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

COURTESY PHOTO

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.

 

COURTESY PHOTO

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

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

 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

PHOTO FROM THOSE AMAZING CAB FORWARDS

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.

Mark His Words

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Recently I’ve been reading Tangled Vines, the 2015 book by Frances Dinkelspiel. The book recounts how Sausalito wheeler-dealer Mark Anderson went from local bon vivant to a federal penitentiary. In 2012 Anderson was convicted of torching his wine warehouse, destroying 4.5 million bottles of his clients’ wine valued at $250 million.

But before that, Anderson was a major force in Sausalito, a member of the Rotary Club, the Sausalito Art Commission, the Sister Cities Committee, and a founder of Sushi Ran’s prestigious Sushi Lovers Club.

COURTESY PHOTO  Mark Anderson at the time of his arrest and conviction

COURTESY PHOTO

Mark Anderson at the time of his arrest and conviction

In the 90s, Anderson was invited to write a column for this paper, which he named “Mark My Words: A Marin Notebook.” For the Millennium edition, he made these almost prescient observations, which I’ve updated with notations in brackets:

So what's so special about this year? What happened in 1999 that we should remember?

First, the "In N' Out" Burger stand opened in December, in Strawberry, which is really part of Sausalito, since most of us shop there and support its micro-economy. Over the last couple of years, our little village has become the "incubator" for millions of Internet companies that have come and gone over the last year. [“Millions” might be a bit of an exaggeration; probably the best-known Sausalito tech startup, Autodesk, was founded here in 1982.]

We have a new Mayor, that can actually sail a boat, that will join the two Millennia and actually conducts brief meetings. [That would be Sandra Bushmaker, who served consecutive terms as mayor in 1999 and 2000.]

We had a former Mayor - Amy - who did an excellent job. [That would be Amy Belser, who was elected mayor four times.]

We have discovered a prospective Mayor, from out of the ether, who probably has gone to more meetings than meetings exist—so our expectations are high and hopeful [I’m not sure of this reference, but Mark might have meant Paul Albritton, who succeeded Sandra as Mayor].

We've been invaded by the National Park Service guerillas who plan to make a theme park for conversant yuppies at the south end of town. [Cavallo Point, the Fort Baker development scheme that was such a flash point in the 90s, is today a boutique inn, restaurant, and bar named after Phil Frank’s nom-de-toon Farley.]

We have a new hotel being built in a former shopping center [remember when Casa Madrona took over the Village Fair space?], we have more cars and less parking than ever before; we've become a "destination" for many and an over-priced real estate bonanza for most. [There’s been little letup in those trends.]

Our town has been conducting a foreign policy now for over ten years with Japan and Chile; hopefully more links will be forged. [Cascais, Portugal became our third Sister City in 2013.] The Art Festival has grown to unimaginable dimensions in the last decade. [Considered one of the oldest, most prestigious and most anticipated open-air art events in the country, the festival attracts more than 260 award-winning artists from around the country and 30,000 patrons on Labor Day weekend.], Sushi Ran keeps growing with unbounded popularity [Yoshi Tome’s Caledonia Street landmark remains a Michelin Guide mainstay.], the Mermaid found a home [at the Shell Station, thanks to Herb Weiner]; and, all the bad stuff got swept under the carpet very effectively, with the usual and casual demeanor for which Sausalito is so well known.

IN MEMORIAM: Steefenie Wicks

By Tom Hoover, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Steefenie Wicks, enjoying life at Galilee Harbor

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Steefenie Wicks, enjoying life at Galilee Harbor

On Tuesday March 19, Galilee Harbor residents were devastated to discover Steefenie Wicks deceased on her houseboat, Jenny.  Almost immediately Galilee Harbor, the Sausalito Historical Society and the Sausalito Woman’s Club began thinking about her memorial service; and that evening Galilee held an impromptu gathering, toasting her memory by the Issaquah Pilot Houses which she was so proud of, having been active in saving and siting them at the entrance to her beloved harbor and community. Steefenie was 71 years old.

She came to California from St. Louis, Missouri in 1969 with the love of her life, Tom Wicks, whom she married in 1970. After her family moved to the Haight, she attended San Francisco State where she studied photography and cinema. Upon graduation she became an intern and archivist for Imogen Cunningham and her Foundation. Her husband Tom, a ship’s carpenter and restorer, worked at San Francisco’s Maritime Museum on the Balclutha. They came to Sausalito to visit friends at Gate 3, and then purchased an old buoy boat, Tiger Lily. Living at Galilee and maintaining her studio at Gate 3, she met her neighbors Annette Rose, Chris Hardman, Phil Frank, Tom Hoover and Jack VanderMeulen, becoming involved with Art Zone and Sausalito’s waterfront struggles to preserve a bit of the maritime and artistic heritage from the rapacious real estate developers of the era. They moved to Galilee in ’84 and became very involved with that community’s role in the so-called Houseboat or Waterfront Wars. Tom passed away in 2011 after 41 years of happy marriage.

During the 90’s she came into possession of some 350 glass-plate negatives salvaged from an old photography studio South of Market that had been the center of the Greek community before and after the earthquake and fire of ’06. She worked hard at restoring this historical treasure and sharing it with the Greek community. This led to several exhibits, in San Francisco, at Stanford and ultimately in Athens and Istanbul, chronicling San Francisco’s role in the Greek diaspora. She donated her negatives to the San Francisco Library where some were used in the recently published book Greeks in San Francisco

Moreover, Steefenie became a prolific columnist and writer. Not only did she chronicle her Greek research in the San Francisco Historical Society’s prestigious journal, Argonaut, but she began writing many interviews and articles for Sausalito’s Historical Society columns in the MarinScope, becoming more and more involved with the Society’s activities. She recorded oral histories and docented at the Museum for nearly 10 years and also at the Ice House. She became a Board member in 2014. Her involvement notably included public relations, chairing fund-raising Galas, curating the No Name Bar exhibit and serving a term as the Board’s Vice President; to all these activities and more she brought her verve, energy and panache.

Steefenie also joined the Sausalito Woman’s Club in 2016, performing memorably as “God” or the “Creatrix” in the Jinx of that year, and involving herself with her usual creativity and vigor in their activities. As fellow MarinScope columnist Larry Clinton noted, “There were so many amazing characters in Sausalito, and she was interested in all of them!”  But now, she herself has entered into that pantheon of amazing and unique characters who will inspire future generations to come and find a home in Sausalito where they may live and create their life’s dreams.

She is survived by her elder daughter, Kellie Walker of Novato. Her memorial celebration will be held at the Sausalito Woman’s Club, 120 Central Avenue, Sausalito, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 19.

How the Historical Society Came to Be

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

The Sausalito Historical Society was incorporated on May 2, 1979.  As we approach the 40-year anniversary of that milestone, it seems fitting to re-tell the story of how the Society was founded by Jack Tracy. Following are lightly-edited excerpts from an interview Tracy gave to the San Francisco examiner in 1984:

Most Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays you can find Jack Tracy on the top floor of City Hall here, doing what he loves best: recording the history of Sausalito.

Tracy walked away from being a businessman in 1974 to begin his voluntary career of collecting the memorabilia of Sausalito's past.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Jack Tracy was the Grand Marshall of the 1989 Fourth of July Parade

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Jack Tracy was the Grand Marshall of the 1989 Fourth of July Parade

He is now surrounded in his spacious attic headquarters by more than 4,000 historical objects given the city.

"I work at it full time," he says. "And then some," he adds reflectively.

"It's a history of all the town's ups and downs, starting with the earliest land company map of 1857 and continuing on in a recording of events of the most vital and active small town that I know of."

Tracy says he gets new gifts practically every day. Each must be carefully recorded with its known history, cross-indexed and fit into the growing puzzle of his historical gallery.

