The Checkered Past of the Buffalo Hotel

By Larry Clinton and Mike Moyle, Sausalito Historical Society

Back in the low tech 20th Century, Phil Frank researched Sausalito history by prowling through back yards with a metal detector and shovel.  Today, thankfully, we have more sophisticated tools – courtesy of the Internet.  While surfing the Net, SHS member Mike Moyle came across the accompanying photo on Facebook.  It shows a bunch of regulars lined up at the bar of  a Sausalito establishment known as the Buffalo Hotel.

Convivial crowd at the Buffalo Hotel in 1902.  Photo Courtesy of John Harris and the Facebook history group American Saloons, Bars and Taverns

Convivial crowd at the Buffalo Hotel in 1902.

Photo Courtesy of John Harris and the Facebook history group American Saloons, Bars and Taverns

Mike, a voracious researcher, learned a few other tidbits from back issues of the Sausalito News, which can be searched on line at  An ad reports the hotel was in operation as early as 1891 with J. Lowder as the proprietor.  Another ad from 1893 reported it “under new management” with “transient trade solicited” and “prices to suit the times.”  Rudolph Korn was shown as the proprietor.  An ad from 1896 reports E. Westerson as the proprietor and that the hotel had “clean, bright and sunny rooms now being remodeled throughout” — “terms reasonable - special rates for families.”  

In the 1890s, the advent of the telegraph led to betting on horse races across the country in what were called poolrooms, literally "rooms where betting pools were organized."

SHS founder Jack Tracy told the story of how the Buffalo Hotel joined this trend in his book, Moments in Time: “A prosperous and well-liked gambler from Sacramento, Frank Daroux, opened Sausalito's first poolroom in the Barreiros Building on Water Street (749 Bridgeway). A politician by nature, Daroux soon became active in local affairs, assisting in the election of Adolph Sylva, a wealthy member of Sausalito's English colony, to the Board of Trustees. Around 1900, Daroux and Company moved their poolroom operation to the Buffalo Hotel built on pilings over the water near the foot of Princess Street.”  But when ferryboats began arriving filled with "undesirables" from San Francisco, opposition to poolroom gambling quickly organized as the Municipal Improvement Club.

As Annie Sutter wrote in the Historical Society newsletter: “The City Councils of 1893 and 1894 prohibited poolrooms, the ordinances of 1896 licensed them, and in 1897, the licenses were revoked. Of course, the attitude depended on who had been elected. The Buffalo Hotel played a big part in the elections. Anyone who had been a Sausalito resident for two weeks could vote. Politicians went to San Francisco and gathered bums and barflies and put them up for two weeks at the Buffalo, paying for all food and drinks, in exchange for votes.”

Eventually the poolrooms were closed or converted to more traditional lodging and drinking establishments.  But the Buffalo Hotel still enjoyed its share of notoriety.  In 1903 a launch bringing the morning papers to town got lost in the fog and darkness and “rammed her bulk beneath the Buffalo Hotel with a mighty crash,” as reported in the Sausalito News. “One amusing feature of the accident,” the paper related, “was furnished by a tired drummer who had sought repose at the hotel early in the evening after a day spent at our local thirst quenchers. When the accident occurred the big building shook like a leaf. The drummer's bed left the floor about a foot. Then came a series of shrill blasts from the boat's whistle. The latter was nerve racking and uncanny. Out from under the building came the toots and the crashing of timbers. It was too much for the drummer man. He leaped through the window, carrying with him the sash and glass. Then, in his abbreviated night gear, he dashed along Water Street ‘Help! Hie! Help! Hie,’ he lustily called. ‘A whale, hie, es eat, hie, Forrest's launch, and now the, fool's eatin' th', hie, Buffalo Hotel,’ he explained to Constable Trouette, who stopped his mad flight. It was only with the greatest difficulty that he could be persuaded to return to his room.”

