No Smooth Sailing for Capt. Richardson

By Jack Tracy and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

“William Antonio Richardson is in many ways an elusive figure in Sausalito history,” says Jack Tracy in his book Sausalito Moments in Time.  Most Sausalitans have heard how Richardson received a land grant including present day Sausalito from Presidio Commandante Don Ignacio Martinez, after marrying Martinez’ daughter, Maria Antonio.  However, like most of Sausalito’s history, the full story is a lot more complicated.

Shortly after arriving in San Francisco Bay in 1822 as a 27-year-old first mate on the British whaler Orion, Richardson became a Mexican citizen and was permitted to become a permanent resident of the settlement called Yerba Buena. He also was baptized into the Catholic faith in preparation for citizenship and marriage.  The following excerpts from Tracy’s book tell of Richardson’s stormy course:

Whaling ships in Sausalito’s protected cove.     Photo from National Maritime Museum of San Francisco

Whaling ships in Sausalito’s protected cove.     Photo from National Maritime Museum of San Francisco

Although Richardson lived near the Presidio during this period, his activities frequently took him to Sausalito’s cove where the excellent spring water and wood supplies provided him with a steady income.  He set his sights on acquiring the Marin headlands, including Sausalito with its springs. Meanwhile, John Reed, a twenty-year-old Irishman, arrived on the scene in 1826 and took an instant liking to Sausalito and the Marin hills.

After building a small cabin at Sausalito's cove, he petitioned Governor Echienda for a land grant that would include Sausalito. His request was denied, but it must have startled Richardson to have another suitor wooing the Mexican governor for the very desirable tract of land.

Many years later Richardson claimed that his 1828 request for the rancho had been granted by Echienda. The formalities of title transfer were never completed, he insisted, because the papers had been lost or mislaid in Mexico City. Whatever the case, Richardson spent the next ten years attempting to gain clear title to the Sausalito grant. In 1829 Richardson abandoned his Sausalito and San Francisco enterprises, and moved with his family to San Gabriel, then the capital of Alta California. There Richardson became close friends with Don Jose Figueroa, who had replaced Echienda as governor. In 1835, the friendship paid off when Figueroa appointed Richardson Captain of the Port of San Francisco and sent him there to establish a pueblo, or civilian settlement.

He built the first permanent civilian residence in Yerba Buena Cove and with his wife and children became literally the first family of San Francisco. Upon his return, he had discovered to his dismay that Figueroa had granted the Marin headlands, including Sausalito, to Jose Antonio Galindo, a well-connected soldier at the Presidio. Nonetheless, Richardson set up shop once again in Sausalito's cove.

 Jose Galindo, meanwhile, was occupied with his other land grant, Rancho Laguna de la Merced. He had never formalized, that is, achieved juridical possession of under Mexican law, his Sausalito grant. Richardson pursued his claim to the land with the new Mexican governor and friend, Juan Bautista Alvarado, but his 1836 petition was again denied. Two years later, Galindo, who had not satisfied conditions for the grant, was accused of murder. A document dated 1838 does indeed name Antonio Galindo as a prisoner, but his fate is unknown. It has been suggested but never substantiated that Richardson had purchased the grant from Galindo.

In any case, on February 11, 1838, Richardson finally achieved his desire; he was given a clear title to the land, some 19,571 acres. Richardson called it El Rancho del Sausalito; it stretched from the Marin headlands at the Golden Gate to what is now Stinson Beach, and included the lucrative Puerto de los Balleneros, or Whaler's Cove, at Sausalito.

It took three more years for Richardson to acquire juridical possession of his lands. He slowly expanded his commercial empire and his influence.

However, time was running out for what Tracy called “the Arcadian way of life in California.”  Falling on hard times, Richardson repeatedly mortgaged his properties to pay his debts, and eventually lost the last of his holdings in 1856 to William Throckmorton, who created a partnership called the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company to develop the property.  Broke and broken, Richardson died soon thereafter.  He was buried in an unmarked grave in San Rafael.

The Sausalito Woman’s Club: New President, Alice Merrill

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.

Alice Merrill (left) and retiring Woman’s Club president Molly Squires  Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Alice Merrill (left) and retiring Woman’s Club president Molly Squires  Photo by Steefenie Wicks

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.”


By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society

On the evening of June 10, a plume of smoke rose above downtown Sausalito. As fire trucks rushed by, sirens blazing, I craned my neck, trying to locate the fire. Of course, my first concern was that everyone affected by the fire escape unharmed. But, as I triangulated the location of the smoke, another worry pushed through: wherever that fire was, it looked like someplace historical.

Fire itself is historical in Sausalito. On July 4th, 1893, fire consumed much of Sausalito’s downtown. The blaze came in the midst of debates surrounding Sausalito’s incorporation. In his book Moments in Time, Sausalito Historical Society founder Jack Tracy notes that while prior to the fire “public opinion held that paid fire departments were an unnecessary burden on taxpayers,” the fire of 1893 “changed many minds concerning the need for firefighting equipment and trained men.” 

The El Monte Hotel a few years after the fire of 1893. Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The El Monte Hotel a few years after the fire of 1893.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Most accounts blame the fire on fireworks launched from the roof of El Monte Hotel. A notice published on June 30th promised a variety of volatile-sounding rockets, including a dozen 12-star Roman candles, a half dozen Japanese night shells, a quarter dozen large surprise boxes, and something called a “No. 1 meteoric battery.” As Jack Tracy wrote in a 1976 article for the Marinscope,

Perhaps it was the package labeled “surprise boxes” that started things.  At any rate, the residents of Sausalito were in for quite a surprise that night.

No one was ever sure what happened, but around 9:30 p.m. on July 4th an inferno broke out. George Ginn’s saloon, the Hunter’s Resort, located directly below the grounds of the El Monte Hotel (where the former City Hall building now housing Gene Hiller’s menswear stands today) was engulfed, flames bursting out of doors and windows throughout its upper story.

There was not much wind at the time, but the flames spread northward roughly from Excelsior Lane to the building which today houses the Casa Madrona hotel. Ten buildings were destroyed, and the fire damage totaled $30,000 – quite a sum of money then. Fortunately, no lives were lost.

Still, there were significant losses. The Sausalito News reports that George Ginn lost his dog Budge in the fire, as well as “all his wearing apparel,” and “a valuable Native Son’s badge.” Though he escaped with his cash box, Ginn’s losses were valued at a minimum of $1,000. Jacques Thomas, the barber, lost a building he “had only just finished moving and improving,” valued at $1,800. A headline in July 5th’s San Francisco Call declared: “The Heart of Sausalito Destroyed. LEVELED TO THE WATER."

The San Francisco Examiner reports that as the Tamalpais Hotel went up in flames, “the boiler in the basement exploded, sending the roof 300 feet in the air” in a blast that was heard for miles around. The Sausalito News adds that “The cover of the same was blown in front of the Hotel Sausalito, falling near some ladies.”

Though the Examiner reports no injuries, the Sausalito News notes that John Schnell, a prominent businessman and Sausalito’s first postmaster, “had a narrow escape; he was struck in the leg by a piece of iron from the bursting boiler at the Tamalpais Hotel.”

The Sausalito News reports that “nearly a thousand people witnessed the fire.” Many of those present joined in to battle the blaze and keep it from spreading.

The town's people with the voluntary help of transient visitors, yachtsmen and others. . . formed a cordon along the edge of the bluff and fought the fiend as fiends would fight a fiend whenever he sought to affect a lodgement on the summit of the hill.

Finally, despite the noise, heat, and smoke, “pluck, endurance and intelligence won the day, and beat the enemy back.”

There are many who deserve praise for their laudable aid but the NEWS has not their names at this writing. A man had one of his wrists badly cut by broken glass. . . It was an exciting night and one that will be called up, of no protection against fire for a lack of water and a fire engine.

In the same issue, another column begins with an exhortation: “Incorporation! Incorporation! Fire Department needed.” And Sausalito’s citizens agreed; when it came time to vote on August 26th, incorporation passed.

The smoke I spotted on that June evening 125 years later originated just south of 1893’s conflagration, in an alley next to a 126-year-old building on Princess St. As in 1893, citizens rushed to help, and this time well-equipped fire crews were not far behind. Soon, the fire was out. The building, old enough to have witnessed the fire that destroyed much of downtown, survived.

Revisiting Poet’s Corner

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

A stroll past the intersection of Harrison and Bulkley will take you to one of Sausalito’s most venerable but often overlooked landmarks: Poet’s Corner.  Tucked into an overgrown hillside, you’ll find a stone grotto with a granite bench inscribed to memorialize Sausalito poet and playwright Daniel O’Connell.

O'Connell (1848-1899), who lived with his wife and seven children at Laurel Lodge in Sausalito's Wildwood Glen, was part of a literary circle that included Bret Hart, Samuel Clemens, Joaquin Miller, and Jack London. He was a creative spirit, a lively raconteur, and one of the founders of San Francisco's Bohemian Club. His presence was said to make every occasion a "Roman feast."

According to Sausalito historian Jack Tracy, “Legend has it that James W. Coleman, President of the North Pacific Coast Railroad Company, which brought the first rail line into Sausalito in 1875, built this cottage in 1886 and loaned it to O’Connell. The glen in which it was built was later often referred to as ‘O’Connell’s Glen’.”

O'Connell died suddenly at Laurel Lodge from a cold that turned into pneumonia. The bench at Poet’s Corner is inscribed with his final poem, “Chamber of Sleep,” which he finished some ten days prior to his death.  The last lines of the inscription provide a fitting epitaph:

Let shadows of quiet and silence on all my palace fall;

Softly draw my curtains . . . Let the world labor and weep—

My soul is safe environed by the walls of my Chamber of sleep.

William Greer Harrison, O’Connell’s biographer, said, "I knew him as a poet, litterateur, athlete, humorist, and Bohemian; and the more I saw of him, and the better I knew him, the more I loved him. His good humor was inexhaustible, his nature sunny, and his temper exceptionally sweet. But under the jester's garb, beneath the habiliments of humor, there was a nature strong, deep and extremely reflective . . . He had an abundant faith in the providential impulses of his friends, who never failed him. The cares of ordinary life passed him by as one immune."

Over the years, Poet's Corner has suffered from deferred maintenance, and a campaign is now underway to repair and clean the bench, steps, and mosaic tile floor, with its shamrock inlay. The effort is being led by Sausalito Beautiful, a local nonprofit that collaborates with the City of Sausalito to improve Sausalito's public spaces. Though much of the landscape work has been carried out by neighbors at no cost, the cleaning and repair of the hardscape elements requires the services of a qualified restoration specialist.

Poet’s corner today Photo by Larry Clinton

Poet’s corner today
Photo by Larry Clinton

Friends and neighbors, Sausalito Bohemians and Bartlett Tree Experts have donated to the effort, but more money is needed to complete the restoration, including repair of the stone wall along Bulkley. Donations toward this project may be made payable to Sausalito Beautiful/Poet's Corner and mailed to Sausalito Beautiful, P.O. Box 222, Sausalito, CA 94966. All contributions are tax deductible and will be gratefully acknowledged. Any questions about the project may be directed to  The organization’s long-term goal is to create a Friends of Poet’s Corner organization to provide ongoing care to this hillside monument.

Gate 3

By Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society

In Jack Tracy’s book, Sausalito, Moments In Time, he describes Sausalito in the 1950’s as being on the threshold of its “art colony’’ years.  Sausalito would experience an influx of artists in the decade after World War II.  At first some returning service men and women may have come to place themselves as far as possible from the horror of war. They sought the quiet backwaters, as Sausalito was in those days, where natural beauty and serenity abound.  Most of the property that had been used during the war was turned over to the War Assets Administration, whose function was to return it to civilian hands.  Marinship was sold off piecemeal by sealed bid auctions.  Donlon Arques was one of those who bid on the waterfront properties where he would open them as a place for some of the very first waterfront communities of artists, maritime workers, fishermen and others.

In the fall of 1983, the small waterfront enclave that housed Gate 3 on the Sausalito waterfront was a thriving community. It had a ‘Free’ store, a place where people could leave items they no longer needed, then pick up items they might find useful.  You could find anything from clothing to pots and pans, along with canned goods.  There were gardens where apples and peaches grew, along with grape vines that produced wonderful sweet grapes; people would gather them to make jams.  There was even an avocado tree that once a year bore fruit.

Gate 3 at this time housed the only waterfront boat co-op where very talented carpenters and shipwrights lived and worked. In all 42 families lived in this community, both on land and water. All of this was provided by Don Arques, who believed in people living for a reasonable fee on the waterfront.  He rented out the spaces for very little cash ─ at that time the highest rent on the property was $70 a month including studio space.

Gate 3 was a Mecca for over 30 years but that was soon to change.

In the spring of 1984, Rick Moran appeared on the property next door. He called it Marina Plaza; there he built two office buildings along with a new marina.  He took one look at his neighbors and quickly decided that they must all go because they were bringing the value of his property down.  Who had the right to rent to all of those hippies?  He went to the City of Sausalito and brought charges against Donlon Arques, saying that all of these residents at Gate 3 must be evicted, the sooner the better.

Chris Hardman (in suit) created a “Moranship” poster to demonstrate how Moran wanted to take over Marinship during a protest March in June 1984.            Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Chris Hardman (in suit) created a “Moranship” poster to demonstrate how Moran wanted to take over Marinship during a protest March in June 1984.            Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Having just dealt with what had become known as the Houseboat Wars down at Gate 6, the aspect of more trouble with waterfront residents was not something the City council wanted to experience.

A peaceful solution was sought to accommodate both the residents at Gate 3, along with the new property owner of Marina Plaza. While the City was exploring its options, the residents formed an association and got a lawyer, deciding to fight what they saw as an injustice to their way of life.  They also sought the help of the new waterfront organization called Art Zone.

Art Zone had been formed by a group of concerned citizens who wanted to protect the waterfront, along with its talented residents.  The members of Art Zone were all very well-known, talented individuals: Phil Frank (artist/cartoonist), Chris Tellis (whose family owned Yellow Ferry Harbor), Stewart Brand (publisher/editor of Whole Earth Catalog), Chris Hardman (artist /director Antenna Theater, resident of Gate 3), Mary Crowley (Ocean’s tour director dedicated to keeping our oceans clean), Annette Rose (Chris Hardman’s wife who would become the first waterfront resident to sit on the Sausalito Council, later becoming Mayor).

This group persuaded the then Mayor of Sausalito, Ray Tabor, to organize a meeting between them as representatives for the Gate 3 community with the new owner of Marina Plaza.  Mayor Taber was able to set up this meeting at his home.

Tensions ran high on both sides.  The new owner of Marina Plaza accused the residents of Gate 3 of making his life unbearable because he was being portrayed as some kind of a monster when all he was doing was protecting his investment.  Members of Art Zone kept trying to get him to understand that he was evicting 42 families who had been established at Gate 3 for over 30 years.  Waterfront workers’ lifestyles depended on how cheaply they could live with their families because for many of them their work was seasonal.  These arguments fell on deaf ears and the new owner insisted that they had no right to be there and that they should all be evicted, find some new place to live, but not there.

In the end it was decided that the evictions would move forward, all would be relocated to either Gate 6 or Galilee Harbor. Mayor Tabor gave his word; the meeting came to an end.  But after the new owner of Marina Plaza left, the Mayor expressed his sorrow in how he must take this action, then a sly smile played across his lips. He took the members of Art Zone aside, telling them he felt the new owner was being unreasonable so he in turn would put a stop order on the plans for the Marina’s third building.

So, for more than 30 years that piece of property sat empty.  When something was finally built there, it was Alan Olson’s tall ship project, the Mathew Turner. A fitting ending for the 42 waterfront families of which I was part, that had to be evicted from Gate 3.

Party Like it’s 1914

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

As we approach the annual 4th of July festivities, here’s a look back at how Sausalito celebrated in the dawn of the 20th century:

Back in the early 1900s, a group of citizens formed a kind of Political Action Committee called the Booster’s Club. One of the first things they did was to publish a bi-weekly newspaper, The Booster, which spelled out the platform of the club’s selected candidates for town offices:



An honest administration with a square deal to all.

An orderly government, for saloons and every other kind of business

A progressive town, encouraging new industries and increased residents

Government by the people.



A dry town.

Incompetent or slothful employees.

Lax business policies in the town government.

" Boss-rule " government.

Discouraging new enterprises.

Special privileges.

But the Boosters were about more than just politics; they knew how to have a good time, as well.  Here’s a playful announcement of a Street and Water Carnival, commemorating the passage of a $100,000 bond issue to fund street improvements, and the 137th anniversary of the adoption of America’s National Flag on June 14, 1777:

June is the month of roses, sunshine, perspiration, poison oak, and picnics. Though you feel you’re slowly melting and your collar is all awilt and you wish you were in Alaska, cheer up! Soon you can take the moth balls out of your bathing suit─dip your dainty tootsies in the cooling waters of San Francisco Bay─forget your troubles and be young once more. That is, if you come to our little family gathering from June 11th to 14th.  (Write this on your cuff.)

And of course you mustn’t stay away. We’ll miss you greatly, and you’ll miss lots and lots of good things. We want your family too. Hush! We shouldn’t tell you this─it’s a deep secret, but here are a few of the clever episodes that our clever and convivial committee has planned:

Coronation of the King and Queen, Ferris Wheel, Merry-go-round. May-pole dance (by Sausalito Exposition Cup Team). Fire Drill, Games, Passenger-carrying Hydroplane, Illuminations, Parades. Races for the wee folk, races for the big folk, women's fat-and-forty race, with no questions asked. Surprises galore for young and old.

Then comes the grand circus, amusement and vo'dvil, which has Barnum and Bailey's and Keith's combined beaten to a frazzle. The strong men are eating grape-nuts and the bearded lady has quit shaving. There will be a quartet contest with celestial music: but if this is too much, rain checks will be issued.

Dancing! All the devotees of Terpsichore are invited to trip the light fantastic to the accompaniment of a union band that has stayed up nights practising all the catchy tunes; forty-nine dance, all nation's dance, after (a long way after) the Phoenix Exposition dance, hard times dance, moonlight dance.

There's yachting, boating, launching, bathing, swimming, fishing, hiking and picnicking, and perhaps they'll put your picture in the "Sausalito Booster." For the poor bachelors who have no wives to make sandwiches, anything from a crab salad to a chicken dinner can be obtained at reasonable rates at first-class cafes and restaurants. See program for the horrible details, times of trains, etc.


Miss Madelaine Nilson was one of the contestants for Queen of the Carnival.  Photo from the Sausalito Booster

Miss Madelaine Nilson was one of the contestants for Queen of the Carnival.

Photo from the Sausalito Booster

Without a doubt the Grand Street and Water Carnival which will open June 11th, will be the greatest event ever launched in our city. Never before has so much interest been manifested over any event of this kind. New features have been added to the Programme this week and like all other Carnival Advance Agents, B. Cheffers declares this event will outshine anything similar that has ever happened. The contest for the Queen who will rule the four-day fete promises to be a bitter one.

Even the paper’s rival, the Sausalito New, reported on the success of the Carnival:

“The long looked for Street and Water Carnival has come and gone, with roar of fun, frolic and hilarity still in our ears we assure the Carnival Committee though it now be over it will long be remembered. Through a consensus of the business men we find the Carnival was a business boom for our city, for all lines of business, both directly and indirectly. Everyone had a good time and benefitted financially.”

Flashbacks: A Memoir

By Jim Gibbons and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

In 1969, Jim Gibbons dropped out of college and headed west, ending up at Gate 6, where he joined other dropouts living free on the water during the 1970s. Jim converted a 22' lifeboat into a sailboat he named the Cowpie, sailed it around the Bay, and hung out with the local waterfront luminaries. 

Here’s an excerpt from his book about his experiences in and around the legendary Tides bookstore:

Jim’s book is available at the Sausalito Library, Sausalito Book Passage, and from Amazon.

Jim’s book is available at the Sausalito Library, Sausalito Book Passage, and from Amazon.

I was working at The Tides in the spring of 1970 when my book came out. The best part was probably the cover, always eye-catching art done by my wife Lois.

My brief marriage to Lois broke up (in retrospect I blame myself), and after refusing to go to class at the beginning of the spring semester to finish my BA in English, I finally decided to head for California. There were numerous reasons, but I liked telling people it was because of a popular TV ad for an allergy medicine that gave the viewer two choices to relieve the suffering: I) Take an ocean voyage, or 2) Take Allerest. I chose a version of the first one.

The waterfront was heaven for my sinuses.

I missed my friends and family back in Wisconsin, but Bill Becker [who had introduced Jim to the Waldo Point houseboat community and I were not the only ones from Milwaukee. Besides Becker there was Ed Hantke, known as Ebbie, one of the earlier anchor-outs who loved working on anything mechanical, but mostly seemed to like doing nothing. We often did nothing together. I'd stop over for coffee in the morning, then we'd hop in his outrigger canoe and paddle to shore, maybe go for a bike ride along Gate 5 Road, stopping to chat with people he knew, which seemed to be everybody.

When I needed a bicycle, Ebb took an old frame, turned it upside down, welded on support pieces, and extended the seat and handle bars. Whenever I would ride into Sausalito tourists would snap photos of this hippie on his weirdly tall bicycle.

My book, Prime the Pump, was mostly poems I had written in Milwaukee, some of which embarrassed me, but others I still like, especially the ones I wrote on my boat. I was really pleased to have my own book, and since [it had been published] as a Labor of Love, I just gave it away to my new friends on the waterfront. I did, however, give the Tides some copies to sell. I still remember coming to work one day and there in the window was a display of my books. It certainly was a pleasant surprise, made all the more surprising because they didn't tell me they were planning to do that.

Now I was known around the waterfront as a poet, and among the people who gave me positive feedback was Shel Silverstein. I didn't really know Shel, but one day I was leaving work with a few books in my hand when I ran into Shel on his way to the No Name Bar. I stopped him, introduced myself, told him how much I liked A Boy Named Sue, the hit song he wrote for Johnny Cash, and gave him my book. A week or so later I saw him again and he told me how much he enjoyed it, and invited me over to his boat for a get together with a few other local writers.

This was a chance for me to meet other writers and perhaps advance my literary career, but on the way over that afternoon I ran into Sparky, a frizzy blond with inviting eyes and perky breasts under a see-through blouse that mesmerized my libido and made me forget where I was going.

She said she had some really good mescaline, and a few hours later we were at a friend's cabin on Mt. Tam making waves on a water bed. Yeah, I know, I missed out on a rare opportunity to meet other writers, but what was I supposed to do? I just couldn't turn down this sweet flower child's kind offer to share a tab of mescaline? That's just not the way I rolled.

Then a few days later, I really don't remember if it was days or weeks, I saw Shel walking toward his boat with Bill Cosby. I'm not saying Cosby would have been there the day I was invited to join the group, but just that I can't believe I turned down a genuine invite by Shel Silverstein because of a hippie chick. Yeah, sure, Sparky and I had fun, but that kind of fun was becoming common place, and to this day, not going to Shel's boat is still way up on my long list of regrets. If I had a regret-o-meter, it would be right up there with....oh, there's so many. Forget I mentioned it.

Jim’s book also includes the following poem:
Working at the Tides Bookstore
Listening to KSAN
A few rain refuges browsing
Sitting on the stairs reading
Suddenly Ron Martin walks in smiling
Pokes a bottle of Hennessy in my face
We drink...I have mine with coffee
Ron's probably the only person
Kicked out of both the No Name Bar
and Mt. Tamalpais for life!
He says Mim is the only person who loves him
And laughs about his recent bout with depression
Ending with a night at the opera
Where he admits he was getting obnoxious
Before being asked to leave the theater
He smiles "Can you imagine
a drunken hippie
on a bummer
at the opera?"

Street Names Have Historic Role in City's Colorful Past

By George Harlan and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

By George Harlan and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

In 1950, The Sausalito News was getting questions about the history of some of the street names in our town.  For answers, they turned to George Harlan Sr., the former president of the Marin Historical Society, dean of the Marin County Bar Association, a resident of Sausalito for 72 years, and son of California pioneers who were among the first local residents to purchase property here. Here are excerpts from Harlan’s article:

RICHARDSON: Of course, Richardson street was named in honor of William A. Richardson, the first mate of the English whaler, “L’Oriente.’’ History tells us that in 1822, Richardson, by reason of his knowledge of Spanish, was ordered by the master of the ‘‘L’Oriente”, to go ashore at the Presidio to speak with Lt. Ignacio Martinez for wood and water and other supplies to be furnished to the ship which had been three years in Arctic. Richardson became so enamoured of the beautiful daughter of the commandante, Maria Martinez, that he determined to live in California and win the hand of Maria. He returned to California a few years later, and won the hand of beautiful Maria. He also obtained the grant of the “Rancho Saucelito,” where he built the first water works at the springs at the head of the street which bears his name, at what is now West and Richardson streets.

PRINCESS: In 1868, the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company started its first land surveys here, and also it was in this year that the company bought the little stem wheeler, the “Princess,” which plied between Meiggs wharf (at the foot of Powell Street) in San Francisco, and which landed here at the company’s “new wharf” at 660 Bridgeway.

BULKLEY: The first map of the [Land and Ferry] company was made by Colonel Charles S. Bulkley, and so Bulkley avenue, which at that time was surveyed from the Harrison intersection (O’Connell Seat location), across town to San Carlos avenue and what is now Glen drive, bore the name of this pioneer map maker. Bulkley was assisted by surveyors S. R. Throckmorton, Jr., whose father at that time had control of the Richardson Rancho. and L. H. Shortt, the civil engineer who drew up the final map for the land company, the original of which was filed in the Marin County Recorder’s Office on April 26. 1869. When the company was incorporated in 1869, officers elected included Maurice Dore, president; John L. Romer, vice president; George G. W. Morgan, secretary; and William Thompson, treasurer. Incorporators included W. K. Spencer, and A. G. Easterby. Charles H. Harrison Henry A. Cobb, Gen. Thomas N. Cazneau, Leonce Girard, Judge John Currey, William A. Woodward, H. B. Platt, D. P. Belknap, and Frank A. Bee. The company surveyors evidently had a “field day" for their selection of street names, although it is surprising that the company’s first president is modestly missing from the roster of street names.

HARRISON: Charles H. Harrison, for many years the president of the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company, was an original incorporator and a director of the firm. Harrison Avenue is named after him, and in later years, he was elected as one of the town’s first trustees upon its incorporation in 1893. But owing to political differences with board members James W. Sperry and Col. J. H. Dickinson, he served only one term.

COBB: Henry A. Cobb, Sr., was in private life, an auctioneer, and at one time was a general in the militia. In the 60's, an auctioneer was a highly important personage, and in San Francisco, this was an extremely profitable business. As a company incorporator he had a lot to say in the formulation of company policies.

EDWARDS: Gen. Cobb’s son. Major H. A. Cobb, Jr., was the brother-in-law of J. W. Harrison, who, together with William Edwards, laid out the Edwards-Harrison tract, between the Fort Baker military reservation and the Land and Ferry Company property boundary at North Street. Thus, Edwards avenue received its name. Major Cobb resided for many years next to the Ritchie home on Cazneau avenue, and took an active interest in local property development.

MARION: Marion Harrison, the daughter of J. W. Harrison, had a street named after her, but the naming of Alexander Avenue is lost to my recollection,

ROMER: Vice president of the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company upon its founding was John L. Romer, who was one of the incorporators of the land company which advertised in its real estate prospectus that the concern was organized to sell residential lots to persons “seeking a quiet rural home in a lovely place.”

SPENCER: As one of the incorporators of the company, W. K. Spencer was also entitled to recognition, and the surveyors dutifully dedicated a street to his honor.



Princess Street in 1910: hardly the fast track.                        Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

100 Years After the Great War: Remembering Sausalito’s Fallen

By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society

November 27th, 1917 was a Tuesday. Somewhere in in France, Alfred Panella woke up to snow. “It sure was a pretty sight,” he wrote in a letter to his parents.