"I'm not a great one for saying leave me something in your will. I say, 'Give it to me now and enjoy it, too’."

The whole project began somewhat accidentally.

The roots were in a state request in 1974 for a city-wide inventory of what Sausalito officials felt was historically important — mostly buildings.

Tracy, who was then in an electrical-appliance business with his brother, got involved in that.

The following year, when the city moved its offices into the abandoned Central School, Tracy was asked to put together a historical display of whatever he could round up from various groups and individuals.

The whole affair was supposed to be short and routine. About 150 people, some band music and speech-making, and a brief glimpse at Tracy’s overnight collection of the town's past, and the party would be over.

The problem was that the collection was much more complete and significant than anyone had imagined.

"We scrounged everything we could find in Sausalito. People had never seen so much of Sausalito's history at once. Hour after hour, the mayor would ask us to remain another hour.

"The people walked through the historical exhibit and then they went home and started calling other people.

"We'd opened in the morning and didn't close until 6 o'clock that night. The people had never seen such a collection. That started it all."

This was followed a short time later when then-Mayor Evert Heynneman offered Tracy the top floor of City Hall. The businessman, about to retire, decided to form the historical society and started soliciting memberships.

"The first man I saw was Edward Couderc, a moving company man. I asked him if he'd join and he did. He was the first of a membership that has grown to about 500."

 And on that day Tracy also got his first contribution to what eventually would become a rich history of the town.

"A boy, Richard Fray, came up to me and said, 'I think I have something you'd like,' and asked if I wanted it. It was an old rusted fishing spear the boy had found, and it remains on display and is recorded as the museum's first gift." (That fishing spear can be seen at the Ice House, 780 Bridgeway, where Tracy’s Sausalito history book, Moments in Time, may be purchased.)

Tracy wasn't exactly left to rattle around on his own. He was quickly joined by other volunteers as the little museum launched itself.

New items are added in many ways. Some are left in wills, some are bought some are pursued and sometimes people just walk in and say "Hey, you want this?"

"We never know who will come through the door next," he says with one eye towards the shrinking space.

And because of that, the museum limits its collection to items from the town of Sausalito and Rancho Saucelito, the 19,000-acre Mexican land grant that encompasses the southern Marin Peninsula from Stinson Beach to Richardson Bay.

The history is told in everything from railroad spikes and ship models, to furniture and Victorian clothing.

One unusual gift, an inscribed silver rose bowl, came not long ago from an Englishwoman who had never been to the United States.

Veronica Burleigh wrote to the mayor that she was the grandniece of Charles Harrison, a sea captain and skipper of the first steam ferry to operate between San Francisco and Marin.

Her letter noted that her seafaring ancestor had come to California from Liverpool in 1840 to become a founding father of Sausalito.

She went on to say that she had this silver bowl, presented to her ancestor in Sacramento in 1863 by the California Agricultural Society in recognition for his invention of a steam pump.

The letter was given to Tracy and before long Burleigh came to Sausalito to deliver her unique gift, see her great-uncle's old house, find that a street bears his name and enjoy the hospitality of a grateful and gracious community.

As happy as she appeared to be in putting together a small piece of her own family history, no one could have been happier than Tracy when he returned to his attic haunts with another nugget for the lode that has become his museum — and his life.

The Society continues to accept donations directly relevant to Sausalito’s past.  Most recently we were pleased to accession some new paintings by Enid Foster (whose works are on display in our Exhibit Room next door to the Friends of the Library used book sale). 

Issaquah: From Ferry to Dock

By Annie Sutter and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Long-time Issaquah Dock resident and waterfront historian Annie Sutter has published “The History of Issaquah Dock.”

In her introduction Annie says: “Issaquah Dock is just one of many little groupings of docks and piers and homes that make up today's houseboat––or floating home––community at the north end of Sausalito, California. This is the story of the unique circumstances that led to the emergence of the present day waterborne community; how the once tranquil and peaceful group of small vessels gathered along the shore in the 1930s grew into a random, helter-skelter, quirky and undisciplined sprawl of derelict vessels, mud, and loosely cobbled together homes.”

We’ve written before about the heyday of the ferry Issaquah, one of several ferries acquired by Don Arques after the closure of Marinship.  But that era came to an end four decades ago. Here’s how Annie tells the story, in these lightly edited excerpts from her new book:

By the mid-1980s it had become clear that the end was near for both of Arques' remaining ferries at Gate 6. The Marin County Board of Supervisors declared them a safety hazard and ordered their destruction. Waldo Point Harbor was happy to comply. Why?? That is a question with no reasonable answer. With effort both of these remaining representatives of our maritime history could have been saved. There was talk of using Issaquah for an office for the harbor, for a maritime museum, and several businesses wanted to take over the entire vessel for offices. Many plans were proposed for the Charles Van Damme; a hostel, a restaurant, a community center, a night club. But the destruction of the ferries proceeded.

Protests were loud and violent from the locals while the powers that be brought in bulldozers and debris barges and broke up the ferries and hauled away the last remains. The Charles Van Damme was destroyed first in 1983. Standoffs between police and demonstrators were reminiscent of earlier combat in the harbor with protesters standing in front of bulldozers, sitting on pilings and on the decks, using techniques they had learned over the years. It didn't work anymore. Eleven were arrested. Next went Issaquah. She still had residents living on board who clung to their home, confronting the drivers of the massive equipment. That didn't work either. At least they managed to save the pilot houses by promising to have them off within a week, and they did succeed in that. The pilot houses were hauled off to Galilee Harbor where they remain on display today.

The destruction of the ferries in 1983 came well after work had started on Issaquah Dock. In 1977 Arques had had enough of the politics of starting a marina on his land and leased a substantial portion of it to the newly formed Waldo Point Harbor. They started the work of clearing and building a proper marina. TJ Nelson had been harbormaster for Arques previously and was again harbormaster for the new company. With the help of Ted Eitelbuss, they set out to create order out of chaos. They drove permanent piles and rebuilt Issaquah Dock from the existing makeshift plank walkways to one secured with pilings, and installed gas, water, electrical, sewage lines, telephone and television cables beneath. They faced a monumental task, the cleanup of old planks laid in the mud, half sinking, tacked together homes and years of debris. They started with A Dock, then moved to Issaquah, which was then called B Dock.

It was not an easy task for many reasons, one because the entrenched locals made it clear that they were not eager to see the destruction of their easy-going way of life. They protested with violence and sabotage, blocking equipment, setting fires, throwing rocks, shooting guns and surrounding the pile driver, blocking its use.

 "It was a lawless community," said Eitelbuss. The first boat to be berthed was Eitelbuss's, which had been anchored out and was moved onto the dock for security before the walkways even reached the shore. The first boats to occupy the new berths were a mixture of the old tacked together and brand new, architect designed, expensive, custom built residences. The old tipsy packing crate and recycled military vessel homes were built upon and improved.

Ferro-cement barges were available from builders Forbes Kiddoo and Aqua Maison, and soon became widely used as much more stable bases than previously. That was when the houseboats really became a solid and sensible investment. Many old boats were transferred to these new hulls or new floating homes were built upon them. Small boat-builders created new designs and turned out small affordable residences.

Getting a lease on a new berth was a wise move as they increased in value immediately. Soon there was bargaining in leased berths, and the harbor gave precedence to current residents. A lease in a new one was often more valuable than the boat put in it, and entrepreneurs and locals alike invested both in berths and in new and old boats. It turned out that this possibly unwise move was a solid investment indeed. Some of these boats are now worth over a million dollars on the current market.

In an addendum titled “Trivia,” Annie points out:

Issaquah Dock isn't a dock at all. In correct nautical usage, a dock is "the waterspace between piers, or a place in the water where a boat resides between finger piers or tied to pilings; also, a device by which a vessel can be taken out of the water." A pier is "a structure extending into a harbor from the shore, alongside which vessels can lie." So, Issaquah Dock is technically a pier.

