by Steefenie Wicks
By Larry Clinton
Can you imagine a high-rise apartment building in the middle of Old Town’s Shelter Cove? It might have happened if not for the efforts of two unlikely allies: city attorney John Ehlen and ex-madam turned restauranteur Sally Stanford.
In February 1957, the Sausalito News reported:
An excited and vocal cross-section of all facets of Sausalito society crammed into the City Hall last Tuesday night to implore, castigate, deride and offer escape clauses apropos of the proposed waterfront apartments scheduled to start construction this spring.
LAST MINUTE RESCUE
It was City Attorney John Ehlen who emerged as the knight in shining armor to save the waterfront, at least temporarily, for the city. Ehlen, armed with the code of the State Lands Commission, disclosed that the builders of the proposed Cove Apartments are not entitled to their building permit because at the present time there is not the required legal access to the property they have purchased—the submerged tidelands off the Boardwalk, bounded by Main and Richardson streets. The State Tidelands Commission will have to issue a permit for building on that site before further construction steps can be taken. At the present time, under the State Lands Act, the City of Sausalito has only an easement to the lots.
TIME TO REZONE
In the meantime, while the builders are applying to the State Lands Commission for their permit (which they have said they will proceed immediately to do), the City Planning Commission will consider rezoning the land for condemnation proceedings on aesthetic grounds. Ehlen also quoted a precedent set in the United States Supreme Court that cited public welfare as having spiritual and aesthetic principles as well as safety and sanitary aspects. After this rezoning or condemnation is established, the burden of proof on the validity of the zoning will be placed on the developers, according to Ehlen.
SALLY OFFERS BAIL
Prior to the city attorney's factual solution to the hassle, Sally Stanford, present with her attorney, James MacInnis, again offered to buy the property at a fair market price, and present it to Sausalito for recreational use.
In an oral history recorded for the Historical Society, long-time community activist Bea Seidler told how Sally eventually prevailed, along with several other citizens who raised enough money to make a down payment on the property, and then deeded it to the City, which put up the rest of the purchase price. “Sally I think was the one who got the whole thing going,” recalled Bea, “because she was going to lose her view.”
You can read, copy and print back issues of Sausalito News from 1895 through 1957 via the Historical Society’s website: http://www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.org. Just click on the Sausalito News link on the home page. Then, print out the instructions for searching the newspaper, click on the Sausalito News link, and follow your printed instructions.
Sally Stanford of Sausalito
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society
By Steefenie Wicks
Sausalito’s waterfront history is rich with the different types of people who have come here and made it their home or place of business. Most of these transplants themselves have a connected background of being on the water, sailing, rowing -- starting at the early age of 8 or 10. This is the background that fits Shirwin Smith, who learned her rowing skills at that age on Lake Champlain in Vermont. In 1973, her life took a change that would bring her to California.
“My first job was for the GGNRA in San Francisco at the Maritime Museum. It was while I was working there that I moved to Sausalito in 1979. One day while reading the Marinscope, I saw an ad about the forming of a new Sausalito Rowing Club. I remember thinking, that’s for me,” she said. She remembers that their fist meeting was held at City Hall with five people, led by Gordy Nash.
Nash was a builder of small craft, well known in Sausalito. It was through Nash that she started to become serious about the idea of rowing and sculling. She tells the story of how she was part of the race Nash put together from Catalina Island to Marina Del Ray, a 36-mile event. The rowing shells would be taken out on a larger vessel. You then boarded your vessel and raced back. She would participate in this racing event 5 different times.
Then in 1985 she quit her job with GGNRA and started her own business, Open Water Rowing, which is now a 30-year-old waterfront firm dedicated to the art of sculling. She is the first to tell you that what she does is kind of like the “mountain bike” of this sport that is very different from kayaking or paddle boarding. She was the first to open this type of water sculling, using a form of rowing shell that only weighs around 38 pounds and travels lean and fast over the water’s surface. In 1985 this was a very different type of business. “I never felt that I was treated differently because I was a woman,” she says, “for me it was more like shock factor when people would find out that the owner was the ‘little gal’ over there.” She continues, “It is always the same no matter who I’m standing with and talking to, someone will eventually come up and say, ‘hey do you know how I can find the owner’ and I would speak up and say, that would be me.”
Shirwin feels that when you get about a quarter of a mile off shore the world changes and you seem to change with it. She tells stories of only pleasant encounters with other waterfront dwellers who anchor out on their vessels, also of how many have gone out of their way to return boats to her when they have gotten lost in a storm.
“All waterfront areas are different,” she says, “but the thing that makes Sausalito so special is the atmosphere created by this incredible body of water that surrounds us, takes us to another world of experience, then lets us row back to shore.”
