Sausalito Waterfront: Art and Music

By Steefenie Wicks
In his book, “Sausalito: Moments in Time,” Jack Tracy talks about how Sausalito has always being a haven for writers, artist, poets and creative souls.  He wrote that it was not until the 1950’s that a sense of creative energies seemed to be released.  After World War II, many returning service men and women took up residence in Sausalito trying to remove from their thoughts the horror of war.   A number of these individuals turned their talents to the arts; in the 1950’s Sausalito emerged as one of the best-known artist colonies in the Bay Area.  This reputation for peace plus freedom of thought and purpose eventually settled on the Sausalito waterfront, where a new type of artist/musician would evolve.
Many took up residency in old tug boats, barges, ferry boats, or ships that would never set to sea again.  These new dwellers would become the first waterfront house boaters.  One of the long-term members of this community is painter Heather Wilcoxon, who arrived here in 1969.  Musician Fiver Brown arrived in the year 2002.  Both artists came for a visit and stayed for a lifetime.
“I remember getting a call from my sister CiCi, a singer and musician, who said, “You have got to come here, see what I have found,” Heather recalls. “She was very excited, so I left art school in Los Angeles, drove to Sausalito.  Once I got here I never looked back.”
Heather was able to take up residence on an old “Potato Barge” that was 100 ft. long, docked at Gate 6.   It housed four separate apartments.  “People lived together, they shared what they had,” she continues. “The land all belonged to Donlon Arques, he let everyone live there for little or no rent, basically we lived for free.”  
Fiver was living in Los Angeles when he got a call from a friend to come to a party on a Sausalito houseboat.   At the time he was reviewing scripts for movie executives.  His stay in Hollywood had enabled him to continue with his music which he had been involved with most of his life, but he missed a sense of community.  “I worked 16 hour days, got paid for 8.  Hollywood is not the glamorous place that you might think it is, everyone seems to be involved with themselves, not with others, “ he concludes. “It’s a selfish existence.”
He remembered his first music experience on a Sausalito houseboat.  “I was blown away by the fact that a full on band was playing.  They were the ‘Sonia Dada’ band, a Chicago based rock/soul/rhythm and blues band that had the place rocking,” he continues.  “It was like being at a music festival. After they played others took to the stage, a jam session began.  I ended up joining them; one of the fellows playing with me commented that he thought I should stay, be part of the group.  I told him that I lived in LA, would have to change life plans to do that, he said why not?  So, with this feeling of a new-found music community, I went back to L.A., packed my things, came back to Sausalito, began a new life. On the waterfront.”
A new life is what Heather also envisioned; she had her first studio at the ICB building where she practiced her painting for the next 20 years. In the meantime, her life at Gate 6 had taken a most interesting turn because of the “Waterfront Wars” during the late 1970’s.
“I remember a time when every morning you would get up to the sound of an air horn being blown to let you know that the police were there,” she smiles. “It was exciting.”   She goes on to explain that in 1976, Gate 6 was a very lively place to live, a very raw scene where a lot of live theater took place.  She remembered the first time she was arrested was during one of these live theater performances: “When it happens you realize that this is real, this was really happening, you’re being arrested. Now, as a 30 year resident of the waterfront, I can honestly say; things have changed for the better.”
Fiver, whose first job on the waterfront was working on a tug boat, has seen the closing of two great music venues, the music studio the Plant and the Sweetwater, in Mill Valley.   He feels that when things around you change, the effect can be profound.  He writes most of the music he preforms with his band Dredgetown, keeping the music authentic like Sausalito.  
He feels, “It’s tough being an artist/musician in Marin.  I’m married now, have a son. With a family it’s hard to sometimes make both ends meet.  But with the support of a strong community you can still make things happen so that you can exist, perform, play music.”
Jack Tracy, Sausalito’s historian, would be the first to say to both Heather Wilcoxon and Fiver Brown, welcome to Sausalito’s art community, still a haven for creative souls.

Fiver Brown, musician and Heather Wilcoxon, artist (left to right)
Photo by Steefenie Wicks


