Thursday
Oct232014

A Native Son

by Mike Moyle

Sausalito recently lost one of its true native sons with the passing of Konrad Knudsen, known by all as Konnie.  Konnie’s life spanned 87 years of Sausalito’s history and touched the lives of many.

Konnie was born on the Fourth of July in 1927 at his parents’ home in the Waldo community where Marin City stands today.  At that time Waldo was an arc of just over twenty houses on the hillside, curving around the bayside marsh that is today the Gateway Shopping Center.  Two dairies, including one owned by Joe Bettencourt, the grandfather of Konnie’s future wife, Arlene, were located among the homes, and cows far outnumbered people.

Konnie had a lifelong love of the outdoors that stemmed from his boyhood in Waldo’s wide open spaces.  Here is a brief excerpt from his oral history, referred to below, in which he describes what it was like to grow up there:

“We would play in the barns, you know, and stuff today that you'd do, you'd go to jail for. You know. I mean they, they'd, whoever owned the dairy now would run you, run you off. But, it was really fun. You know, in the mornings we'd do that, and then go home to breakfast, and then we'd go play baseball until noon, and then after lunch we would go down to Waldo Point. There was a beach down there, and we'd swim. When we finally got paper routes, we'd swim until the papers came, and then we'd go deliver our papers, and go home and have dinner, and then go out and play "kick the can," or whatever, you know, until about nine o'clock, and then go home and start over again.”

Konnie had several different jobs in his early life, including working on several local dairies, and, for a brief time during World War II, as a pipefitter at the Marinship project.  He served in Germany in the Army during the Korean War and, after returning home, got a job with the Sausalito Post Office and worked there as a mailman until his retirement.

Although it may not have been obvious from his name, Konnie was also part of Sausalito’s large population of residents of Portuguese descent.  While Konnie’s father emigrated from Norway, his mother, May, was a member of a branch of the Bettencourt clan that came here from the Azores in the 1800’s.  Just to confuse things, Konnie’s wife, Arlene, was from an unrelated branch of the same Bettencourt family.  

Although he was known for many things, Konnie may be best remembered by generations of Sausalito’s youth and their parents for his active involvement with the town’s youth baseball program.   Konnie had a lifelong love of the game and was among those who helped to bring the Little League to Sausalito in 1954.  For many years he coached his beloved Salvage Shop Seals as well as other teams, and his baseball-isms, such as “Get your glove and go,” were well known.  Some of the most touching memories of Konnie came from his former players who recalled his unfailing cheerful attitude, encouragement and support.  It did not matter how skilled a kid might be – what Konnie wanted most was simply for someone to try.

When the Little League started in Sausalito, participation was limited to boys living within the city limits, which at that time only extended as far north as Nevada Street.  Konnie was instrumental in allowing children from Marin City, as well as interested girls, to play.

Konnie’s contributions to Sausalito’s baseball program were acknowledged when the baseball field at what today is Willow Creek Academy was dedicated in his name in the mid-90s.

Finally, Konnie was a dedicated family man.  He and Arlene raised seven children, and at the time of his passing they had 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  His legacy lives on in many forms.

The Sausalito Historical Society has in its collection a CD and transcript of an oral history of Konnie done by the Anne T. Kent California Room at the Marin County Free Library, and Konnie is also featured in the IDESST Sausalito Portuguese Hall’s new Sausalito Portuguese Heritage Walking Tour (the tour Guidebook is available on the Hall’s website – www.idesst.org).  Both are well worth exploring.


Konnie Knudsen as young boy in Waldo, as a teenager on horseback and as an adult.

Photos courtesy of Anne T. Kent California Room at the Marin County Free Library, and the Knudsen Family