But the hotel also had a more respectable side, as shown in a Sausalito News account of a wedding there in 1898.  After a ceremony conducted by the Rev. Mr. Hamilton from Christ Church,

“the guests sat down to an elegant supper. Attorney Sylva [perhaps repaying a political favor?] acted as toastmaster and with his characteristic repartee, added greatly to the enjoyment of those present. At half past ten o'clock the Richardson Band made its appearance and enlivened the occasion with its choicest music. At 11:30 all hands repaired to the large hall that extends out over the water, where on went the merry dance till the wee small hours.” The anonymous reporter ended his article with a toast of his own: “Long life, health and prosperity to mine host of the Buffalo and his newmade wife. May their cup of happiness be full to the brim, their joys innumerable and their troubles ever confined to the realm of the nursery.”

In 1915 L. D. Allen, an experienced hotel man, became the proprietor of the Hotel Buffalo, and announced to the Sausalito News “that he will completely renovate the Hotel Buffalo and run it as a first-class family hotel and cafe.”

That seems to have been the end of the hotel’s newsworthiness, because the only other reference Mike and I found was an article from 1923 that indicated it “was razed to make room for the Golden Gate Ferry wharf.”

When Life Gives You Herring, Throw a Herring Festival

Birds swarm around a herring trawler off Sausalito.  Photo by Nora Sawyer

Birds swarm around a herring trawler off Sausalito.

Photo by Nora Sawyer

By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society

In California’s coastal cities and towns, we celebrate our seasonal returns. San Juan Capistrano has its swallows, Monterey its monarch butterflies, and here in salty Sausalito we have our herring. The signs are unmistakable. It starts with vast flocks of cormorants, cutting long lines across the water in front of the morning ferry. Sea lions bark night and day, and pelicans circle overhead as vast schools of fish migrate from the ocean to the bay and lay their eggs on eelgrass and pretty much any available surface along the shoreline.

The return of herring to Richardson’s Bay long precedes our city’s founding. For centuries, Coast Miwok netted herring from boats made with tule reeds. Even as European immigrants drove Coast Miwok from their traditional homes, the herring remained.

Reading through historical accounts, the scale of the herring run seems at times like a tall tale. In December 1889, the Sausalito News reported that H.E. Boesen, keeper in charge of Olema’s Life Saving Station, “caught three herring in his hand” walking alongshore during a “hurried visit to our town.”

In 1955, “Swede” Pedersen reported to the Sausalito News that “an estimated 400 persons using nets of all kinds, hauled in tons of fish which they carried home to fry or pickle in brine.” In the tradition of Mr. Boesen, some fishermen tried to catch herring with their bare hands (with “modest success”), while novice fishermen, caught up in the excitement, “became overly anxious and fell from piers into the bay.”

In 1939, a profusion of gulls along Sausalito’s shores drew press from across the Bay. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the "invasion by night of more than 30,000 yelling, squawking seagulls” who “arrived to feast on the herring spawn laid in seaweed from Shelter Cove to the ferry slips."

Here on the front lines of the annual herring invasion, it’s only natural that we take time to celebrate their return. The earliest reference to a herring celebration I could find in the Sausalito newspaper archives was from an ad placed in the Sausalito Marinscope in 1983, in which city council candidate Dee Nelson voiced her commitment to preserve the Sausalito Art Festival, and mentioned that she would “even like to see a herring festival inaugurated next season.”

The idea had legs. Ten years later, professional entertainer and waterfront fixture Richard Aspen, also running for city council, proposed “The Sausalito Herring Festival,” an opportunity for “residents and visitors alike” to celebrate the herring season.

The notion was floated again in 2005, when Marinscope columnist Bob Winskill proposed a celebration with “a band, floats, a Herring Queen… the whole works.” Enthusiastic readers applauded the idea, inspiring Winskill to expand on the concept, suggesting a multitude of queens, including a “Drag Queen” to be promoted from among the trawlers, a “Canned Herring” nominated from those in local police custody, and a “Pickled Herring” selected from the denizens of Smitty’s Bar.

