  The lower toll resulted in the bridge serving more than 95% of the total crossings during the trial period, proving the bridge could put the ferries out of business if the rate war continued.

The Golden Gate Bridge war on the ferries ended in February 1938 when the ferry authorities offered a compromise.  The ferries would raise their round-trip fare to 65 cents per auto if the bridge toll for trucks would be set at $1.00 per round trip.  The Bridge District ultimately won the war on the ferries as the proposed compromise produced insufficient revenue to maintain north bay ferry service. The Southern Pacific Golden Gate Ferry Company’s Sausalito-Hyde Street and the Tiburon-San Francisco direct service ended on July 24, 1938. The Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP) ferry ended all remaining Marin-San Francisco service on February 28, 1941.

In 1938 on the first weekend after the automobile ferries stopped running, the bridge experienced a significant increase in traffic climbing from nearly 50,000 to 56,000 vehicles.  In most years since 1938 traffic on the bridge has continued to increase.  The bridge’s annual totals grew from 3.3 million crossings in 1937-38, the first full year of operation, to over 41 million annual vehicles today, a greater than 12-fold increase.   Yearly toll revenue in the same time span experienced an even greater growth from $1.6 million to over $143 million or nearly a 90-fold increase.

By the mid-20th century, growth in traffic and congestion on the bridge led to a search for ways to increase bridge capacity.  While the structure’s physical configuration limited the possibilities, the scope of bay crossings could be expanded by the District developing its own public transit systems.  To achieve this goal, a portion of the increased bridge toll income has been used to fund the Golden Gate Transit (GGT) bus service and the Golden Gate Ferry (GGF) system.  In 1970, in contrast to its earlier war on ferries, the Bridge District began operating its own ferry service from Sausalito to San Francisco.

The GGF service later expanded to include Marin County terminals at Larkspur in 1976 and Tiburon in 2017.   Service was also added in 2000 offering direct ferry connection from Larkspur to the San Francisco Giants ballpark.  Annual use of Golden Gate ferries is currently over 2.5 million passengers.  Estimates show GGF use combined with the GGT bus patrons represent about 30% of the total number of bay crossings from Marin to San Francisco in the morning commute hour.  Today the District is no longer at war with ferries as it was decades ago but is the sponsor of crucial transportation services that include ferries.

Fighting Fires in Early Sausalito

By Jack Tracy, Sausalito Historical Society

The following lightly edited excerpt is from Jack Tracy’s book Sausalito — Moments in Time



Around the turn of the century, membership in social and fraternal organizations was a popular way of making acquaintances. The Foresters of America, Native Sons (and Daughters) of the Golden West, the Society of Old Friends, and ethnic groups like the British Benevolent Society and the German-American Society all flourished in Sausalito.

The Sausalito Fire Department can trace its roots to February 6, 1888, when twenty-five prominent residents including J. W. Harrison, D. F. Tillinghast, John Broderick, William Reade, and Col. John Slinkey met at Arthur Jewett's blacksmith shop on Caledonia Street. At that meeting it was determined that a permanent volunteer fire department with modern equipment was a community necessity, and wheels were set in motion to accomplish that end.

Prior to that date fire protection was largely a matter of personal ability. Those with sufficient means built large water storage tanks next to their homes and kept fire hoses for personal use. Those less fortunate had to rely on bucket brigades or whatever means at hand, including a hasty exit if necessary. The North Pacific Coast Railroad maintained a rudimentary hose cart and saltwater pump at the ferry landing, and the ferryboats and smaller vessels relied on sand-filled pails stored on board. The municipal water supply was insufficient for firefighting. Before 1914 it was the common practice to shut off domestic water from 7 a.m. to evening due to short supply.

It was decided by the self-appointed committee to levy a special property tax within a new fire district to raise $1,000,000. A new horse-drawn Babcock steam pumper was purchased in March 1888, in anticipation of future tax revenues. But too many property owners within the proposed district felt the assessment was too steep, and the vote to establish a fire department failed by six votes in June 1888. It would be another sixteen years before Sausalito again attempted to establish a permanent fire department.

By the turn of the century there was again growing concern over lack of an organized fire department in Sausalito. For many residents however, ad hoc volunteer companies seemed perfectly adequate. During the debate on incorporation in 1893, public opinion held that paid fire departments were an unnecessary burden on taxpayers and that even permanent volunteers were superfluous. The big fire of July 4, 1893, that raced unchecked through Sausalito's business district changed many minds concerning the need for firefighting equipment and trained men. By 1904 the Board of Trustees was concerned enough to take some positive action. Arthur Jewett, the blacksmith, was appointed the town's first Fire Marshall. Along with his title, Jewett also got the job of building the hose carts.

The first hose cart station was established in a shed at the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company equipment yard. For this prime location at the ferry landing the city was charged twenty dollars a month. Still the carts were manned by disorganized volunteers.

Because the 1906 San Francisco fire convinced the Sausalito Board of Trustees that it was time to get serious about fire protection, they enacted an ordinance in 1909 creating a permanent Sausalito Volunteer Fire Department. Arthur Jewett was appointed Fire Chief at twenty-five dollars a month, and five more hose cart stations were established. The city bought a fire wagon and horses and by 1914 made plans for an actual firehouse. Residents were informed of the new fire alarm system, utilizing church bells to call volunteers from their homes.

The new station, housing both firewagon and horses, was built next to the San Francisco Yacht Club on Water Street (it was moved across the street in 1931, where the building stands today). To get the most out of its investment, the city later added jail cells in the station house, and to keep the chief busy when there were no fires, he was made official dogcatcher and poundmaster. There was never a shortage of stray dogs and horses wandering through backyards.

On Friday, September 20, past and present Sausalito firefighters will share their reminiscences in this panel discussion presented by the Sausalito Historical Society. The 7:00 PM panel discussion coincides with a new exhibit on fires, firemen, firehouses, and fire prevention in Sausalito in the Historical Exhibit Room on the upper level of City Hall. A reception will follow the event.



A hose cart company gathered at Richardson and Second Streets In 1909. The young lady wreathed in flowers on the cart is the mascot, a niece of Fire Chief Jewett.

This photo was gifted to the Volunteer Fire Department in Cascais, Portugal, one of Sausalito’s 3 sister cities. It proudly hangs in their conference roo,

Phil and Sue Frank Discover the Ameer

By Phil Frank, Sausalito Historical Society

In the mid-70s, Phil Frank wrote this charming memoir of his and Susan’s introduction to the Sausalito waterfront:

When people ask us "Why did you come to the houseboats in the first place?" I respond that...Cary Grant and Sophia Loren sent us here.

PHOTO COURTESY OF FLOATING HOMES ASSOCIATION  The Ameer as it looked during the 2014 Floating Homes Tour


The Ameer as it looked during the 2014 Floating Homes Tour

My lady friend Susan, my son Philip and I were sitting in my rented room in a private home in North Berkeley, considering our plans for the evening.  The ten by ten space easily held the sum contents of my earthly possessions after a difficult divorce and the resulting sale of house and automobiles, furniture and appliances.  One of the items which fell into my possession because of its low marketability was a color tv which provided a choice of two colors — brown or purple, depending upon channels. Burned out from a day of house hunting in an effort to reestablish some roots of our own, we were-all pretty exhausted and the idea of catching a movie on TV required the least amount of effort. Enter Cary Grant and Sophia Loren.

