By Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society
They were true pioneers in the 1850’s. They traveled to California during the Gold Rush era in a covered wagon. This is the background that Alice Merrill is from. Her great grandmother’s sister, Susan Sroufe Loosley, would become the first president of the Sausalito Woman’s Club in 1913. So, it seems only fitting that 105 years later her relative Alice Merrill would become the current president of the Club that is now 100 years old this September.
Born in Sausalito the third daughter of Charles and Virginia Merrill, Alice grew up in the Sausalito Woman’s Club. She says that one of her first memories was of playing a frog sitting on a tadpole in a stage production starring her sister. At that time the Club house was used for dance classes, ballet recitals, and any event that brought the community together. She remembers growing up hearing tales of Susan Loosley who was known as the pistol-packing president of the Sausalito Woman’s Club. Loosley obtained this reputation because of her attraction to guns which for her extended beyond her hunting weapons. Alice has no guns but is more at home on the water than on dry land. Her father, Charles Merrill, had a love of the sea. Alice says that his family raised racehorses. At this time, they were involved with the family that owned Seabiscuit, the champion horse that would go on to win the Santa Anita Handicap, the highest paying race at that time in the United States.
Alice said that her father’s close-knit family understood young Charles’s love of the sea, so they built the boy a studio space in the barn over the stable where he could build his first boat when he was 12 years old. One of the reasons that Charles Merrill moved to Sausalito was the water. Alice remembers that the family always had a boat, for 20 years that would be a Bear boat that was built in Sausalito at the Nunes brother’s boatyard. All the children in the family were somehow named after the boats that they owned. The Blue Goose was named for her: the name was taken from the song “Alice In Her Blue Velvet Gown.”
She remembers her grandmother telling tales of Julia Morgan who would later become the architect for the Sausalito Woman’s Club, how she had met Susan Loosely in Paris where they were both attending art school. Alice says that growing up in Sausalito was always an exciting time because of her experience on the water sailing with her dad. Sausalito at that time was a small town; everyone knew each other, as you got older you were able to work in the local stores or businesses because they liked to hire kids from the area.
One event stays with Alice to this day; the family had a place in Inverness where she would participate in the El Toro races. “I can remember doing the race early one Saturday morning,” she explained, “then getting in my car, racing back to Sausalito so that I would not be late for my job. During that time brakes were not something that I bothered to use on the roads because I knew then so well.” Boats have always been a big part of her life; currently she lives on a boat here in Sausalito. She felt that because of their boating experience, her family seemed to move on both sides of Sausalito. Her mother was a painter, was involved in events that took place at the Woman’s Club while her Dad spent most of his time on the water and the waterfront. She found that she moved through both communities in a rather effortlessly way. She says that both her parents were very civic minded and got involved. This background seems to have served her well because this is one thing that she herself does today: get involved. Which will play a big part in her time as the new president of the Sausalito Woman’s Club.
The Woman’s Club building, which will be 100 years old in September, “is one of the most special buildings in Sausalito, it should be celebrated,” says Alice.
She notes that the structure was designated Sausalito’s #1 Landmark in 1976. Then in 1990, the Sausalito Woman’s Club Preservation Society was founded to preserve and protect the historic Julia Morgan-designed Clubhouse and grounds. In 1993, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Alice feels that since the building has been used for historic events, a celebration should be held that commemorates this wonderful building. Since her childhood this building has played a big part in her life, with her mother, sisters, friends and neighbors.
She feels that that this is the most beautiful home that many members will have in their lives. This building that has taken care of so many for so many years should be honored, she feels. Alice states that, “This is a very special place, it should be cared for because it is loved and respected. This building, it’s family.”