Pine Point - Sausalito's Lost Community

The sense of urgency and crisis prevailing in this country in the months immediately after Pearl Harbor left no doubt as to the necessary course of action. Sausalito’s shoreline had to be radically altered in order to build the Marinship yard on the northern waterfront. And in the process, between 80–100 Sausalito residents would have to find homes elsewhere.

Today, if you walk the sidewalk on the east side of Bridgeway between Olive and Nevada streets and carefully study the topography along that stretch—noting the descent from the highway to the road that wends through the Marinship below (past the Marina Office Plaza, the tennis courts, the art festival site, the Susaki-Walker (SWA) offices)—you’ll be struck by how precipitously the land drops from the highway to the flat land below. It’s as if someone had come along with a giant knife and sliced through the land, leaving a sheer cliff. And you have to ask yourself: What could have caused this shear drop-off? Why is the road out of town aligned so close to the cliff? And was there once land beyond this point, perhaps level with the highway to the immediate east, then gradually sloping to the bay?

In fact, there was—Sausalito’s lost community of Pine Point. Sacrificed in this country’s great wartime mobilization following December 7, 1941, this small peninsula jutting out from the shoreline, once a snug residential enclave, provided the vital landfill required to create Marinship. And a small community of largely working class families had to be moved from the point before it was destroyed.

This 1930s photograph shows the Pine Point residential community as it appeared looking from south to north. The county road in the left foreground leads out of town. On the right is a fuel tank for ferryboats and locomotives and beyond are other railroad buildings. This is how Pine Point appeared pre-1942 looking from north to south. The railroad trestle is on the left and at center right is the tidal marsh before it was filled with dirt from Pine Point. The area became Sausalito’s World War II ship building yard, Marinship.

Photo: SHS Collection 2 Photo: Margaret Badger

The biggest, fastest and most far-reaching change the city of Sausalito ever experienced was not planned by the City Council nor voted on by citizens. It happened as part of this country’s emergency response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, the catastrophic event that launched the United States entry into World War II. During the two-and-a-half months that followed, a dramatic sequence of decisions changed Sausalito’s waterfront and economy forever. Local residents witnessed record-breaking maritime mobilization taking place right before their eyes.

It began on March 2, 1942, when the Bechtel Company of San Francisco received the following telegram from the U.S. Maritime Commission (USMC): It is necessary in the interests of the national emergency that the maximum number of emergency cargo vessels be completed prior to December 31, 1942 . . . Submit a proposal for a shipyard site to be located in one of the west coast ports in which your organization could operate to the best advantage. The emergency demands all within your power to give your country ships.

In twenty-four hours, Bechtel replied to USMC that it had chosen Sausalito’s northern waterfront to locate the shipyard. The proposal included demolition of the little residential community of Pine Point, but its obliteration seemed of small importance compared to the need for ships. The breakneck project went ahead and the first keel was laid in the yard on June 27, just three months after the decision to locate in Sausalito. That first liberty ship, the William A. Richardson, was followed by 92 other vessels between June, 1942, and September 25, 1945.

While the story of building and operating the Marinship has received considerable attention, the tale of the disappeared neighborhood of Pine Point, a 202-acre wooded knoll within the intended boundaries of the future shipyard, is less well known. Built around the turn of the century most probably for Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWPR) workers and their families, the 32 modest Pine Point houses were the only residences in town located east of Bridgeway.

The community enjoyed pleasant bay views, its own circular road, and easy access by boat and train, including its own stop at Pine Point Station. Most of the homes were modest, two-bedroom, onebath structures built in a plain craftsman style characterized by porches, tapered columns and a slightly curved flare at the bottom of the siding. Left undisturbed, the bay side neighborhood might have had a distinctive identity today. But a very different fate awaited the homes and out buildings on Pine Point.

In a “Judgment on the Declaration of Taking,” dated March 23, 1942 (just three weeks after the site was selected), the U.S. government asserted its unquestionable right to “acquire property by eminent domain . . . under authority of the Attorney General of the United States . . . for national defense purposes.” The parcels of land were held in the names of some 80-property owners, the largest being NWPR. The total compensation limit set by the U.S. Congress was $221,234.75.

Within a month, the government became the sole owner of all physical property on Pine Point, including the homes and the NWPR buildings. With the clear objective to build the shipyard at maximum speed, the government allowed approximately 30 days for people to leave before their homes were either moved or leveled. For the movers the process was straightforward: jack the house up and insert stout, four wheeled dollies under each corner; bring in a tow truck and haul it off to a dirt lot elsewhere in town; reset new jacks and leave it until a new foundation could be built.

In the graphic on page three, artist Giacomo Patri beautifully illustrates the houses on dollies waiting to be towed.

The Bechtel Company’s contract with the US Maritime Commission left no room for sentimentality. By the end of April, the houses remaining on Pine Point were bulldozed in preparation for the massive shipyard re-landscaping project: the leveling of Pine Point hill and the filling in of the tidal marsh to the north of it with salvaged dirt. The large surface area created became a level work yard next to the six shipways.

Today that area is approximately where the Post Office, Mollie Stone’s and Gate Three are located. The former NWPR tracks that had run along the water’s edge were relocated further to the west in order to move building materials efficiently into Marinship. Thus a quiet salt marsh became historic Sausalito acreage. The area filled with dirt from the Pine Point hill is marked today on the north by the 3030 Bridgeway Building (formerly the Marinship Administration building) and on the south by the Gate Three (Arques) area.

Glancing back at its history, we are reminded of the dramatic demolition of Pine Point, of the spent energy of thousands of wartime workers, and the sacrifices made by the residents of Sausalito’s lost community, Pine Point. —Margaret Badger