Photo Courtesy of the Marin History Museum
Belvedere Cove and Lagoon in the late 1800s
Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
The forerunners of today’s floating homes community were the arks of Belvedere Lagoon. Originally built as fishing shacks, these flat-bottomed, arch-oofed vessels became popular with San Francisco Victorians as summer places and weekend getaways in the late 1800s. They were anchored in calm areas of the Bay, especially the well-protected Belvedere Cove.
Marin History Museum volunteer Scott Fletcher recently detailed the history of this unique maritime enclave:
Belvedere Cove, originally named Stillwater Bay, separates what was first named El Potrero de la Punta del Tiburon, then Still Island, Peninsula Island, and finally Belvedere Island, from present-day Corinthian Island and the Tiburon mainland. These islands were part of the 8,000-acre Mexican land grant of Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio that was given to John Thomas Reed in 1834.
After the 1906 earthquake, many families moved permanently to their summer homes on Belvedere or onto the spacious floating arks or houseboats on Belvedere Cove.
That unique community became known as Arktown. Another MHM volunteer, Nancy Niche, picks up the story from there:
Long ago, when there were residential arks moored out in Belvedere Cove between the Corinthian and (later) the San Francisco Yacht Club on Beach Road at the base of Belvedere Island, the “Seawall” was opened in the late autumn for the arks to come into the Belvedere Lagoon and winter in the protected area at the south end of Cove Road. The arks would weather out the elements in relative comfort until the middle of spring, and then the Corinthian Yacht Club would mark the occasion of their return to Belvedere Cove for the summer months with a party and celebration.
That ritual eventually evolved into the annual April festivities known as Opening Day of yachting season, with the raising of a drawbridge that allowed arks to move further out into the Bay. The Corinthian Yacht Club became the historical host of Opening Day on the Bay. That club was formed in the 1880s following a schism that split up the San Francisco Yacht Club. Here’s that story, as told on the CYC website:
On March 16, 1886, 32 gentlemen, mostly members of the San Francisco Yacht Club, disappointed that their racing and cruising interests in the “Mosquito Fleet” [smaller boats] were being ignored, met at Arion Hall in San Francisco to discuss forming a new yacht club for small boat sailors (boats not to exceed 45 feet).
They had been preceded in 1878 by a number of wealthy yachtsmen who left to found the Pacific Yacht Club (disbanded some 15 years later) following strong disagreement over where to locate SFYC’s new clubhouse (both clubs in fact moved to Sausalito).
As we have reported in the past, the SFYC moved from Sausalito to Belvedere in 1926, to escape traffic congestion and wakes from Sausalito ferryboats.
When the drawbridge between became a fixed span, the arks could no longer shelter in the lagoon during the winter. Some were towed away to new locations where they towed ashore or put up on pilings. Some remnants of the old Arktown can still be seen today on ark rows in Tiburon, Waldo Point Harbor and downtown Sausalito, as well as the Larkspur Boardwalk. One of those old arks is still afloat, on South 40 Pier in Waldo Point Harbor, resting comfortably on a concrete hull. It was salvaged by Phil Frank, an early houseboater and original member of the Sausalito Historical Society, and later was bought and remodeled by noted Bay Area architect Sim Van der Ryn.
In the accompanying photograph, Beach Road connects Corinthian Island in the distance to Belvedere in the foreground. Also visible in the image is Belvedere Lagoon behind Beach Road, Old Saint Hilary’s Church high up the hillside overlooking Corinthian Island, and a portion of the Tiburon ferry docks and rail yards on the extreme right.