She continues, “My grandfather was a rower, he was with the Harlem River Rowing Club that was founded by returning civil war veterans, back in 1873. I never got to meet him but my grandmother gave me all the medals he had won; maybe I get my talent for this sport from him, I have wondered about that.”
I asked her about her early days in the Onshore Marine building which was demolished so that the new Schoonmaker marina could be built.
“Oh, ‘’ she says,” those were the days. There were all of theses local waterfront business that all seemed to fit together in that space. We shared the space and became a small supportive community for each other. I can remember one night I was on my way home and one of the fishermen had come, in tied his boat up and he, along with some of the guys from the building, were out grilling fish from his catch. As I walked by I commented on how good it looked, he told me to stick out my hand, in it he handed me a nice filet that I had that night for dinner.”
She feels this laid back attitude is part of being on the water and being part of that close water existence. She mentions that one of her mentors on the waterfront has long been Hank Easom; she admires him as a business owner, a person of character and an awesome sailor. When he closed down his boat shop he offered her space for her shells on his property. “He never seems to get upset,” she continues, “he instead has this attitude of ‘let’s just get it fixed and move on’, I like that.
“For the past 30 years the Sausalito waterfront has been a wonderful place for me,” she continues. “When I’m offshore moving along with the birds and the seals, this is another world. I feel that with this sport of sculling, you are taught to experience the Bay in a most personal way. It’s a way of taking one’s first breath of Sausalito’s fresh air.”
Shirwin Smith outside Open Water Rowing Center
Photo by Steefenie Wicks
By Larry Clinton
I moved to my first floating home, at Kappas Marina, just in time for New Year’s, and just in time for a killer storm. After getting 10 inches of rain in December, 1981, Marin got drenched with 13 inches on January 3 and 4.
A leak developed from my upstairs deck, which soaked my bedroom floor, causing rain to fall downstairs, and eventually to seep into my plywood pontoons. Our parking lots flooded, and people had to brave the elements to move their cars to higher ground. Dealing with this “trial by water,” I learned a lot about houseboat living in a very short time.
But my problems were minor compared to some of the folks in the hills of Sausalito.
Here’s how Cindy Roby reported on the storm for this paper almost 33 years ago:
It started off like just one hell of a rainstorm. While the 49ers slogged their way to victory at Candlestick on Sunday, the rain grew heavier. It pelted the county all night and by mid-morning Monday, serious flooding was reported throughout the county. Noon news showed submerged cars, slow traffic and a make-the-best-of-it-fellow windsurfing on the floodwaters in San Rafael.
And still it came down, and the news turned frantic and ominous. The word "disaster" was substituted for "storm". . .Attention turned to Sausalito Monday night with news of a large landslide which fell onto the southbound lanes of 101 on the Waldo Grade. Homes on Wolfback Ridge were watched carefully. The bridge was closed and helicopters circled ominously.
Early Tuesday morning the rain stopped. It was cold and gray and grim. The bad news continued to pour in while the cleanup began. All day trucks worked to clear the southbound lanes of Waldo Grade. Sausalito residents hung over the overpass and cheered the first cars traveling north about 4:30 p.m. And they wandered down on Bridgeway as residents of several buildings evacuated their homes that had been damaged by a mudslide and stood in further peril from above where the house at #6 Bulkley had begun to show signs of strain. Crews cut the gas and water lines and monitored Bulkley Avenue where a huge crack grew and the downhill roadbed sank lower with the strain. But by Tuesday night it all seemed stable. Over with. The general consensus was that Sausalito had been pretty lucky.
But that assumption was terribly wrong. In the clear quiet of Tuesday night, the steep hillside, covered with Scotch Broom that lies just 40 to 75 feet south of the Spencer Avenue-Monte Mar exit sign was silently reaching its tolerance. The hillside — actually landfill placed there to support the northbound lanes of 101 when they were built some 25 years ago — had been saturated to the breaking point. And at approximately 9:30 p.m. the hillside gave way, releasing tons of mud that roared downhill smashing the duplex at 466-468 Sausalito Blvd right off its hillside perch. This two-story structure sheared through 85 Crescent killing its sole occupant, 46-year-old Sally Baum.
Nearby residents describe these few awful moments as punctuated by the sound of a woman screaming, trees cracking and the dull gurgle of mud as it descended. The lights went off. Then there was an eerie awful silence.