The movie turned out to be a B grade classic called Houseboat, in which, through a variety of bizarre circumstances, the wealthy widowed father of three ends up with the Italian Countess turned children’s' governess on an ancient Hudson River houseboat.  The boat, though rickety and dingy when they find it, becomes miraculously restored to Victorian splendor in a matter of two commercials.

The next morning found us wandering the Gates area checking billboards, asking about rentals and even looking at an apartment on Kappas' gray barge.  Somehow it didn't look like the ancient riverboat in the movie.  We were wandering about aimlessly, the image of the dream boat fast fading from our consciousness when we were approached by a lady who asked if we were lost. We explained our plight and the story of our search and were directed by her to look at her neighboring boat which had been vacant for three months.  We threaded our way down the walkway and onto the deck of the old ark and looked into through the window into the vacant boat. We stood there for a full minute staring into the boat in disbelief, until Sue commented that it looked like the set for the movie.  It was sinking but that seemed insignificant.

We rented the Ameer for seven months before buying it. We salvaged a derelict barge, paid its back berthage, refloated the old ark and in the ensuing four years restored it to its former beauty.  It certainly took more than two commercials.

In 1983, Phil and Sue sold the historic ark to renowned architect Sim Van der Ryn and his wife, designer Ruth Friend.  Ruth and Sim undertook a major remodel, raising the boat enough to add a lower floor with substantial headroom. Snugly berthed at the end of South Forty Pier, the Ameer is the last ark still floating on Richardson’s Bay.

Joe Tate: Mischief and Music

By Christine Leimer, Floating Homes Assn.

PHOTO BY LARRY CLINTON  Joe Tate entertains during a recent floating homes tour.


Joe Tate entertains during a recent floating homes tour.

Every Monday night, you can find Joe Tate and the Blue Monday Band jamming at the Sausalito Cruising Club. If you haven’t seen him there, maybe you’ve caught his escapades in the videos The Houseboat Wars or Last Free Ride. Joe’s one of the founders of the Sausalito floating homes community.

A life of music, mischief-making and community building wasn’t in his plans growing up in Normandy, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. As a high school senior, in 1956, Joe built a working cyclotron—an atom smasher—in the school’s basement for the St. Louis Science Fair. His physics teacher suggested it as a joke. Joe figured, why not? But then, after the fair, what to do with a $20,000, 5-ton machine? He took it with him to Wesleyan University where he was on his way to becoming a nuclear scientist.

 Then he hit UC-Berkeley. Even though Joe was a few credits short of a bachelor’s degree, he’d been accepted into the grad school where the cyclotron was invented. But it was 1964. When he arrived to register, protests were going on outside Sproul Hall. He couldn’t get in. After trying for a third day, he talked to student protestors who were playing music and smoking pot. That ended grad school. “I turned on, dropped out, formed a band and got into music,” he laughs. “I’ve got no regrets.” After all, “atmospheric bomb blasting’s not very safe.”

A knack for applied physics is useful for keeping junk boats floating and at least semi-livable with little money, which is what he did when he moved to the Sausalito waterfront a few years later. It probably helped to have a father who was a riverboat pilot too. Joe’s dad plied the muddy waters of the Mississippi River. So, it’s ironic that, when he bought the house he now lives in at the head of South Forty dock in 1999, its name was the Becky Thatcher—one of Mark Twain’s characters. It’s an 1890 ark towed over from the Belvedere Lagoon in the 1960s. It was sunk in the mud here when Joe fell in love with it. Now it sits sturdy on pilings, with dragon gates guarding its entrance.

If you like tales, Joe’s the man to talk to. He’s got plenty and tells them with a twinkle-eyed grin that would make Tom Sawyer proud. There’s the Houseboat Wars-era battle with the Marin Sheriff’s deputies and Coast Guard when they tried to tow away the houseboats. His split-second escape after pouring water on the generator powering the fire hoses police were using to spray protesters who were trying to stop them from removing houseboats to build a permanent pier. Another time, he led a flotilla of rickety boats and band members up the delta thinking they’d play gigs at bars and restaurants along the way. When they finally got a gig, a band member opened the kitchen and started cooking and giving away the owner’s steaks. He ran them off his property, of course. “We were our own worst enemies,” Joe says, recalling their exploits. “We were good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Joe once played a concert with Chuck Berry, who accidentally fell on top of him as they scrambled to the stage. And he’s written a book about the narrow escapes, bribes, junkyard deals, at-sea fixes, and shifting configurations of crew members when his Houseboat Wars-era band, The Redlegs, sailed their re-constructed boat (they used a telephone pole for a mast), the Richmond, from Sausalito to Costa Rica, Acapulco, Hawaii and back, barely. He’s looking for a publisher.     

What’s Joe up to these days? “We play at weddings and other events when I can get a gig. All my acquaintances are dying, not getting married,” Joe tells me with a philosophical shrug. He’s got a new CD of protest songs called Free Bullet Wounds: Fight Back Against School Shootings and you can buy his CD Joe Tate with the Blue Monday Band and the Hippie Voices at the Sausalito Cruising Club on Mondays.

Joe and Maggie Catfish, who sang with the Redlegs back in the day, will appear at the Floating Homes Tour on September 14. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to http://floatinghomes.org/visiting-and-tours/tour-information/

Remembering Herb Weiner

By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society


It’s not hard to fall in love with Sausalito. People do it every day. You’ll see them on Bridgeway, stock-still on the busy sidewalk, gazing at San Francisco’s gray skyline across the water. You’ll catch them lingering on the houseboat docks, watching the tides.

If you fall in love with Sausalito and you’re lucky, you get to stay. That’s what Herb Weiner did forty years ago, trading his native Boston for our Western shores. He set up shop here, first with a car detailing business, and later as the owner of the Shell gas stations and car washes in Sausalito and in Novato.

Boasting the only self-serve island in Sausalito, his station was a novelty in 1979. Reporting on the oil crisis for the Marinscope, local reporter and historian Doris Berdahl described how she “found a scene that wouldn’t have seemed possible a few years ago. Smart young women dressed in crisp summer suits, silk blouses, and high heels were energetically pumping their own gas.”

Herb at a Car Wash in Cascais, Portugal

Herb at a Car Wash in Cascais, Portugal

Though the gas was self-serve, the Shell station was far from impersonal. As one resident observed, “this may be the only ‘Self Service’ station in the nation that isn’t. Serving resident patrons is always the first order of the day.” It also housed the only car wash in town, where Herb himself could often be found performing minor repairs on customer’s cars.

He quickly became a fixture in Sausalito. After seven years here, Herb was named 1985’s Business Citizen of the Year by the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce. Announcing the honor, the Chamber cited “a myriad of charitable activities performed with a minimum of hype,” which today’s Sausalitans will recognize as a Herb Weiner trademark. Here’s another: at that year’s 4th of July parade, Marinscope columnist Harry V. Smith Jr. observed that Herb had, even then, a civilizing effect on local politics:

All five (count ’em!) Councilpersons in the same vehicle, smiling and waving their way down Bridgeway and Caledonia Streets, to the obvious delight of their constituents, none of whom pelted water balloons or cast snide remarks. Sure, there are those who would say, “After all, it is the Fourth of July.” I have my own theory. The 1967 Bentley convertible in which they were riding belongs to Sausalito Shell’s Herb Weiner, one of our town’s most congenial, kind and thoughtful citizens, and some of his attributes must have rubbed off on the illustrious group.

