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.


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.

From Murky Past to Bright Future

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

The following is updated from a Spring 2016 cover story in the Historical Society newsletter, Moments in Time:


The Ice House Visitors Center and Historic Exhibit has been a downtown landmark since 1999, hosting more than 30,000 visitors a year.  But the origins of the structure remain a bit of a mystery.

Spoiler Alert:

For years, we’ve been describing the Ice House as a former Northwestern Pacific Railroad refrigerator car, or “cold storage hold,” but it turns out that no evidence exists to support this theory.  In fact, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society is unfamiliar with the “cold hold” terminology.  When the Ice House was declared a historic landmark in 1998, David Hodgson, then chair of the Historic Landmarks Board, estimated that the building dates back to the late 1800's, judging by its architectural features such as insulation made of stripped redwood bark. Architect Michael Rex, who owned the building for several years, agrees, based on the use of square nails, which date to the Victorian era. Rex, who remodeled the old ice vending facility from its original shoebox design, also points out that it would have been too wide to ride on the Northwest Pacific’s narrow-gauge tracks. 

Ed Couderc, whose family owned the structure for a quarter of a century, recalls that old photos show an ice storage house or cooler at the foot of Princess Street, in the mid-1920s.  He says the structure “has also been placed on Pine Street below Caledonia in the 1930s.”

Long-term resident Margaret Jewett told the Historical Society that Jack Douglas, who sold coal and wood out of the building that would become the Marin Theatre, also operated the Ice House.  When the theatre was built in 1942, Douglas moved both businesses next door to her family home at 309 Caledonia. Until the Ice House was moved again, to the corner of Caledonia and Litho, Douglas “got his electricity for the refrigeration from our house,” Margaret recalled. “We ran the line through the kitchen window and plugged it in to the wall outlet.” 


The structure was acquired by the Couderc family in 1952.  Even after refrigerators had become ubiquitous in Sausalito homes, the coin-operated facility continued to dispense blocks and cubes of ice, primarily for boaters and fishermen, until the compressor failed in 1976. 

At that time the Coudercs padlocked the building, and it was used for storage for 12 years.

Searching for a home to start his architecture practice, Michael Rex asked Ed what he intended to do with the old building. When he replied, “tear it down,” Michael offered to save him the cost of demolition; he would take it off his hands for a buck, an idea suggested by the Historical Society’s Phil Frank.  A handshake and a Bill of Sale drawn up on a napkin closed the deal.

Rex remodeled the building, enclosing the loading dock for a reception area, installing windows, removing the original flat roof and extending the walls up to the height of the gable shaped roof, which had been installed over the ice box as a rain cover. A monitor was added along the ridge to bring in natural light. The original blue and white color scheme was preserved.

Rex leased the land under the building from the Couderc family, but they eventually sold the property. When the new owner terminated his lease in 1996, Rex offered to give the structure to the City, in return for a tax write-off.  The City accepted the donation in July 1997.

As Historical Society Vice President Dana Whitson wrote in Marin Scope in 2016, “After a public discussion on alternate uses for the building, the City Council voted to move the Ice House to its final home, a City-owned site at the corner of Bay Street and Bridgeway in downtown Sausalito, to replace a temporary SHS History Exhibit and Visitor Center opened during the City’s 1993 centennial at the former Village Faire (now the Casa Madrona Hotel and Poggio Restaurant).

Ice House on the move!

Ice House on the move!

Under the leadership of Phil Frank, the Historical Society raised funds for the relocation and conversion of the building into the Museum and Visitor Center in 1999.  Rex volunteered to prepare the necessary plans for the new site and the Rotary Club of Sausalito provided much of the labor. In the early hours one morning in March 1999, the Ice House rolled down Bridgeway to its new home where the Historical Society has continuously operated the facility for the City ever since.

The City and Historical Society always intended to improve the site around the Ice House once funds became available, according to Dana: “The plan for the plaza began to take shape following Phil Frank’s death, as his friends and fellow citizens sought to use funds donated in his memory to build a project that Phil would have loved.  In 2010, the Sausalito Foundation raised over $32,000 to build the Plaza.”

Thanks to the generosity of the Foundation and many other donors and supporters, the SHS will soon begin construction on an attractive new plaza adjacent to the Ice House, where the public can linger and learn more about Sausalito history. Look for an announcement of a groundbreaking ceremony soon.