In 2013, the festival finally came to fruition. Organized by the Cass Gidley Marina Foundation, the event was the brainchild of board member Inka Petersen, inspired by the three-day Herring festival celebrated in her hometown of Emden, Germany. A celebration of the vitality of Sausalito’s waterfront, the festival featured herring dishes by local restaurants, live music and entertainment, and information on Sausalito’s local fishery and maritime history. And after so many years of anticipation, Sausalito was ready. The event sold out of herring in an hour and a half, and beer within two hours.

Wind and rain led to the cancellation of the festival in 2014, but it has continued every year since, with its latest iteration coming up on January 28th at the Bay Model. A fundraiser for the Sausalito Community Boating Center, this year’s event will feature a herring lunch, with screenings of the film "Sonic Sea," talks by marine experts, music by The Fishwives, and of course plenty of delicious herring, prepared and served by local restaurants. For tickets and further information, visit

Sherman “Conquers” Sausalito

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
1888 photograph by Napoleon Sarony, used as a model for the engraving of the first Sherman postage stamp issued in 1893.  Source: Wikipedia

1888 photograph by Napoleon Sarony, used as a model for the engraving of the first Sherman postage stamp issued in 1893.

Source: Wikipedia

William Tecumseh Sherman, born on February 8, 1820, in Lancaster, Ohio, was named in honor of the great Shawnee Indian leader and warrior.  During the Civil War, he gained notoriety by burning much of Atlanta while conducting his destructive march to the sea.  But nearly twenty years before that, he paid a brief visit to our little village.

“In the spring of 1846 I was a first-lieutenant stationed in South Carolina,” wrote Sherman in his memoirs. “The country now known as Texas had been recently acquired and war with Mexico was threatening.”

Seeking combat experience, the young West Point graduate got himself transferred to California, which he reached after a voyage around Cape Horn on the US Lexington, a sloop-of-war converted to a store-ship. In January 1847, at the conclusion of a 198-day journey, he arrived in Monterey, which was then the capital of the Mexican province of Alta California. What he found was a state of confusion following the short-lived Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, with various American military commanders vying for leadership of the newly-conquered territory.

In the spring of 1848, Sherman and his commander, Colonel Mason, were informed of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.  Mason put together a small party to investigate Sutter’s claim in person, and Sherman joined the group, which traveled by horseback to Yerba Buena, as San Francisco was known back in those pioneer days.

“The first difficulty was to cross the bay to Saucelito,” Sherman wrote, using the original spelling of our city’s name. His party had to transport their horses across the Bay, using “a sort of scow with a large sail, that could not come within a mile of the shore.  It took nearly the whole day to get the old scow up to the only wharf there, and then the water was so shallow that the scow, with its load of horses, would not float at the first high tide, but by infinite labor on the next tide she was got off and safely crossed over to Saucelito. We followed in a more comfortable schooner. Having safely landed our horses and mules, we packed up and rode to San Rafael Mission.”  From there the party rode on to Bodega, Petaluma and Sonoma, where they visited with General Vallejo.

When they reached the Sacramento River, Sherman recalled, “the only means of crossing over was by an Indian dugout canoe. We began by carrying across our packs and saddles, and then our people. When all things were ready, the horses were driven into the water, one being guided ahead by a man in the canoe. Of course, the horses and mules at first refused to take to the water, and it was nearly a day's work to get them across, and even then some of our animals after crossing escaped into the woods and undergrowth that lined the river, but we secured enough of them to reach Sutter's Fort. 

“Already,” Sherman noted, “the gold-mines were beginning to be felt.  Many people were then encamped, some going and some coming, all full of gold-stories, and each surpassing the other.”

Sherman’s party spent a week verifying the gold discoveries “which at the time were confined to the several forks of the American and Yuba Rivers.”  Then they headed back to Monterey.

In 1853, Sherman resigned his commission and became manager of the San Francisco branch of the St. Louis-based bank, Lucas, Turner & Co. According to Wikipedia, on his way back here, he survived two shipwrecks and floated through the Golden Gate on the overturned hull of a foundering lumber schooner.  Sherman later recalled: "I can handle a hundred thousand men in battle, and take the City of the Sun, but am afraid to manage a lot in the swamp of San Francisco.” In 1856, during the vigilante period, he served briefly as a major general of the California militia.

