by Annie Sutter
This story is condensed from a series of articles which ran in the Marin Scope in 1987-88.
What sort of a place was the Sausalito that William Richardson and his family inhabited in the late 1830’s? An answer is provided by his son, Stephen, in a series of articles published by the Call Bulletin in 1918 when the son was 87 years old.
“My early life in Sausalito was perhaps the happiest time of my life. A horse trail ran from San Rafael to Sausalito, very much the same as the main highway goes today. The country was entirely untouched by man, and the wild oats grew shoulder high, in spite of the great herds of wild animals browsing in the fields. On an ordinary jaunt from Sausalito to San Rafael I would see enough elk, deer, bear and antelope to fill a good sized railroad train. I never grew tired of riding through wonderful forest land and over ridges overlooking the sea.” The land grant which Richardson received in 1838 totaled over 19,000 acres comprising land from the bay to the sea, and was called Rancho Saucelito. “The bay as my father knew it was a fairyland of enchantments ... the waters had not been fouled by tailings from the mines, and were still crystal clear so that a pebble could easily be seen at a depth of 30 feet. The timber reached in many places down to the shore. The stillness was unbroken save for the shrill piping of the myriad shorebirds, and elk with huge branching horns, graceful antlered stags, and huge grizzly bears stood statuesque on the hillsides.”
Richardson’s daughter wrote that she saw bands of elks, hundreds in a band, swimming from Angel Island to the shores, and remembers fields of yellow poppies stretching as far as the eye could see. However, all was not Paradise, as attested to by one visiting sailor who, in 1837, “sailed for Whaler’s cove ... remained an hour or two ... shot a rabbit and got most confoundedly poisoned by what is here called ‘yedra’ - (poison ivy.)”
Having finally officially received the grant to Rancho Sausalito, Richardson built his home, an adobe, at the intersections of today’s Pine and Bonita. By 1841 the family was well established in Sausalito. Many are the reports of his hospitality. In those days of life in early California the concept “mi casa es su casa ‑ my house is your house” was an accepted way of life. Californians were expected to ‑ and did - open their homes to visitors and to entertain lavishly. “Entertaining in those days was wholesale, not retail,” recalled Stephen. “It was necessary for the hostess to invite practically the entire population ... you were sure to have at least 100 guests draw bridle at your door at the appointed day. And when you realize that no feasts ever lasted for less than one week...”
As well as entertaining neighbors and extensive family, Richardson extended his hospitality to visitors on ships and was, in turn, invited to dine on board, often in equally lavish style, as described by daughter Marianna. “My father always dined the officers of the men‑of‑war. The dinner consisted of barbecued meat, stewed chicken with chili beans, corn and other Spanish dishes, all of which they enjoyed very much . They would praise our way of cooking and would always invite us to dine on board their vessels ... and entertained us in a splendid state serving a grand dinner using their finest china, having several table cloths of the finest linen, removing one after each course.”
Richardson’s homesite c. 1841.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society and Sausalito Woman’s Club
by Annie Sutter
by Annie Sutter
This story is condensed from a series by Annie Sutter on William A. Richardson which ran in the Marin Scope in 1987 and 1988.
Sausalito’s first settler, first landowner and first entrepreneur was William A. Richardson who arrived in the sleepy village of San Francisco on board a British whaling ship in 1822. He became involved in the commerce of the growing town, built several small boats, and soon discovered what would become Sausalito. In 1837 he was appointed Port Captain of San Francisco by Governor Vallejo, a position which provided the enterprising Richardson with an open invitation to profit in lucrative trading schemes across the bay. After the 1820s, ships of many nations began calling at San Francisco Bay to trade goods: clothing, silks and velvets, shoes, liquor and spices in exchange for hides, tallow, otter skins, produce, wood and water. Richardson set up a business on today’s Valley St. beach supplying wood and water to visiting ships. One historian observed: “Capt. Richardson naturally couldn’t support his family on the meager Port Captain’s wages, but the name of the game was graft with a bit of smuggling on the side. What with knocking down some of the customs money, and conniving with ship captains to avoid port taxes, he was soon doing very well.”