Though Herb wouldn’t join the City Council for another 28 years, his good humor and good works were already a constant in Sausalito’s civic life. He coached Little League, coordinated the adopt-a-park program, organized a classic car festival, and offered free rides to drunken revelers on New Years’ Eve. He belonged to the city’s Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce, and was a vital part of the Sausalito Art Festival. By 1991 he was already indispensable, “seemingly everywhere just when you need him, doing everything with a smile and a ‘no problem’.”

After so many decades of service, it was perhaps inevitable that he would run for City Council. He first announced his candidacy in 2006, promising transparency and accessibility – a promise he immediately made good on by publishing his home phone number in the Marinscope and inviting voters to give him a call. Once elected, he served on the Council from 2006 to 2017, and as mayor in 2011 and 2013. As hands-on as ever, Herb didn’t just talk about measures to accommodate bicycles and tour busses, he’d don a yellow safety vest and direct traffic himself. When the city’s police department did not have the budget for two dual purpose motorcycles, he was one of three major donors who stepped forward to fund the purchase. One of those motorcycles is named Herbie in his honor.

Herb and Enzo with the kids

Herb and Enzo with the kids

He was an advocate for Sausalito’s Sister Cities program, and was the driving force behind Sausalito’s relationship with the city of Cascais. He visited every one of the Sister Cities, and hosted visitors from each in his own home.

After he stepped down from the City Council, Herb remained a fixture in Sausalito, volunteering on boards, appearing with his dog in the Fourth of July parade, and greeting friends and strangers as he walked to get his morning coffee. When he passed away late last month at the age of 77, news of his passing reverberated through the community, with remembrances posted to social media from civic organizations and individuals alike.

Herb’s warmth and civility defined his forty years in Sausalito. Though undeniably one of Sausalito’s most prominent citizens, he never sought the spotlight. As he noted himself in 2000, “I’m a very simple person. I like to give without expecting anything.”

It’s not hard to fall in love with Sausalito. Herb Weiner did. And Sausalito loved him back.

Memories of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics

By Rick Seymour, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF RICK SEYMOUR  Rick at his desk on Haight Street


Rick at his desk on Haight Street

News that the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinics were closing after 52 years of service brought back some special memories for Rick Seymour, who had a 33-year career with the legendary institution. Rick, a long time Historical Society member, has written a number of memoirs about his days there.  In the following excerpt, he recalls how his career got started, after he had been living in a Mendocino County commune:

By spring, 1973, I needed something, anything by way of employment. Sharon [Rick’s future wife and future secretary of the Historical Society] went to work for another group of architects and I was offered a half-time janitor and assistant secretary of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics Administrative Offices.

The salary was negligible. I had read something about the Clinics in the sixties and had no idea they were still going. Working in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood, then in the process of devolving from a psychedelic haven into a crime-ridden teenage slum with many of its businesses boarded up and its streets littered with garbage and dog feces, did not bode well either. Such menial employment meant at least some money, however, that I sorely needed by then to finance my ongoing search for a "real" job. Sharon and I had lived through the winter essentially on her savings.

When I reached the corner ex-dental office that housed the Clinics' administrative offices, I was met by a very thin, dark haired woman who appeared to be tripping on something. She gazed at me with her mouth hanging open and then abruptly told me I was hired and to show up for work the next day. And that was that.

Within a few weeks, the other half-timer quit for personal reasons and I was promoted to full-time janitor and secretary. After the daily emptying of wastebaskets and floor sweeping, my duties were similar to those I had performed for the 831st Air Clinic Division at George Air Force Base, in the late 1950s. I was good at it and soon I was taking minutes at the Clinics' various board meetings and learning to use phrases like "discussion ensued followed by a vote."

My desk was directly across from the entrance to 1698 Haight Street, the Clinics' executive offices, so I was the first person encountered by anyone from the outside world. Annie, the head secretary, made sure that I kept a short length of iron pipe, its nether end filled with lead, by my chair— just in case. Fortunately I never needed it.

While Annie was the primary secretary, my real boss was Richard Frank, a smart and able administrator who bore the title Central Administrator. His was in many ways a thankless job and several months after I arrived he left to return to graduate school. A troika composed of the Clinics' founder Dr. David Smith, Dr. George (Skip) Gay, Director of the Drug Detoxification, Rehabilitation and Aftercare Project, and Anne Gay, Skip's ex-wife and Head of Accounting, undertook interim management of the Clinics and I was promoted to Office Manager.

The Clinics Board of Directors decided that a strong but diplomatic force was needed at the top and met in a special session at the Copper Penny Restaurant on Masonic. I was there to take minutes of the meeting. As the directors solidified their thoughts on what was needed, a startling and in ways frightening thought came to me.

"I can do it! I can be the leader they're looking for!"

When the Board took a break, I followed David Smith into the men's washroom and told him that I wanted the job. David nodded and when the meeting resumed he recommended that I be put in charge of the search for a new Clinics chief executive.

In December the Haight Ashbury Free Clinics Board of Directors was ready to meet the candidates and choose a new chief executive. I had posted ads in appropriate publications and gathered resumes and applications that a board committee had winnowed down to six people, including myself, that they considered potentially eligible for the job. I had also written up a plan of action, based on my experience serving as business manager, outlining what I would do if I were chosen and distributed it to individual board members. I had also had my hair and beard trimmed.

When my turn came, I was called into the Board meeting room down the street from 1698 at the Clinics' Crackerjack vocational rehabilitation center. Dianne Feinstein, Board member and future Mayor of San Francisco and California Senator, had read a draft copy of my book Compost College and was presiding over the selections process. She pointed out that the Clinics needed a leader who was willing to take risks and asked me if I was willing to do so.

"You've read my book, Dianne," I answered. "If I take risks and fail, I can always go back to my plastic wickiup in Mendocino."

She laughed and thanked me. I was later told that when I had left the room, she turned to the rest of the Board and said, "There is our new Chief Executive Officer." Dr. Irv Klompus, a retired U.C. physician and Board vice-chair, came by my office a short time later to inform me that I had been appointed the Clinics Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately. The next person to come by was Bob "Skeezix" Corrado, Business Manager of the drug treatment programs to tell me that the Detox Unit's plumbing was backing up. My first act as Clinics CEO was to take a plunger down the street and unplug the Drug Detoxification, Rehabilitation and Aftercare Project's toilet at 529 Clayton Street.

The Name Game

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

California had a gilt-edge reputation for three centuries before 1849. 

In his book “Vizcaino and Spanish Expansion in the Pacific Ocean,” historian W. Michael Mathes pointed out that Spanish conquistadores exploring the new world had heard tales of an island, "east of the Indies," where black-skinned women, Amazons, adorned with pearls and gold, were ruled by a great queen, Calafia. So, when a mutinous member of Fernando Cortes' expedition discovered La Paz in what is now Baja California in 1533, he dubbed it Calafia, mistakenly believing that it was an island.  Later maps show the island as “Cali-Fornia.”

ILLUSTRATION FROM WIKIPEDIA  View of Presidio of San Francisco circa 1817 by Louis Choris


View of Presidio of San Francisco circa 1817 by Louis Choris

San Francisco Bay got its name inadvertently in 1603 when Sebastian Ceremeno sailed the Alta California Coast searching for safe harbors for gold-laden Spanish Manila galleons to use when returning to Acapulco from the Philippines.

According to the website foundsf.org, Ceremeno (or Cermeo, as the website spells it) landed his ship, the San Agustin, in present-day Drake's Bay. Cermeo named the inlet La Bahia de San Francisco, after Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order. What we now call San Francisco Bay lay undiscovered for over two centuries from the time of first navigation along the California coast. Often surrounded by fog, the strait was surprisingly elusive for the early 16th century European explorers Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo and Sir Francis Drake, who encamped and careened the Golden Hind in West Marin in June 1577.

