When the Ice House Became a Hot Topic

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
Ice House moving in the dead of night. Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Ice House moving in the dead of night.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

We’ve written before about how former Sausalito Historical Society President Phil Frank raised funds for the relocation of the Ice House and converted it into a downtown Museum and Visitor Center in 1999, after the building’s owner, architect Michael Rex, had sold it to the city for one dollar. As was his wont, Phil turned the move into a party, hauling the structure downtown from Caledonia Street late at night, and following up with a reception for the community.

But all was not smooth sailing. The move stirred up a storm of conflicting claims on the quaint white and blue structure.

As this newspaper put it in March 1998: “For more than a year, the question was, 'Where do we put the Ice House?’ The next question may be ‘Whose Ice House is it anyway?’"

At that time the city faced potential litigation from Al Schariat, the property owner of 333/339 Caledonia Street, the former site of the Ice House.  According to a letter to the city from Paradise Properties, Inc., which managed the property, Schariat claimed that the Ice House rightfully belonged to him. Shariat agreed to waive his supposed right to the building in exchange for a zoning change that would allow him to build a structure on the Caledonia St. property that would substantially replicate the Ice House.

His hope was to get around a Planning Commission request that, rather than simply replacing the Ice House, Schariat develop a master plan for the entire property, perhaps with a two-story building.

Approximately three weeks later, the city received a letter from Jack Schwartz of Paradise Properties' Legal Accounting department. Schwartz wrote that the city had lost its right to the building after Dec 31, 1998, based on a lease extension between the city and the management company. According to the lease extension, if the city failed to move the building by year end, ownership would transfer to the property owner.

After receiving the letter, city staff and Paradise Properties agreed that the city could move the Ice House so long as the City Council approved the zoning change. The Council agreed to discuss the issue in closed session.

Even the new location was a matter of dispute.  One group proposed locating it to Dunphy Park where it would serve as s clubhouse for children. A vocal proponent of that plan was Richard Aspen, then a candidate for City Council. Aspen, the Birdman of Bridgeway, now entertains downtown strollers with his trained cockatoo.

In the fall of 1998, the City Council overrode its own Planning Commission, and voted unanimously to put the structure in its present location at Bridgeway and Bay.  The Sausalito Historical Society leased the Ice House for $1 per year and agreed to pay all expenses related to moving the building and preparing the building for use at its new site.

Nearly 20 years later, the Ice House is still there greeting over 30,000 visitors a year who stop by to see the collection of historic exhibits and to browse the inventory of history related books, cards and other items available for purchase.