That Thursday was Thanksgiving. Corporal Panella shared a feast with his fellow soldiers, featuring “turkey with dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, blackberry jam, apple pie, dried figs, assorted nuts and apples.” He then spent the afternoon in a nearby town with six other solders. There, undaunted by their earlier feast, they enjoyed another meal:

“We found a cafe where we were served eggs and French fried potatoes. It was a treat and believe me we sure enjoyed ourselves. . . After we ate our first two eggs we decided on more.”

Eight months later, on July 18th, Corporal Panella was one of the first wave of soldiers in the Battle of Soissons. Later, his friend Corporal Strzeszewski saw him leading a platoon of 58 men in no man’s land under heavy fire. At 11 AM Strzeszewski saw his friend again. In a letter to Corporal Panella’s mother, he wrote:

“He was sent back to stop tank corps who was firing on us by mistake, thinking we were square heads (I mean Germans), and same time he had few German prisoners. He waived [sic] his hand to me and kept going. There was no time to talk. . . That is the last time I saw my friend who fought with me side by side and shoulder to shoulder going through the HELL IN FRANCE.” 

On November 1st, 1919, the Sausalito News reported that Corporal Panella, who had been reported wounded in action July 18, 1918, was presumed dead.

John Norwood McNeil was “a little over seventeen” when, “fired with patriotism,” he joined the U.S. expeditionary forces. The Sausalito News reports that when his mother asked why he didn’t consult with her beforehand, he said that “he knew she would object on account of his age” and “wanted to do his bit.”

Private McNeil became ill on the train to Washington D.C., and was taken to Camp Travis, in Texas. His mother “hurried to his bedside.” He died three days after her arrival, “the first one from Sausalito since war was declared against Germany.”

G. Francis Madden, brother to J. Herbert Madden and a master boat builder, entered the war more reluctantly. His draft card shows that he requested an exemption from service, as he was “engaged in building boats for the coast guard.”

Nevertheless, when called to fight, he did so bravely. His captain writes he “did not hesitate in the face of danger,” despite having survived battles that were “enough to test the soul of any man.”

On November 29th, 1918, Private Madden’s family received a telegram stating he’d been killed in France on October 14th. They’d received a letter from him a few days before dated October 17th, and so hoped there’d been a mistake. In a letter to his mother dated November 6th, Henry “Sonny” Johnson spoke of a friend being killed, but the name was censored. The army later confirmed that Madden had been killed instantly when struck by a high explosive shell in battle on November 1st.

In another letter, Sonny Johnson wrote that he “was near when it happened and I know where he is [buried].” He continued,

“This war is no picnic; fellows that never seen it don’t know how lucky they are. . . I thought many a time that I’d never come home. Bullets flying so thick they sound like hail on a tin roof, they seemed to be bumping into one another.”

Major Shadworth Beasley was a surgeon, and “well known in Sausalito,” where his parents had lived for thirty years. Stationed in France, Major Beasley rejoined his regiment in Verdun on October 12, 1918 after an illness. His friend, Sergeant Joseph LeProhon recalled, “he was rather tired… so sat down to have a little rest in a little dug-out next to mine.” Soon after, they were shelled. Major Beasley ran out to retrieve a fallen soldier, and “brought him back to the place where our holes were.”

Immediately, LeProhon writes, they heard a noise. “Boom, then a SHSHSHSHSHSH, then a bang, well, the first thing I knew, we were all on the ground, and seemed to be all afire.” Major Beasley was hurt. “A piece of the shell about the size of your two fists” had broken his hip,and gone into his intestines. “I did the very best I could,” LeProhon writes, and “talked to him, but he was too weak to answer, and died in about ten minutes.”

One hundred years ago, Sausalito lost these and other sons. They were neither the first nor the last soldiers mourned by our city, but as Memorial Day passes, it’s fitting to remember their sacrifice.



“At Close Grips,” Library of Congress photo from WWI

Neil Davis: No Name Bar Wonder years 1959-1974

By Steefenie Wicks

Sausalito has always been known for its local pubs or bars, which catered to the local residents.  In the early 1900’s there were at least 19 bars located in the downtown area of Sausalito.  The most famous of these dated back to 1905; soldiers returning on foot to Fort Baker in the early hours of the morning called it this one ‘The Last Chance Saloon.”

From 1959 to 1974 Neil Davis owned and ran a saloon in Sausalito that was involved in charities, political movements, adopting orphans, hosted local fundraisers and press conferences.  His establishment poured the highest quality drinks at the lowest possible prices, it was a literary center that seemed to house the local writers of this era: ‘The No Name Bar.”

Born in Anderson, Indiana 85 years ago, Neil Davis is known for establishing one of the most unique local bars in Sausalito that in the beginning catered to the locals along with some of the world’s most talented literary authors.  Davis will be the first to tell you that the thing that made the No Name so popular was its setting.  Located in beautiful downtown Sausalito, it became everybody’s living room with no TV but plenty of magazines from round the world. At any time of the day you could drop into the place, find just about every customer reading either the Village Voice or the local sailing magazine or the English version of the Russian magazines, along with the National Geographic.  Neil also started his own little newspaper that told stories of who was doing what, along with who was where. 

After being discharged from the Air Force, Davis wanted to be a painter.  He began coming to the Sausalito studio of local artist Serg Truback who would critique his work.  During this time, he was invited to attend a party at a little house located behind the old Alta Mira Hotel.  There he ran into an old friend who offered him a chance to change his life’s plan. 

His old friend had become partners with four other men who were going to take over the old bar Herbs,’ located on Bridgeway, planning to turn it into a bar that was different from all the others.  His friend offered him a job doing day labor, tearing out the old place so that it could be remodeled, so for $5 an hour he took on the job of gutting the interior. The bar became a thing of beauty designed by architect Warren Callister from Tiburon with his assistant Bobby Holmes, who took over running the job.

Work began on the bar but the partners could never decide on a name.  Eventually the partners could not even work together, it was about 4years into this project and a lot of money later that the partnership broke up.  Davis was offered the bar, and he decided to take this project on.  He is the first to tell you that he had no experience in running a bar or being a bartender but these were things he would learn.  He insisted that all of the bartenders wear white shirts and black ties ─ that was their uniform.

One of his first decisions was to let it remain the bar with no name or the No Name Bar.  Along with hiring two of his friends as bartenders, he took on working with them. He learned how to mix drinks by referring to small recipe cards that the pervious owners had made up. Word started to spread about this new little bar with its magazines, inexpensive drinks, along with its quite atmosphere.  It soon became a hangout for local writers who appreciated the environment.  The night crowd from San Francisco started to show up and before Davis knew it, his little bar with no name had become the in spot to be.  Locals like writer Evan Connell and adventurer/film star Sterling Hayden along with sailor Spike Africa became regulars, helping build the reputation of the bar as the place to be or be seen at.  Then a No Name Bar opened in Spain, making this local spot world famous.

Davis will tell you that in the beginning it was the rich bohemian community that helped get the No Name Bar started.  Families that shopped downtown made it a habit of stopping in for a quiet drink in the evenings or on a Saturday night date, leading to the success of the bar. 

He feels that once real estate values changed, the local shops that catered to residents were brought out, more tourist shops moved in, and then his cliental changed, which would change the atmosphere of the No Name Bar forever.


No Name stories will be presented at the Sausalito Library on Friday May 11 at 7 pm.

Neil Davis, has invited bar patrons Greg Baker, Margo St. James, George McDonald, Steve McNamara, Michael Stepanian, Ian Swift and Dana Upton to share stories from the No Name. Sponsored by the Sausalito Library and the Sausalito Historical Society, the event will be followed by the grand opening of an exhibit entitled:

“No Name Bar: The Wonder Years: 1959-1975”

After the talk, attendees are invited to a reception for the Exhibition of some of Neil Davis’s treasures from his No Name collection,



Photo: Neil Davis is center bottom row

Photo by Steefenie Wicks

John Wilmer: Cornerstone of Caledonia Street

By Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society

Jack Tracy’s book, Sausalito Moments in Time, describes early Caledonia Street as a center of activity since the year 1841.  That’s when Don Guillermo Antonio Richardson finalized the purchase that would allow him to “enjoy freely and exclusively, appropriating it to the culture and use that best may suit him.” The history of the street continues to be well known for its many local community activities, like the 4th of July parade, the Easter parade, the Halloween parade and the Portuguese community’s annual Festival of the Holy Ghost.  (The 132nd Festival takes place on May 20 this year.)

Being located at 333 B. Caledonia Street since 1997 has turned John Wilmer into what locals in this neighborhood call a real cornerstone of the community.  Wilmer puts it this way: “After being here for the last 21 years, residents now consider me a local; that’s not a bad thing.”

John Wilmer and his dog Cali       Photo by Steefenie Wicks

John Wilmer and his dog Cali       Photo by Steefenie Wicks

John Wilmer is the first to tell you that 21 years ago there were hardly any businesses on Caledonia Street, except for the hardware store and the bar Smitty’s.  Wilmer says, “You had what I’d call your ‘anchor’ places like the nail salons, the dry cleaners the hardware store, and Smitty’s, but that was about it.  Today there are all kinds of unique shops here on Caledonia Street which means that more of the community residents will come here and shop; this is a good thing”.

Wilmer calls himself a self-taught artist.  His skills include photography and painting along with antique furniture restoration.  His father, Dr. Harry Aaron Wilmer II, was the first psychiatrist to introduce group therapy into the medical world at the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland.  His father continued his group therapy work in the late 1960’s through the University of California at San Francisco, eventually establishing the Youth Drug Ward at Langely Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute (now Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute).  His therapy also included creative seminars which featured artists like Joan Baez and the actor Rod Steiger. 

