Jack Tracy and Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
“Sausalito in 1950 was a peaceful small town once again,” says Historical Society founder Jack Tracy in his book Moments in Time. Here’s the rest of Jack’s account, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
After the turmoil and the wartime crowds, a quiet settled over the town that had not been experienced in decades. The ferryboats were gone. Steam whistles, for over eighty years a familiar sound to Sausalitans, could no longer be heard. Long lines of automobiles, their occupants impatient to embark for San Francisco, were a thing of the past. In 1950 weeds grew in the vacant lot where once the Northwestern Pacific depot stood. The ferry slips were slowly rotting away.
The Golden Gate Ferry landing at Princess Street was also abandoned and quiet. The tiny building that once housed Lange’s Launch Service had become the Tin Angel, a restaurant and bar. The San Francisco Yacht Club was gone. The imposing clubhouse with its graceful arches was now a bait and tackle shop for local fishermen.
The railroad yards and shops were gone from Sausalito. Many trainmen still lived in town, but there was little activity on the remaining tracks. The locomotives built in the Sausalito shops were only memories.
Richardson’s Bay, referred to as the “Boneyard” during the 1880s because of numerous sailing ships laid up there, still had remnants of a windjammer fleet in 1950. Most of them would sail no more. The showboat Pacific Queen, ex-Balclutha, had been towed to Southern California after a brief attempt in 1946 to convert her to a floating poker palace. The Echo and Commerce were burned before World War II, but the once lovely brig Galilee was still there, on the mud near the foot of Napa Street. The steam schooner Lassen was beached off the foot of Johnson Street near the rotting bones of smaller vessels.
On the night of Nov. 12 1944, the old schooners Wellesley and Santa Barbara and the freighter Mazama were burned near the Madden and Lewis Yacht Harbor, to clear the sand spit of hulks. Hundreds watched as the mayor, with fire chief and city attorney present, ignited an oil-soaked rope leading to the ships. To everyone’s surprise, one of the vessels contained thousands of gallons of fuel oil, which burned fiercely through the night. Cities around the bay watched in horror as they assumed Marinship or all of Sausalito was being consumed by flames. The next day as the fire continued, Sausalito was criticized in the San Francisco press for neglecting to inform others of the bonfire.
The waterfront north of Marinship became the final resting place for veteran ferryboats, once worked prodigiously, now abandoned. Here the City of San Rafael, Vallejo, Charles Van Damme, Issaquah, and City of Seattle eventually were left to their fates. Ironically, these ferryboats had never been part of Sausalito’s past, but served other Bay Area cities.
Nevertheless, Sausalito is where they would live out their final chapter, in Sausalito’s future.
The huge vessels became living quarters and work spaces for artists and craftsmen and in the 1960s became the nucleus around which the houseboat community grew.
The business community of Sausalito in 1950 was still centered around Princess Street and Bridgeway. The shoe repair shop, the Purity Store, Central Pharmacy, the Gate Theatre and Eureka Market, and other small shops were patronized by locals in the days before tourism became an industry. The bars like the Four Winds and the Plaza were small neighborly places where the bartenders knew everyone who came in. On Caledonia Street, with its own movie theatre since 1943, the pattern was much the same. The Marinship hiring hall had become an auto repair shop once again. Sausalitans still had hopes that Marinship might yet be converted to an industrial plant of one sort or another. Several companies expressed interest in the large marine ways, but the piecemeal dismantling of the shipyard was well under way by 1950.
Sausalito in 1950 was on the threshold of its “art colony” years. Always a haven for writers, artists, poets, and creative souls of many bents, Sausalito experienced. an influx of artists in the decade after World War II. At first some returning servicemen and women may have come to place themselves as far as possible from the insanity and horror of war. They sought the quiet backwaters, as Sausalito was in those days, where natural beauty and serenity abounded. Local artists raised in Sausalito or who came in the 1920s or 1930s welcomed the creative energies released in Sausalito during the 1950s. Art shows held in various places around town over the years evolved into an annual art festival, with established older artists intermingled with newcomers. Many well-known Bay Area artists emerged from the Sausalito art colony of the 1950s. The art festival has become a continuing tradition providing a showcase for local talent.
The film On the Waterfront, released in 1954, was set on the East Coast — on a very different waterfront. Elia Kazan’s masterpiece received eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Marlon Brando, Best Supporting Actress for Eva Marie Saint, and Best Director for Kazan.
Moments in Time, chronicling Sausalito’s history through the 50s, is available at http://www.sausalitohistoricalsociety.com/society-publications.