Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
The Victorian mansion known as the Pines will be the scene of a Historical Society celebration and fundraiser on May 14.
The celebration will feature music, hors d’oeuvres, wines, and fabulous live and silent auction items—as well as a chance to tour portions of the landmark home. You can find more information and a link to purchase tickets at www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.com. Proceeds will go toward the completion of a of a totally reimagined Sausalito Ice House Museum.
The Queen Anne style residence was constructed in 1888 for Major Orson C. Miller during a building boom in the Sausalito hills. At that time, most of the homes were being built by British émigrés. As Jack Tracy pointed out in his book, Moments in Time, many 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.
Miller, however, was a Yankee army veteran who fought at Gettysburg in the Civil War and later moved to San Francisco where he was employed in the US custom house, eventually serving as secretary of the San Francisco mint.
Tracy recounts how Major Miller and his wife moved to Sausalito in 1885, and he bought a tract of “moribund lands of the Old Saucelito Land & Drydock Company” for $25,000. He immediately began surveying new streets and extending others from Old Town up the hillsides.
According to a Resource Evaluation prepared for the Sausalito Historic Resource Commission, “In 1887, Orson C. Miller purchased the remaining unsold portions of the Old Saucelito town site and incorporated the Sausalito Bay Land Company. Like his predecessors, Miller kept the original 1851 gridiron plan but he made several changes to make the tract more attractive to residential development. To improve access from the rest of town he built several new streets, including Sausalito Boulevard, which provided access to The Hill and Downtown and opened the steeper hillside areas to development.”
In 1888, he and his wife built their astonishingly large house perched on a hill overlooking the town and Richardson’s Bay. At a time when there were no street addresses, the house came to be known as The Pines. Eventually the street it’s located on became Miller Avenue.
At that time the Sausalito News began running a regular column called Our Villa Homes, listing the Pines among more than 30 of “the most beautiful and pleasant villa homes in Sausalito, probably, than generally falls to a place of ten times the size of this one.”
Having served as one of the four town trustees, and instrumental in establishing the first electric company, fire department and schoolhouse, Miller was considered a “city father” of Sausalito.
The Major passed away in 1903 and his family eventually was forced to sell the property.
According to a history compiled by the current owners, Gil Purcell and Roxanne Sheridan, “subsequent owners made major changes to the property. In 1910, a glass conservatory from England was brought around Cape Horn by ship and added to the South side of the house. Another owner divided the original 23 rooms into four apartments which were rented out to boarders.
“One owner built a tacky carport down by the road for auto storage. During the 60’s and 70’s, hippies painted curlicues and flowers on the exterior woodwork. The next owner spent several years meticulously restoring the mansion to its original splendor only to have it gutted by a Greek developer who bought the property in the 1990’s. The sweeping oak stairway and redwood banister were demolished, interior molding and woodwork dismantled, brass hinges, rewired gaslight fixtures and original radiators removed.”
But, unlike other Queen Anne Victorians, the Pines avoided demolition, but it was abandoned when Gil and Roxanne bought it and painstakingly restored it to its former glory.
For over 8 years, Gil and Roxanne and Gil’s dad, Gil Sr., hunted down materials and craftsmen to bring the house back to its original condition. Seismic and electrical upgrades were the first order of business, which meant rebuilding the brick foundation. Thousands of bricks were sourced from the 19th century to use for the foundation work as well as chimneys and walkways, and craftsmen skilled in the style of 1888 were secured to mortar the bricks.
Today the historic mansion is a dedicated space for local nonprofits to meet and hold fundraisers to support Sausalito, Marin County and Bay Area charities.
In 2014, Roxanne and Gil received a Certificate of Recognition from the California Heritage Council “In appreciation of the restoration and presentation of the Queen Anne Victorian known as the Pines.”