Within minutes, the fire and police departments had responded to the scene. They assessed the enormity of the disaster and began to evacuate the stunned and disoriented nearby residents. Police and fire personnel went door to door. Banging on doors, beaming flashlights in darkened windows, yelling through bullhorns, and literally pulling some people from their own homes. Later a CHP helicopter was brought in to bring the same message to people in a wider area of neighboring streets ranging from up on Prospect and Cable Roadway down to Crescent, Lower Crescent, Sausalito Boulevard and Main Street, reaching all the way down to Third and Fourth Streets. Police checkpoints informed them to go to an evacuation point at Martin Luther King School at the other end of town. Fire Chief Steve Bogel and Battalion Chief Fylstra started looking through the wreckage. “We understood someone was in the house, Chief Bogel reported. “Fylstra saw the body and together we pulled it out."
According to later reports, Sally Baum, a young widow, had just returned home from dinner with neighbors when her bedroom was struck. She was probably getting ready for bed when the slide hit. Ironically, the living room and kitchen of her house remained intact, with Christmas gifts still under the tree.
Sally Baum, who lost her life in the 1982 mudslide.
by Steefenie Wicks
There is one person who can tell you more about the history of Sausalito than any other Marin historian -- Sausalito City Clerk Debbie Pagliaro.
Pagliaro, who has spent more than 50% of her life working in just about every city government department, is one of those rare individuals actually born in Marin and raised in Sausalito. Her playpen was a cardboard box in the front window of her father’s hardware store on Bridgeway, so she could watch the world go by. She can tell you about the picnics that families used to have in Vina del Mar Plaza, where Santa would come every year for Christmas.
She attended Central School (now City Hall) from kindergarten to 4th grade. Along the way she, with a group of involved young folks in 1965, took on City Hall with their demands for a Youth Center. Today that youth Center has grown into the Sausalito Parks and Rec Department. Once again proving her connection with the City where her grandfather started the family business, her father was born in a house on 4th Street; the family the moved to Rose Ct. where she grew up.
Pagliaro got involved with working for the City of Sausalito right after she graduated from high school when her neighbor asked her to come and work a part time job down at the old City Hall on Bridgeway.
It so happened that the City had started a new parking program, and she was to begin her civic career selling parking permits. Later she took the position of business license clerk, and from there she moved on to the planning department, building department and the police department. She continues, “It was not until I worked for the Police department that I felt that I had finally become well rounded. I ended up becoming secretary to the Chief of Police. That was one eye opening experience because you really got to see both sides of what can become a problem. I was there for seven years when it was decided that the City really did need a full time City Clerk and here I am.”
“Did you work with long time City Clerk Janet Tracy?”
“Yes I did, and if anyone had told me then that one day I’d be sitting here in her position, I would have been the first to say they were wrong. But here I am 30 years later, the City Clerk. You know, Janet Tracy was a cutting edge City Clerk. She was part of what I call the sub-group of City Clerks that put together the process of departmental training for what would become the Certified Municipal City Clerk position. She also turned over to me the City Bible: that being a 5 x7 black 3-ringed notebook with some of the most valuable information on Sausalito, some of it dating back to 1897, including the names of all of the City Clerks since the beginning of Sausalito.” This is a rightful belonging for a Sausalito City historian.
I asked Pagliaro, what did she think of today’s Sausalito?
“Funny” she said, “but that line about ‘never going home again,’ I think that’s true.”
She feels that the City has changed but all for the good. She states that Sausalito has always been engaged. It has always been a City that is circular, so cyclical that if something happened in the 1940’s then it’s bound to surface again some 30 or 40 years later. That’s where the historian comes in. At some point you need to be able to research an issue to find out how it was handled, then bring that to the table today so that the decision made can be the correct one. She goes on to say, “There was a law on the books once that said Sausalito residents could not have chickens or ducks on their City property. This came about because my mother got a duck and the duck had ducklings, which were pretty noisy. A neighbor complained and the next thing we knew there was a law against it. Now look around Sausalito today, people love having the ability to have chickens and ducks as pets, no one says they can’t. Where is that law today?”
She continues,” Everyone seems to talk about Sausalito’s small town character; well I don’t see that, I don’t see that at all. The way I explain it is, I have grown up in Sausalito and I have spent a lot of time in Mill Valley but it was not until I started working for the City of Sausalito that I realized Mill Valley is twice as big, but Sausalito seems bigger. Sausalito is community orientated but not small town characteristic.”
She smiles, as a thought seems to strike her, she begins: “I can remember being a child, when you would hear the fire alarm, you’d go get your card to see where the fire was; you see each neighborhood had its own fire call, so on the card you could tell where the fire was. Also, you had to call the fire department to let them know if you were planning a barbeque so that they didn’t show up to put your fire out! Okay, that then would have been called small town… but not today.”
Debbie Pagliaro at work in City Hall.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks