Freeway Wars

By Jack Tracy and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

“At the close of World War II (1946), our city came close to losing its most prized asset ─ one that had been taken for granted: our view of Richardson’s Bay.” So wrote Jack Tracy, founder of the Historical Society, in this paper back in August, 1982.

In an article based on research by Neil Shaver, a former Time-Life correspondent, Tracy recounted that after the Golden Gate Bridge had become the transportation link between Northern California and the south, ferryboats and trains disappeared for all practical purposes except for a brief period when ferry service was continued to Marinship Yard during World War II carrying workers to and from San Francisco and strategic war materials to the yard.

By the end of the war it had become evident that an expanded route to the Golden Gate was necessary as traffic which had formerly gone through Sausalito had been diverted to the Waldo Bridge Approach.

To solve this problem of ever-increasing automobile and truck commerce, the Highway Division of the State of California was working on a number of alternate traffic patterns that would go through Sausalito. Seven plans were drawn for the Gold Gate Bridge directors: four proposed low-level waterfront routes, two plans would bisect the hills of Sausalito and the last detailed the widening of the existing Waldo approach. Plans had been prepared by the Division of Highways as early as April of 1946 for the State of California Department of Public Works.

But the plan that “topped the cake and blew the frosting off,” in Tracy’s words, called for a two-thousand-foot viaduct which would be constructed east of Alexander Avenue, across the cove in South Sausalito to the water at the foot of North Street and along a causeway to the foot of El Portal. From there it would splice through the central yacht harbor and onward through North Sausalito to Waldo Point. Such a plan would block completely the view of Richardson's Bay from Bridgeway.

ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY  This artist’s rendition of the proposed viaduct passing in front of Old Town is part of the current SHS exhibition.

ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE SAUSALITO HISTORICAL SOCIETY

This artist’s rendition of the proposed viaduct passing in front of Old Town is part of the current SHS exhibition.

On 17 November 1946, the first report of these various plans had been given at a joint meeting of the Sausalito Council and Planning Commission by the city-appointed Lateral subcommittee.

A front-page editorial in the Sausalito News dated November 21 reported the previous week's news under the heading:

THE LATERAL DESIGN NOBODY WANTS (Not Even the Bridge District) It Costs Too Much

All of the Bridge Facts Have Not Been Told

The editorial presented some of the pros and cons to the public. But on October 28, 1951, the San Francisco Examiner reported that Sausalito was battling the bridge route plan: “The Golden Gate Bridge lands near a very sensitive part of Marin County — the hillside of the city of Sausalito. The Waldo approach takes the bridge traffic humming along the top fringe of the town. Thousands of motorists ride the Waldo and never see the picturesque community below.

Sausalito is doggedly determined to keep it that way, but changes are in the offing. Either the outdated Waldo will be widened or a new freeway from the bridge will be built along Sausalito's waterfront.”

The Examiner also stated that “the feeling of today is that the range of price for a waterfront highway would now be from twelve to twenty million dollars. The original cost of the Waldo Approach had been approximately two million.”

At that time City Councilman Sylvester McAtee, a San Francisco attorney and longtime Sausalito resident, stated that "we are a residential city and will never be anything else. To cut off Sausalito from its waterfront and open it to high speed traffic would destroy it as a city of views and be ruinous."

In September of 1953 work began on the Waldo Approach. The Golden Gate Bridge District and the State of California Division of Highways had agreed that the thing to do was widen the Waldo Approach.

The freeway attempt of the 1940's to destroy our scenic waterfront had been defeated by the howling response of this community.

On January 25, Historical Society researcher Mike Moyle will explore this fascinating facet of our local history with an audio-visual presentation at the Library. Mike’s talk, starting at 7i:00 PM., stems from the current Historical Society exhibition, “The Sausalito That Never Was,” which contains photos and news clippings of the proposed viaduct, and other misguided projects that fortunately never came to pass.  The exhibition will be open to the public following Mike’s presentation.