Annie’s  book ($20) is available at the Ice House, 780 Bridgeway, or by contacting Annie directly at 415-464-1578 or email: annieos1012@gmail.com.

ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF ANNIE SUTTER  Cartoonist Phil Frank lampooned the architecture of some of the new marina-designed floating homes.

ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF ANNIE SUTTER

Cartoonist Phil Frank lampooned the architecture of some of the new marina-designed floating homes.

Rocky Road to Golden Gate Bridge

By Jack Tracy and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

The Golden Gate Bridge is generally considered the top tourist attraction in the Bay Area, and was

declared one of the Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. As a major artery into and out of San Francisco, the Bridge carries about 112,000 vehicles per day.

With all its modern popularity, it’s hard to imagine that many Sausalitans fought against the building of the Bridge. Jack Tracy told the story in his book Moments in Time.  Here are some lightly edited excerpts:

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  In this photo from  Moments in Time , work continues on the San Francisco side of the bridge, while the Marin tower nears completion

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

In this photo from Moments in Time, work continues on the San Francisco side of the bridge, while the Marin tower nears completion

Construction of the Golden Gate Bridge during the Depression was a symbol of hope. The national economy was in shambles, but work on the bridge continued, inspiring those who watched the colossal towers rise day-by-day from the bay waters. The $35,000,000 bond issue to build the Golden Gate Bridge had been approved by voters on November 4, 1930, just short of a year after the stock market crash.

Sausalitans, for the most part, supported the plan to build a bridge. Completing the last link in the Redwood Highway would not only end traffic congestion in Sausalito but boost the economy of Marin County. In a 1926 editorial, the Sausalito News expressed confidence in Sausalito's future: "If you hold business property on or near the Redwood Highway, hold on to it. Buy more. Prosperity and increase in value are headed this way. The Redwood Highway will become one of the most famous highways of the world. A nation a-wheel will pass this way. And with a Golden Gate Bridge at one end of this road, the world would flock to our front yard." The local newspaper even went so far as to predict a boom equivalent to that occurring in Los Angeles at the time: "Prominent local real estate men are confident that the coming spring will see much Sausalito property turned, and at high prices. A walk or ride through any section of Sausalito will reveal the number of new houses, garages and new buildings. In time to come this city will be built back many miles, into what is now hill land considered good only for cow pasture. Those who own this acreage will become wealthy sub-division plutocrats after the manner of some Hollywood folks. A little of the right kind of advertising and promotion will hasten the day of this prosperity."

Of particular interest to locals was early consideration by the bridge planners of a primary approach to the bridge through Sausalito. A water-level approach had considerable merit but was rejected when costs for property condemnation were projected. It was decided that the main approach would be a long, direct highway up from Waldo Point, to be known as the Waldo Grade. The route had some disadvantages: huge cuts through rock would have to be made, and the hilly area was subject to dense fog and high winds and landslides. For these reasons, a second approach, or "lateral," would be necessary. The Redwood Highway would have a by-pass through Sausalito, and a new road would be cut through Fort Baker connecting with the Golden Gate Bridge. Sausalito would be linked to the bridge after all. (On Monday, April 22 at 6:30 pm, Sausalito historian Mike Moyle will explore the history of the Waldo Grade at the Marin County Library’s Map & Special Collections Annex at 1600 Los Gamos, Suite 182, in San Rafael.)

After the California legislature passed the Golden Gate Bridge Highway Act in 1923 that authorized creation of a special bridge district with power to levy taxes, the legal battle began. Joseph Strauss, still an unpaid engineering consultant, refuted the arguments that a Golden Gate span would be unsafe. Sausalito attorney George H. Harlan, also an unpaid consultant, successfully battled in the courts on behalf of the bridge. At last, on December 4, 1928, the Golden Gate Bridge District was incorporated. Incorporation led to a new wave of litigation.

The propaganda campaign supporting a bridge over the Golden Gate took a vicious turn after it was revealed that Southern Pacific-Golden Gate Ferries, Ltd., was party to a lawsuit attempting to block the bridge project. Southern Pacific warned that a bridge would be an enormous cost to taxpayers. The Sausalito News hired well-known landscape painter and Sausalitan Maynard Dixon to draw editorial cartoons depicting Southern Pacific as a villain.

Some Sausalito residents were content to see the swarms of weekend visitors pass right through, fearing what might happen to Sausalito if it were "discovered." Mabel K. Eastman wrote in 1927 her view of "the only undiscovered suburb of San Francisco”:

"To the majority in San Francisco or anywhere, Sausalito is just some place to go through... the entrance to beautiful Marin. And we, sitting on the hill, hold tight for fear they will find us. The day we are discovered we are lost."

But most of Sausalito's 3,000 residents sympathized with "Marvelous Marin," a countywide boosters' club incorporated in 1927 to promote the bridge and publicize the wonders of Marin County. Editors of the Sausalito News expressed the popular sentiment of the time: "Let's help San Francisco to discover Sausalito. Sausalito is the most accessible of any residential suburb to the city of San Francisco… It is the cream suburb of the Bay region. It is time to tell the world about Sausalito."

And so they did. 

Opening Day Goes Back a Ways

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Opening Day on the Bay is like New Year’s Eve for the yachting set.

There’s a decorated boat parade, the blessing of the fleet and epic parties at yacht clubs all around the Bay.  
The Pacific Inter-Club Yacht Association (PICYA) has coordinated Opening Day on the Bay since 1917.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BELVEDERE-TIBURON LANDMARKS SOCIETY  Drawbridge being raised on Belvedere Lagoon.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BELVEDERE-TIBURON LANDMARKS SOCIETY

Drawbridge being raised on Belvedere Lagoon.

But the origins go back much farther than that. In the late 19th century, many arks and sailboats wintered in Belvedere Lagoon. A drawbridge between the lagoon and San Francisco Bay would be raised each spring to allow pleasure boats and some arks to go to their Summer moorings. The raising of the drawbridge signaled the beginning of the pleasure boat season and informal celebrations morphed into a more formal and elaborate parade of boats.

Even before that, individual yacht clubs were staging their own spring openings. As far back as May 1889, the Sausalito News reported on San Francisco Yacht Club’s program: “Dancing and other festivities will be indulged in during the day. Commodore I. Gutte has issued orders to the fleet of yachts that they dress ship on Saturday morning at 8 o'clock. On Sunday morning at 9 o'clock the captains of the different yachts will assemble on board the flagship, the Chispa, for sailing orders and observe the signal ‘103’ (come aboard and take a drink.)” The club was based in Sausalito at the time.

Similar festivities were planned at the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon, according to the paper: “Reception to visitors will take place at the club house and on yachts during the afternoon. Dancing will begin at 8 p.m. The moon will be full; high water at 11:10 p.m.; low water at 4:41 p.m. Tomorrow will be given to the opening cruise on signals from the flagship. Manager Hannon said the band programme for the coming minstrel show will be full of ragtime music.”

In April 1912 the Sausalito News reported that the San Francisco Yacht Club had invited members of the Corinthian to join their opening festivities, since the Corinthian club house had been destroyed by fire in 1910: “One hundred and fifty of the members of the Corinthian club have expressed their Intention of being on hand this Saturday afternoon at the San Francisco quarters at Sausalito. With the San Francisco and Corinthian talent combined the amateur tars are looking forward to the most interesting jinks they have ever attended.

“The day's exercises open with the usual reception and dance, dancing commencing promptly al 2:30 p.m. After the dance dinner will be served at 7 o'clock, and It is expected that over 300 covers will be laid on the tables.

