Growing Up Belvedere

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My older cousins jumped into our canoe where they spent half an hour being pulled around the lagoon until they reeled in an 11 pound striped bass. And yes, it was delicious.

The bellowing of foghorns was the music of my morning. I can still taste the bowl of cereal that began my day. Then I made lunch — peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an apple — and put it in a brown paper bag. My glass jar would always spend the night in the freezer filled with water so I could start with frozen water in the morning, knowing if I ran out there would always be a neighbor’s garden hose to drink from. Then I would set  out on my bicycle to enjoy this magical Northern California haven. I would go out with my sister and friends, often followed by our dogs, fighting to keep up with our bikes, relishing in the adventure.

Lithograph of Belvedere looking south towards San Francisco, 1892.

We would hike the lanes in Belvedere and traverse the roads. We made forts under the eucalyptus trees and sucked on the sour stems of oxalis — we called it lemon grass. Wild California poppies sprung up in the most delightful places. The sweet smell of plum, apple, orange, pear and lemon trees lingered in the air. You could walk a few steps and the bay trees with eucalyptus gifted you with a forest scent. Then honeysuckle and the rose bushes with the fresh air from the Pacific would stop you in your tracks. Tastes and smells do not fade with age.

My sister Laurie and I would go to what is now the Boardwalk Market and ask the produce manager if he had any old carrots or apples that we could take to Blackie, the horse in Blackie’s Pasture. He always obliged. We would walk with our bag of treats down the railroad tracks. Along the way we would feel the rails for vibrations and listen for the train to come down the tracks. We would put pennies and nickels on the tracks and wait for the train to flatten them out. The engineer would lean out his window, wave and pull his whistle.

Tiburon Trestle over Tiburon Blvd. with a Northwestern Pacific Railroad passenger train coming from San Rafael heading to Tiburon, 1939. Dairy cows grazed on the spare and beautiful rolling hills of Tiburon for almost 100 years. In 1967 the train service stopped and the trestle was torn down. To think I used to climb that trestle.
Railroad tracks leading to Tiburon. The last train left Tiburon on September 25, 1967, ending 83 years of service. A multi-use pathway was created out of the railroad right-of-way in 1970.

On the lagoon we were ecstatic when the wind was fierce — all the better for sailing our Sailfish. There was no such thing as sailing clothes. Not a life jacket in sight. We delighted capsizing on purpose, throwing ourselves over the side of the hull, landing on the centerboard to right the boat while never touching the water. There was great pride in the glory of riding the boat upright. We were all very fit, muscled from our hours of play.

My maternal grandfather was a Harvard-educated engineer with a healthy respect for earthquakes. Harry B. Allen of the Belvedere Land Company found my grandfather a piece of property on Belvedere Lagoon. The lot was mostly on bedrock, a rarity since at the time the lagoon was still a sludge-filled mosquito-ridden swampy salt marsh. In 1950 my grandparents built an iconic mid-century home on the lot. This 1963 photo is of my 8-year-old self on a paddleboard my grandfather built for his five grandchildren.
My cousin pushing us around on a wooden raft in the lagoon. We played until our lips were blue.

I actually don’t think it occurred to our parents that we could be climbing up the railroad trestle or sliding down cliffs on Belvedere Island. If we fell, that was our problem. No one to blame but ourselves. If we were bored, that was our problem, too. Although I have no memory of boredom at all.

There was no interaction with parents until the 4:30 whistle blew.

I now spend time in my grandfather’s house. His workshop is my studio. I tend to his garden, hang my paintings on his garden walls. And if I blink, I’m right back in the Belvedere I knew as a child.

