Christopher VerPlanck and Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
In 2012, the California Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) awarded Sausalito a grant to fund the preparation of a Historic Context Statement as a preliminary step in identifying and evaluating Sausalito’s historical resources. Christopher VerPlanck, principal of VerPlanck Historic Preservation Consulting, prepared a Sausalito Citywide Historic Context Statement and presented it at the City Council Meeting of August 31.
He was thanked for his efforts by the Council.
VerPlanck’s statement includes a Narrative History of Sausalito which sheds new light on the developments leading to the creation of Old Town. Here are some lightly edited excerpts:
During the Gold Rush, [Captain William] Richardson’s Rancho de Saucelito continued to supply fresh water, firewood, and lumber to residents of San Francisco (its name was changed from Yerba Buena in 1847). Meanwhile, Shelter Cove, which was still part of Richardson’s rancho, became an important rendezvous point for New England whalers, approximately 650 of whom were active in the Pacific by 1855. Located just inside the Golden Gate with plenty of deep water, Shelter Cove also became an important area for ad hoc ship repairs. Because of its wide, sandy beach, ship captains could safely run their vessels ashore, making hull repairs much easier.
Such activity soon attracted the attention of the U.S. Navy, which was then in search of a place
to build a naval repair facility on the Pacific Coast.
Facilitated by the demands of the U.S. Navy and independent ship captains, Sausalito got its own saw mill in 1848. Originally shipped to San Francisco, the mill was inexplicably redirected to Shelter Cove, perhaps with the encouragement of the increasingly cash-strapped William Richardson.
The saw mill was erected near the present-day intersection of 3rd and Main streets in Old Town. Under the terms of his contract, Robert Parker, the operator of the saw mill, was obliged to supply one-third of his output to the Navy, whereas the remainder could be sold on the open market. In addition to the saw mill, the facility at Shelter Cove included a Navy storehouse, sheds, and several shanties for the saw mill workers. Around the same time, the Navy built a dry dock on Shelter Cove to maintain its Pacific-based steamship fleet. For a short time, Shelter Cove was the only place in California where a modern maritime repair facility was available, and it marks the beginning of Sausalito’s long-lived boatbuilding and marine repair industry.
As Shelter Cove developed into the Navy’s main West Coast repair facility, Navy Lt. George F. Emmons surveyed and laid out a small town site surrounding the saw mill and the dry docks. Several Navy officers purchased lots and built houses. The community also had a boarding house, a hotel, and a saloon called the Fountain House. Established by Lt. James McCormick on Main Street, between 2nd and 3rd streets, the Fountain House was named for a productive artesian well in its vicinity. Another hotel, built in 1849, was called Saucelito House.
Lt. Emmons’ 1851 map of Old Town (property of California Historical Society) is remarkable in its level of detail. It shows a tight grid of twelve rectangular blocks superimposed on top of the gently sloping valley floor. The map shows a Y-shaped creek draining the valley parallel to Main Street and the arc-like beach of Shelter Cove. The north-south streets, which are numbered on the map, and the east-west streets, which were named for natural features and the cardinal points of the compass, retain the same configuration as they do today, although Water Street was renamed Bridgeway in the 1930s, and West Street is not identified by name on the map.