“Then comes the regular jinks, and upon the stroke of midnight follows the low jinks. Sometime In the neighborhood of 1:00 a.m. a special boat will leave the club house for the city to take home any members and visitors who are unable to stay overnight, A big program has been provided by the jinks committee, as will be seen from the follow partial list of entertainers: The San Francisco Yacht Club band, known strictly among themselves as the "Dago” band; the Olympic Club Trio; Allen Dunn in his ‘Lecture on Yachting,’ or how not to sail a craft; Professor Perkins, who knocks pots off the piano; Dennis Jordan, songster; Harry Lambertson in a Scotch dialect role; Bob Mitchell and Kid Nelson, two of the best known entertainers of the Corinthian Club's membership.”

In 1917, with worries of war on many minds, a PICA member suggested the that Bay’s yacht clubs host a parade along the city front, which also coincided with the opening of the Belvedere drawbridge. The event has traditionally been held on the last Sunday in April, so look for lots of colorful yachts off Sausalito on April 28. And if you’re out on the water, remember: safety first.

1930s Sausalito

By Jack Tracy and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Sausalito in 1930, looking east from Wolfback Ridge. New Town is on the left, the Hill in the middle, and Old Town on the right. Both ferry systems are in operation.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Sausalito in 1930, looking east from Wolfback Ridge. New Town is on the left, the Hill in the middle, and Old Town on the right. Both ferry systems are in operation.

“If the focus of the 1920s was on homebuilding and road improvements in Sausalito, the 1930s was a time of declining fortunes and rising expectations.” That’s how Jack Tracy put it in his Sausalito history Moments in Time. Here are some lightly edited excerpts from Tracy’s book describing Depression-era Sausalito:

The confident real estate market came to an end after the stock market collapse of 1929. Editorials in the local newspaper, once boasting of the certain boom soon to engulf Sausalito, gave way to cautious optimism and a rallying call to "Buy in Sausalito." Then the long-awaited start of construction on the Golden Gate Bridge boosted spirits as well as provided construction jobs.

By 1932, grand development plans once more emerged in Sausalito. Albert von der Werth, representing the Golden Gate Yacht Harbor, Ltd., proposed converting dormant Shelter Cove into a 300-berth yacht marina that would not only incorporate within its bounds Nunes Brothers' boatyard, but also have facilities for commercial fishing. The project thus qualified for funding by President Roosevelt's Public Works Administration. The proposal dragged on through many months of negotiation with Washington and finally failed for lack of matching funds. On that project and on the proposed "lateral," or second, highway north from the Golden Gate through Sausalito were pinned the hopes of many residents and merchants. If such an enormous project as the Golden Gate Bridge could be undertaken in the depths of the Depression, then perhaps there was hope for Sausalito yet. Perhaps one needed to look beyond the confines of Sausalito... to all of Richardson's Bay.

Richardson's Bay, the broad, shallow body of water that is Sausalito's front yard, has always been a source of inspiration and the object of fantasies for speculators. Its potential for development has spawned countless schemes from the reasonable to the absurd. Sausalito officials particularly liked the idea of filling in the Sausalito shoreline out to the bulkhead line, about 500 yards beyond today's shoreline. This would be an industrial site, where rail and ocean commerce would meet.

The most ambitious plan for Richardson's Bay had been formulated in 1912, when local boosters persuaded the federal government to survey the hills west of Sausalito for a ship canal into the bay from the Pacific Ocean. A four-mile cut was planned through a gap in the rolling hills at the head of Tennessee Cove, up Elk Valley to the bay south of Dolan's Corner in Mill Valley. Engineers were basking in the glory of the Panama Canal achievement and doubtless saw opportunities for construction marvels everywhere. If Panama could have a canal, so could Sausalito.

The ship-canal plan was resurrected in 1936 when Richardson's Bay was being promoted as the logical site for a submarine base for the Navy. A Pacific opening to Richardson's Bay would eliminate the need for dredging and provide for ships a fog-free entrance to San Francisco Bay that would by-pass Potato Patch shoals. If Stockton could have a deep-water port, so could Sausalito.

The idea of making Richardson's Bay into a submarine base first came up in 1933 when the Navy announced it might be looking for a West Coast site. The Sausalito City Council had long been seeking a dredged ship-channel along the Sausalito shoreline to Waldo Point to generate business for waterfront property. If the Navy took over the bay, it was reasoned, Sausalito would have her channel plus a thriving business with the Navy. If Vallejo could have a Navy base, why not Sausalito?

Sausalito's submarine base plan fell on deaf ears in Washington, and in 1937 even the request for dredging the ship channel was rejected by the War Department as being strictly a "local project" without merit for national defense. That same year, however, the War Department saw Richardson's Bay in another light. With the increasing threat of war, Washington proposed reserving the bay for seaplanes, with an anchorage for seaplane tenders, destroyers, and other light vessels. That plan, too, died aborning. And it wasn't until war was declared and Sausalito's shipyard was under construction in 1942 that the long-awaited ship channel was dredged.

Richardson's Bay was touted as the logical site for the 1939 World's Fair. When the fair was over, it was argued an airport could be built on bay fill that would complement the existing railroad terminus and ferryboat system, making Sausalito a major transportation hub. The selected site, however, was Goat Island shoals, which was filled and became Treasure Island.

Much of the motivation for development schemes in the 1930s was an honest effort to create local jobs to ease the burden of the deep economic depression. The stirring sight of two colossal bridges (the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge) under construction simultaneously stimulated planners and speculators alike. Sausalito was not alone in wanting an end to unemployment and despair. It came ... on December 7, 1941.

Moments in Time is available at the Ice House, 780 Bridgeway.

The Humming Toadfish Festival

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Old-timers will remember the notorious humming toadfish that created such a ruckus in the floating homes community in the early 80s.

ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Phil Frank designed the poster for the first Toadfish Festival

ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Phil Frank designed the poster for the first Toadfish Festival

Back in July and August of 1981, a few houseboaters first began noticing reverberations through the hulls of their floating homes from sundown to sunup. The volume ranged from the sound of an electric shaver up to the level of an airplane engine at full throttle. When the noise returned in 1984, the drone became intolerable at higher volumes, especially for those with bedrooms at or below the water line in steel-reinforced concrete hulls. Other forms of flotation did not seem to pick up on the toadfish “vibe.”

Since this was during the Cold War, theories as to the cause of the problem ranged from secret government submarine projects to diesel generators, sound “leakage” from an electric cable, emanations from a nearby sewage plant, or even extraterrestrials on summer vacation!

Eventually John McCosker from San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium determined that the source could be biological. The search was finally narrowed to the humming toadfish (Porichthys notatus) aka Plainfin Midshipman (so named because the bioluminescent buttons on its ventral surface resemble those on a naval cadet’s jacket).

Male toadfish enter bays and harbors to mate in July and August. Once they find a suitable nesting spot, these eager bachelors summon likely mates by vibrating their gas bladders up to 150 times a second. The phenomenon has been documented as far back as the 1800s, so it must work, although these hand-sized critters, which look like the black sheep of the catfish family, clearly need all the help they can get in the dating game. Some years they cluster around rocks, other years on concrete houseboat hulls, much to the dismay of the residents.

The Sausalito toadfish story created a media shower in the mid-80s. The local papers had been reporting on the mystery for months, and CBS Evening News sent a crew along on one of McCosker’s trawling expeditions. Several other national radio and TV news shows picked up on this “only in Sausalito” story.

In a classic case of making lemonade from lemons, floating homes residents created a Humming Toadfish Festival, which drew hundreds of curiosity-seekers to Sausalito’s Bay Model. John McCosker served as Grand Marshall the first year, and Lappert’s even developed a toadfish flavored confection to sell at the site (it’s no longer on the menu).  The festival also featured booths for environmental activists, a marching kazoo band, plus craft beer and sausage tastings – probably for the first time ever.

