Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
Fred Perry, Sr. was born in Alameda on Dec. 7, 1875, and his parents brought him over to the tiny town of Sausalito when he was just 2 years old. Nearly 70 years later, then known as Pop Perry, he recounted some of his early memories for the Sausalito News.
“Pop Fred Perry is the agile little man whose shock of white hair and tanned, weather beaten face have been a familiar sight around Sausalito for well over the half century mark,” reported the News, adding that the Perry family settled in a home at Pine Station, a cluster of houses on the waterfront that was taken over by the Marinship operation in World War II.
Fred began school on Water Street (now Bridgeway). “Children from the first seven grades were all crowded into one classroom, and when the walls of the room began to bulge with the large number of us youngsters, we were moved to a ‘new’ school building,” Fred recalled. “It was a great day when all of us little boys and girls carted our bundles of books, and our old fashioned slates to the new school to begin classes.” Fred and his buddies competed in the spelling bees, pulled the little girls’ pigtails, and in general, made life for their teacher something of a problem.
The last couple of years of grammar school were spent at school in San Rafael, where he stayed until he reached the “second” grade . . . what is now the seventh grade in the modern school system. “How well I remember the licking I got at the hand of the principal of the school,” remarked Fred, flashing a mischievous twinkle at the News reporter. After school, Fred went to work in a restaurant.
“Saturdays,” he recalled, “were the big days when the whole San Francisco Yacht Club crowd mobbed the place, and kept us all busy with their orders for special chicken dinners.” That was the beginning of an eclectic career, including various stints in the railroad industry, the work he most enjoyed.
When he left the restaurant, he went to work at Fort Baker and was there when they built the first 13 buildings in the fort. Fred remembered the site of the fort and the hills of that area as wonderful duck shooting country. After 11 months, Fred took a job as storekeeper in the railroad shops, and soon afterwards, became an engineer on the milk tram from Alto to Sausalito.
He stuck at the job for nearly 18 years, until in 1897, he went to work on the Sutter Street cable car line in San Francisco, as conductor. According to the News, “Fred’s dusty old album of pictures contains one of himself, the shortest conductor on the line, standing beside the tallest ‘gripper’ (he who keeps the cable car from careening down the hills). When they took off the horses, and put new fangled cars on the line in 1901, Fred had to resign.” At five feet one, he was too short to reach the bell cord.
“My real start, though,” said Fred, “was when I resigned from the railroad and went into the tea and coffee business, built my little store on Caledonia St., and made a fresh start.” He made a real go of the new business, and in 1917, sold it to his oldest son, Jack, and went back to work for Northwestern Pacific and the government, handling the mail.
In 1922, Fred became a foreman for a contractor, and helped build up the streets and buildings in Sausalito. He went back into his tea and coffee business in 1924, in partnership with his youngest son, Fred, Jr., or “Fritz.” In 1928, the second floor above Perry’s store was built, and became the well-known Perry’s Hall, used for parties and dances by local organizations. Then Fred reversed course again, selling the store to Fritz in 1935.
Throughout his life, Fred remained active in civic and fraternal organizations. He belonged to the Knights of Pythias for 55 years and was also a Forester and a member of Native Son of the Golden West. According to the Historical Society archives, he was also a member of the Sausalito Volunteer Fire Department, sergeant-at-arms of the Sausalito Improvement club, acting secretary of the Sausalito Board of Health and a trustee of Central School. He and his wife Alfay raised three sons, John (Jack), Matthew (Matts) and Frederick B. (Fritz) all of whom became prominent figures in Sausalito. Before he passed away following a stroke in 1952, Fred could look back on a life well lived.