Coming from such a diverse, unique family made Wilmer look deeply into himself to explore his art.   Wilmer says, “I think that is why I like to work alone, invent my own techniques in how I do my art, it’s a bit of my background growing up with my father.” In the beginning he wanted to teach art therapy, but this proved a bit more difficult way to make a living.  He soon found that his art and photography would take him on another path.

For a while he lived in New York and became part of the art community there. During this time, he began to refinish antique furniture for himself, then for friends; this turned into a career move.  He eventually moved to Seattle where he worked at both his painting/photography doing the antique furniture refinishing as a way to support himself.  It was during this time that he met D.J. Puffert, who had his own art/antique store on Caledonia Street.  Years later, as Wilmer’s reputation for his work grew, he found himself on Caledonia Street in Puffert’s old studio warehouse space.

He ran into the cartoonist Phil Frank at an estate sale in town; the two had a lot in common: a love for the possibilities of reworking antique furniture.  Soon they were working on joint projects together, creating something new out of something old.  Phil could often be found just hanging out with Wilmer at his studio space, the two putting their heads together on new projects.

“Phil would come by just to drop in, to say hello but before he left we’d be working on a project that he’d had an idea about,” Wilmer recalls. “He was a very creative fellow, always thinking, full of ideas.” 

Caledonia Street has grown over the years along with Wilmer’s art studio /warehouse.  When you enter his space it’s like taking a tour into another world.  Part art gallery, part shop space, part antique furniture store ─ who knows what you will find him working on?   Wilmer feels that the best part of having the studio is having an open space to develop different projects in different locations in the complex.

 “Caledonia Street,” he continues, “is inspirational.  When I came here it was very low key but now the area has grown up a notch.  I have watched my neighbors’ children grow up.  Watched as world famous restaurants found their home here. Why, there is even a high-end bike store down the street that caters to the rich and famous. Here I can have my doors open, I can greet the public like I would in my home, never having to worry about anything being stolen.  I have an entire record collection in binders on the street in front of my shop.  People love to come by, go through the stacks, telling me that this album or that was one they remembered from some special event in their lives, the stories are always ones that make me feel good about myself at the end of the day.”

Wilmer feels that his space has become part of the neighborhood, where his doors are always open to residents or tourists to drop in, say hello or just see what his latest project is about.   He remembers when his children were small, their favorite program was Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and now he wants his world to be like that, part of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood on Caledonia Street in Sausalito, California.

Brutal Poolie Attack

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

In the 1880s, “poolrooms” began springing up across the country, including Sausalito. These thinly designed gambling dens organized betting pools for off-track wagering on horse race results brought in by telegraph. 

In his book Moments in Time, Historical Society founder Jack Tracy noted: “Opposition to poolroom gambling quickly organized as the Municipal Improvement Club. The Sausalito News, dedicated to boosterism and disinclined to print anything negative about Sausalito, remained silent on the issue. The Improvement Club countered in September 1900 with its own newspaper, the Sausalito Advocate. Here were the means to take on the ‘poolies’ and challenge the ‘push,’ a collective term for the paid poolroom advocates that always showed up at town meetings.”

E.D. Sparrow taking a break from his duties at the Sausalito Advocate. Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

E.D. Sparrow taking a break from his duties at the Sausalito Advocate.
Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

One of the key members of the Improvement Club was E.D. Sparrow, who edited the Advocate.  His work was not without risk, as reported in the April 1, 1902 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:

E. D. SPARROW, 5 feet 6 and weighing 140 pounds, was brutally beaten In Sausalito yesterday morning by Tom Frost, 6 feet 1 and weighing over 200 pounds. Frost is said to have waylaid his victim in a lonely quarter and attacked him without warning.

Sausalito is recognized as a strenuous political center in campaign or out, for one issue it has always— that of the poolrooms. The location was designed as a resident district, and as such the heights were settled principally by business and professional men along [San Francisco’s] California Street; there are others, but California street predominates—on the heights. Then came what is known as the "Beachcombers," who settled along the water front. There are reputable business men along the "front," but the majority of the residents of that locality affiliate with the poolroom element. The "hill" dwellers are opposed to licensing that evil, and no matter what the other issues involved in a political campaign, that of the poolrooms takes precedence.

"License" is the slogan of the Lowlands, and is answered by "no license," the gathering cry of the Highlands. Often have the clans been arrayed against each other; weapons have been displayed in and out of courts of justice by the leaders of the Lowlands, who have generally been victorious. Now another municipal campaign is on, and the fiery cross has gone around with a speed that to the Highlands betokens an urgent need of muster.

Sparrow is a real estate man, with offices at 303 California Street, and is one of the managers of the Sausalito Advocate, the organ of the Improvement Club, composed of dwellers on the heights, where Sparrow resides. Tom Frost Is a leader of one faction of the poolroom element. Recently a number of persons alleged to have been colonized by that element were arrested on the charge of Illegal [voter] registration. This, together with editorials In the Advocate that hurt, aroused the ire of the Lowlands and of Frost in particular. With reference to the encounter yesterday Sparrow said:

"I was on my way to catch the 9:15 boat to the city and was passing by the long cement wall on Water Street, when Frost stepped out of a niche, where he had evidently been in waiting. I know him by sight, but do not speak to him.  When he stepped in front of me he asked, 'Are you one of the managers of the Advocate?'  I replied that I was, and the next Instant he grabbed me by the throat with his left hand and struck me a powerful blow on the mouth with his right, and, jamming me against the cement wall,   continued  to rain blows on my face until I dropped insensible to the ground.  When I recovered consciousness, there was no one near me, and my money and papers were scattered around on the   sidewalk. My clothing was covered with blood and I was obliged to return to my home for a change and to dress my Injuries. I am not a match for Frost physically, neither am I a pugilist."

The incident has aroused the members of the Improvement Club and those opposed to the poolrooms.   There have been threats, but this la the first time that the blood of one of the "Highlanders" has been shed, and no one ventures to say there will be no further trouble. The Lowlanders are said to be divided into two factions. [Adolph Sylva, attorney, and mayor], who is known as the "Boss of Sausallto," is, or has been, the recognized leader of the pool-room element, but there are indications that his leadership is to be contested by Frost, who aspires to the chieftainship, and It is even said that he has applied the same method to Sylva that he did to Sparrow.  In this division of forces the Highlands see encouragement, and If the Clan Frost gets into serious trouble it is probable that the Clan Sylva will sit on the wall and laugh.

Frost claims that an article published by Sparrow in the Sausalito Advocate was the cause of his vicious attack.

In an April, 1902 election of the Board of Trustee’s, the Improvement Club and other “anti-poolies” were stunned when a pro-pool slate won. But the election actually proved to be a victory for them, because Adolph Sylva was defeated and a moderate, E. H. Shoemaker, was elected mayor in his place. Finally, in 1909 California outlawed off-track betting, putting the pool halls out of business for good.


Independent Old Friends

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

A gathering of Independent Old Friends on the steps of the El Monte Hotel.  Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

A gathering of Independent Old Friends on the steps of the El Monte Hotel.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

In the 1880s, a number of social and fraternal associations sprung up in Sausalito, which eventually merged into one, called “Independent Old Friends.” The secretary of the organization was J.E. Slinkey, who was also the proprietor of the Sausalito News at the time.  Not surprisingly, then, the paper ran this glowing report in October 1889 on a gathering of the group at Slinkey’s hotel.

Entitled “A Grand Jollification last Sunday at the EI Monte,” the article told the story of a special breakfast gathering, which folks had been anticipating with pleasure.  But, when a storm blew in on the big day, “the clouds were dropping down their dew most vigorously — every one said: ‘Oh what a day —surely no one will venture out in such a storm’.” The article continued:

But when the pretty and proud steamer San Rafael came to her moorings at the wharf, then it was that the Old Friends, "independent" of the elements sallied forth in large numbers. Col. J. E. Slinkey had made ample preparation for the old time veterans; even the ladies were not forgotten, nor the young veterans, who watched the silvered tongue orators speak a cheery welcome, reminding them of pleasures wand, not forgetting to tell them also of those grand old words, "Honor to Whom Honor is Due!"

The feast of good things was done justice to, and those present on the occasion will ever remember the cloudy day, when it stormed on the outside that beneath the roof of the famed El Monte, there were warm hearts who will ever cherish the motto: "Friendship and Sociability."

President Craig spoke of one missing brother, whose jovial face would be seen no more among his old friends, namely, Bro. Chas. Cox, who passed away last Saturday night in San Francisco, and hoped that eternal joy would await him on the other shore — though gone the lost brother would be cherished in memory by the "Independent Old Friends." The birthday of two popular members of the "I. O. F's" occurred on this occasion, namely, Dr. J. S. Knowlton, of San Francisco and Alexander Dalrymple Bell, of Sausalito, and their health was toasted and drank amid congratulations and expressions of "long life and happiness."

Capt. W. F. Swasey, a '49er of this glorious State of California made two happy speeches, one for Dr. Knowlton and the other for Bro. J. E. Magary. They were appreciated and applauded. The Captain is a splendid fellow and knows how to make an eloquent address. The gallant veteran Jim McCue, did not forget the ladies, and in a most pleasing manner paid them a high compliment, not forgetting the "old boys" who weatherbeaten by many a storm are yet ever ready to act the gallant as in ye olden time, when umbrellas were at a premium in the mining camps. After the breakfast the ladies returned to the parlor, and the gentlemen to the billiard room to wind up the balance of the day, telling stories, anecdotes of the old time days, that were amusing to hear, as the gray veterans shook their sides with a "ah ha!" here and an "ah ha!" there.