Tuesday
Sep092014

Marinship’s Artistic Legacy

By Larry Clinton
Sausalito’s wartime shipyard, Marinship, sprang up almost overnight in 1942.  Then, after WWII, it disappeared just as suddenly.  The waterfront acreage, littered with abandoned landing craft, lifeboats and other surplus materiel, was to become the center of Sausalito’s waterfront artistic community.
In his book Sausalito: Moments in Time, Jack Tracy wrote:
“With the end of World War II and the closing of Marinship, Sausalitans turned their attention from the waterfront and concentrated on a return to normal, if such a return were possible.  Sausalito’s population quickly dropped to almost its prewar level of 3,500.  The streets and shops seemed deserted when compared to wartime hustle and bustle.  As in the rest of the country, shortages of manufactured goods and food rationing still existed, and unemployment was a major cause of concern. . . The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needed only a portion of the sprawling facility for their operations, about forty-five acres including the administration building, the warehouse, outfitting docks, and ferry slip… Marinship was sold off piecemeal by sealed bid auctions… Several small businesses did soon open on the site.”
Donlon Arques, who had worked on contract at Marinship, later acquired surplus ships, shipyard land, and equipment, and began renting watercraft to artists and returning WWII veterans, many of whom were going to college on the GI Bill and needed low cost housing.  Ultimately, Arques controlled much of the postwar Marinship property along the Sausalito waterfront.
As Phil Frank wrote in the Historical Society book Houseboats of Sausalito, “The Arques boatyards became havens for sculptors, painters, jewelry makers, and bon vivants in the late 1940s and 1950s.  The beats of San Francisco’s North Beach came to consider Sausalito their summer home…”
A couple of large Marinship buildings went through dramatic changes in peacetime.  The Mold Loft and Yard Office, one of the largest buildings at Marinship, contained a giant open space for laying out templates on plywood. These templates were then slid down a ramp and taken to the plate shop where they were used over and over to mark the steel sheets that would become parts of the ships.  Postwar, the structure was renamed the Industrial Center Building and began leasing commercial space. Abstract impressionist Walter Kuhlman was the first artist to move in, in 1955, followed by many others, including Tim Rose, who became famous for his mobile sculptures.  Today the ICB, at Harbor Drive and Gate 5 Road, houses dozens of artists and artisans, and hosts open studio events twice a year.
The even larger Marinship warehouse covered 122,500 sq. ft. Railroad tracks ran along its dock area, bringing everything a ship would need, except plate steel and machinery.  Today it houses the Bay Model, and the surrounding property is the site of the Sausalito Art Festival, held annually over the Labor Day Weekend.
Other shipyard buildings became work spaces for many of the boatbuilders and maritime trades drawn to the area because of their proximity to harbors, suppliers, and affordable housing.  That tradition continues today, on a somewhat smaller scale.
I will be giving an illustrated talk on Marinship at the Sausalito Library, Friday September 19 at 7 PM.  And the Floating Homes community, which emerged from the remains of Marinship, will be honoring its artistic heritage during its annual Open Homes Tour Sept. 20.  For advance tickets, go to www.floatinghomes.org.


Tim Rose’s ICB studio in the ‘60s.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society


Tuesday
Sep092014

Jimmy Stewart & Crew on Gate Six Road

by Brad Hathaway

Nearly fifty years ago, Hollywood stars Jimmy Stewart, Glynis Johns, Ed Wynn and even teen-idol Fabian came to Sausalito to film a light comedy in the houseboat community along Gate 6 Road.

The CinemaScope movie, titled "Dear Brigitte" because it involved the infatuation of an 8 year old child prodigy with the sexy French actress, Brigitte Bardot, was based on a book titled "Erasmus – With Freckles." It was written by San Francisco-born, Los Angeles resident dentist and author John Haase.

He had placed much of the action in Sausalito's colorful floating home neighborhood. Indeed, in the book, the name of the houseboat was "The Tiburon" and he described it as a permanently moored retired ferryboat that "had been carelessly beached. This caused it to list permanently six degrees to port." As a result, he wrote, "the craft was as mobile as a pyramid."

Haase made the location seem tremendously exotic. He wrote that there were "wonderful harbor noises. The putt-putt of a diesel, a distant steamer's whistle, the vessels backing against the wooden docks, the slap-slap of the gentle waves against a moored sailboat, a concertina, a winch being turned, a ship's bell, a bell buoy, a distant foghorn."

He wrote of visual qualities as well. "One could find a spot on top of the pilothouse and merely watch the bay around the ferry. There was always a sailboat race or a weary tramp steamer coming through the Golden Gate." Mr. Haase seemed to think that the Gate was visible from the houseboat community. Well, he couldn't get everything right.

Officials at Twentieth Century Fox saw the colorful locale as a plus as they looked for a new vehicle for their star Jimmy Stewart in the wake of such successes as "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation" and "Taker Her, She's Mine."

The Bay Area had been good for Stewart before when he starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" which was filmed throughout San Francisco. So location shooting in Sausalito would give the star a chance to revisit the site of a success.

Paired with Stewart as his wife was Glynis Johns, who was becoming a familiar face to audiences with the release a few months before of "Mary Poppins" where she also played a wife and mother.

Another veteran of "Mary Poppins," comic actor Ed Wynn, took the role of a neighbor who narrates the story for the movie audience. During the filming of the Sausalito scenes, Wynn became something of a favorite of the local population as he mingled with the crowds that came out to see the filming.