Sherman's San Francisco branch closed in May 1857, and he relocated to New York on behalf of the same bank. When the bank failed during the financial Panic of 1857, he closed the New York branch. In early 1858, he returned to California to wrap-up the bank's affairs here.

When the Civil War broke out, Sherman secured a commission in the regular army where he rose through the ranks as the war dragged on.  When General Grant assumed the U.S. presidency in 1869, Sherman succeeded him as Commanding General of the Army. In that capacity, directed the Indian Wars over the next 15 years. He eventually died of pneumonia in New York City in 1891.

Thanks to Historical Society member David Sheehan, who discovered the Saucelito reference in Sherman’s memoir and brought it to my attention.

Hollywood's Views of Sausalito To Be Screened at Fund Raiser

By Brad Hathaway, Sausalito Historical Society

Scenes shot in and around Sausalito for eight feature films will be screened at the Historical Society fund raiser at the Sausalito Yacht Club on the 16th of this month. Sausalito City Librarian Abbot Chambers has assembled the clips into a half hour of city highlights.

We've discussed two of the films before in columns for the MarinScope. We looked at Orson Welles' "The Lady from Shanghai," with its specially constructed wharf in front of the old "Walhalla," in the March 19, 2013 issue. "Dear Brigitte," in which Jimmy Stewart lived on a Sausalito houseboat, was the topic in the September 4, 2014 column. 

Here's a sneak peek at some of the others. If you are tempted to rent a DVD or stream some of these, be warned that the use of Sausalito as a picturesque locale for one or more scenes doesn't guarantee a good picture.

Undoubtedly the worst movie in the bunch is something called "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine." It was intended as a parody of the James Bond series, especially "Goldfinger" which came out a little over a year before its 1965 release. Its star, Vincent Price, said that the sequel, "Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs" was an even worse film. I find that hard to believe, but I'm not willing to sit through the second one just to find out.

Skipping the first hour and twenty-two minutes of this one hour and twenty-eight-minute movie leaves you the chance to see the two and a half minutes filmed in Sausalito from the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge to a beach supposedly below the "Missile Range Firing Area." It is a chase scene with Vincent Price driving a cable car across the bridge and down Bridgeway. (You can't make these things up!) The sequence is so inane that it isn't worth watching even for the glimpses of Sausalito.

“Superdad” poster featuring Kurt Russell, Kathleen Cody and Bob Crane. Source: IMDb

“Superdad” poster featuring Kurt Russell, Kathleen Cody and Bob Crane.
Source: IMDb

Competing for the title of worst movie in the bunch, however, is the 1973 Disney movie "Superdad" in which Bob Crane, taking a break from television's "Hogan's Heroes," tries to involve himself in his daughter's life and save her from an engagement to a rough hippie from - you guessed it -- Sausalito.

As with Vincent Price's film, the Sausalito scenes come close to the end. You can safely skip the first hour and seventeen minutes and then enjoy about five minutes of better photographed scenes in the houseboat community featuring the ferry Vallejo, the Owl and other iconic floating structures.

Beware, there are two movies out there with nearly identical titles:  "Killer Elite" and "The Killer Elite." Only one has scenes in Sausalito, so if you rent or stream the wrong one, you will sit through 116 minutes of poorly motivated chase scenes, clumsy fights and a variety of not-too-clever methods of dispatching enemies while waiting for the glimpses of our town that never come. I found this out the hard way. This is the 2011 movie "Killer Elite" - without the "The" - starring Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro -- but not Sausalito.

Unfortunately, the other "Killer Elite" -- the one with the "The" -- isn't a lot better as a shoot-em-up movie. Still, it takes place mostly in the bay area and has a number of scenes in Sausalito, including a fight on the top deck of a houseboat on the recognizable dock at Yellow Ferry Harbor -- you even see Yellow Ferry itself in the background.