View of Belvedere with Sausalito in the background, 1947. Most islands in the San Francisco Bay were considered Federal Government property when California became a state. However, the island of Belvedere was deemed a peninsula due to the Miwok created causeway connecting it to the Tiburon Peninsula (San Rafael Ave.)  So Belvedere is not a true island though locals still refer to it as ‘Belvedere Island.’
The Coastal Miwoks inhabited Northern California continuously from as early as 3000 BC until the early 1850s. In the late 1700s there were about twenty-two thousand Miwok. In 1910 the population was down to about seven hundred. Their tribal lands were subject to various incursions by the Spanish, Mexicans and finally the Americans. The people watched as their tribal lands fell to the Spanish who wanted to convert the tribe to Christianity and enslave them, the Mexicans who forced the people to work on their farms and the Americans who moved west along the California Trail who were joined by the Gold Rush settlers. The Miwok people were decimated by the diseases brought by the invaders and subjected to atrocities. Following the short-lived Mariposa Indian War (1850) those who survived were forced on to various reservations.
A rowing party from San Francisco most likely headed for an ark in Belvedere Cove, 1888. In the background is Beach Road which connected Belvedere to the Tiburon peninsula. Look at those hats! Belvedere was advertised as having “NO FOG – NO COLD WINDS.”
Beach Road with Mount Tamalpais in the distance. The buildings on Beach Road included a boat house, cod fishery and arks on pilings. Belvedere became a city in 1896, making it now one of the oldest and smallest cities in California, 1896.
The first Belvedere schoolhouse was a one room cottage. Now a remodeled home on San Rafael Avenue, it still has the stoop described by the students in 1904.
Belvedere Cove or “Ark Town” with Beach Road in the center and pasture land on the open Tiburon hills in the background. During the winter the arks were taken into the Belvedere Lagoon for safe keeping. In the spring they were anchored in Belvedere Cove for the privileged Bay Area society that longed to leave San Francisco’s fog for the sunny shores of Marin County.

“Alice“ the ark being moved from the Belvedere Lagoon in 1939.
I used the “Alice” in “Blackie The Horse Who Stood Still” a book I wrote and illustrated with Christopher Cerf.
“Young blades” on Golden Gate Avenue in 1916.
Aerial view from above Tiburon looking towards Belvedere Lagoon, Belvedere Island, Corinthian Island, Richardson Bay, Sausalito, and the Golden Gate taken in 1924 (the Bridge was built in 1937).
Arks lined up on the shore of the Belvedere Lagoon, 1924. Italian gardeners who lived in the arks grew vegetables in the brackish water creating pre-salted tomatoes. The arks were primarily occupied by laborers.
Golfers teeing off on the 6th hole named ”Matterhorn” at the 9-hole Belvedere Golf and Country Club on Belvedere Island, 1924.
Putting on the 6th hole with Mount Tamalpais gracing the skyline. The Miwoks call Mt. Tamalpais “The Sleeping Lady” because the mountain profile looks like a woman lying down face up.
Eucalyptus trees, indigenous to Australia, imported in the 1870’s as a source of hardwood surround the 3rd green. The Belvedere Land Company planted over 15,000 trees on Belvedere Island at the turn of the century. Eucalyptus trees throughout Marin County are now being removed because all species are filled with an oil that is a fire hazard.
1924 Score card.
Putting on the 5th green along San Rafael Avenue in Belvedere, 1924.
View from the Belvedere Golf Clubhouse. Saint Hilary’s Mission Chapel stands alone on the Tiburon hills in the background, 1924.
Today Old Saint Hilary’s looking toward San Francisco, Belvedere and the Golden Gate Bridge.
This Albert Farr designed building on Beach Road has been owned by the Belvedere Land Company since it was built in 1900. It was the center of Belvedere with a grocery store, drugstore, doctor’s office, post office, and four apartments on the second floor. Today the building has offices on the first floor, including Belvedere Land Company’s main offices, and apartments above, 1926.
Across Beach Road are the Farr Cottages built in 1899. They were built with first-growth redwood trees. They cantilever over the shoreline on Belvedere Cove with spectacular views of Corinthian Island, Angel Island and San Francisco, 1930.
Vivian Vance, who played Ethel in “I Love Lucy”, and her husband/publisher John Dodds lived in Belvedere for years in one the Farr cottages. She spent hours reading and memorizing her scripts on her charming deck.
Tom Perkins lived in Belvedere for many years. My mother often visited him in his glorious home on Golden Gate Avenue which had panorama views of Sausalito, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.

One of the many gifts of living on the San Francisco Bay is that you can take a boat out under the Golden Gate Bridge and watch the sunset out in the Pacific Ocean …

Investigative journalist Sylvia Chase lived on the San Francisco Bay in Belvedere. When Sylvia was anchoring the nighty news there were billboards all over the Bay Area that read “The Chase is on.”
Rock outcropping with Miwok petroglyphs on Ring Mountain in the center of the Tiburon Peninsula overlooking Belvedere.
The McCollam codfishery on Belvedere’s west shore in 1880. New trees had not been planted by the Belvedere Land Company.
The cod fishery on what is now West Shore Road was home for its bohemian – beatnik residents. During the period of 1939 to 1962, it was a gathering place for artists and writers. The art colony could only be reached by boat or by foot via a steep pathway. It was here that sculptor David Lemon (center above) created the Christus Rex for St. Stephen’s Church.
“Rosie The Goat Lady” at the Belvedere Boardwalk Shopping Center in 1959. Rose Rodrigues de Fonta Verrall, the daughter of a Portuguese diary worker, was a friend of John Paul Reed, the bachelor son of the wealthy Reed family which originally owned all of Tiburon and Belvedere. In 1911 John Paul sold Rose the 10 acres she lived on in Tiburon for $10. Rosie lived there with her goats and other animals until the early ’60s. She gave her home and land to the Audubon Society which become the headquarters for the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
Jim Allen, president of the Belvedere Land Company, with two-term Belvedere Madam Mayor Connie Wiley with her daughter’s Laurie Everson and myself on the same spot where Rosie walked her goat.
Pacific Mail steamship China made 30 round trips between San Francisco and the far east between 1867 and 1879. It was scrapped in the Tiburon harbor in 1886, but first the social hall (just behind the paddle wheel) was removed intact and set on pilings along Beach Road in Belvedere.
A fixture on Beach Road with Belvedere Island in the background, the social hall, now named the China Cabin, was restored in 1986.
The restored China Cabin interior is an example of 19th century elegance, with abundant 22-karat gold leaf, walnut woodwork and etched-glass windows. It attracts thousands of visitors every year.
“Blackie the Horse” was a local hero in Belvedere and Tiburon, living out the last 28 years of his 40-year life in the pasture named after him. There is now a life-size bronze statue of Blackie in the middle of the pasture, 1963.
Authors Paige Peterson and Christopher Cerf of “Blackie the Horse Who Stood Still” on top of the bronze statue in Blackie’s pasture.
Connie and her girls with their dog Pepper in the garden on the Lagoon in 1972.
The entry garden of the house is a sitting room.
We entertain, work, nap, read, paint, dream and visit in our garden all year round.
I bought this fourteen foot Lido sailboat for one dollar. Towed it from a neighbors dock to our dock. Drilled holes in the hull. Secured the boat permanently to the dock. Had a plywood board made to sit on top of the seats. A custom mattress was fitted. We drape sheep skins to create our favorite reading nook. The mirror attached to the fence reflects the sunsets over Mount Tamalpais.
My grandfather planted this apple tree in 1950. We hung a brass chandelier from the branches. We secured the glasses to where the candles were intended. Flowers from the garden make a beautiful arrangement.
Belvedere Island, Belvedere Lagoon and Tiburon with Belvedere Cove in the foreground, 1971.
Like many Belvederians, I was baptized, confirmed and married at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, a Gothic church built in 1955 with modern materials to embrace the glory of European cathedrals. The acoustics inside are spectacular, with an enormous organ at the rear. The height of the church is nearly three times the width of the interior.
The focus of the St. Stephen’s sanctuary is a wood sculpture by Belvedere resident David Lemon, who created it while living and working in the abandoned old cod fishery. The sculpture had to be hauled over the hill since there were no roads along the west shore of the island in 1955.
In August of 1985 my mother and my future daughter’s godfather, Andre Boissier, witnessing an embrace to remember.
St. Stephen’s Church was built above our simple mid-century home on the Belvedere Lagoon.
“First pick a good site. Pick one at the most difficult spot. Pick a site no one wants, but pick one that features for making character.” – Frank Lloyd Wright.

A home on the west side of the Belvedere Island, designed by Architect George Rockrise in 1957, juts precariously over the the water from a rocky cliffside. Mount Tamalpais in the distance echoes the roof shape. The house is typical of this mid-century period in the very lightness of the structure a seen in the through-view of the gable ends.

Belvedere’s lanes are stairways to connect the narrow roads. In the early days, residents arrived to the island from San Francisco by boat and used the stairways to get to their summer homes. The signs are painted by local artists for each of the 17 walking lanes. It was an honor to paint this sign.
L. to r.: Connie on her dock on the Belvedere Lagoon with her girls in 1955; Connie, on the same dock today, in a photo taken by her grandson, Peter Cary Peterson.
Dusk on the Belvedere Lagoon.
Good night Belvedere.

I would like to thank David Gotz, the Archivist for the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society.

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