By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society
It’s not hard to fall in love with Sausalito. People do it every day. You’ll see them on Bridgeway, stock-still on the busy sidewalk, gazing at San Francisco’s gray skyline across the water. You’ll catch them lingering on the houseboat docks, watching the tides.
If you fall in love with Sausalito and you’re lucky, you get to stay. That’s what Herb Weiner did forty years ago, trading his native Boston for our Western shores. He set up shop here, first with a car detailing business, and later as the owner of the Shell gas stations and car washes in Sausalito and in Novato.
Boasting the only self-serve island in Sausalito, his station was a novelty in 1979. Reporting on the oil crisis for the Marinscope, local reporter and historian Doris Berdahl described how she “found a scene that wouldn’t have seemed possible a few years ago. Smart young women dressed in crisp summer suits, silk blouses, and high heels were energetically pumping their own gas.”
Though the gas was self-serve, the Shell station was far from impersonal. As one resident observed, “this may be the only ‘Self Service’ station in the nation that isn’t. Serving resident patrons is always the first order of the day.” It also housed the only car wash in town, where Herb himself could often be found performing minor repairs on customer’s cars.
He quickly became a fixture in Sausalito. After seven years here, Herb was named 1985’s Business Citizen of the Year by the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce. Announcing the honor, the Chamber cited “a myriad of charitable activities performed with a minimum of hype,” which today’s Sausalitans will recognize as a Herb Weiner trademark. Here’s another: at that year’s 4th of July parade, Marinscope columnist Harry V. Smith Jr. observed that Herb had, even then, a civilizing effect on local politics:
All five (count ’em!) Councilpersons in the same vehicle, smiling and waving their way down Bridgeway and Caledonia Streets, to the obvious delight of their constituents, none of whom pelted water balloons or cast snide remarks. Sure, there are those who would say, “After all, it is the Fourth of July.” I have my own theory. The 1967 Bentley convertible in which they were riding belongs to Sausalito Shell’s Herb Weiner, one of our town’s most congenial, kind and thoughtful citizens, and some of his attributes must have rubbed off on the illustrious group.
Though Herb wouldn’t join the City Council for another 28 years, his good humor and good works were already a constant in Sausalito’s civic life. He coached Little League, coordinated the adopt-a-park program, organized a classic car festival, and offered free rides to drunken revelers on New Years’ Eve. He belonged to the city’s Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce, and was a vital part of the Sausalito Art Festival. By 1991 he was already indispensable, “seemingly everywhere just when you need him, doing everything with a smile and a ‘no problem’.”
After so many decades of service, it was perhaps inevitable that he would run for City Council. He first announced his candidacy in 2006, promising transparency and accessibility – a promise he immediately made good on by publishing his home phone number in the Marinscope and inviting voters to give him a call. Once elected, he served on the Council from 2006 to 2017, and as mayor in 2011 and 2013. As hands-on as ever, Herb didn’t just talk about measures to accommodate bicycles and tour busses, he’d don a yellow safety vest and direct traffic himself. When the city’s police department did not have the budget for two dual purpose motorcycles, he was one of three major donors who stepped forward to fund the purchase. One of those motorcycles is named Herbie in his honor.
He was an advocate for Sausalito’s Sister Cities program, and was the driving force behind Sausalito’s relationship with the city of Cascais. He visited every one of the Sister Cities, and hosted visitors from each in his own home.
After he stepped down from the City Council, Herb remained a fixture in Sausalito, volunteering on boards, appearing with his dog in the Fourth of July parade, and greeting friends and strangers as he walked to get his morning coffee. When he passed away late last month at the age of 77, news of his passing reverberated through the community, with remembrances posted to social media from civic organizations and individuals alike.
Herb’s warmth and civility defined his forty years in Sausalito. Though undeniably one of Sausalito’s most prominent citizens, he never sought the spotlight. As he noted himself in 2000, “I’m a very simple person. I like to give without expecting anything.”
It’s not hard to fall in love with Sausalito. Herb Weiner did. And Sausalito loved him back.