By the 1750's, the Spanish monarchy had noticed that Russian fur trappers were settling in this area, so in 1768 King Carlos III dispatched land and sea expeditions to colonize the territory.

Don Gaspar de Portolá, Military Governor of the Californias, was given command of the land expedition and Captain Vila led the sea expedition which consisted of two vessels.

The sailing expedition called it quits in San Diego, due to loss of key personnel. But the Portola foot soldiers reached the San Francisco Peninsula by late October. A small group hunting deer reached the top of Montara Mountains' Sweeney Ridge and saw a body of water so great that an accompanying friar, Carlos Crespi, described it as “a harbor such that not only the navy of our most Catholic Majesty but those of all Europe could take shelter in it.”  

Portola and his men did not even realize they were the first Europeans to sight the bay. Everyone was convinced that what they were seeing was a large inner arm of Cermeo's Bahia de San Francisco. A few years later, Mexican authorities, confused over the presence of these two bays, began associating the name San Francisco with both, until the practice spread to Monterey and our larger, clearly superior bay, appropriated the name.

On August 5, 1775, Juan de Ayala and the San Carlos crew became the first Europeans to pass through the strait, anchoring in a cove behind Angel Island. Until the 1840s, the strait was called the “Boca del Puerto de San Francisco,” (mouth of the Port of San Francisco).  It was dubbed the Golden Gate by U.S. Army Captain John C. Fremont on July 1, 1846, two years before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.  According to goldengatebridge.org, Fremont gazed at the narrow strait that separates the Bay from the Pacific Ocean and said, “it is a golden gate to trade with the Orient.” The name first appeared in his Geographical Memoir, submitted to the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1848, when he wrote, “to this Gate I gave the name of Chrysopylae or Golden Gate for the same reasons that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.”

The settlement that sprung up by the Bay was originally known as Yerba Buena – after a native herb. Following the US victory in the Mexican American War, Lt. Washington A. Bartlett was named alcalde of Yerba Buena. On January 30, 1847, Lt. Bartlett's proclamation changing the name Yerba Buena to San Francisco took effect.

And of course, our town’s name, Sausalito, is a corruption of the Spanish Saucelito, referring to the little willow trees that alerted Ayala’s crew to the location of freshwater springs in our hills.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Early Concepts for Bridging the Golden Gate

By Robert L. Harrison and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

The following article was written by Robert Harrison for the Anne T. Kent California Room’s website: https://annetkent.kontribune.com/articles/9074.

For more than 100 years European colonizers of the Bay Area dreamed of a bridge across the Golden Gate.  Some would stand at Fort Point in San Francisco or at Lime Point in Marin and imagine a mile-long structure linking the two counties. At the same time people possessing a more practical nature strongly believed that such a bridge could never be built.  The view that it was not possible to bridge the Golden Gate persisted into the early 20th century.

In 1869 “Emperor Norton” was one of the first to publicly call for a bridge across the Golden Gate.  Joshua Norton arrived in San Francisco in 1849 planning to make a fortune in California’s gold rush.  By 1869 he was bankrupt and had gone mad.  He declared himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and began issuing decrees.  Most found him harmless and amusing and he gained considerable notoriety before his death in 1880.

Charles Crocker is reported by many sources as the first, in 1872, to propose a tangible bridge across the Golden Gate.  Crocker was a Director of the Central Pacific Railroad and one of a group of men known as the “Big Four” who oversaw the completion of the railroad across the continent to California. The Central Pacific was looking for a route into San Francisco and to block other railroads from entering the city.

James H. Wilkins, editor and publisher of the Marin County Tocsin, described Crocker’s bridge proposal to the Marin Board of Supervisors in an article published on September 2, 1916.  Wilkins noted, “In 1872 I was present at a session of the Marin supervisors when Charles Crocker explained his plans, among which was a suspension bridge across the Golden Gate.  Detail plans and estimates for such a bridge were actually made by the Central Pacific engineers.”

While Crocker made his proposal in 1872, an earlier description of a possible bridge at the Golden Gate appeared in March 1868 editions of the Marin Journal.  Four years prior to Crocker’s presentation and almost 70 years prior to the 1937 opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Journal reported a company was formed to build a bridge connecting Marin County with San Francisco.  The Journal indicated that, “The idea was suggested by the necessity which exists of connecting San Francisco with the mainland, so that the coast and valley railroads may terminate in the city of San Francisco.”  The planning for this connection preceded the 1869 completion of the transcontinental railroad.

According to the Marin Journal of March 1868, the span would be “…. a magnificent suspension bridge across the entrance to the harbor, from Lime Point to a place just below Fort Point.”  Details of the bridge design included an immense oval center pier 200 feet across and rising to 175 feet above the Bay.  The Journal continued, “The span on either side, reaching to the shore abutments, would be 2,000 feet long and 175 feet above the high-water line, affording space below for the largest ships to pass. The body of the bridge to be of iron, sustained on the suspension principle, with wire cables.  It is proposed to construct a double railway across, and to have a lighthouse on the central pier.”

Photo Courtesy of Anne T. Kent California Room, Marin County Free Library  Golden Gate from Meigg's Wharf, San Francisco in the 1800s

Photo Courtesy of Anne T. Kent California Room, Marin County Free Library

Golden Gate from Meigg's Wharf, San Francisco in the 1800s

That such a bridge could not be built in that era may have been known even to the engineers who drew the plans. The depth of the channel between Fort Point and Lime Point virtually eliminated the possibility of a middle pier. The proposed 2,000-foot spans exceeded what was considered possible in 1868.  Prior to the 1883 opening of the Brooklyn Bridge with its 1,595-foot center span, no more than about 1,000 feet was regarded as the maximum span for a suspension bridge. 

The plan for the 1868 bridge was overly optimistic at best.  San Francisco was never directly connected by rail to the north or east.  A railroad bridge was never constructed across the Golden Gate.  As late as 1962 the Directors of the Bridge District prohibited the use of a second deck on the Golden Gate Bridge for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains. 

To read more about the history of the bridge, go to http://www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.com, scroll down to the Search window, type in Golden Gate Bridge, and hit Return.

Sterling Hayden’s Pullman Car

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNE T. KENT CALIFORNIA ROOM  A Business Car similar to Hayden’s Pullman No. 93 © Railfan44


A Business Car similar to Hayden’s Pullman No. 93 © Railfan44

Recently, we reprinted some excerpts from Lee Mandel’s book, Sterling Hayden’s Wars, describing Hayden’s preparations for his 1959 voyage from Sausalito to Tahiti. The book also tells the story of the Pullman car the actor and author later brought here as a writing studio:

In 1965, Sterling and Kitty Hayden were traveling across the country aboard the Burlington Zephyr when the train made its scheduled stop in Chicago. As they waited, a vice president of the Burlington Railroad came aboard, looking for another railroad executive. Unable to find him, he recognized Hayden and shortly thereafter the men were enjoying drinks together. Hayden mentioned that he would like to buy a caboose to restore and use as an office. The VP responded that it would be possible to buy a business car, as the railroad would occasionally sell off some of its properties. Since he was broke at the time, Hayden declined to make an offer.

About three weeks later, Hayden received a package from the railroad. It contained several photographs of a 1890s Pullman car that was currently unused in a railway roundhouse in Galesburg, Illinois. It was luxuriously built, featuring mahogany paneling inside, brass beds, and a galley. It was for sale and the railroad was asking $2,000 for it. Hayden couldn't resist; he immediately purchased the car.

