Sausalito Historical Society
The reopening of Dunphy Park, after more than a year’s worth of improvements, brings to mind the man who gave the park its name: distinguished Sausalitan Earl Dunphy.
Last year the Historical Society’s Nora Sawyer described how the park was created on the site of what had once been a town dump:
”A group of local residents calling themselves the Community Park Volunteers proposed that ‘by means of volunteer labor and donated materials, a simple but pleasant park could be created.’
“This group, led by Barry Hibben, formally requested permission to develop the park in September 1971. Over the next few years, the park took shape, fueled by volunteer efforts and contributions of funds, services and supplies by various groups, civic organizations, and individual volunteers. By December 1974, the park, named for long term City Councilmember Earl Dunphy, was complete.”
Fittingly, the new, improved Dunphy Park was also the result of countless hours of volunteer work and years of effort by citizens, elected and appointed officials, and City staff.
It’s a great story, but just as interesting is the story of the park’s namesake. Long-term Sausalitan Earl Dunphy worked for the NWP Railroad and at various other blue-collar jobs while also serving as postmaster, town trustee and councilman, including multiple terms as mayor. He was also on the town planning commission and was coordinator of civilian defense during WWII.
“An interest in politics is something you just have inside you; you receive nothing, but you feel you are accomplishing something.” That’s what Dunphy told the Sausalito News in 1966, having served in local government for 44 years.
In a 1990 oral history for the Historical Society, Dunphy related how he got into local government, and some of his valuable early political lessons:
“My next-door neighbor, Billy Hannon, was mayor when I was about 15 years old, and he used to talk politics with me and finally he said, “Why don’t you come to a meeting?” So I started attending council meetings when I was 15. They didn’t call them councilmen then; they were town trustees.
“Finally, in about 1935 I attended a meeting when they were arguing about spending a couple of hundred dollars to fix the firehouse door. At that time, the firehouse was opposite from where Ondine is. I said to myself, “I think I’ll run for the council,” so I talked to a couple of my friends, and they said, “Why don’t you? You’ve got nothing to lose.” So, we financed my campaign which was a total of $17, and I ran and was elected.”
Instead of fixing a door, Dunphy pursued a larger goal:
“I finally convinced the council – I want you to remember this: you never do anything by yourself – you must have support, and you need a majority. And believe me I was in the minority most of the time. But I said let’s buy the property at the corner of Caledonia and Johnson and finally we got them to buy it. And we decided to put aside some money to build the fire station on that site. And also, to purchase some waterfront property and to put in some streetlights. We put three bond issues on the ballot in 1939 to put some lights down through town, to buy a waterfront lot at the foot of North Street and to relocate the firehouse. But all three were defeated.
“When the votes were tallied, we found out what happened. On the lights, the people on the hill rose against it because the lights were going to be on the waterfront, not on the hill. On the firehouse, the people in old town voted against it because it would move the firehouse from the old part of town to the new part of town. And on the purchase of the waterfront property, the people in the north end of town voted against that because it was down in the south end of town. The city council said, ‘the people want them all, but they don’t want to pay for them.’ So, we built them all [without issuing bonds], and it turned out cheaper that way.”
All politics, as they say, is local.
Later, when Dunphy was mayor, a different bond issue was proposed — to buy the land that is now Dunphy Park. “I took an important part in that,” Dunphy recalled, “and it passed very quickly.”
So next time you visit the waterfront park to enjoy the new landscaping, shoreline paths or the bocce and volleyball courts, take a moment to honor a true Sausalito giant: Earl Dunphy.
Oral histories such as Earl Dunphy’s are accessible at http://www.sausalitohistoricalsociety. com.