Back issues of the Sausalito News may be accessed through the Historical Society website at:

In PURSUIT of Ron MacCannan

by Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society

Ron MacCannan on board the PURSUIT. Photo by Steefenie Wicks.

Ron MacCannan on board the PURSUIT.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks.

Sausalito legend passed away March 2 after he fell overboard from his yacht Pursuit and drowned in Sausalito Yacht Harbor. He was 92.  In 2015, Steefenie Wicks profiled MacCannan’s colorful life for Marinscope:

The tide was high and the water was still, a perfect combination.  The 82-foot sloop rocked gently in her berth.  Scuba gear in place, mask down, he launched himself into the muddy water.  Once he was there he found his way to the very bottom of the vessel.  He could see the rut in the mud that the large 50-ton vessel had made but with this high tide she was floating above her mark in the mud.  He swam over, and like a turtle fitted himself into the rut.  Lying in the mud with the 50-ton vessel floating above him he stretched out his arms on either side of the keel, he was holding up the boat.  As he lay in the space, a laugh played upon his mind.  He thought to himself how many fellows get a chance to hold up their boats.

Ron MacCannan is the owner of the vessel PURSUIT, the company of Burgess and Morgan in New York built her in 1929.  She has been his love, his friend, his home and his peace.  Docked at the Madden Yacht Harbor in downtown Sausalito, she has been a showcase of what fine sailing vessels can look like along with being a standing example of the history that they have been part of.  

 One might say that the PURSUIT a fine vessel is a labor of love for this dedicated sailor.   When he first viewed her in 1959 she was not exactly what he was looking for.  She was larger than he wanted also the vessel was a lot older than he wanted.  However, she was beautiful, strong, priced right, she was his, continues to be his almost 60 years later.

At 90 years of age, Ron MacCannan has been part of the Sausalito waterfront since 1959.  His first job here was to jack up and move the 500-ton building that was built in 1898, at that time it was known as the San Francisco Yacht Club, in 1960 it was known as Ondine’s.  It seemed that the City of Sausalito wanted to widen the street Bridgeway but his building was in the way.  Ron was hired to contact the moving of the structure, which he did.   He tells of that day back in 1960 when he had the building jacked up ‘as is ‘ which allows for three feet of drainage pipe along with placing it is such a position that later would protect against wave action, and high water.  He moved the structure seventy feet east onto a new concrete foundation; this would make the 20-foot widening of Bridgeway possible.  

Later he would come to own this structure, building it 3 feet higher than it was in 1898. It was during this move that he discovered that the area where the new foundation would be laid, stuck in the mud were thousands of bottles. He was able to do a little bit of fact finding, discovering that the old Fire Department had once been located in that area.  During the days of ‘Prohibition”, all of the liquor bottles where brought to the Fire Department to be discarded, they in tern through them in the Bay.

Ron will be the first to tell you that he was raised as a farm boy on his grandfather’s property in St. Helena.   As a young lad he attended military school, which lead him to be prep for West Point.  During WWII he was trained as a gunner on a B-29.  After the WWII he found himself back in construction only now he had earned a general contractors license, which would bring him to Sausalito.   It was during this time that a new friend of his gave him a place to live. He found himself living aboard a 72-foot yacht called the VIVEKA.   The VIVEKA was a beautiful schooner that was docked in Sausalito; this gave him his first taste of what it was like to live on board a boat.  Then he began his journey of learning how to sail.  It was the sailing part that convinced him that he needed a boat of his own.   A year later he would take a trip down to Los Angeles, row out in the anchorage, view PURSUIT, the rest as he would say is history.

While Ron works on his vessel, he will be tell you that today the wooden boat is not as popular as it used to be.  Today there are new materials that boats are built out of so that they can go faster, looking sleeker in the water.  But the old wooden boat with its wooden hull is just about gone.   This becomes evident when you need to find someone to work on your boat, only to find out that the person you need has moved on to another area.

‘There was a time “, he says” when you could go to the northern end of town, find boat workers, materials, haul out ways for boats along with shops where these handy folks worked.  Now all of that has changed.  With the lack of shop space that these talented craft folks need to work on the wooden boats in this area, the work force has moved on, a lot of the fine crafts people have moved out of this area.”  He continues, “Sausalito used to be a mecca for creative sorts, now it’s a mecca for the tourist.  Yet, you can still see guys in this harbor coming down every day or every other day, taking care of their boats, maintaining that part of Sausalito’s waterfront heritage that seems to be slipping away.”

Ron MacCannan was recently spotlighted in the film series called, ‘Life on the Water’.

Sausalito: From Rancho to Town

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

Due to a reversal of fortunes, the heirs of Sausalito founder William Richardson were forced to sell portions of their Rancho del Sausalito to an attorney Named Samuel Throckmorton.  In his book “Moments in Time,” Jack Tracy describes Throckmorton as “well known for his clever financial manipulations.”

Throckmorton and his partners formed the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company in 1869 to develop the property, and here’s Tracy’s account of how they changed this area into a full-fledged town:

The Sausalito Land & Ferry Company set to work soon after the land was purchased. They had a survey made and a map drawn up showing future streets and lots available to the public. They named the streets mainly in honor of themselves and quickly staked out prime lots for their villas overlooking Richardson's Bay. They sent one of their number, John L. Romer, off to purchase a ferryboat.

The first streets graded and opened for business were a section of Water Street and Princess Street, named for the little steamer the company had purchased. This area was envisioned as the hub of a business district, with residences to be built on the view lots.

"New" Sausalito from the North Pacific Coast Railroad wharf, looking south c. 1875.  Photo by English photographer Edward Muybridge, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

"New" Sausalito from the North Pacific Coast Railroad wharf, looking south c. 1875.

Photo by English photographer Edward Muybridge, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The Princess was launched September 14, 1858, destined for a career on the Sacramento River. Designed to haul freight and a few passengers for Coffey and Risdon, she was 130 feet long with a 21-foot beam and twin 18-foot paddle wheels. The Princess was purchased by the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company just days before her inaugural voyage as a ferryboat on May 10,1868. She made two trips a day from the Princess Street landing to Meigg's Wharf in San Francisco. When the North Pacific Coast Railroad took over ferry operations in 1875, the Princess was sold and five years later was broken up for scrap.

Thomas Wosser was the first engineer on the ferryboat Princess and first of five generations of Wossers who served on ferryboats. He was born in Ireland in 1828 and came to San Francisco around Cape Horn in 1849. Hired as a boatman by Charles Harrison in 1851, he remained in that capacity until his retirement in 1896. He built one of the first homes in New Town, where he lived with his wife and fourteen children until his death in 1900.

The prospects looked good to the men of the Sausalito Land & Ferry Company. Completion of the trans-continental railroad in 1869 injected new vitality into California, and San Francisco had become the financial center of the West. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had established regular routes to the Orient from San Francisco, and a thriving California grain trade filled the bay with ships from Liverpool and New England.

As grain ships were laid up in Carquinez Strait and Richardson's Bay waiting for the grain to be harvested or for the price to go up in home ports, their masters and crews became enamored of life in California. Many of the earliest settlers in Sausalito were British, who perhaps preferred the quiet country life to that of dynamic, raw San Francisco. Some were sent to represent British companies, some came from the vessels themselves. Others came to seek their fortunes in the legendary land of California. Most of the English residents of Sausalito were "second sons." That is, they came from landed wealthy English families and although they usually had sufficient annual stipends, they had no titles. The eldest son stood to inherit the title and property in England, leaving the other sons and daughters to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The men took positions in banking and brokerage houses, and the women often married American businessmen.

In the accompanying photo, the man perched on the new wharf gazes back at the first ferry landing at the foot of Princess Street. The ferryboat Princess rests at her pier.

The Golden Gate Bridge and The Defining of Marin

By Jim Holden and Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society

The following is excerpted from a new book, It Happened in Marin, by Jim Holden, a resident of the County for over 45 years.

The Golden Gate Bridge under construction  Photo by Dulce Duncan, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

The Golden Gate Bridge under construction  Photo by Dulce Duncan, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

San Francisco has long dominated the story of the Golden Gate Bridge and claimed it as the City's symbol, but the story on the Marin side is even more interesting. The bridge changed Marin more than any event in its history. Then, years later, the bridge forced Marin to make another choice about its future—a choice that has differentiated it from other Bay Area counties and defined Marin ever since.

Before the bridge, Marin County was a virtual island, surrounded by water except to the unpopulated north. Until automobile travel became common, Marin's separation from San Francisco was mostly a benefit.

The bridge brought soaring growth to Marin after World War II ended. Greenbrae, Marin's largest development at the time, broke ground in 1946 for 197 lots and added more the next year. The Kent Woodlands, begun shortly before the bridge was completed, was expanded significantly after the war. Sleepy Hollow, the Fair Hills in San Rafael, and smaller developments in southern Marin also emerged shortly after the end of the war.

Terra Linda, Marin's largest subdivision with authorization for 5,700 homes, began development just north of San Rafael in 1953. Joseph Eichler built some 900 homes there between 1955 and 1965. Terra Linda eventually reached a population of approximately 10,000. In 1973 it was annexed to San Rafael.

Construction of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge began in 1953 and was completed in 1956. It provided automobile access directly between Marin and the East Bay and added impetus for more homes, particularly in central Marin. Peacock Gap, Glenwood, and other San Rafael subdivisions sprang up in the 1960s, while the Kent Woodlands and Greenbrae continued to expand.

However, the assumption that growth was good for Marin also began to change in the 1960s. Early in the decade Marin rejected BART. As population and bridge use continued to climb, Marin residents increasingly suffered the frustration of traffic congestion. In 1940, 4 million vehicles crossed the Golden Gate Bridge; in 1970, 32 million poured across it.

Marin residents could do little about congestion on the bridge and Highway 101, but they were determined to restrain its primary cause, the county's population boom. From 1940 to 1970 Marin's population had quadrupled, increasing from 52,907 to 206,038.

At the end of the 1960s and continuing into the 70s, the Marin populace took matters into its own hands, voting in supervisors who campaigned against proposed highways and large residential projects. In 1970 the Board of Supervisors withdrew its support for Marincello, a proposed project for 25,000 residents in the Marin Headlands. In 1971 the Board of Supervisors requested that the state withdraw its plan for Highway 17, an expressway from the Richmond Bridge to Olema, and repealed its own West Marin General Plan, which envisioned 150,000 residents in the Tomales Bay area.

The decisive blow against growth was initiated in 1971 with the issuance of a Marin Planning Department report that proposed preserving Marin's lands except along the Highway 101 corridor. Entitled "Can the Last Place Last?" the report took its theme from Lew Welch's 1969 poem "The Song Mt. Tamalpais Sings" The poem lamented the "hordes" that were "now piling up" and contained a refrain that captured perfectly the sentiment in Marin: "This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go."

The Planning Department report pointed to the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge as the turning point in Marin's development and advocated ending unrestrained growth to preserve Marin's beautiful, livable environment. The report illustrated graphically that road access spawns development and opposed any addition to Marin's primary road infrastructure. It proposed preserving Marin's inland rural agricultural and coastal recreational corridors and restricting any significant growth to the Highway 101 corridor.

The report was adopted by a 3—2 vote of the Board of Supervisors in 1973 as the Marin Countywide Plan and has been implemented ever since as the foundation of Marin land use policy. It halted the population boom that from 1940 to 1970 had added 150,000 new Marin residents, quadrupling the county's population in just three decades. In the following four decades, from 1970 to 2010, Marin gained only 46,371 inhabitants, less than a 23% increase over the 40 years, or about 0.5% per year.

The Golden Gate Bridge was a major cause of the county's growth spurt and later played a big part in bringing it to an end and saving Marin. The bridge provided Marin with much-needed road access to San Francisco and growth when the county needed it. The growth led to inevitable bridge and Highway 101 gridlock, and with it the realization that Marin needed to restrain growth to preserve its essence.

The Golden Gate Bridge signifies different things to different people. As drivers cross the bridge, most see its beauty. Some see it as a roadway. Others may think of the bridge's iconic status or its worldwide fame.

For Marin residents, the bridge separates the county from the densely populated rest of the Bay Area. As the bridge carries residents toward Marin and on to its shore, they feel something deeper and warmer—they are home.

It Happened in Marin is available at Book Passage and other bookstores, and on loan from Marin libraries.  Jim will read other excerpts and discuss his book May 2 at the Mill Valley Historical Society.

Don’t Frighten the Horses: On (Not) Being a Nuisance in Sausalito

By Nora Sawyer, Sausalito Historical Society

“The horse and the Snake,” painted in 1787 by Bénigne Gagneraux, hangs in the Musée Magnin in Dijon, France.

“The horse and the Snake,” painted in 1787 by Bénigne Gagneraux, hangs in the Musée Magnin in Dijon, France.

In December 1909, Ed Baraty was acquitted of being a nuisance.

A local butcher, Baraty was the proprietor of The Richardson Bay Market. A neighbor, in a “forcible communication” to the town’s board of trustees, had alleged that Baraty was maintaining a nuisance in violation of town Ordinance No. 45. At issue was the area in the back of the market, where “foul matter accumulated. . . causing odors which spread over the adjoining property and were both obnoxious and nauseating to residents.”

It’s not clear what section of the ordinance Baraty was purported to be in violation of. Perhaps it was Section One, which prohibited any person in Sausalito from depositing “within the corporate limits off the Town of Sausalito any dead animal or to suffer the same to be or remain upon any premises in said town owned or occupied and controlled by such person” unless it was “covered in earth to a depth of not less than four feet.” Or, more likely, it was Section 9, which barred any property owner to allow “any premises belonging to or occupied by him” to become “foul or offensive, and prejudicial to public health or public comfort.”

Regardless of the offense, the charges soon proved moot. Though Baraty’s attorney was “prepared to show that his client had not violated any ordinance and that he had taken most every precaution against creating a nuisance,” the defense was un-necessary. For although Ordinance 45 had been passed by the board of trustees and published in the Sausalito News in October 1895, it had not officially become a law. The town clerk “in copying the original into the ordinance book failed to show that it had ever been signed by the chairman of the board as required by law.” Despite the prosecution’s efforts, the jury found that no such ordinance existed on Sausalito’s books.

(Baraty soon recovered from his brush with the law. Covering his wedding in 1910, the Sausalito News described him as “a native of Sausalito and a very prominent business man” who “at the last municipal election practically received all the votes cast for trustee.” In 1912, he was unanimously voted mayor by his fellow Trustees.)

Sausalito’s earliest ordinance regarding nuisances, Ordinance No. 3, set forth laws concerning sinks, cesspools, vaults and privies, the disposal of garbage and animal waste, littering, and the posting of bills and posters. Its placement in the list of town ordinances hints at its importance within the newly incorporated town: it comes immediately after the establishment of a regular monthly meeting schedule for the town’s trustees in Ordinance No. 2, and before “offenses against public peace and property” (Ordinance No 8), the collection of taxes (Ordinance No. 9), and the establishment of a town jail (Ordinance No. 13).

Published together in the Sausalito News on October 20 1893, these earliest ordinances paint a picture of Sausalito’s early days, with ordinances prohibiting a number of activities including horse racing, concealed weapons, the discharge of firearms inside town limits, and “on a public highway any sport or exercise having a tendency to frighten horses.”

Though the equanimity of horses is no longer a pressing concern for Sausalito’s citizens, nuisance laws have continued to provide a glimpse into Sausalito’s ongoing preoccupations and concerns. In 1954, the City Council debated the adoption of Ordinance No. 465, which would have outlawed the ownership of snakes, crocodiles, alligators and other reptiles. The Sausalito News reported that City Attorney John Ehlen “was charged to draw up the ordinance after neighbors of [Leslie] Hood and his wife, Isabel, complained about their two pets -- a five-foot South American boa constrictor (Xipc Totec) and a three-foot king snake (Ebisu).” The Hoods “also owned another king snake called Hu, but he disappeared last January.”

Ehlen, who noted that Hu’s occasional appearances around town had “reduced the amount of drinking in Sausalito considerably,” based the proposed ordinance on section 370 of California’s Penal Code, which at the time defined a public nuisance as anything that "deprived a reasonable person from the normal enjoyment of his property.” With an eye to the future, Ehlen expanded proposed ordinance to include a variety of reptiles, explaining “if we just forbade snakes, the next thing you'd know one of our local characters would bring in a crocodile and we’d have to start all over again."

Still, some saw the snake ordinance as an attack on personal liberty. As one San Francisco newspaper editorialized, “we would expect that mankind in Sausalito would. . . though despising Xipo Totcc and Ebisu, yet at the same time [be] ready to defend to the death a man’s right to keep them.”

In a victory for both freedom and local reptiles, the City Council took no action on the issue. Though the idea of a ballot measure was floated, demand for a reptile ban seems to have petered out. And there’s even a happy ending: in February 1955, the Sausalito News reported that Hu the missing king snake had been discovered on the front porch of 3 Lower Crescent Avenue, captured by police in a half-gallon mayonnaise jar donated by the homeowner, and returned to Mr. Hood.

In Sausalito’s 125th anniversary year, it seems appropriate to meditate on the nature of our citizenship, and the intention behind our laws. So, in the spirit of our founding fathers, let us start with nuisances and govern ourselves accordingly, doing our best not to be foul or offensive, not to frighten the horses, and whenever possible to return our neighbor’s snakes unharmed.

Bill Kirsch: Finding the Magic

By Steefenie Wicks, Sausalito Historical Society

Bill Kirsch in his magical environment. Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Bill Kirsch in his magical environment.
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

The year was 1972 when Fred and Ada Schwartz first visited a home in Mill Valley that was built for Neil Davis who owned the No Name Bar in Sausalito, designed by Marin County architect Bill Kirsch.  The Schwartz’s became intrigued with the structure.  At the time the home would become vacant as the residents departed for their vacation in Mexico, so the Schwartz’s decided to rent the space.  It was only later that Kirsch, who never met the Schwartz’s, was to learn their real names.  They turned out to be John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  Bill was told that when John stepped onto the master bedroom deck, he gazed out and said, “It’s like living in a windmill.  I always wanted to live in a windmill.”  The residence became known as the Windmill House.