United Press International quoted the Festival organizers, Suzanne Simpson of Issaquah Dock and Suzanne Dunwell of Yellow Ferry Harbor. “'It's like a Chinese water torture,” said Ms. Dunwell. ‘As the night gets quieter, the humming gets louder,' Dunwell said. 'It may be the mating call of the toadfish, but it plays havoc with the sex lives of people living here’.”

UPI also reported: “McCosker said he's captured some of the odd-shaped fish for a display at the Steinhart Aquarium and at the Toadfish Festival being held at the Bay Model in Sausalito, where he'll begin the day-long event by leading a humming toadfish kazoo parade. Some 25 environmental groups and 16 microbreweries are participating in the event along with musicians, mimes, jugglers and comedians.

Once again, the national media jumped all over the story. 

 

The L.A. Times reported: “once the mystery of the engine-like sound was solved, Sausalitans decided to welcome the culprits̶─bulging-eyed, bubble-lipped humming toadfish that swim in Richardson Bay─with an annual Humming Toadfish Festival.”

Across the country, the New York Times said: “It is not a community gone mad, but the high jinks of the Humming Toadfish Festival, which celebrates a fish so ugly it has been likened to a tadpole with a hormone problem. Part of the celebration is humans, dressed as fish and other fauna, imitating the call of the toadfish on kazoos.”

Even the landlocked Deseret News in Salt Lake City jumped on the festival bandwagon, when it covered the 1989 event: “Revelers dressed as sea monsters and playing kazoos held the second annual festival in honor of the humming toadfish, the underwater lovers who torment residents each summer with their rhapsodizing.

"’We figured if we can't beat 'em, join 'em,’ said newly crowned Toadfish King Phil Frank, a cartoonist whose coronation was accompanied by kazoo music, the sound residents say is most like the love sputters of the toadfish. Frank then led the dancing, leaping revelers along the dock Sunday as they played "Yes, We Have No Bananas" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Alas, the festival was discontinued in 1990 when the fish took their act on the road, so to speak, returning only briefly to the floating homes community from then on.

The “Forgotten Man” of the Vallejo

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

We’ve all heard colorful stories about Jean Varda and Alan Watts aboard the ferryboat Vallejo. But before Watts, an artist named Gordon Onslow Ford was Varda’s partner in buying and restoring the ferryboat.

“While visiting Henry Miller in 1947, at Big Sur, Varda met British-born artist Gordon Onslow Ford,” writes Historical Society member Betsy Stroman in her book The Art and Life of Jean Varda. The book continues: “Born in 1912, Onslow Ford, who had moved to Paris to pursue a career in art, become an official member of the surrealist group of painters. In 1941 he accepted an invitation from the New School for Social Research, in New York City, to present a series of lectures on surrealism. While there he met and married Jacqueline Johnson, and moved to Mexico, for seven years”

PHOTO FROM WEINSTEIN GALLERY CATALOG  Gordon Onslow Ford (left) and Chilean artist Roberto Matta (right) on the Vallejo in 1956.

PHOTO FROM WEINSTEIN GALLERY CATALOG

Gordon Onslow Ford (left) and Chilean artist Roberto Matta (right) on the Vallejo in 1956.

After the war, deciding that they wanted to move to the San Francisco Bay Area, to be closer to Jacqueline’s family, the couple began driving north, stopping off to visit with Henry Miller. Onslow Ford (as he came to be known in the art world) had known Miller when Miller was living in Paris as an expatriate before the war. It was at Miller’s home in Big Sur that the Onslow Fords met Varda. 

Later the Onslow Fords rented an apartment in San Francisco, but he was looking for studio space outside of the city. Both Onslow Ford, who had served in the British Navy, and Varda wanted to be closer to the water, so the two began talking about finding a place together. 

San Francisco’s Weinstein Gallery presented an exhibition of Onslow Ford’s paintings in 2007. The catalog for that exhibit tells the story of how they found their Sausalito home:

“In 1949 Gordon Onslow Ford and poet-painter Jean Varda rescued the SS Vallejo, a decommissioned ferryboat about to be disassembled and sold for scrap. They docked her at Gate 5 in the abandoned shipyards north of San Francisco in Sausalito. Onslow Ford and Varda proceeded to renovate the boat and build their studios there. Forrest Wright, an architect and recent graduate of the famed Black Mountain College, would also move his studio to the boat. They could not have imagined that the Vallejo would become a flash point for the artistic renaissance that would take place in the Bay Area in the 1950s.

The combination of Onslow Ford's and Varda's history, interests, and personalities proved to be an immediate draw

“Many years later, Onslow Ford described the transaction that led to its purchase: ‘We hurried over to the Gardiner Steel Mills office in Oakland, arrived rather disheveled and said we wanted to acquire the ferry. He asked how much money we had. Forrest had none. Varda had none. I had $500. So he took that as a down payment and we agreed to pay $60 a month’.” Gardiner Steel Mills had acquired the ferry for scrap and had

towed it to Arques Shipyard in Sausalito to be broken up.

According to an article in Preservation Magazine in 2005: “The avant-garde writer Anais Nin, a frequent visitor to Sausalito, watched the Vallejo's transformation into a dock-side artists' colony. ‘The motors and wheels had been extracted leaving a pool like center to look into,’ Nin wrote in her diary. ‘[Varda] was beginning to make windows for the deck. With time the ferryboat grew in beauty’.”

Onslow Ford moved onto land in 1953, and Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts moved aboard. Soon the Vallejo became the epicenter for the “Bargeoise,” as author Herb Gold referred to the Sausalito’s Bohemian waterfront culture.

Onslow Ford and he wife eventually moved to Inverness, where he died peacefully in his home in 2003, at age 90. To see some of his paintings, go to www.weinstein.com/ artists/gordon-onslow-ford.

Play it Again, Woody

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam, with its famous scene in the Trident, was originally supposed to be filmed in New York.

The 1972 film is based on Allen’s 1969 Broadway play, which was set in Manhattan. But a film workers’ strike in New York when shooting was scheduled to begin brought it to San Francisco.  Allen's home became North Beach instead of Greenwich Village.

Woody plays a recently divorced film critic, Allan Felix, who is urged to begin dating again by his best friend and his best friend's wife. Allan identifies with the movie Casablanca and the character Rick Blaine as played by Humphrey Bogart. The film include clips from Casablanca and ghost-like appearances of Bogart (Jerry Lacy) giving advice on how to treat women. It was directed by Herbert Ross, which is unusual for Allen, who usually directs his own written work. It was also the first film to pair Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

At one point, Allan’s friend, played by Tony Roberts, takes him to the Trident, trying to fix him up with a girl. Together, the actors stroll through the restaurant and out onto the deck. As the camera follows them, you can see the original Trident decor in its entirety. Roberts is best known for his collaborations with Woody Allen, including both the Broadway and film versions of Play It Again, Sam, Annie Hall, Radio Days, Stardust Memories, Hannah and Her Sisters, and A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.

The waterfront location used in Play it Again, Sam was known as the Yacht Dock when it was purchased by Frank Werber, manager of the Kingston Trio, in 1960.  But according to thetrident.net/history.html, in 1966, “the Beat Generation had given way to the ‘60s hippie movement, and the club underwent major groovification and a name change to The Trident – a musical entertainment venue, natural foods restaurant and the place to hang out.

PHOTO FROM MOVIE-TOURIST.BLOGSPOT  Woody Allen and Tony Roberts visit the Trident

PHOTO FROM MOVIE-TOURIST.BLOGSPOT

Woody Allen and Tony Roberts visit the Trident

“In those free-thinking times, the new hippie subculture valued living in harmony with nature, artistic experimentation – particularly in music and the visual arts – and the expansion of the mind through various means. The Trident quickly became a gathering place for like-minded locals and celebrities from around the world, and was known for its its laid-back vibe, healthy, organic cuisine, creative cocktails, comely waitresses, artistic decor, stellar views and its many famous patrons. Janis Joplin (a regular with her own table), Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez, Clint Eastwood, Bill Cosby and the Smothers Brothers were often on the scene, and Bill Graham was a frequent patron – most notably hosting parties at the restaurant for the Rolling Stones during their two Bay Area concerts in the 1970s.”