This is the 1975 movie starring James Caan and Robert Duvall which was directed by Sam Peckinpah, known for such gems as "The Wild Bunch." Its fidelity to the geography of our area is spotty from the start. The movie opens with Caan and Duvall making a getaway driving west on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. There are close up shots that appear to have been filmed while driving east bound. But the real killer comes when they exit from the bridge. It is the northern exit from the Golden Gate Bridge! I guess Peckinpah didn't think there would be too many Marin-savvy movie goers in his audience.

The final battle takes place in the "Rust Bucket Fleet" in Suisun Bay which had a whole lot more rust buckets in mothballs in the 1970s than it does today. True to the strange attitude toward geography, however, our heroes sail away from the National Defense Reserve Fleet but are shown heading east under the Benicia-Martinez Bridge -- wrong again!

It is particularly interesting to compare and contrast the Sausalito scenes from the 1980 movie "Serial" to those in "Impact" filmed thirty years earlier. They both take place between the ferry terminal and Bridgeway at Vina del Mar Plaza.

Both movies feature their Sausalito scenes early on, but I found the earlier film intriguing enough to want to watch the entire thing. It is a mystery staring Brian Donlevy, Ella Raines and Charles Coburn.

Librarian Chambers, by removing these Sausalito scenes from the films in which they appeared, will have saved the revelers at the Sausalito Historical Society fund raiser from the pain of watching the entirety of these movies while enjoying the parts that are in our town!

Subs in Sausalito?

By Larry Clinton and Jack Tracy Sausalito Historical Society

Jack Tracy’s definitive Sausalito History, Moments in Time, contains many stories of dreams and schemes that never came to pass in these parts: A 300-berth yacht marina in Shelter Cove. An airport and amusement park in the middle of Richardson’s Bay. Converting Water Street to a second highway from the Golden Bridge right through the heart of town. Here’s another:

The most ambitious plan tor Richardson's Bay had been formulated in 1912, when local boosters persuaded the federal government to survey the hills west of Sausalito for a ship canal into the bay from the Pacific Ocean. A four-mile cut was planned through a gap in the rolling hills at the head of Tennessee Cove, up Elk Valley to the bay south of Dolan's Corner in Mill Valley. Engineers were basking in the glory of the Panama Canal achievement and doubtless saw opportunities for construction marvels everywhere. If Panama could have a canal, so could Sausalito.

Subs like this would have had a direct route to Richardson’s Bay if the ship canal had actually been dug.  Courtesy photo

Subs like this would have had a direct route to Richardson’s Bay if the ship canal had actually been dug.

Courtesy photo

The ship-canal plan was resurrected in 1936 when Richardson's Bay was being promoted as the logical site for a submarine base for the Navy. A Pacific opening to Richardson's Bay would eliminate the need for dredging and provide for ships a fog-free entrance to San Francisco Bay that would by-pass Potato Patch shoals. If Stockton could have a deep-water port, so could Sausalito.

The idea of making Richardson's Bay into a submarine base first came up in 1933 when the Navy announced it might be looking for a West Coast site. The Sausalito City Council had long been seeking a dredged ship-channel along the Sausalito shoreline to Waldo Point to generate business for waterfront property. If the Navy took over the bay, it was reasoned, Sausalito would have her channel plus a thriving business with the Navy. If Vallejo could have a Navy base, why not Sausalito?

Sausalito's submarine base plan fell on deaf ears in Washington, and in 1937 even the request for dredging the ship channel was rejected by the War Department as being strictly a "local project" without merit for national defense. That same year, however, the War Department saw Richardson's Bay in another light. With the increasing threat of war, Washington proposed reserving the bay for seaplanes, with an anchorage for seaplane tenders, destroyers, and other light vessels. That plan, too, died aborning. And it wasn't until war was declared and Sausalito's shipyard was under construction in 1942 that the long-awaited ship channel was dredged in Richardson's Bay. Since World War II the channel has been kept cleared of silt by the Army Corps of Engineers as part of its bay maintenance program.

Moments in Time can be purchased at the Ice House, 780 Bridgeway.