Word had gotten round to ship captains that if they fired a cannon twice outside the gate, Richardson and his Indian crew would come out and pilot them into Sausalito, thus avoiding the expense of dealing with the officials on the other side of the bay. There, in what came to be called Whaler’s Cove, he ran things according to his own rules, and the whalers and an increasing number of American ships found it expedient to deal with Richardson’s sensible approach; get on with the trade, avoid the tax, and split the difference. By 1843 his mismanagement of his port duties had become so flagrant that the Administrator of Customs complained that Richardson was making up rules to his own advantage. The result was that he was dismissed from his post as Port Captain, but by then his cattle and hide business was thriving and he had made so many friends among ship captains that they no longer hove to in San Francisco, but dropped anchor in the shelter of Richardson’s Bay where they provided a ready market for his beef and fruits and vegetables. The historian Bancroft observed; “Any administrator who attempted to regulate whalers in San Francisco Bay was confronted by hard‑faced captains bent on keeping their port expenses small, by merchants after cheap goods, and by rancheros who bartered their agricultural surplus for ‘slop chest’ goods.”
In 1844 a new official named Diaz was appointed to San Francisco. After discovering that more whalers had passed over to the Sausalito anchorage, Diaz crossed the bay to try to enforce the port regulations. He found the anchorage teeming with evidence of illicit trade. He noticed a large kettle on the beach. Richardson replied that it was his, that a whaling ship had left the kettle. Then Diaz discovered that the Alcade of San Francisco had brought his launch alongside a whaler and was unloading a barrel of honey, salt pork and ship’s bread. Reports of the blatant disregard of his authority continued until Diaz announced that he was withdrawing all guards, and informed Richardson that he was responsible for what might happen. Richardson’s answer rivals today’s bureaucratic responses: “This Captaincy is not responsible for anything you may do regarding the whaling ships anchored in Sausalito, because of their having anchored by arrangement with orders which the Custom House gave; this is my answer to your Official Letter dated today.”
Richardson had other means of avoiding customs duties ‑- use of the Sausalito shores as storage. When the whalers did submit to customs inspection, it was often with lightened loads. Bancroft reported that “a goodly amount of fabric, liquor, clothing, food and household goods were hidden beyond the beach at Whaler’s Cove.” Shanghaiing? While we have no evidence that Richardson was trading in sailors, he was willing to harbor deserters. A cook, a carpenter and a ship’s boy found employment in his benevolent domaine after deserting their ships. Yet, for some reason, the name “Rancho Shanghai” became attached to Richardson’s place. A sketch done by a visiting sailor in 1855 is entitled “Shanghai Rancho near Saucelito‑Cala,” and is followed by the notation “this would seem to be a nickname with some innuendo.”
Next week: A description of Marin in the 1840s written in later years by Richardson’s children.
William Richardson, c. 1854
By Larry Clinton
As Opening Day on the Bay approaches on Sunday, April 28, it’s noteworthy to recall that this annual celebration originated with the ark community of Belvedere. The story was told in the Pictorial History of Tiburon A California Railroad Town, published by the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society:
In the early 1890’s, a jaunty floating population appeared in Belvedere Cove: a flotilla of arks, or houseboats, which were moored in the cove from April until October, then towed into the shelter of the lagoon for the winter. In 1894, a reporter from the Sausalito News counted twelve of these unlikely vessels swaying from their anchors; by the turn of the century, the number had risen to thirty or forty.
They were of every conceivable description, from little more than Tom Sawyer rafts to elegant wood-paneled retreats., with elaborate upholstery. One, owned by a man named Wellington who had chosen this way of being prepared for the second flood, which he felt was imminent, was 62 feet long and had a glassed-in garden, presumably for raising food during those long forty days at sea.
More typically, an ark had four rooms and a kitchen, with hogsheads of water for drinking and washing. White railings circled the deck, and there were bunks everywhere for friends, who could be numerous, for many boats were owned jointly by several families.
One of the most original of these floating residences, the Nautilus, came into existence when James McNeil brought four abandoned horse-drawn San Francisco streetcars over on a barge towed by the ferry and nailed them to a raft. In 1895 the Examiner described McNeil’s progress: “Down on the beach is a varied assortment of sash boards, doors, windows, some superfluous roofing and an assortment of wheels that were not found necessary for the comfort of ark life.” One of the chief delights of the Nautilus must have been the number of windows.