Richardson, Reed and Throckmorton

As shown in this excerpt from the new book “Legendary Locals of Mill Valley,” there are striking parallels between William Richardson and John Reed -- Southern Marin’s earliest Anglo settlers – and Samuel Throckmorton, who followed in their footsteps:  
William Richardson sailed into San Francisco Bay in 1822 as the first mate of a whaling ship. Just as with John Reed in 1826, London-born Richardson soon found himself a guest in the home of a Presidio commander, Ignacio Martinez. Richardson—like Reed—married the Presidio commander's daughter. In 1825, Richardson married Maria Martinez, and in 1841, the Mexican government gave Richardson a grant to Rancho Saucelito… This property included nearly half of the remaining land that would one day become Mill Valley. (But not all the land. A relatively small plot of unassigned land is the site of another Mill Valley story.)
Richardson took full advantage of his holdings, planting orchards and raising livestock. He also invested heavily in other business enterprises. He is credited with the development of Yerba Buena (later to become San Francisco) as well as the Marin town of Sausalito. Many public streets and landmarks carry his name, including Richardson Bay, on the edge of Mill Valley. Unlike John T. Reed, William Richardson had been a seafaring man all his life. He returned to his maritime roots after settling in the area. He was appointed Yerba Buena's port captain, and he purchased a number of trading and cargo ships that he used for commerce opportunities as far south as San Diego.
Accounts of William Richardson's life indicate that he was a good man, but his entrepreneurial spirit extended beyond realistic boundaries. After suffering a series of calamities, he mortgaged his vast holdings to meet his debts. By 1855, he owed more on the land than it was worth.
Samuel Throckmorton, nicknamed "Five-dollar Throckmorton" for his talent to snap up land from debt-ridden owners, soon owned nearly all of Richardson's Rancho Saucelito. Throckmorton transformed the grazing land into dairy ranches, and then leased them to workers arriving from the Portuguese Azores Islands. The rest of the land was the San Francisco businessman's private weekend playground. He put up a fence around the entire property, posting guards at strategic spots, and outlawed trespassers who did not carry a coveted permit to be there. But Throckmorton—like Richardson—eventually found himself in debt. After Throckmorton's death, the savings union holding the mortgage on the land took possession of nearly all of Rancho Saucelito and established the Tamalpais Land & Water Company (TL&W) to manage it. The land was subdivided and auctioned off in 1890. Perhaps as penance for taking the land away from Throckmorton's daughter Susanna, the TL&W named Mill Valley's first street Throckmorton. A number of former Portuguese tenant farmers bought land at the auction. In the end, neither Richardson nor Throckmorton could do what the Portuguese farmers accomplished: have multiple generations of their descendants live on the fertile and pastoral land. (Courtesy of Anne T. Kent California Room, Marin County Free Library.)
“Legendary Locals of Mill Valley” by Joyce Kleiner can be purchased at local bookstores shops, and cafes including The Depot and Book Passage, or it can be ordered direct from the publisher ( or through online retailers and national chains.

Samuel Throckmorton, c. 1875
Photo courtesy of Mill Valley Library


Sausalito In the News: June 11, 1921 

By Billie Anderson, Sausalito Historical Society Trust depends on nation’s thrift

We are advised daily by the economists that by thrift we must restore the capital destroyed by the war.

If thrifty, we are assured we can make good – in twelve years – the total destruction of the great

European conflict. – George Wheeler Hinman, Noted Financial Authority.

The man who lived through war times and in business may now save a part of his income — if he


He may buy the same things he bought a year ago, and at the end of the month have a surplus to put in

the bank. Even Government statisticians seem to hold this point of view.

Only by thrift, we are warned, can we get the abundant capital…which means prosperous business and

national welfare. The opportunity for thrift is here. The cost of living has gone down 40 per cent in the

last year.

SWC concert features musical club

The concert next Tuesday evening at the Woman’s Club house is creating widespread interest. Many

are coming from the City and surrounding points. The artists are to be two child prodigies. To hear

these musicians dominate a roomful of people is something to remember.

Catherine Carver, a child of but twelve years, is a pianist who has astonished the critics with her

mastery of the works of the masters. She is to leave for New York very shortly after this concert.

Little Sarah Kreindler, a nine-year old violinist, is anticipated with great pleasure. Her work is so

remarkable that one can only think of her as a grown woman when she plays. Her recent appearance at

the Fairmont Hotel made a distinct appeal to all.

Board considers search light

V. Thompson, W. D. Fennimore and other residents have asked for an appropriation to help install a

search light on Mt. Tamalpais. A resolution of the Board of Trustees of the Town of Sausalito in

reference to placing a searchlight on Mt. Tamalpais was received and filed.

Doctors Come From Czecho-Slovakia

Seven prominent physicians visit The United States, for the purpose of studying new methods of


Damaged roads

The repair bills for damaged roads would be much reduced according to a bureau of public roads

report if motor trucks were designed to carry more of the loads put on them over the front axle and

not over the rear wheels, as at present. The damage done to the road surface by the rear wheels is

much greater than it would be if the load were distributed on both axles.

June 1921

1st – Race riot in Oklahoma

3rd – Sudden cloudburst kills 120 near Pike’s Peak, Colorado

11th – Brazil adopts women’s suffrage

15th – Bessie Coleman reaches France as 1st U.S. black pilot

20th – 11.5 inches of rainfall – Circle, Montana, State Record


New Directors for Historical Society

At the Sausalito Historical Society’s May 13 annual membership meeting, four new directors were elected to the board of the Society: Mary Ann Griller, Jim Muldoon, Steefenie Wicks and Jerry Taylor.  They replace outgoing board members Larry Clinton, Ann Heurlin, Donald Sibbett, Robin Sweeny and Angela Wildman.  
Jerry Taylor was later elected President of the Board, replacing Clinton, who served as President for the past six years.  Incumbent officers were re-elected for additional two year terms:  Dana Whitson, Vice President; Sharon Seymour, Secretary; and Teddie Hathaway, Treasurer.