Playing Stewart's son, the eight year old mathematics prodigy with a fixation on the Parisian sex kitten, was Bill Mumy. Despite his young age, he already had a lengthy career in television with recurring roles on such shows as "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet."

Fabian's role, that of the boyfriend of Stewart's character's daughter, was more a creation of the screenwriters, Hal Kanter and Nunnally Johnson, than of novelist Haase.

This wasn't the only change to the story from Haase's novel. The movie portrayed the professor's family as the only residents on the houseboat where Haase's novel described the layout of the "S.S. Tiburon" as family quarters on "A Deck" but with "B Deck" occupied by "wandering poets (and) poetry students."

Other, smaller details were changed in the process of turning the novel into a screenplay. A key scene where the eight year old child detects an error in a bank's statement of accounts took place in the Sausalito branch of the Bank of America. Whether it was that bank's desire not to be portrayed as having sloppy statements or not, for the film it became the "Bayshore National Bank."   

Brigitte Bardot, who had a single scene in the movie, didn't travel to California for the filming. Her scene was shot in Paris.

Fox sent a team including set decorator Steven Potter to scout locations. Potter recalls the locale as beautiful with great weather. "We just had rain once" he says. He adds the observation that "the people in the town were so very friendly."

The team picked a spot at the curve of Gate 6 Road which gave views of Richardson's Bay, houseboats and the ferries Issaquah and the Charles Van Damme.

The "home" of Stewart's "Professor Leaf" and his family was shown as a side-wheeled, twin smoke stacked vessel. Potter recalls that not all of the construction of the details for the set was strong enough for the safety of the actors. "The railings were falling off" he says.

Following the design mandates of Artistic Director Joseph Martin Smith, Potter created a distinctly Victorian look for the houseboat. The exterior featured filigreed touches and the interior sets had red velvet wall coverings.

Most of the filming of interior scenes, however, was done on the sound stages of the former Hal Roach Studios in Southern California. Only the exterior scenes were shot along Gate Six Road.

While the company was filming those scenes, Potter's wife came up for a weekend visit and the couple joined "Mr. Stewart" for dinner at The Trident restaurant on Bridgeway. This was during the time that the Trident was owned and operated by Kingston Trio manager Frank Werber.


Ed Wynn (foreground) and Jimmy Stewart on Gate 6 Road
Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

Thursday
Aug142014

Renaissance Woman

By Larry Clinton
Sausalito lost an iconic figure last week with the passing of Bea Seidler.  Among her many accomplishments, Bea was a long term docent at the Ice House, and had been the guiding light of the non-profit Sausalito Foundation, which supports the artistic, cultural and historical heritage of Sausalito. She was also instrumental in Sally Stanford’s election to the City Council, and eventually as mayor.
Bea recalled her involvement with both the Foundation and Sally Stanford during a 2005 oral history session with Betsy Stroman.  Here’s a lightly edited excerpt from her recollections:  
I somehow or other got swept into an organization known as the Sausalito Foundation. The original people had put up the money to buy the open water down there in front of the Valhalla when there was a high-rise apartment building proposed for it and it was about to be sold. Sally Stanford was one of the original founders. They gathered up about $80,000 and were able to make a down payment, and they deeded it to the City and the City eventually put up the rest of the money. Sally I think was the one who got the whole thing going because she was going to lose her view. Literally, they were putting up a high-rise apartment there. The city owned all of the open water to that corner, about 5 acres. And the reason they owned all of that was that the State of California in the 1870s or ’80s sold off all the underwater lots to raise money for the dome for the [State] Capitol.
We were raising money for the Foundation for something in the early 70s. We had this art and antique auction, and we got people all over town to contribute. It was held on a Sunday afternoon, and at that juncture who should I meet for the first time but Sally Stanford. Sally had run for City Council many times and had been elected in 1972 after running 4 or 5 times. She always ran under the name of Marcia Owen. And when she finally ran under the name of Sally Stanford, she was elected in ’72, much (to tell you the truth) to everybody's surprise, but she had a fairly good reputation -- the hail fellow well met down at the Valhalla. People loved it and she was in her heyday down there, being hostess with her parrot. I maybe had met her, but not really. Anyway, Sally was going to rerun for Council and Betty Phillips called and asked me if I would [help] -- because she knew I worked on people's campaigns, if I would do a brochure for Sally, and I said Oh Sure. [Bea, an advertising copywriter at the time} got to thinking about it and I thought “A brochure for Sally Stanford, that’s the silliest thing I've ever heard. Everybody either knows who she is or doesn't, but a brochure, we don't need to say anything about her.” And the election was going to be in early March, so I said to Betty, why don't we, instead of sending out a brochure, which is nonsensical and a waste of our money, let's send a valentine to everybody in town, and we did. Betty's husband was a printer.
And indeed we did get her elected and I still didn't really know her, although I went to the celebration she had at the Valhalla, and we had a great fun party, but I knew a lot of people and it didn't matter that I didn't really know her. But the auction was after that, maybe 6 months, a year after that. I bid on a couple of things: a little oriental rug, some silver spoons. And lo and behold when I went to pay for them, Sally had paid for them. And she said to me, that's just a way of thanking you for what you did. And then I got to know her quite well, because not too long after that she had a heart attack. My neighbor across and I used to go up and take her meals up to her, if you can believe anything this loopy. Then we used to go to her ranch all the time. ... She had this wonderful walnut ranch between Kenwood and Santa Rosa on I think Highway 12.
Gracie Grove and I used to go up on the weekends. We stayed in the little guestroom in the White Victorian. Sally cooked. It was like she was our grandmother or something. She had a very old fashioned way of cooking. It was like she'd never left Baker, Oregon. Oh, that was why she and Gracie became great friends, because they were both from Baker, Oregon. We used to go up there and then hang out at the swimming pool all weekend.
There were always rumors which -- you know -- there are still to this day rumors that the upstairs of the Valhalla had girls up there. I don't believe that. There were always rumors that there were women in the Woman's Club who had been former girls. I don't believe that either. I think that was a bunch of wannabees. It is true that her name was proposed as Marcia Owen in the Woman's Club and she was blackballed as it were. I know someone who was on the Board at that time. ... It never came to the membership. She was simply blackballed in the Board. But Sally always managed to come to every Jinks ...
Anyway, she was quite a character. I didn't know her in her heyday, but when I knew her she was just kind of a – well, there's a picture of her up there with Gracie and me. That's kind of the way I remember her, as just this jolly lady.