Current owner Bob Freeman changed the name of the place to Horizons for several years, but eventually restored some of the original décor – including a psychedelic ceiling mural ─ and brought back the Trident name.

Annie Sutter: History of Issaquah Dock

Story By: Steefenie Wicks

Anne Sutter Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Anne Sutter Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Annie Sutter was born in Wisconsin and ended up traveling to San Francisco but in 1974 she would find her way to Sausalito working as a travel agent for Sunventure Travel.  Then in 1976 she began writing for the Marin Scope in what she refers to as ‘the waterfront gossip column’, called ‘On the Water’.  She has published one jewel of a book called ‘The Old Ferry Boats of Sausalito’ in the 1980’s and recently she published what she calls a booklet that describes the history of the Issaquah Dock.

She begins her research by describing where the Issaquah Dock lies today was once a quite place od tidal flats and saltwater marches.  This stretch of land was inhabited by wildlife and shore birds.

World War II would change this so that in 1942 as the War escalated, much of the life on the waterfront would change abruptly when two hundred acres of Sausalito were selected by the US Government to build ships for the war effort.  When the War ended in 1945, the Marinship closed down almost as abruptly as it had begun.

By 1950 the area known as Gate 3 to Waldo Point Harbor had already established it’s self as a waterfront community of artist, craftsmen, boat workers along with families seeking a new life.

The ferryboat ISSAQUAH was affectionately known as “Squash”, she was built in Houghton, Washington, then launched with great fanfare on Lake Washington in March of 1914. By May of 1914 she was serving ports on Lake Washington, she had scheduled runs but was also used as a floating dance hall party cruising vessel.  The little ferry was retired from service in 1948.  There are different accounts as to how the ISSAQUAH ended up in Sausalito.  One famous story has it being brought by artist Jean Varda for one of his girl friends but she did not like the vessel therefore refusing the gift.

Annie goes on to say that it was Donlon Arques who ended up with the ferryboat and settled her into a space at the side of Gate 6 Road in the heart of all the new activity. Once settled in, the ISSAQUAH quickly became a home to many, from families to wandering visitors just passing through.  Usually one person would rent the entire vessel from Arques for a monthly rate, then rent or sublease to tenants.

Smaller boats gathered around the ISSAGUAH, side tied and connected by planks or rickety walkways.

But by the mid 1980’s it had become clear that the end was near.  The Marin County Board of Supervisors declared the old ferries that had become mothball living facilities a safety hazard; they were all scheduled to be destroyed.

Annie brings up the question of, Why?

This is a question with no reasonable answer.  She feels that with a little effort these ferries that had become the last remaining representatives of our maritime history could have been saved.  There had been talk of using the ISSAQUAH for offices or a possible maritime museum, then several businesses came forward wanting to take over the entire vessel but the destruction of the ferries proceeded.

Protest were loud, sometimes violent from the locals while the powers that be brought in bulldozers, along with debris barges that broke up the ferries, hauled away the last remaining bit’s.  When it came time to destroy the ISSAQUAH, she still had residents on board who clung to their home.  This did not work either but the residents were able to save the pilothouses by promising to have the off within a week and they did. 

The destruction of the ferries in 1983 came well after work had stared on ISSAQUAH Dock.   In 1977 Arques had had enough of the politics of starting a marina on his land so he leased a substantial portion of it o the newly formed Waldo Point Harbor.

T.J. Nelson and Ted Eitelbuss who were both Arques employees found this to be difficult task as they tried to create order out of chaos.  This project was not easy for many reasons some having to do with the entrenched locals protesting, blocking equipment, setting fires, throwing rocks and shooting guns.   

But if you walk down ISSAQUAH Dock today you’re in a bright world of color, creativity along with quite beauty. There ‘s a sense of freedom of community and family.  It’s a place where free spirits and risk takers are content to live where they can float on the water.

Annie Sutter is a true Sausalito waterfront historian.  Having lived in this area long enough to see change and growth.  Her stories are full of truth and history that concern this area.

In her closing she states:

And so ends this ferry tale that began in 1914 in Washington with the birth of a ferryboat, and all the subsequent adventures, mishaps and wonders until her end in 1983.  The memories thereafter kept alive by loyal, dedicated members of the Dock along with the Galilee Harbor Community who is now the caretakers of the ISSUAGUAG Pilot Houses.

Thank You Annie.

Dialed in to Sausalito’s Past. . . and Present

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Tera Ancona checks out the payphone recordings outside Cibo.                       Photo by Larry Clinton

Tera Ancona checks out the payphone recordings outside Cibo. Photo by Larry Clinton

When Alfredo and Tera Ancona opened their second Sausalito restaurant, Cibo, at 1201 Bridgeway, they noticed a decommissioned phone booth out front by the sidewalk. Tera decided to repurpose the old payphone to “present our great community in a unique way.”  Her dream was to offer a quarterly audio magazine with short talks by or about Sausalito locals, which people could hear over the phone.

For help, she turned to friends Philip and Tonya Wood at San Francisco-based Sound Made Public, a creative agency focusing on audio experiences, large and small, that change the way we hear the world.  They arranged to have a receiver installed in the old phone, so it could play back recorded messages.

Today, passersby can step up to the booth, check out a menu of current messages, and select one or more using the touchtone keypad. Carie Meier and Kourosh Ghadishah of the Caledonia St. firm LondonMeier created the visuals behind the payphone.

The selection of recordings is eclectic, ranging from an old timer recalling Sausalito during the Summer of Love to a poem by Naiomi Shihab Nye performed by voice over professional Joe Paulino.  A fellow named Jeremey describes living aboard a 26-foot sailboat for 18 years.  A segment called “Salty & Soundpresents a one-minute immersive audio postcard of Sausalito sounds. There’s a 4-minute biography of Sally Stanford, the ex-Madam who became mayor of Sausalito. The group El Cajon performs the song “Captain” from their album “Meteor.”  Various locals share what they like most about Sausalito.  And there’s a search and find game with various riddles which must be solved to uncover a surprise.

Tera even gets into the act herself, offering her recipe for the perfect pie shell.

The plan is to change the menu quarterly, so repeat visits are recommended.  And the best part? There’s never a busy signal.

Find out more about the Bridgeway Phonebook Project at https://www.cibosausalito.com/bridgeway-payphone-project.

Joseph James: Entertainer

By Dana Whitson and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  Joseph James performing at Marinship.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Joseph James performing at Marinship.

We’ve written before about Joseph James, the black Marinship welder who played a brief but important role in Sausalito and Marin City’s history by successfully challenging discriminatory union practices in the shipyards in a case that went all the way to the State Supreme Court. 

But there was a whole different side to James – as  a singer featured in numerous Broadway and Hollywood productions. Here’s a profile of this fascinating figure that Dana Whitson wrote for the Historical Society newsletter in 2017:

Joseph Henry James was born in 1910 in Philadelphia to poor black parents.  Left fatherless at age 3, he and his mother moved in with his uncle, Henry Hamming.  The entire family was musically gifted:  Uncle Henry had a rich bass voice, his mother was an alto and a much older sister sang with the great Philadelphia contralto, Marion Anderson.

“Life wasn’t soft for Negro kids with nothing but the streets to play in,” Joe told a reporter in 1945. “My mother could see that from a little innocent window breaking I’d soon enough be hitting the big time, so a year after she died, I was packed off to Princess Ann Academy, a Negro boarding school in Maryland.”