Attached to a mile-and-a-quarter-long railroad train, Hayden and his friends Billy Pearson and Louis Vogler rode the car back from Galesburg to Oakland, California, the three of them drinking the entire time. From there the car was transported to Sausalito. For the next several years, Hayden would be using it as his office where he worked on his newest writing project: a novel.

The Hayden family had moved back east in 1965, renting a house in Redding, Connecticut, on the advice of Kitty's sister. Once again, Sterling was unhappy with it and roughly six months later, he uprooted the family and they moved back to the San Francisco area. Kitty bought them a house in the Pacific Heights section of the city. This, too, did not please her husband as he felt it was too high-scale for his tastes. By then, he was drinking heavily and spending most of his days writing in his railroad car.

Less than two years before his death, Hayden reflected on his railroad car. In a diary entry dated November 9, 1984, he wrote: "And it's coming back to me, just how it felt. 16 years & 7 months ago. That magical afternoon ... in this old private railroad car: Burlington Northern No. 93.

“Built in Burlington Yards-1890. For some forgotten wheel (A vice Pres. or a Division superintendent). Oh the magic of that car! A schooner of the rails. Iron lined rail."

In 1968, he gave his beloved railroad car to his daughter Gretchen but soon after it was confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service to pay off her father's federal tax debt.

Robert Harrison, writing for the Anne T. Kent California Room at the Marin County Library, adds the following details:

 [Hayden’s] daughter Gretchen and her friend Peter Laufer used the car in Sausalito for three years.  In 1971 they moved No. 93 to the Morgan Railcar Company in Greenbrae for refurbishment.

Morgan began efforts to refurbish it, including replacing the sashes and painting where needed, but in the midst of the work the car was seized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) because Hayden had not paid his 1968 taxes.  CB & Q No. 93 was scheduled for auction at the Morgan yard in June 1972. The auction was postponed when Hayden’s daughter Gretchen filed suit against the IRS alleging she, not her father, was the owner. The suit claimed it was in fact her mother who bought the car in 1965 and in turn gave it to Gretchen in 1971. The IRS rescinded the seizure after concluding the car’s value was not worth the cost of pursuing a court order.

The car remained with the Hayden family on the Greenbrae siding through the 1970s.  The car’s existence since those years is not clear.  Currently it is thought to be located in West Redding, California.

Hayden died in Sausalito on May 23, 1986.  As reported by his close friend columnist Herb Caen, “We knew for months that Sterling was dying, but, to borrow the excruciating last words of another great friend, Bill Saroyan, we thought an exception would be made in his case. Sterling had cancer, but he was bigger than life and would beat it, somehow, some way.”

You can browse past issues of this newspaper since 1971 on a new online archive at  https://cdnc.ucr.edu. The archive was made possible by a grant from the Sausalito Library Foundation.

Dump to Dunphy

By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  This sign announced the conversion of the waterfront parcel from dump to Dunphy Park


This sign announced the conversion of the waterfront parcel from dump to Dunphy Park

Since last December, Dunphy Park been undergoing extensive renovation, the bare dirt of its formerly grassy hills crisscrossed with tire tracks. This 4th of July, the park was filled with potential, but not with revelers — the annual celebration moved to Robin Sweeny Park.

It seemed strange to be celebrating anywhere other than Dunphy Park — after all, that’s where Sausalito tends to gather, be it for chili cook-offs, Easter egg hunts, or our annual Independence Day picnic.

Even in its original incarnation as an unofficial city dump, Dunphy Park fostered community. In his book Saucelito-$au$alito, Legends and Tales of a Changing Town, George Hoffman describes it as an active scene, where one citizen’s trash would end up being hauled away for a neighbor’s latest project. “A side asset to the dump was the number of friendships made while rummaging for supplies,” he writes. “A warm summer evening often found a half dozen or so people looking over the treasures, talking, exclaiming, enjoying themselves.”

These scavengers did more than socialize. Hoffman describes one house in Sausalito “affectionately called ‘The Little Dumpling’ because so much of the lumber used in building it came from the dump.” The house, he reports, “sold for $35,000 in 1969, which put it out of the shack class.” (I couldn’t find any further mention of “The Little Dumpling” in the Historical Society’s collection. If you know or suspect that a home in your neighborhood could be the Dumpling, please email info@sausalitohistoricalsociety.org).

The dump closed in the 1950s. In the 1960s, the future site of Dunphy Park was one of several adjoining parcels in a proposed complex of residential and office space along the waterfront. After those plans fell through, the city acquired the parcel, funding the $560,000 purchase with a 1970 bond issue.

Still, the land was “nothing to delight the eye.” Writing for the Marinscope in 1986, former Parks and Recreation Chairman Tom Rogers recalled that “weeds and trees still standing at the northwest corner failed to conceal a couple of steel storage tanks and other debris, and evidence of its one-time role as a city dump was later discovered during development.”

Still, the site had potential. Both the public library and city hall were at the time “jammed into what is now a retail building” across the street from Vina Del Mar Park. The city’s Youth Center was housed in the old Catholic Church. Proposals for the parcel included a library and community center, a city hall, and other public uses. Then, in mid-1971, the city purchased the former Central School. The erstwhile school building became Sausalito’s Civic Center, housing the city council chambers, the public library, a community center, and the Sausalito Historical Society’s research and exhibit rooms.

With the Central School renovation underway, the land “might have remained several years in its original state, as an abandoned dump.” In order “to preclude its sitting unused for months to come” a group of local residents calling themselves the Community Park Volunteers proposed that “by means of volunteer labor and donated materials, a simple but pleasant park could be created.”

This group, led by Barry Hibben, formally requested permission to develop the park in September 1971. Over the next few years, the park took shape, fueled by volunteer efforts and contributions of funds, services and supplies by various groups, civic organizations, and individual volunteers. By December 1974, the park, named for long term City Councilmember Earl Dunphy, was complete.

It may be a coincidence, but the next summer saw Sausalito’s first 4th of July Parade in decades. It was organized by Laurabell Hawbecker, a denizen of the houseboat community at Gate 5. Interviewed by the Historical Society in 1994, Laurabell recalled,

I went to the police station to get the okay and everything for the parade and they said they would block the streets off, and there would be a fire engine “to lead your parade.”

And I said, “No, I’m going to lead this parade, and I’m going to be out front with my baton because we’re representing the waterfront to Sausalito.” The policeman looked at me and said, “Well, fire engines always lead a parade,” and I said, “But not this one.” So he said, “All right, the fire engine will follow at the end of the parade.”

I said I want the parade to stop at Dunphy Park and I want all my different units that want to [perform] to do it in Dunphy Park right after the parade. And they still are doing that, and after the parade the City and the waterfront celebrate together in Dunphy Park.

So there you have it: a celebration of community in a community park. Though Dunphy Park lay dormant, Sausalito’s communities still celebrated together, as we have for decades. 

The Sinking of the Red Barge

By Charles Bush and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Charles Bush is a former attorney who represented the waterfront dwellers during the County’s attempts to evict them in the 70s. He’s now written a novel based on those events, called “Houseboat Wars.” Like most historic novels, the book is a mix of fact and fiction. Some names have been changed, and Charles layers a murder mystery over his historic narrative.