This project will also be celebrated with a fundraiser at Sausalito's elegant historic mansion, The Pines, on Friday, January 11. Guests can explore the beautifully restored 4 story Queen Anne Victorian house, enjoy wine and hors d'oeuvres and bid on fabulous silent auction prizes and three live auction destination vacations. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to


Ice House Moving Cartoon.JPG

A Local: Working at Smitty’s

By Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society

Smitty’s Bar has been known as Smitty’s since 1938. Frank Smith, whose nickname was Smitty, leased an old Caledonia Street saloon and re-opened it as a local tavern that year. When he passed on, it became the property of his sister Suzie. For years it was called Suzie’s; then when it sold the new owners decided to go back to the name Smitty’s.

William ‘Bill” Dorsey MacDonald behind the plank at Smitty’s. Photo by Steefenie Wicks

William ‘Bill” Dorsey MacDonald behind the plank at Smitty’s. Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Smitty’s has become a legend in Sausalito. William Dorsey McDonald III tends to the bar and is known simply as Bill.  He became a working partner in 1991. He remembers the days when the old timers would come in, in the mornings to have coffee and hang out, calling this establishment their second home. Bill is a Sausalito native for the past 70 years, having grown up here, attended school here, met and married his wife here. As fate would have it, they met at Smitty’s.

When Bill was born at Ross General in the late 1940s his family lived in what was known as the “flats” of Marin City for 8 years before moving to Sausalito. His grandfather, uncle and his dad were all volunteers for the Sausalito fire department.   He spent time on the waterfront as a youngster paddling a little 9-foot rowboat that he built with his dad in their garage. It was around this time that he worked for the Purity Market, which led to a job for the Golden Gate Market.  He then got the job of delivering groceries for the Caledonia Market. Bill has worked in local establishments for most of his life, so it seems only logical that he would now be part of Smitty’s, the local friendly neighborhood bar.

He began as the 20-year-old doorman for a local bar called the 4 Winds, which was next door to what was once the 7 Seas restaurant on Bridgeway.  When he turned 21 the owners asked him if he wanted to learn how to tend bar, beginning a lifelong profession.  Later he spent over 11 years working for Gatsby’s (now F3 on Caledonia).

He remembers, “Gatsby’s was first known as the Gold Dust bar; when it sold the name was changed again but it finally ended up becoming Gatsby’s, the Jazz Club.  Many famous jazz artists came and played there.  Then the place changed from jazz to rock and roll, on Sunday afternoons, Santana would come perform. This was something that the local residents did not appreciate.”

He continued, “But then the new owners decided to bring in Chicago deep-dish pizza, which was a big success”.

“I can remember when going to Central School,” he adds,” one of the things we kids would do was crawl up inside the ice house, get a block of ice, break it up and then sit around sucking on its coolness.  This was a favorite thing to do during the summer.”

Another favorite thing to do was chasing down the fire engines when kids heard the fire whistle.  When the whistle blew the local kids would get on their bikes and ride to the area to see if they could catch some of the action.  “I remember when I was a sophomore at Tam High School,” he continues, “there was a big fire at Whiskey Springs.  There was a real distillery there; they made all kinds of alcohol so during the fire all of this alcohol that was stored blew up, it was quite the fire.  Both my father and grandfather fought that fire. Yeah, growing up in Sausalito was the best.”

When asked if Smitty’s has changed much since 1938, he says not that much.

“Smitty’s started out as a local bar, a place where the locals, the old timers could come to hang out while they exchanged bits of local news.  That part has changed some because most of those old timers have either passed on or moved on. For instance, for over 30 years Smitty’s had a yearly Pig Feed. “We would take over the parking spots in front of the bar and Sausalito’s favorite handyman, Jessie Thomas from Marin City, would make his secret Barb-B-Que sauce, then take over the entire food scene.  Now that Jessie has passed on this event is no longer done but we all remember Jessie, a wonderful man.”

Bill feels that Smitty’s hasn’t changed a lot but one of the biggest changes is that Smitty ‘s is now a sports bar.  They have always had television in the bar but now with the interest in football, basketball and baseball they have installed at least 8 TV’s that are tuned into whatever games are being played.

But he still remembers that one of the best things to do, as a kid was to go to the Bait Shop, which used to be the old Yacht Club.  That was where local character Juanita ran her sandwich shop, long before she had her restaurants. Bill could watch her telling off the tourists, then throwing them out of her shop.

Bill closes with,” Sausalito was the best place to grow up in because being a local from Sausalito is really something special.”