Ice House: From Murky Past to Bright Future
The Ice House Visitors Center and Historic Exhibit has been a downtown landmark since 1999, hosting more than 30,000 visitors a year. But the origins of the structure remain a bit of a mystery.
For years, we’ve been describing the Ice House as a former Northwestern Pacific Railroad refrigerator car, or “cold storage hold,” but it turns out that no evidence exists to support this theory. In fact, the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society is unfamiliar with the “cold hold” terminology. When the Ice House was declared a historic landmark in 1998, David Hodgson, then chair of the Historic Landmarks Board, estimated that the building dates back to the late 1800's, judging by its architectural features such as insulation made of stripped redwood bark. Architect Michael Rex, who owned the building for several years, agrees, based on the use of square nails, which date to the Victorian era. Rex, who remodeled the old ice vending facility from its original shoebox design, also points out that it would have been too wide to ride on the Northwest Pacific’s narrow-gauge tracks.
Ed Couderc, whose family owned the structure for a quarter of a century, recalls that old photos show an ice storage house or cooler at the foot of Princess Street, in the mid-1920s. He says the structure “has also been placed on Pine Street below Caledonia in the 1930s.”
Long-term resident Margaret Jewett told the Historical Society that Jack Douglas, who sold coal and wood out of the building that would become the Marin Theatre, also operated the Ice House. When the theatre was built in 1942, Douglas moved both businesses next door to her family home at 309 Caledonia.
Until the Ice House was moved again, to the corner of Caledonia and Litho, Douglas “got his electricity for the refrigeration from our house,” Margaret recalled. “We ran the line through the kitchen window and plugged it in to the wall outlet.”
The structure was acquired by the Couderc family in 1952. Even after refrigerators had become ubiquitous in Sausalito homes, the coin-operated facility continued to dispense blocks and cubes of ice, primarily for boaters and fishermen, until the compressor failed in 1976. At that time the Coudercs padlocked the building, and it was used for storage for 12 years.
Searching for a home to start his architecture practice, over lunch, Michael asked Ed what he intended to do with the old building. When he replied, “tear it down,” Michael offered to save him the cost of demolition; he would take it off his hands for a buck, an idea suggested by the Historical Society’s Phil Frank. A handshake and a Bill of Sale drawn up on a napkin closed the deal.
Rex remodeled the building, enclosing the loading dock for a reception area, installing windows, removing the original flat roof and extending the walls up to the height of the gable shaped roof, which had been installed over the ice box as a rain cover, and adding the monitor along the ridge to bring in natural light. The original blue and white color scheme was preserved.
Rex leased the land under the building from the Couderc family, but they eventually sold the property. When the new owner terminated his lease in 1996. As Historical Society Vice President Dana Whitson wrote in Marin Scope last January, “After a public discussion on alternate uses for the building, the City Council voted to move the Ice House to its final home, a City-owned site at the corner of Bay Street and Bridgeway in downtown Sausalito, to re place a temporary SHS History Exhibit and Visitor Center opened during the City’s 1993 centennial at the former Village Faire (now the Casa Madrona Hotel and Poggio Restaurant.)
Under the leadership of Phil Frank, the Historical Society raised funds for the relocation and conversion of the building into the Museum and Visitor Center in 1999. Rex volunteered to prepare the necessary plans for the new site and the Rotary Club of Sausalito provided much of the labor. In the early hours one morning in March, 1999, the Ice House rolled down Bridgeway to its new home where the Historical Society has continuously operated the facility for the City ever since.
The City and Historical Society always intended to improve the site around the Ice House once funds became available, according to Dana: “The plan for the plaza began to take shape following Phil Frank’s death, as his friends and fellow citizens sought to use funds donated in his memory to build a project that Phil would have loved. In 2010, the Sausalito Foundation raised over $32,000 to build the Plaza.” But the project lagged when Sausalito Foundation founder Bea Seidler -- one of the founding Ice House docents -- became ill and passed away.
In late 2014, the remaining Foundation board enlisted the Sausalito Historical Society to help finish the Plaza. -- Larry Clinton
Ice House Plaza Project Progresses
The Ice House Plaza will serve multiple purposes: a place for the public to linger while enjoying the downtown historic district; an outdoor classroom for the Historical Society’s acclaimed local history curricula for Sausalito Marin City School District third grade students; and a venue for docent talks.
Native plants will create a “learning landscape” for the 3rd graders to study plants used by the Miwoks and also for home gardeners to learn about attractive, drought-tolerant plants suitable for Sausalito.
The new design acknowledges the site’s history on the former passenger rail line with the addition of allegorical train tracks outlined in tile on the plaza, crossed by redwood benches symbolizing railroad ties.
The City and Historical Society have applied for a State grant for future interpretive exhibits, including replicas of historic Sausalito artifacts imbedded into the concrete benches to encourage exploration by children.
The Sausalito Rotary Club has pledged 25% of the proceeds of their April 22 Gala to the Ice House Plaza renovation. The Gala, themed “Sausalito Speakeasy,” will feature live music by West Coast Cool plus an Auction and Raffle. Join us to enjoy this special evening, while supporting the Plaza and the other worthy projects of the Sausalito Rotary Club. For more information, go to www.sausalitorotary.com or www.sausalitohistoricalsociety. org.
The Historical Society and the Sausalito Foundation continue to accept donations for this important improvement to our downtown historic district. Contributions may be mailed to the Sausalito Foundation, Ice House Fund, P.O. Box 567, Sausalito, CA 94966.