Here’s a true-to-life excerpt from 1977, when the developers of Waldo Point Harbor brought in a pile driver to begin construction of the new docks that the existing residents opposed. Bloody battles between the houseboaters and law enforcement raged on for a week and a half. The narrator, Legal Aid attorney Rick Spenser, and another lawyer have gone to court to try to stop the construction but were turned down. From the standpoint of the houseboaters, everything looked hopeless:


PHOTO BY LAWRENCE WHITE  Sheriffs power boat charging and ramming small skiff, with red barge behind teepee structure. Courtesy of Joe Tate from his blog Last Voyage of the Redlegs


Sheriffs power boat charging and ramming small skiff, with red barge behind teepee structure. Courtesy of Joe Tate from his blog Last Voyage of the Redlegs


The first winter storm of the season slammed into the Bay Area that December night, howling winds and driving rain in tow. The windows of my flimsy stucco apartment building rattled, the building itself shuddered. Whether because of the storm or because of the ignominious defeat I’d suffered earlier that day, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned all night, images of loss and devastation tramping through my mind.

Yet despite my insomnia, I somehow managed to sleep through the alarm. And once awake, I felt so lethargic and unmotivated I couldn’t make up the time. As a result, I arrived at the office half an hour late.

Our receptionist Ruby greeted me with, “There’s an urgent message for you.”

I picked up the blue-and-white slip. It read: “Want to put a smile on your face? Come on down to Waldo Point ASAP. Kevin & the Gang.”

What the hell? How could Kevin be so flippant when just a day before we’d suffered a devastating defeat, with no promise of better times in the future?

I had a client coming in that morning for a meeting about her unemployment-insurance appeal. But managing to catch her before she left home, I rearranged the appointment for later in the day. Then, brimming with curiosity but also apprehension, I dashed down Highway 101 to Waldo Point. Fortunately, the rains had gone away.

Upon arrival I saw a large knot of people bundled up in blankets or heavy parkas, their faces covered with mud and sweat, their hair matted. Improbably, given that it was ten in the morning, most seemed to be drinking beer. As I drew closer, the scent of pot wafted.

I saw Becky and Kevin in the group. Becky was wrapped in a Navajo blanket, chocolate-brown flecks of mud decorating her tan cheeks, water having turned her wavy golden locks straight. Kevin had a beer in one hand and a bandage on the other.

“What’s going on? I asked.
“Come take a look,” Kevin said. He and Becky led me to the floating dock where, a week and a half earlier, I’d witnessed battles between houseboaters and cops. Several houseboats that had been there then were now gone—moved, presumably, by the cops—and in their place was the notorious pile diver. It was a silly-looking thing, a piece of equipment obviously designed for use on land—its huge rubber tires made that plain—rolled onto a small concrete barge. In front of the pile driver, three pairs of pilings poked out of the water. Next to it, a small tugboat floated idly.

But the pile driver held my attention for only a moment, for immediately behind it loomed something much larger. And more striking.

It was another rectangular concrete barge, like the one on which the pile driver sat, except this barge was much, much larger. At least a hundred feet in length. On top of it sat a one-story wood building painted barn red.

I looked more closely at the larger barge. Was I seeing correctly? I shut and reopened my eyes to make sure.

Yes, I was seeing correctly. The huge barge with the red building on top was sunk. It rested on the mud bottom. Like the Owl.

But that wasn’t the most shocking thing. The most shocking thing was that the huge barge appeared to have been deliberately sunk. Numerous jagged holes punctuated its hull.

Suddenly all the pieces fit together, and a chill ran up my spine. The pile driver was in a cove. The huge concrete barge blocked the only entrance to the cove. Or exit from the cove. And because it was sunk, the barge couldn’t be moved.

The pile driver was trapped! And not by accident, rather by deliberate —

I stopped myself just short of the word “sabotage.”

What had I become part of? I was a lawyer, an officer of the court, an upholder of the rule of law. What had my clients done?

On the other hand, I had to admire their ingenuity.

I turned slowly to Becky and Kevin. “Is this what I think it is?”

They both broke out laughing. “Seriously, is that big thing sunk?”

“It most definitely is,” Becky said, in her most alluring low, smoky voice.

“I guess I’d better not ask if it was deliberately sunk.”

Again they both laughed.

Charles Bush will read from “Houseboat Wars” at the Sausalito Library on July 9 at 7:00 p.m The book is available on Amazon or at Book Passage in Corte Madera

Sterling Hayden’s Tahiti Voyage

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer riding at anchor off Sausalito


Sterling Hayden’s Wanderer riding at anchor off Sausalito

When I was tending bar at the no name, back in the early 90s, it seemed that every other patron had been aboard Sterling Hayden’s schooner Wanderer when he kidnapped his own kids and sailed them to Tahiti.  For a free drink, each one offered to tell me the story.

Instead, I chose to read Hayden’s own account in his critically acclaimed biography Wanderer.  And now, a new book by Lee Mandel, sheds some additional light on this gripping sea saga.

In the 50s, Hayden was a reluctant movie star embroiled in a brutal custody battle with his ex-wife Betty.  He decided that drastic action was called for.  The following excerpts from Mandel’s book, Sterling Hayden’s Wars, provide some juicy details:

After turning down several film opportunities, Hayden decided to act on his instincts. In March of 1958, he began to arrange his break from Hollywood. His first step was to take his schooner Wanderer, which he had purchased on Christmas Day 1955, for $20,000, from Los Angeles to San Francisco. In June, he hired a first mate, Spike Africa, an unconventional free spirit not unlike Hayden.

Hayden had actually been contemplating the journey for two years. He would secure financial backing and then take a largely amateur crew and sail from California to Scandinavia, transiting the Panama Canal. They would film the entire voyage, capturing the flavor of the voyage and then break the film into segments suitable for television. He ran into a brick wall in his attempts to obtain financing for the voyage. He approached over eighty possible investors, but each one turned him down. "Why risk capital in such a venture," he ruefully recalled, "when the sponsor and the network cried for blood and guts and sex?" Undaunted, he proceeded to begin to select a crew for the voyage.

In June of 1958, Hayden had placed an ad in the personal columns of the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Territorial Enterprise, Saturday Review, and Christian Science Monitor. It read:

 VOYAGE UNDER SAIL 100-ton ex-Pilot schooner sailing from San Francisco August 15 for Copenhagen Sept. 15, 1959 [sic]. Need six active intelligent young men and women. Send details to Sterling Hayden, Box 655—Sausalito, California.

He received two thousand replies within a month of the ad's appearance. In addition, several people just showed up at the pier, gear in hand and ready to go. Some of the applicants were real eccentrics not fit to take to sea with him. Most were just good people who, like Sterling Hayden, searched for adventure, loved the sea, and were genuine free spirits.

One of the respondents to Hayden's ad was a nineteen-year-old college student named Dennis Powers. Powers was an art major and mentioned in his letter that his favorite authors were Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad. Shortly after that, Hayden contacted him and arranged a meeting in Hollywood. The interview, which lasted twenty minutes, went very well. Towards the end, Powers provided a detail that he thought would be the showstopper: He didn't know anything about sailing. Unfazed, Hayden replied, "Well, you've read about it and for me that's very important." As they parted, Hayden told him he would be in touch. Almost immediately after that, Powers was delighted to receive a card from the actor, inviting him to come up to the San Francisco Bay Area to see the Wanderer.

Arriving in San Francisco later that month, Powers remained in awe of his new acquaintance. "I felt like Ishmael. I didn't know anything and here I was meeting with Ahab!" There were already several other applicants working on the schooner, performing all the required nautical tasks such as painting and helping to properly maintain the decks. It soon became obvious that Hayden was using the interview process as a way of providing free labor to prepare the schooner for the long voyage.