An English newswoman, writing an account of Arktown for her magazine, The Strand, in 1899, found much to admire:
“There is an indescribable charm about the life; one has the pleasures of boating combined with the comforts of home; sea baths are at one’s very threshold; fish are caught and cooked while you wait.... The monotony of the scenery is varied by the swinging of the ark as it turns with the tide. There are neighbors, thirty or forty families of them, within easy reaching distance if one can pull a stroke, for there is always a following of rowboats lazily resting upon the water in the wake of each ark. The butcher, the baker, and others ... who supply the needs of daily life each has his little boat which he sends around every morning for his customary order, and the joint for dinner and the ice cream for dessert are delivered as promptly to the ark-dwellers as they are to those who are still in the city.”
The highlight of the summer season was the “Night in Venice,” which featured concerts, fireworks, a torchlight procession of boats, open house on the arks, prizes for best decorations, and other festivities put on by the “Descendants of Noah,” or “Venetians of the West,” as the ark owners enjoyed calling themselves. One ark dweller, Lillian Saltonstall, recalled such a soiree in 1905;
“I remember particularly well one ‘Night in Venice.’ Belles and beaux were enjoying the scene and making love on the side. Finally, the moon began to wane, the music died away, and the lights went out. The ‘night’ was over and the owners all went back to their own houseboats. We felt relaxed and happy. It had been an evening filled with gay social contacts, delicate dishes, and easy kisses.”
The opening of the drawbridge each April to allow the arks to be towed out of Belvedere Cove is generally considered to be the original Opening Day on the Bay.
When the drawbridge became a fixed span and the arks could no longer shelter in the lagoon during the winter, this era began to come to end. Many of the remaining houseboats were put up on stilts and became cozy residences or rental cottages. Some were towed away to new locations in Sausalito or Larkspur. Today, rows of beached Arks can be seen off Bridgeway near Bar Bocce in Sausalito and where Main Street turns uphill in Tiburon.
Opening Day, 1903.
Photo courtesy of Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks History Collections
The June 15, 1971 issue of Marinscope reported on the first skirmish in the wars between the Gate 5 houseboat colony, Marin County authorities and the Coast Guard. According to reporter Jay Casey, “The skirmish resulted from the county’s first attempts to remove what it considered houseboat ordinance violators. Some 30 boats in the Gate 5 colony did not meet Marin County specifications and were scheduled to be abated.” Casey noted that houseboaters later likened the raid to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Here are excerpts from Casey’s report:
An unusual sequence of events helped add drama to last week’s Battle of the Bay.
The morning began for Russell Grissom, an artist and houseboat owner, with minor problems. He had no honey for his breakfast cereal. Grissom went to a neighboring boat to borrow some honey.
When he returned he found he had no cereal on which to put his honey. Indeed, he had no houseboat. [Marin County Building Inspector Richard] Larson had crept in aboard a small Boston Whaler at 11:30 and artfully plucked Grissom’s abode, cereal and all, from its mooring.
Larson managed to tow Grissom’s houseboat to a point north of the heliport before the Boston Whaler sputtered to a halt with mechanical trouble. Larson had to call for reinforcement vessels.
By this time members of the houseboat colony, realizing this wasn’t some weird narcotics bust, were beginning to organize. They flocked to the site where Grissom’s houseboat was beached. Grissom jumped aboard.
He drew a large knife and was attempting to cut the line which held his houseboat ashore when two deputies drew their guns. One of them threatened to fire if Grissom did not stop trying to sever the rope.
“Go ahead and shoot me,” said Grissom. The deputies holstered their guns and drew their night sticks.
By 2:30 p.m. the Sausalito Armada was afloat. The hastily-organized private navy consisted of all manner of vessels, including a Chinese junk, numerous rowboats, several small outboard motor craft, sailboats, a canoe, a kayak and two mini tugs – Trans Love and Loafer.
When a Coast Guard ship tried to confiscate another houseboat, known as Joe’s Camel, from a spot in the middle of the bay, the armada put up a fierce interference.
Frustrated in attempts to outmaneuver the numerous small boats, the Coast Guard eventually captured the Trans Love. There were four arrests.
The article noted that both sides had eventually agreed to a cooling off period, and concluded, “Hopefully, new battle lines will not be drawn, but rather a just and honorable peace will be reached.”