— Dana Whitson
Local History Comes Alive for Third Graders
Again this year, the Sausalito Historical Society is bringing history to life for third grade students in the Sausalito and Marin City School District. Interactive history lessons include classroom visits from costumed docents who tell their “personal” stories about early years in Sausalito.
Students learn how to research local history at the Historical Society, where they view old maps, documents, artwork and artifacts.
Recently, each class visited the City Hall and role-played as the City Council, city staff and concerned citizens.
The Historical Society also leads school field trips to the Ice House Museum, the downtown historic district and Marinship. The students test their skills as history detectives by identifying old buildings and searching for artifacts.
Volunteer docents are always welcome on these school programs. The following photo shows one of our newest docents, Nancy Osborn, enjoying taking students from Bayside/MLK Academy on a tour of the Ice House historic exhibit.
SHS in the Media
The Sausalito MarinScope publishes a weekly column contributed by the SHS. Articles cover the rich history of our city and interviews with the people who have made that history – or who are making it now. The columns are written bySociety members and we are always looking for new contributors. Articles going back to 2008 can be found on at www.sausalito historicalsociety.org.
Sausalito’s Community Magazine is published quarterly by the Parks and Recreation Dept. The SHS contributes announcements of upcoming events and activities, plus our three SHS exhibit locations.
You might think that Radio Sausalito is just about jazz — and good jazz it is — but there is another side to the station: History! Sausalito's Secret History plays several times each day and is hosted by SHS past president Larry Clinton. These briefbits of history will whet your appetite to learn more. Listen to Radio Sausalito live at 1610 AM, or on the web at radiosausalito.org. Podcasts of individual Secret History spots can be heard athttp://radiosausalito.org/ category/sausalitos-secret-history.
Also on the radio site is Dock of the Bay: Stories of Sausalito. These short-form podcasts were produced in late 2014 and early 2015. Anyone interested in re-starting the broadcasting of interesting and unique podcasts about Sausalito, please contact Jonathan Westerling at Radio Sausalito firstname.lastname@example.org) or the SHS.
The Historical Society website (www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.org) is now more user friendly. You can now search the site for key words, people and places. Check out our Virtual Exhibit on the boatyards of Sausalito, with photographs and information from the SHS archives.
New departments include Historic Images and a bulletin board showing upcoming events sponsored by the SHS and other area historical groups. Learn more about our ongoing Schools Program, and how you can help introduce local third graders to Sausalito’s colorful past. Get reacquainted with our Ice House Visitors Center and Museum, and our Marinship exhibit at the Bay Model.
You can order books and other Sausalito merchandise through the website, pay for your membership or make a donation to support one of our many projects and programs. All on line via a secure transaction!
LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
As I think about the two years I have served you, I am most struck by the breadth and depth of the relationships the Historical Society has with the people and institutions in our town.
Because the Ice House Plaza Project has dominated our “discretionary” time in the SHS, I first think of the Sausalito Foundation who incubated the Plaza idea, and the initial benefactors, those Friends of Phil Frank; and then of the City, our beneficent property landlord. Then I think of the residents, friends and professionals who have donated their time to evolving the Plaza from a dream to a concept to drawings and designs that are (hopefully) about to be approved.
I’ve enjoyed delivering our Plaza message to the Sausalito Woman’s Club, Rotary and Lions, and I’m very pleased to say that each has responded with generous lead donations.
Beyond the Plaza, we’ve been involved in a lot of collaborative events. We’ve just presented author Frances Dinkelspiel at the Ondine. On April 1st and 2nd, we’ll partner with Abbot Chambers and the Sausalito Library to shed light on the development of Caledonia Street. Soon we’ll participate in another Portuguese Festa de Espirito Santo. We’re developing plans for the fall, and for 2017, that will bring fun and memories.
In January, the Friends of the Library and the SHS partnered with the Woman’s Club to celebrate “I’m Ink Therefore I Am.” Last fall, our patrons Gil Purcell and Roxanne Sheridan opened their historic home, “The Pines,” so we could celebrateour 40th Anniversary in a grand manner (in a grand manor). We hosted Laura Ackley’s presentation of Technology at the 1915 PPIE at Christ Episcopal Church. We marched in the 4th of July Parade with the Cal Band, and with the Palace of Fine Arts replica built by the Lions. Along with the Bay Model, we co-sponsored Betsy Stroman’s book launch about Jean Varda; and we inspected the Matthew Turner with Call of the Sea.
I’m fond of saying that I wear many hats in this town. We all do. Each of those organizations above has overlapping memberships with us and each other. I think this is amazing and wonderful.
Look, I’m the president, but I’m just one member of the SHS Board. None of those things above happen without these friends. The lead director on the Plaza design is Dana Whitson. Susan Frank and Bill Kirsch continue to put in many, many hours on that project.
Dana also coordinates Ice House operations; Susan chairs our Schools programs; Bill is the Exhibit Chairman. Jim Muldoon is kept busy as Event Chairman. Sharon Seymour handles correspondence, does all the organizational paperwork, and responds to research requests. Jim Meyer has succeeded Teddie Hathaway as Treasurer, he’s tracking Ice House merchandise sales and is updating the website. Mary Ann Griller publicizes our events and edits our contributions to the Sausalito magazine; Steefenie Wicks writes many of our weekly columns in the Scope; Bob Woodrum contributes his talent to the beautiful awards given to the students in the Schools Program. Former president Larry Clinton writes and coordinates this newsletter and our weekly Scope columns. Mike Moyle is a treasured resource.
Thanks for your continued support and participation.
See you soon,