Music became Joseph James’ ticket to a college education and extensive travels in the US and abroad.  Princess Ann Academy enlisted James in a prestigious black quartet that toured to raise funds for the school singing “Negro Spirituals” to live and radio audiences. 

After graduation, the quartet shopped for another black college willing to fund their studies, landing at Claflin College in South Carolina.  Traveling for the first time to the Deep South was an eye opener.  In Norfolk the group had to transfer to the “rattletrap” Jim Crow rail car.  Unable to access the whites-only dining car, James recounted being shooed away at the front door of a restaurant at one stop and “directed to a little window in the back of the restaurant, something like the door of a dog house, where they’d throw food at you.  It kind of took my appetite away---and that’s some kind of trick for an 18 year old kid still growing.”

Two years of traveling for Claflin and a tour stop in Boston led James to conclude “there was more to this music game than I’d ever learn in South Carolina.   So, I stayed in Boston and sang on the radio. Later, I decided to find out how music was put together and learn about the guys who did it.”

James broadened his musical education at Boston University College of Music until the Depression brought home the realization that he could either “eat or play music.”  So, he joined an amateur theater production that enjoyed a brief run on Broadway.  Just as that opportunity ended, the famed black choir director and composer Eva Jessye, invited him to join her choir’s national tour. 

Touring with the celebrated choir was anything but luxurious.  “Almost 20 of us jammed into two seven passenger sedans covered with suitcases and trunks,” James recalled. “We covered 6,000 of the most agonizing miles I have ever traveled---breaking down all the way.”

Returning to New York he was cast by choral director Eva Jessye in the premiere of Porgy and Bess.  After Porgy, James joined the Hall Johnson choir in the chorus of the film The Green Pastures. James stayed briefly in Hollywood, playing bit roles in films, “mostly running around like a savage in a G-string… feeling pretty silly.”

Joseph James’ big break came with the Federal Theater Project Negro Unit (FPT). The FPT was a branch of the Works Progress Administration that employed (literally) starving artists to perform for the masses.  His first title role was as Brother Moses in Hall Johnson’s critically acclaimed LA, San Diego and San Francisco productions of Run Little Chillun’.   James later starred in the FPT production of the Swing Mikado, a modernized version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera presented at the 1939 Treasure Island Exposition.

In a “tragic-comic” twist, Joseph James was rehearsing the song “Good News” for the movie Tails of Manhattan when he learned of the Pearl Harbor attack.  His singing engagements suddenly evaporated, so he returned to San Francisco looking for work.  Being interested in mechanics, he took a welding course at Samuel Gompers Trade School.  In August 1942, he began as a welder at Marinship.

Although only in his early 30’s, Joseph James’ early experiences had prepared him well for the many roles he played during WWII: expert welder sent to trouble spots in the shipyard; lead organizer for the struggle against discriminatory union practices; popular leader among the diverse family of shipyard workers; NAACP Chapter President in San Francisco; and outspoken patriot in the battle to defeat the fascist Nazi and Axis powers; and, yes, part-time singer.

Ironically, the California Supreme Court Marinship decision came after the war had ended and the shipyard was closed.  But it did not end Joseph James’ activism. Before departing the west coast in 1946 to resume his musical career, he joined Noah Griffin, Sr. in founding Marin County’s first NAACP chapter.

Joseph James performed in 15 more Broadway shows before touring internationally with Leontyne Price, William Warfield, Cab Calloway and Maya Angelou in Porgy and Bess. Later in life he became a union organizer for the SEIU in the Bronx.

Joseph James died in 2002 at the age of 91

“One thing the Depression taught the American people is that when they came together around common problems, they could accomplish something. Now it seems that working people have forgotten that.”  ~ Joseph James, 1992

Dorothy E. Gibson: Her Path

By Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society


Recently, Dorothy Gibson, a true part of Sausalito’s renaissance community, passed away. Dorothy was able to document the pathways, stairs and city-maintained street ends that are in the public domain.  Her desire was to protect these areas from private encroachments so future generations could continue to enjoy these pedestrian byways as much as she did.

Photo from Sausalito Currents taken in 2016

Photo from Sausalito Currents taken in 2016

She was born February 9, 1923 in Columbus, Ohio the third of 5 children.  Her family lived on a farm for a while but trying to raise kids during the great depression proved to be a challenge. Soon the family sold off all their belongings and moved back to the Columbus.  She would return to school in the city, which she enjoyed.   Her mother had at one time been a teacher in Cambridge Ohio, which might account for Dorothy’s love of school. She attended Ohio State, and then entered the Graduate department of UC Berkeley in the psychology department.  She found this to be more related to research when what she wanted to do was more clinical.  She applied to different schools, ending up at Smith College where she was accepted in their speedup program and studied Freudian psychotherapy.

Dorothy Gibson, pathfinder Photo by Betsy Stroman

Dorothy Gibson, pathfinder
Photo by Betsy Stroman

After that, she moved to San Francisco to become the assistant director of Campfire Girls, a group she had been involved with most of her life.  It was during this time that she started visiting Sausalito.  She would spend time walking the paths in the hills where she would eventually find a little cottage to rent.

Dorothy started going to City Council meetings, wanting to get involved in the town’s politics.  She soon found herself on the Steering Committee for the 1995 General Plan; her assignment was the environment which lead to her writing her first book titled Exploring Sausalito’s Paths and Walkways.  In that book she reveals a hidden Sausalito that is full of surprises, wonderful views and tiny niches perfect for solitude and reflection.  In her next two publications she continued to explore this theme.  Her book titled Marin Headlands, opens with a strong introductory statement about how the history of the headlands is the history of the Earth during the Jurassic period of the Mesozoic era some 200 million years ago.  Strong words for a woman who would take on both Sally Stanford and Buddy DeBruyn running for City Council in Sausalito; she remembered these two as her chief adversaries.  She would lose the election by 30 votes. 

Her good friend Billie Anderson of the Marin Scope told her that she needed to take a trip.  This was the beginning of her becoming an avid world traveler, which led her to more than 50 countries on 4 continents, camping in more than 80 national parks.  She would send Billy post cards from her locations.  Billy in turn kept them and started a column in called Travels with Dorothy.

It was during one of these trips that she was injured.

She had been on a climbing exhibition to Mt. Olympus and decided to attend a festival in Thessalonica; went running across the freeway in Greece and was hit by two young men riding a motorcycle.

Dorothy;s Book Exploring Sausalito’s Paths and Walkways. Photo Amazon.com

Dorothy;s Book Exploring Sausalito’s Paths and Walkways. Photo Amazon.com

She ended up in the hospital with broken ribs, snapped pelvis and head trauma.  She had to buy three seats on a Pan Am flight back to the USA because she could not sit up but could only lie flat.     Her good friend Mignone Conner was very active in the Episcopal Church so they raised money to help care for her.  The year was 1980; Carol Peltz was mayor of Sausalito at this time.  The community, under the direction of Beth and John Hutman, took her address book and raised enough money to pay all of her medical bills. She said that she felt like she had died and been resurrected.

Dorothy Gibson was known for getting involved with an issue.  She would not let go until she had thoroughly researched it; the last issue was the Patriot Act of 2001. She had gotten hold of material from the ACLU encouraging members to rally around and kill the Patriot Act.  She became very concerned because she had lived through the McCarthy era and had her job threatened because she’d been confused with another Dorothy Gibson.  She had friends who had been called before the HUAC; she saw this all coming back again. 

Dorothy as Grand Marshall of 4th of July Parade. Photo Sausalito Historical Society

Dorothy as Grand Marshall of 4th of July Parade. Photo Sausalito Historical Society

She took action by gathering people like resident Vicki Nichols to help her get communities to rise up against the Patriot Act.  She also called members of the City Council to get them interested. Eventually she and Vicki were able to put together forums on this issue while working with the ACLU and the peace group of Marin.