Of course we know that those wars continued for many years (some might say they’ve never ended). The accompanying photo, circa 1977, shows that peace was harder to achieve than the reported suggested..
A sailboat became the focus of a push-pull with sheriff’s officers during an attempt to block the construction of Liberty Dock at Waldo Point Harbor.
Photo © Bruce Forrester
A Unique Collaboration:The Spaulding Wooden Boat School and the Arques School of Traditional Boat Building
By Steefenie Wicks
Two organizations on the Sausalito waterfront are working together because they have the same mission … keeping the history of Sausalito’s maritime heritage alive. So you might wonder what these two words have in common: unique and collaboration.
These words best describe the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center and the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding. The uniqueness is that Don Arques and Myron Spaulding both ended up leaving small fortunes to support boat building on the Sausalito waterfront. Bob Darr, program director and head instructor at Arques, says the endowment means that the school will continue without having to alter its programs. The collaboration between the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center and the Arques School has fostered an educational component that is a perfect match for both organizations.
Both waterfront organizations have collaborated on shared sail programs allowing students to learn how to use small boats built in classes. This year’s students will help construct a boat that Andrea Rey, executive director of Spaulding, asked Darr to design, a small dory called the DOREEN. The vessel is designed to be rowed or sailed and is compactly built for transportation. Participating apprentices will receive instructions on how to sail the vessel and participate in outdoor maritime activities.
Both organizations have come to the realization that none of this would have been possible if it had not been for Myron Spaulding and Donlon Arques. The two men went to the same high school, shared the same dream, and decided to leave their money to continuing development of Sausalito’s wooden boat heritage.
Donlon Arques left his endowment to the founding and preservation of traditional wooden boats and the skill to produce them; thus the Arques School of Traditional Boat Building was born in 1995. Myron Spaulding’s death in 2000 left his dream with his wife Gladys. She then left the Spaulding Boatworks in a charitable trust, which would be the beginning of the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center.
One of the best collaborations between the two organizations deals with reconstruction. This ongoing project is working because of the volunteers and maritime historians who have committed themselves for the past six years to the restoration of the oldest private sailing yacht on the West Coast, the FREDA, built in 1885. Both organizations have worked together to raise funds and inform the public with educational programs that explain the project and the value of salvaging a historic vessel. Under the guidance of both Rey and Darr the reconstruction process has all been documented. The traditional methods that were used when she was first built are being followed today to maintain the integrity of the 32-foot gaff rigged sloop.
Growing up on the water from Sausalito to the South Seas, Darr spent much of his youth with his father, captain Omar Darr, who sailed with Sterling Hayden on board the WANDERER. As a young boy he had memories of both Arques and Spaulding as strong, opinionated and determined, although Spaulding, with his musical background, had a softer edge. To a child these two could be very scary. Yet if it were not for these men these two organizations would not exist, and that would be even scarier.
Bob remembered that once on a sailing voyage aboard the WANDERER, there were at least 10 children on board and in the evening Sterling would gather them all on deck and tell stories of the ghost that would come out of the sea at night to grab your ankles as you stood near the edge of the deck and then pull you in and you would never be seen or heard from again. Years later he realized that Sterling was saving their lives because not one kid went to the edge of the deck on the boat at night and no one was lost overboard.
“Stories like this one and the experiences you had with these men keep this history here alive. They add to and enrich the waterfront heritage that we are all so involved with because we want to see it continue on for generations.”
Andrea especially wants to explore the idea of collaborating with other groups in the City and beyond to widen the reach of the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center. She feels that Spaulding is a center for activity and a meeting place for all groups involved in maintaining Sausalito’s waterfront heritage. This is why the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center is now having once a month an open houses, opening their doors to the public and inviting them to explore the facilities and the educational opportunities with hands on learning. They will also offer free tours on the Bay aboard the 22 ft. vessel, DIXIE with a member of the Sausalito Historical Society on board as waterfront tour docents. The first open house is Saturday, April 13 from 11 AM to 3 PM. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This collaboration between the Spaulding Wooden Boat Center and the Arques School of Traditional Boat Building is in a word, simply awesome.
Bob Darr and Andrea Rey in front of the FREDA Photo by Steefenie Wicks