New Historical Society Board members Steefenie Wicks, Jerry Taylor, Jim Muldoon and Mary Ann Griller (l. to r.) being introduced by Roland Ojeda, of the Society’s nominating committee.
Photo by Michael Moyle



Houseboat War I

By Larry Clinton
The houseboat wars of the mid-70s, with scenes of boat-to-boat jousting between hippies and sheriff’s deputies, are a well-documented part of Sausalito’s history.  But the wrangling over the waterfront began far earlier.
In February, 1958, the Marin News reported that Attorney John B. Ehlen filed suit against waterfront property owner Don Arques on behalf of the City, charging that more than 20 “shacks and shanties” were being used as dwelling places without any sewer connections. He called the condition a “health hazard,” and vowed to fight until “we clean this matter up.”
Arques accused Ehlen of persecuting him, and said, “I am being singled out and harassed.”
“It is quite untrue that brother Don is being ‘singled out’,” Ehlen said in reply. “The city council has directed me to abate all public nuisances created and maintained by users and owners of structures on Sausalito’s waterfront who are illegally polluting and contaminating the waters of Richardson Bay.
The city attorney   said legal proceedings are being prepared and filed against what he termed
“all these scofflaws.”    
 He said if Arques is being harassed he had brought it upon himself.
“His (Arques’) wail of self-pity, reminds me of the fellow who murdered his father and mother and then prayed for the court’s mercy on the ground that he was an orphan,” Ehlen said.
“I don’t believe the taxpayers of Sausalito, who have heavily taxed themselves to create and maintain a sanitary sewer system,   desire that anyone be permitted to defy and defeat the purpose of that system by dumping sewage, including human excretia, into the waters of Richardson Bay.”
According to the newspaper,   many waterfront residents were reportedly seething at Ehlen’s earlier statement that “I like pigs, too, but not in my living room.” As the paper reported: “The majority of comments did not readily adapt themselves to print, but clearly indicated strong feeling on the part of the barge and houseboat dwellers. ‘Who does Ehlen think he is calling us pigs!’ one of them stormed. Someone ought to sue him.    
“Commented another: ‘&*%!!!’”
The following month a writer named John Raymond had some fun at the expense of both parties.  Here are excerpts from his article titled “Water Pistols at Ten Paces? Ehlen, Arques Spar in Epic Sea Battle.”
Sausalito’s aquatic heavyweights continued their verbal fisticuffs this week, with neither scoring a decisive victory.
Landlubber John B. Ehlen, Sausalito’s intrepid city attorney, and waterfront property owner Donlon J. Arques, big daddy of the houseboat set, delivered telling blows, before scurrying back to their respective corners.
“Arques is a sea lawyer who’s very much at sea,” jabbed Ehlen, moving quickly out of range.
The historic background for this weekly ringfest is at once simple and complex.
Caught square in the middle, however, are approximately 50 houseboats and barges that dot the Sausalito waterfront. These are inhabited by a picturesque group of rugged individualists who believe that an emerald sea and the wail of fog horns are preferable to asphalt and honking autos.
As one of them put it: “It’s a wonderful life in a tense world.”
The “wonderful life” appears to be teetering on the brink of oblivion at the moment, however. The city attorney claims the houseboats are polluting Richardson Bay because they are not hooked up to a sewer line.
“Nonsense,” replies Arques. “Belvedere has been dumping all its sewage in Richardson Bay for years. Why all the sudden fuss over less than a hundred houseboat dwellers?”
Ehlen is attempting to remove the houseboats through court action on the grounds they constitute a health menace. Besides, he insists, they are moored on city streets, even though the “streets” in question are under water and would be of little immediate use to anyone other than a frogman or an itinerant mermaid with a penchant for strolling down the avenue.
The immediate target for Ehlen’s civic wrath is the Lassen, a rotting two-masted   schooner whose decaying hulk has settled into the muck and mire of one of Sausalito’s underwater streets.  [In the late 40s, artists Ed and Loyola Fourtane turned the Lassen into a gathering spot for Sausalito’s art colony.]
Ehlen further claims the Lassen is no longer a ship but a structure, because it is firmly imbedded in the city’s “street.”
“If that’s true,” snapped Arques, “then the city owns it anyway, and it’s their responsibility to get rid of it.”
The article concluded: “Meanwhile, Sausalito’s houseboat dwellers have organized, and plan to fight the impending ban on their homes. Their next meeting will take place Monday at 8:30 p.m. at the Old Town Coffee House. “

Donlon Arques in his Gate 3 shop in the mid-1970s.
© Bruce Forrester