By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society
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 firstname.lastname@example.org).
The dump closed in the 1950s. In the 1960s, the future site of Dunphy Park was one of several adjoining parcels in a proposed complex of residential and office space along the waterfront. After those plans fell through, the city acquired the parcel, funding the $560,000 purchase with a 1970 bond issue.
Still, the land was “nothing to delight the eye.” Writing for the Marinscope in 1986, former Parks and Recreation Chairman Tom Rogers recalled that “weeds and trees still standing at the northwest corner failed to conceal a couple of steel storage tanks and other debris, and evidence of its one-time role as a city dump was later discovered during development.”
Still, the site had potential. Both the public library and city hall were at the time “jammed into what is now a retail building” across the street from Vina Del Mar Park. The city’s Youth Center was housed in the old Catholic Church. Proposals for the parcel included a library and community center, a city hall, and other public uses. Then, in mid-1971, the city purchased the former Central School. The erstwhile school building became Sausalito’s Civic Center, housing the city council chambers, the public library, a community center, and the Sausalito Historical Society’s research and exhibit rooms.
With the Central School renovation underway, the land “might have remained several years in its original state, as an abandoned dump.” In order “to preclude its sitting unused for months to come” a group of local residents calling themselves the Community Park Volunteers proposed that “by means of volunteer labor and donated materials, a simple but pleasant park could be created.”
This group, led by Barry Hibben, formally requested permission to develop the park in September 1971. Over the next few years, the park took shape, fueled by volunteer efforts and contributions of funds, services and supplies by various groups, civic organizations, and individual volunteers. By December 1974, the park, named for long term City Councilmember Earl Dunphy, was complete.
It may be a coincidence, but the next summer saw Sausalito’s first 4th of July Parade in decades. It was organized by Laurabell Hawbecker, a denizen of the houseboat community at Gate 5. Interviewed by the Historical Society in 1994, Laurabell recalled,
I went to the police station to get the okay and everything for the parade and they said they would block the streets off, and there would be a fire engine “to lead your parade.”
And I said, “No, I’m going to lead this parade, and I’m going to be out front with my baton because we’re representing the waterfront to Sausalito.” The policeman looked at me and said, “Well, fire engines always lead a parade,” and I said, “But not this one.” So he said, “All right, the fire engine will follow at the end of the parade.”
I said I want the parade to stop at Dunphy Park and I want all my different units that want to [perform] to do it in Dunphy Park right after the parade. And they still are doing that, and after the parade the City and the waterfront celebrate together in Dunphy Park.
So there you have it: a celebration of community in a community park. Though Dunphy Park lay dormant, Sausalito’s communities still celebrated together, as we have for decades.