June 2019: Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society Executive Director Patty Flax
When Beverly Bastian founded the Landmarks Society (LMS) back in 1959, few people could have imagined how much the society would grow over the next 60 years.
Back then, the purpose of the society was to save Old Saint Hilary’s from demolition. These days our local historical organization has its hands full with the up-keep of its four historic sites, plus the archives, as well as organizing its numerous volunteer activities.
From April through October, the China Cabin (open Sat. & Sun. 1-4 p.m.), Old Saint Hilary’s (open Sun. 1-4 p.m.), the Ferry Depot & Railroad Museum (open Wed. thru Sun 1-4 p.m.) and the Art & Garden Center (open by appointment) are all free to the public, with knowledgeable docents manning each of the premises. The history collections and archives are at the Boardwalk Center (open Tues. thru Thurs. 9 a.m. -1 p.m.).
The China Cabin: In 1866, the PS China, a side-wheel steamer, began traveling back and forth between San Francisco and the Far East. Twenty years later, it was declared obsolete and burned for scrap. However, its first-class social saloon was removed and set on pilings in Belvedere Cove. Designated as a national maritime treasure, it was restored to its original splendor and now is called the “China Cabin.”
Ferry Depot and Railroad Museum: In 1884, Point Tiburon became a major railroad and ferry terminus, maintenance yard and industrial town when Peter Donahue completed the extension of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad to Tiburon and added a ferry fleet running to the city. (Later, the Donahue Line merged to become the Northwestern Pacific Railroad.) The last train left Point Tiburon in September 1967.
The LMS took over care and preservation of the depot building in 1995, and now there are two museums in one spot: On the ground floor is a detailed, operating HO-scale model of how the tip of Tiburon looked in 1900, including the railroad palm that still stands adjacent to Tiburon Boulevard.
Upstairs is the Depot House Museum where the stationmaster’s family lived. Completely furnished as a typical middle-class home in the early 20th Century, on view are a coal/wood burning stove, old ice box, wringer washer and gramophone, as well as kitchen utensils that are a mystery to many of today’s visitors.
Old Saint Hilary’s: This small, white, clapboard building has interior redwood walls that give it such good acoustics that it is used to make superior musical recordings (the only deterrents are barking dogs and airplanes). Built in 1888, this is one of a few California examples of Carpenter’s Gothic style architecture. A rare wildflower preserve surrounds it. This is where the popular Landmarks Concert Series takes place.
Landmarks Art & Garden Center: Although hundreds of people drive past 841 Tiburon Boulevard every day, few realize what a gem it is. This one-square-acre site holds the restored farmhouse that was built in the 1870s as a bunkhouse for the Mexican Land Grant owners and is believed to be the oldest structure on the Tiburon Peninsula.
Although it doesn’t look high, the yard is up enough to see a wide vista across Richardson Bay. The yard has four terraces, a rose arbor, curving brick walkways and myriad trees, bushes and seasonal flowers. Birds are everywhere, and halfway up the yard is an old, Victorian, pagoda-shaped birdhouse called a “folly.”
The China Cabin, Old Saint Hilary’s and the Art & Garden Center are all popular spots to have weddings, receptions and other important events. The LMS brings in much needed funds to help with the maintenance and preservation of these historical buildings by renting these facilities year-round.
The Landmarks Society’s new Executive Director, Patty Flax, is just what the LMS needs at this point in its development: She is enthusiastic, knows how a business runs, gets along with people and has lots of new ideas for the organization.
A 1982 Redwood High School graduate, Patty went on to earn B.A. degree in philosophy from U.C. Berkeley. Married in 1992 to Howard Flax, they have two grown daughters, Isabel and Jacqueline. Patty was a stay-at-home-mom while the girls were young – PTA president, swim team co-president and spent nearly eight years as KIDDO business program manager.
She later had the opportunity to work with White Orchid Wedding in Maui as its West Coast rep, with the office in her Mill Valley home and traveling to Hawaii often. She recently” retired” after 10 years with the firm.
“I saw an ad on Next Door to coordinate the LMS rentals,” she says, “and I thought it was something I should do in my own back yard.” Accepting the offered job of Executive Director in August 2018, she easily slipped into her new role.
Jennifer Hartung came on board three months later as Administrative Assistant. She lives in Tiburon, has two boys at Del Mar Middle School and was a history major in college.
Cathy Larson, who is known far and wide from her years with the Belvedere Land Company, began with the LMS in February 2018 as Community Outreach Manager. She lives in Strawberry.
LMS Archivist Dave Gotz is a Jack-of-all-trades. He not only keeps the records of the myriad historic artifacts collected, but he also writes articles for the LMS newsletters and has filmed documentaries of the Tiburon Peninsula.
Patty says that one of her goals, as director, is to grow the LMS endowment. “I believe growth of the endowment is crucial to secure a perpetual source of secure funding for Landmarks and to ensure the next 60 years of the organization’s important work. We have a $1.5 million endowment, and I’d like to grow it to $10 million,” she says. “The historic sites we have are old and need constant upkeep. All four sites have roof leaks, some more serious than others. It’s like having four old, wooden boats – the maintenance never ends. If we have a steady income, we can use it for preservation and on-going maintenance of these community treasures.”
Another challenge LMS has is finding new volunteers. With all the sites and events it is involved in, there are not enough hands to do everything, she says. She believes one way to get information out about the LMS is to start with local students and their parents.
China Cabin head docent “Captain Jack” Fiorito plans to go to to summer camps and talk to the campers about ships and the China Cabin. He gets their attention by wearing his navy uniform and bringing along his naval sword – which the youngsters are always in awe of.
LMS President Phil Cassou and his assistant at the Depot, Phil Maslin, also will go to the camps this summer to talk about the Railroad Museum.
Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about the LMS may call the office at 415-435-1853.