Mandel goes on to detail Hayden’s frustrations with the custody fight and his attempts to obtain financing for his voyage. He finally received a last-minute advance of $10,000 from Republic Pictures, with the understanding that he was only planning to sail from Sausalito to Santa Barbara.  Mandel continues:

He reported back aboard the schooner as the sun was starting to set. Prepare to get underway, he informed his crew. They were going to take their last voyage together—to Santa Barbara.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Sterling Hayden’s at the helm of Wanderer


Sterling Hayden’s at the helm of Wanderer

At 11 p.m. on January 18, 1959, Wanderer got underway with the four Hayden children aboard, allegedly for Santa Barbara, 310 miles south. Hayden guided the ship to a point just outside of the twelve-mile limit. There, he assembled the crew and made an announcement. They were not going to Santa Barbara; they were bound for Tahiti. Explaining his reasons and concluding by saying, "This is what I want to do," he then asked the crew for their input. As Dennis Powers recalled, "After all we had done together in preparation, were we going to say no?" As Hayden would recount to Parade magazine that summer, "There was a moment of silence, followed by a faint cheer." Wanderer set a course west for Tahiti and Sterling Hayden, in violating the court injunction, became a fugitive from United States justice.

If you’re interested in the full story of that fantastic voyage, I recommend reading Wanderer or Mandel’s Sterling Hayden’s Wars.

Next: the story of Hayden’s Pullman Car.

Harry Partch: Sausalito’s Hobo Composer

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

While most Sausalitans were listening to Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como and the Ames Brothers on their transistor radios in the early 50s, a new kind of music was being produced right here on Gate 5 Road.

COURTESY PHOTO  Harry Partch as shown on the cover of his album,  The World of Harry


Harry Partch as shown on the cover of his album, The World of Harry

The innovative creator, Harry Partch, was a composer, music theorist, and inventor of musical instruments. By fourteen, he was composing, and particularly took to setting dramatic situations. Later he dropped out of the University of Southern California's School of Music to pursue his unique focus, using scales of unequal intervals in just intonation, and became one of the first 20th-century composers in the West to work systematically with microtonal scales. He even built custom-made instruments such as the Chromelodeon, the Quadrangularis Reversum, and the Zymo-Xyl   to play his compositions.

Partch led a peripatetic life that brought him back to the Bay Area in 1953, where he was living out of his Studebaker. Local author Betsy Stroman, in her book The Art and Life of Jean Varda, says: “In 1953 Varda reconnected with his old friend Harry Partch, the musician who had lived in the Anderson Creek cabins at Big Sur in 1940 and 1941. Partch, always restless, had lived only briefly at Big Sur, before going on the road again, catching rides on top of freight train boxcars. During the succeeding years he had found temporary resting places with a number of people who admired his work, done some composing, given some lectures, continued building his instruments, and had some concerts. He had even been the subject of a favorable profile in the New Yorker and his musical work, Oedipus, had been performed, to critical acclaim, at Mills College in Oakland, California. By 1953, however, Partch was homeless again, and living in his car, until he happened to meet Gordon Onslow Ford and his wife, who took him in.” Onslow Ford, profiled in this column last March, was Jean Varda’s first partner aboard the ferry Vallejo. 

The Library of Congress website reports: “Gordon Onslow Ford, an artist sympathetic to Partch’s aesthetic approach, helped the composer secure a shed in the abandoned shipyards in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco. When Partch went to the 200-foot-long shed that served as his studio, he entered the shipyards through the fifth gate and so christened his new studio “Gate 5.” With the further help of a “Harry Partch Trust Fund,” established by local friends, Partch set out to record some of his music and distribute it by mail, selling them for the sum of $7.50 each. With a group of musicians drawn from San Francisco that he dubbed the ‘lost musicians,’ Partch issued roughly one album a year under the “Gate 5 Records” label, finally returning to “U.S. Highball” in 1958.”

According to the website www.harrypartch.com, “While working in this space, his issued recordings of Plectra and Percussion Dances and Oedipus, the latter of which followed successful performances of the work assisted by poet and artist Gerd Stern who served as his ensemble manager.” Stern was one of the personalities featured in the Historical Society’s recent exhibition "The Sausalito Renaissance and the birth of Mid-Century Modern in Sausalito" at the Bay Model.

Another website, www.corporeal.com/gate5_gallery.html relates that the name of Partch’s label, Gate 5 Records, “was not picked out of a hatful of the most unlikely names for application to a work place, ensemble, or record label, although there are probably worse ways.” Of course, the side street had retained its name following the closure of Marinship after WW II, but  the website contends,

“there is the more intriguing circumstance that Gate 5 carries an occult meaning in sundry ancient mythologies. In ancient pictographs the city, center of culture, has four pedestrian gates. These are tangible; they can be seen; physical entrances can be shown. But the city also has a fifth gate, which cannot be shown because it is not tangible, and can be entered only in a metaphysical way. This is the gate to illusion.”

Partch’s music has been described as corporeal, and he himself as a hobo composer, an outsider artist and startlingly original.  You can sample some of his experimental works on YouTube or on Pandora Premium (free trial available).  But don’t expect to be snapping your fingers or tapping your toes.  I found Partch’s unique sounds to be eerie, dramatic, repetitive and as dense as Bay mud.  Like him or not, Harry Partch deserves a place in Sausalito’s pantheon of unique characters.



Harry Partch as shown on the cover of his album, The World of Harry

The Marin County Canal: A Dream that Didn’t Come True

By Robert L. Harrison and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

The following article by Bob Harrison was recently published online by the Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Free Library:

In the 1890s the economic value of canals was universally recognized.  The Suez Canal had been opened a few years earlier and its impact on the wealth of Europeans was well documented.  The French were building a canal across Panama and a Nicaraguan canal was under discussion in the Congress.  Locally, at a much smaller scale, improvements to the San Rafael Canal were underway to maintain water borne commerce inland as far as Irwin Street.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANNE T. KENT CALIFORNIA ROOM  Aerial view of Tennessee Valley & Cove, circa 1960. The proposed canal would have gone through Tennessee Valley to the Pacific Ocean. © EAM Collection


Aerial view of Tennessee Valley & Cove, circa 1960. The proposed canal would have gone through Tennessee Valley to the Pacific Ocean. © EAM Collection

 A canal was also being discussed for southern Marin County.  As headlined in the Sausalito News of August 24, 1895, “Adjunct to the ‘Canal Nicaragua’ Offered”.  The project’s ambitious goal was to provide a second opening from the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate was thought by some to be dangerous as it was subject to strong currents and required crossing of the treacherous “Potato Patch” shoal.  Elk Valley, later known as Tennessee Valley, just north of Golden Gate, had the potential to be a safer second opening to the Bay.

 The hazards encountered at the Golden Gate were dramatized by a wreck involving the S. S. Tennessee.  On a foggy March night in 1853 the ship attempting to enter the Bay was swept by a strong current past the Golden Gate.  Around nine p.m. a passenger standing on the bow spotted breakers and shouted a warning to the wheelhouse.  The warning came too late. The ship struck the rocks at Indian Cove.  The Captain successfully beached the ship enabling the First Mate to wade ashore to rig a cable line.  During the night all 551 passengers and 14 chests of gold were safely brought to shore by cable or quarter boat.  Not a single life was lost.  By noon the next day the S. S. Tennessee broke up and sunk.

