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, 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, 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:

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, 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 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

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, “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, 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.

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


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


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


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:

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


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


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.



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.


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


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.


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 artists/gordon-onslow-ford.