This is just part of the magical atmosphere that a structure built and designed by architect by Bill Kirsch can induce.  Kirsch has built over 300 buildings including residences and small commercial projects in California, Washington and Colorado.  His long list of accomplishments even includes being part of a group exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Born in Ohio, he has been part of the Sausalito community off and on since 1958.  He would be the first to mention that no matter how many times he left Sausalito, he would always feel the need to return.  He lived off of Gate 5 road across from the Vallejo, which was the home of both artist Jean Varda and philosopher Alan Watts.   Kirsch tells of how he and his wife Felicity moved into his garage studio that he would eventually turn into a building that included studios, living space, and a community room because people were always dropping in. “It was a time when people would drop by no mater what the time day or night,” he recalls.  “Finally, we put up a sign outside that said ’Closed Today’ just to get some relief from the foot traffic.”

Still Kirsch has fond memories of his sails with Varda aboard Varda’s boat the Cytheria.  Watching the artist Varda’s bohemian life style fit right into the architectural designs that Kirsh would come to create.

Kirsch explained, “An aspect of my design philosophy is my attention to the so-called ‘peasant’ spaces as opposed to the ‘manor’ spaces. The idea of a ‘peasant ‘ space is open, not highly structured. It’s like creating spaces where the patterns of someone’s life can be highly descriptive rather than restricted.” 

His work involved an interesting manipulation of materials, spaces and colors, providing the feeling that these were adventures for people. Kirsch was also designing green buildings before they were in fashion.

His life in Sausalito where he now resides is still full of the memories of the 10 years that he and wife Felicity lived on what he called Guru Alley.  “I called it ‘Guru Alley’ because you never knew who would be walking down it,” he continued, “from the writers Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller and Anais Nin, to the poet Dylan Thomas, they could all be found strolling down ‘Guru ‘Alley, for a visit to Varda’s then stopping in to see what my current project was.”

Kirsch’s architectural career seemed to evolve with word of mouth.  Kirsch has converted barns into residences, has rescued timbers from old wooden highway bridges, turning them into residences along with used lumber from San Francisco piers that he built into houses.  As an expert carpenter, he was able to not only design but also build his designs himself.  He has worked on a number of structures that are now part of the Sausalito floating homes community.

When asked what is one of the biggest changes he has seen in Sausalito, without hesitation he says the Art Festival.

He tells the story of how Varda started the Art Festival in the 1940’s but soon tired of the project and it became part of the Sausalito Chamber of Commerce.  During the mid 1960’s Kirsch, also a productive artistic painter, along with a group of local artists took over the project from the Chamber.  He felt that the Chamber was willing to hand over the event because they knew that Kirsch’s group would fail.  As it turned out, the Art Festival that year made over $15,000.00; the admission price was 50 cents.

Kirsch’s architecture has appeared in over 30 magazines from Sunset Magazine to Life Magazine, along with the 22 residences that appeared in the Japan Interior Design magazine.  He has received awards for homes, commercial/retail projects, along with a mini storage project in Berkeley.

Bill Kirsch’s philosophy has always been that understanding our environment is important for peace, joy and creativity in our lives. He feels that he has been able to help people compose their environment, and that Sausalito is the magical place that allows that to happen.  He feels lucky to have found a place where this is possible.  When you come to visit Bill and Felicity on their houseboat, standing in a room full of Bill’s paintings, as you look around you can feel that there is something magical about their whole environment that will last beyond their lifetime.

Bygone Valentine’s Day

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
40s era Valentine. Courtesy illustration

40s era Valentine.
Courtesy illustration

The history of Valentine’s Day and its patron saint is as murky as a week-old box of See’s chocolates. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine, all martyrs.  One, a third century Roman priest, defied a decree from the Emperor Claudius banning marriage among young men; the ban was based on Claudius’ belief that single men made better soldiers.

Legend has it that the imprisoned priest actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after falling in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it’s believed he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine.”

Others claim that the Christian church may have placed St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and to Roman founders Romulus and Remus. According to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. Bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman – sort of a low-tech

Whatever its origins, Valentine’s Day was a popular holiday among early Bay Area settlers.

As early as 1887, San Francisco’s Daily Alta California newspaper was waxing rhapsodic about the joys of young romance:

“The Fourteenth of February is a date indelibly impressed on the popular mind, for it is none other than St. Valentine's Day. Few saints in the calendar can boast of so widely extended a fame as is accorded to the memory of this most worthy Father. Sighing swains have ransacked the stationery establishments in search of prettily bedecked missives of tender sentiment…” 

Of course, the paper didn’t overlook the commercial aspects of the day: “The manufacturers of the countless cards and booklets which ask only the faintest raison d'être, have seized upon the memory of good St. Valentine to help them in the circulation of their dainty wares.”

Judging by coverage in the Sausalito News, Valentine’s celebrations were particularly popular in the 1940s.  The Woman’s Club hosted annual children’s parties, including dancing, performances by the young guests, and – of course – refreshments.

The following year, the paper giddily announced: “A special sort of Valentine arrived in the Thomas Decker family at noon on Friday, Feb. 14. As Valentines go, this one was pretty fair sized, seven pounds and four ounces to be exact.”  A baby girl, with a memorable birthday.

By 1943, WWII and Marinship were in full swing, but civil defense volunteers took time to plan some special entertainment: “The Graveyard Shift’s Civilian Defense Group very evidently intends to put on a real Valentine party Saturday night according to W. C. Billingsley, Chief Air Raid Warden and Chairman of the group. The party will be given in the Community building, the Auditorium of which will be arranged in a night club setting and soft drinks will be served to table guests by a staff of waiters from the group.” A 4-piece band played for dancing until 1:00 a.m., and the 50-cent admission fee went toward purchasing First Aid supplies.

Valentine festivities got off to an early start in 1944: “Among the first was the party Saturday, February 5, for the Sausalito children in the first through the fifth grades who have been participating in the recreation program at the Service Men’s Club. Valentine games were the features of the afternoon.”  In the evening a special dance for sixth, seventh and eighth graders was held. “A small fee of a few cents was charged at each party to cover cost of refreshments.”

Not to be outdone, “The Pre-School Play Center at the Service Men's Club celebrated Valentine's Day ON Valentine’s Day, an apparently unusual procedure. Twenty-two little ones made short work of the ice cream, cookies and candy and all went home with valentines and presents.”

Festivities continued after the War.  In 1947 a Valentine party was staged for young ladies earning their hostess badges in the Girl Scouts. “The 16 party-goers ate their dinner at card tables tastefully decorated by the hostesses, with gay centerpieces of daffodils and Valentine hearts.”

The following year Sunday school children of the Presbyterian church had their own celebration. “All the games played had a Valentine motif, and refreshments of cookies and punch were served. About 25 children were there. A 15-minute movie on locomotive engines and cars was shown by the Rev. Burton Alvis and Jerry Jones, Sunday school superintendent. Mrs. Frederick Wilson read two Valentine stories. Games for the younger children were conducted in a separate room.”

Here's hoping your Valentine’s day is every bit as festive.

Birth of the News

By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
Sausalito on a Sunday morning in 1885. Bell tower of Christ Church at lower left.  Painting by Norton Bush, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Sausalito on a Sunday morning in 1885. Bell tower of Christ Church at lower left.

Painting by Norton Bush, courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Lately it has been my pleasure to browse back issues of The Sausalito News, the local weekly newspaper from 1885 to 1960. It’s chock full of historic tidbits and was also written in a dated yet very quaint style that’s quite entertaining.

According to the 1887 Rowell's American Newspaper Directory, the paper positioned itself as "spicy, newsy, saucy and bold" and featured articles on "literary, sporting, society, fashion, scientific and telegraphic" topics. Jas. A. Wilkins, Editor and Proprietor, was a former mayor of San Rafael. And since none of the articles carry by-lines, I assume that he wrote all the original material in the debut issue.

That premier issue appeared on February 12, 1885, but it was not the first local paper, as an introductory article makes clear:

“Journalism has been attempted at Sausalito on more occasions than one. It cannot be said that previous efforts have met with very gratifying success. After brief and harrowing struggles, all have succumbed to the stringency of the money market, and sleep the sleep that knows no waking. Undeterred by their fate, The Sausalito News enters the abandoned field hopeful of success. How far our anticipations may be realized, the future alone can tell. The paper, in any event, will continue to be published for at least a year, even though the proprietor is its only reader. We have already received much encouragement. Business men, land owners and residents have shown a most gratifying desire to give the little enterprise a helping hand. If they continue their kind offices, we have no fears.

“The News is here to stay, if possible, and while our eye will naturally be open to the selfish business of making a living, it shall be our effort always to do everything that lies in the power of a country journal to boom the interests of Sausalito and bring its many advantages to the notice they deserve. Local papers are more useful in this direction than they are commonly credited with. They are free advertisers wherever they go for their places of publication, and without their aid it is almost impossible for any locality to gain an audience before the great public and secure a general recognition of what it is. We hope that the News will do effective work in heralding the merits of Sausalito Township to the world, and that it will more than earn any compensation it may receive from its patrons.”

 “We hope that the News will do effective work in heralding the merits of Sausalito Township to the world, and that it will more than earn any compensation it may receive from its patrons.”

And then, donning his Proprietor’s hat, Wilkins crafted this dire warning: “To the numerous subscribers for the Sausalito News, we are pained to say that subscriptions are payable in advance. We have been at a very considerable outlay in this enterprise. Besides, we must have a working capital, for types do not set themselves, nor are rent or paper bills deferrable. Next Saturday an able bodied and remorseless collector will make the rounds and we hope that his labors will not be disappointed.”

Sausalito News is part of California Digital Newspaper Collection, a searchable online database containing more than 600,000 pages from historic newspapers of California. The database is free and open to the public at