The valley and cove were renamed in memory of the S. S. Tennessee.  The Tennessee Valley cuts through the hills of the Marin Peninsula about three miles north of the Golden Gate.  The nearly three-mile-long valley rises on a gentle slope to just under 200 feet at the summit.  The construction of a canal through to the ocean was reported in the August 24, 1895 Sausalito News as, “...presenting no engineering difficulties [and] could be compassed with comparatively small expense”.

 The Marin County Ship Canal was discussed in a meeting between County officials and the Army Corps of Engineers in 1936.  In its January 17th edition the Sausalito News described it this way, “And, there was revived the plan studied twenty-five years or so ago to cut a ship canal through a gap in the hills to the Pacific Ocean at Tennessee Cove, a scheme that sounds almost fantastic at first blush but which, upon careful study, appears quite feasible...”  The canal fit well into the County’s desire to dredge Richardson Bay and develop its Sausalito shore for industrial use. The president of the Marin County Planning Commission spoke of “…the need for utilizing this otherwise worthless body of water.”

 While the Tennessee Valley offers a relatively uncomplicated route for a canal between the ocean and the bay, it is worthwhile to consider the scale of the undertaking from a preliminary engineering viewpoint.  Assuming the canal was at sea level and served ocean going traffic, to be functional its dimensions would need to be comparable to the first Panama Canal: 110 feet wide by 40 feet deep. Built at sea level, no locks would be required.

To construct such a canal, excluding dredging its approaches in the ocean or bay, would require about 13 million cubic yards of excavation as well as a plausible plan to dispose of the material.  To put this enterprise in perspective, in 1936 constructing the four-lane 3.4-mile-long Waldo Grade required 1.8 million cubic yards of excavation. This was the largest earth moving project completed by the California Highway Department up to that time.  The highway builders used most of the excavated material as embankment elsewhere on the project site.  For the canal most of the material would require disposal at another location, probably in the ocean.

The Marin County Canal would also require a high-level multi-lane bridge to carry Highways 1 and 101 over ocean going vessels.  The cost of the canal and bridge plus the cost of dredging the Richardson Bay and ocean approaches to a depth of 40 feet for a distance of about two miles would likely bring the 2018 project cost into the billion-dollar neighborhood.  It would not be the “feasible” project envisioned at the 1936 meeting described above.  Despite the realities of this project, the Sausalito News on January 27, 1944 reported Marin County’s post-war employment program included, “Construction of a sea level canal through Tennessee Valley to the ocean, thereby creating two entrances to the bay.”

Today Tennessee Valley, now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is highly regarded for its beautiful scenery and as an ideal place for invigorating hikes. Beyond the hikers, the only other entity that passes through the valley is the summer fog that finds its way inland through the low-lying break in the range of coastal hills.

Bill Thomas and the Cab Forward Locomotive

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

In the dawn of the 20th Century, a Sausalitan built the first of a radical new design in railroad locomotiives – the cab forward. According to George Harlan’s 1983 book, Those Amazing Cab Forwards,

William J. Thomas was “a genius with a master's degree, or was it a doctorate, from the school of hard knocks, an opportunist whose guiding spirit was common sense, with overtones of his own ability to think, mingled with an infectious sense of humor.” Here are some lightly edited excerpts from Harlan’s book:

PHOTO FROM  THOSE AMAZING CAB FORWARDS   Trial run of Engine No. 21 at the north end of the Sausalito yards


Trial run of Engine No. 21 at the north end of the Sausalito yards

 “Brother Bill,” as he was affectionately known, served his apprenticeship in the San Francisco shops of the Southern Pacific at a time when the parent corporation was the Central Pacific. In those days, for some inexplicable reason, as soon as an apprentice had served his time, he became persona non grata at the establishment that had financed his training, so Bill sought employment elsewhere, and the tiny shops of the narrow gauge North Pacific Coast Railway in Sausalito, California, was his landing place. There he ran the machine tools with a degree of accuracy that attracted his superiors, and Brother Bill was fast. His affable manner, his infectious personality and his charming lisp made him a favorite of all with whom he came in contact.

The inventive genius of this man is difficult to appreciate, even in the day and age of modern technology. Nothing could stop him, he conceived an idea, and he developed it to its utmost. He cracked jokes as he worked, he inspired the men who worked with him, and they worked with a feverish devotion for the magnificent sum of 45 cents an hour! Among the responsibilities of the Master Mechanic of the North Pacific Coast Railroad was to build locomotives. He knew what went wrong with an engine, for when it did, Bill had to fix it.

The position of the cabs in conventional locomotives did not permit a clear view of the track. Boilers, some of most significant size, blocked the view of the enginemen.

In 1900 Bill Thomas got his first opportunity to build a locomotive from scratch. Bill installed an American Balanced Slide Valve in that first locomotive. One of his more successful, and lucrative patents, the valve kept the steam pressure from exerting force on the top of the slide valve. So successful was this innovation, that Thomas sold his rights to it to the New York Central Railroad for $6,000. Thereafter, by Federal Regulation, this feature was a requirement on all locomotives equipped with slide valves, and it was widely used in marine engines, as well.

Then he obtained permission from the management of the North Pacific Coast Railroad to build another engine, one of most radical design. Crude bunker oil fuel was selected to be burned, this making possible the cab forward feature, for the fireman did not have to handle wood or coal but could feed fuel from the tender by merely operating a pump and some valves.

The placement of the cab forward gave the engine crew an unobstructed view of the track ahead. But enginemen had been operating locomotives for so many decades without being able to see the track, so they were unhappy with this feature, and protested that if they hit anything, they would be unprotected from injury. And humorous Bill Thomas replied, "Don't hit anything!"

The life of No. 21, named "Thomas-Stetson" for its inventor as well as the president of the railroad, was very short, and this fact alone had much to do with the suppression of the true worth and influence of the little engine and its notable features.

When new, the locomotive was an immediate success. Bill Thomas was very wise to position the running gear with the engine truck forward; the engine could lead into the curves and did not experience the annoying track jumping with which the early Southern Pacific cab forwards were plagued. The more one notes the features of No. 21, dubbed "the Freak" by North Pacific Coast enginemen, the more one has to concede, royalties or no, that Bill Thomas invented the cab forwards, and the Southern Pacific owed him a debt of gratitude that was far in excess of that which they found in their hearts to concede.

Robert L. Harrison of the Anne T. Kent California Room at the county library has also written about Brother Bill, and adds:

SP’s slight prompted him in 1881 to join the North Pacific Coast Railroad (NPC) in Sausalito.  He quickly became a Master Mechanic for the narrow-gauge NPC.  With his promotion he married a young woman named Florence.  The couple lived in Sausalito for 20 years where they had three sons and two daughters.  While living in Sausalito he designed the town’s first fire engine.  It was manually conveyed to where it was needed and used to pump water from the Bay to extinguish fires on the Sausalito waterfront.

By 1896 Thomas was well established at the NPC.  At one point he was placed on loan for a short period to assist in organizing the fledgling Mill Valley & Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway (later known as the Mt Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railway).  Six years later he returned to the mountain railroad.  His love for the mountain railway and for Mt. Tam continued throughout his life.

Later in 1902, following the accidental death of his brother, Ernest George Thomas, on the mountain railway, Thomas joined the Mill Valley & Mt. Tamalpais Scenic Railway as Master Mechanic.  Soon he was named the road’s new Superintendent, the same position held by his brother.   Thomas held that position until the demise of the road in 1930.