Dorothy E. Gibson had her own path.  That path led her to not only find the paths in Sausalito but also the path to a strong political career.  Her small figure we have all become accustomed to seeing has now joined the spirits of the paths.  So next time you climb one of Sausalito’s hidden stairways or find yourself walking up a path on the hillside, take time to look around and say hello to Dorothy because her spirit is watching you, saying: “Keep to the path.”

Carol Channing and Channing Way

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Broadway and Hollywood legend Carol Channing, who died recently at age 97, got her start right here in Sausalito.  Here’s the story, as told in this space back in 2014:

Before she debuted on Broadway in 1949 as bombshell Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Carol Channing, a Bay Area native, spent some time here as an artist’s model.         .

In a 1959 interview with the Marin News, Channing recalled how she had spent two weeks modeling for the Friday Night Art Group in Sausalito.

“They would only let you model for two weeks,” she explained, “then they got tired of you. When my two weeks were up, I told them I was having such a good time I wanted to stay.

“Norman Todhunter, who was also a member then, told me I could join, if I took up painting. So, I bought a brush and some paint. Funny thing, though; all I could paint was people.

“Everyone else painted things—you know, moun­tains and trees—but I painted everyone in the group. When I’d run out of members, I started all over again.”

While Carol shrugged off her efforts with brush and paint, Mrs. Francis Todhunter of Mill Valley, mother of the well-known illustrator and artist, called her work “downright amazing.”

“When we knew her, she’d never studied art at all,” Mrs. Todhunter said, “and suddenly she was painting as if she’d had years of training. Her work had a wonderful vitality; she had a way of projecting things on paper.”

As Sausalito News writer John Raymond described her, “Miss Channing’s stock in trade is a pair of large brown eyes framed with the world’s biggest eyelashes which protrude like the ragged fringes on a beach umbrella.

“With one blink of her incandescent orbs she can exhibit the naiveté of an innocent young maid bewildered by the exigencies of a cruel world, or suddenly assume all the worldliness of an olive bathing in a martini.

“Her voice is pitched somewhere in between a foghorn and piccolo, with an elasticity that runs the gamut from a resounding bass to a glass-tinkling soprano. Her audience loves her, and she appears to enjoy them thoroughly.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  George Elkington Sr., Carol Channing and Mayor Jan Dylt officiate at dedication of Channing Way.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

George Elkington Sr., Carol Channing and Mayor Jan Dylt officiate at dedication of Channing Way.

Carol Channing returned to Sausalito in 1965 to attend the dedication of Channing Way in honor of her father. Shirley Elkington told the Historical Society that her father, George, had built the Channing home on Curry Lane in 1953.  “When the Elkingtons developed a parcel of land off Prospect,” she recalled, “it was only fitting that the street be named in memory of the man Dad long respected and thought of so highly, George Channing. “

Miss Channing traveled out from New York for the ceremony, but insisted there be no publicity, as she considered the dedication a family affair. The accompanying photograph was shot by Ed Long, a long-time secretary of the Rotary Club and the Sausalito-Marin City Sanitary District.

Marinship on the Fast Track

By Eric Torney and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society    

Historian and filmmaker Eric Torney has produced a book for the Arcadia Images of America series that tells the Marinship story using images and captions along with an overall Introduction and four Chapter Introductions. Here’s an excerpt describing how quickly the shipyard was conceived and constructed:

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  This photograph, donated to the Historical Society by Steve Bechtel, shows the shipyard in full production. Bechtel proudly displayed the image in his office for many years.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

This photograph, donated to the Historical Society by Steve Bechtel, shows the shipyard in full production. Bechtel proudly displayed the image in his office for many years.

The Marinship shipyard existed in Sausalito during World War II with a specific purpose to build badly needed cargo ships to support the war defense effort. It was an Emergency shipyard, built very quickly during the opening days of United States involvement in the War to build ships to replace those then being very efficiently sunk by German and Japanese submarines. The shipyard began operation in 1942 and was closed down after Japanese surrender in September, 1945.

Shipyard construction was begun promptly after a telegram from the United States Maritime Commission was received by the W. A. Bechtel Company. The telegram was received on 2 March, 1942, the Sausalito site selected on 3 March, and a proposal to build the shipyard presented in Washington DC was made on 9 March. Ten minutes into the presentation U. S. Maritime Commission administrators told the W.A. Bechtel Company to build the shipyard. Physical construction began on 28 March. Construction start was delayed two weeks to allow the 42 families living on Pine Point, which was scheduled to be demolished to build the shipyard, to move.

Three months after construction began the keel for the first Marinship vessel, the Liberty Ship William A. Richardson, was laid on an unfinished shipway. Three months after laying the keel the William A. Richardson was launched. AMAZING! A shipyard is urgently requested by the U.S. Maritime Commission in early March and a ship is launched in September from the shipyard built on what had been tidewater and mudflats only several months before.

During three years of launching ships, ending with the launch of the Tanker SS Mission San Francisco on 18 September, 1945 Marinship sent a ship down the shipways approximately every eleven days. A total of 93 ships were launched, including 15 Liberty Ships and 78 Tankers.

Marinship proved itself to be among the most efficient shipyards during the early days of its construction and operation. This was noted by the U.S. Maritime Commission and several days before the William A. Richardson was launched Marinship was directed to cease production of Liberty Ships and to convert all production to Tankers. The conversion was painful. The shipyard had learned to efficiently build Liberty Ships and had to change to building the far more complex and larger Tankers. The first Tanker took 139 days on the shipway and 66 days at the Outfitting Docks, a total of 205 days. The first Liberty Ship took 126 days and the last Liberty Ship took 60 days. Marinship holds the still standing record for shortest time to build and deliver a Tanker, 33 Days for the Huntington Hills. Comparable Tanker building records are 60 days for Swan Island, 79 days for Alabama, and 90 days for Sun Ship.

A typical day at Marinship during peak of operations had about 20,000 workers on three shifts. Skilled shipyard workers were in drastically short supply due to the Draft taking men to be soldiers and sailors. Local resources, including women and minorities, were inadequate. A recruitment effort brought labor from the Midwest and the Deep South. The recruited workers needed to be trained to be shipyard workers, many of the recruits never even dreaming that they would one day be building a ship. Marinship developed a training program to teach the recruits how to build ships assembly line style. Each worker was trained in a specialty task by a master shipyard worker. Women were noted as being most efficient welders, their welds being more precise and smoother than a man's weld.

Marin City was built by the Federal Government to provide desperately needed housing for shipyard workers. Operated by local administrators Marin City was available to any Marinship worker regardless of race or gender. But, when it was first opened to renters mostly white, skilled workers were here to take residence. After the War ended skilled workers went home. Minorities, having no place they wanted to return to, who had lived elsewhere during the war, particularly in the Fillmore district which had vacancies created by Japanese Internment, moved into vacant and affordable Marin City housing.

Labor problems were a result of the integrated workforce developed at Marinship. But, skilled and fair management successfully overcame these problems. Marinship became known as the most effectively integrated and efficient workforce among all WWII Emergency Shipyards. The integrated workforce we have today, men and women and minorities efficiently working together in relative harmony, can find first precedent in the workforce developed at Marinship.

Marinship' success can be traced to the efficiency and skill of the W. A. Bechtel Company. Ken Bechtel, originally a W. A. Bechtel Vice President became President of Marinship Corporation. It was Ken Bechtel whose administrative skills allowed Marinship to become the most efficient shipyard of all those Emergency Shipyards built and operated during WWII. Ken Bechtel was a family man, a philanthropist, and Commissioner of Boy Scouts in Marin County. Without Ken it is doubtful that Marinship would have been able to distinguish itself as admirably as it did.

Eric’s book is available at Costco, Mollie Stone’s, Book Passage by the Bay, the Ice House, Driver’s Market and Water Street Hardware.