Bea Seidler, c. 2005.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Thursday
Aug142014

Russian Opera with Local Roots

By Larry Clinton
“Juno and Avos” is a popular Russian-language rock opera first performed Moscow in 1981.
The opera is named after the ships Juno and Avos that constituted an expedition headed by Russian explorer Nikolai Rezanov around the turn of the 18th century. The plot is based on a true love story of Rezanov and Conchita Arguello, the teenage daughter of José Darío Argüello, the colonial governor of Spanish California.
Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov  (1764 – 1807) was a Russian nobleman and statesman who was commissioned by Czar Aleksander I as ambassador to Japan to conclude a commercial treaty.  Rezanov departed the expedition when it reached Kamchatka after visiting Japan where he was unsuccessful in his mission. Instead, he brought the Juno to San Francisco in April 1806, to help provision the struggling Russian fur-trading settlement at Sitka, Alaska.
Unfortunately, the Spanish Comandante would not allow trade with Sitka. However Rezanov soon caught the eye of fifteen-year-old Concepcion, described by one admirer as: “distinguished for her vivacity and cheerfulness, her love-inspiring and brilliant eyes and exceedingly beautiful teeth, her expressive and pleasing features, shapeliness of figure, and for a thousand other charms besides an artless natural demeanor.”
The infatuation was mutual, and the lovers spent the two weeks they had together exploring the Presidio and planning their future lives in Russia. During this period, a party of Russians and Aleuts were harpooning seals and otters on the Farallon Islands, where they had established a base camp of crude earthen huts.  Hunters and their families rotated between Fort Ross and the Farallons, depending on the size of the sea mammal herds during the hunting season.
Rezanov asked for Concepcion’s hand in marriage. Though initially concerned with the religious differences as well as the distance between California and Russia, Concepcion’s parents eventually agreed that Rezanov would return to St. Petersburg to gain consent for a mixed Russian Orthodox-Roman Catholic wedding.
(Sixteen years later, coincidentally, Sausalito founder William Richardson married Maria Antonia Martinez, daughter of a later Comandante of the Presidio.)
Attempting to cross Siberia to reach St. Petersburg, Rezanov caught pneumonia and died. Concepcion waited five years for her true love to return before learning from a Russian officer: “He is dead…His last words were of you.” The young officer returned the locket Conception had given to Rezanov.
Though her family encouraged Concepcion to marry—and she is rumored to have had many suitors—she instead joined the Dominican sisterhood in Benicia, California, where she died in 1857.
Two years ago, performances of the rock opera were scheduled in San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Fort Ross, but they were cancelled when funding fell through.  Perhaps “Juno and Avos” could be on the bill if and when the City revives its Opera in the Park program.


Concepcion Arguello and Nikolai Rezanov as depicted on a mural in the Presidio Interfaith Chapel.