Tiburon isn’t normally described as a blue-collar, rough-and-tumble railroad town. But it’s a slice of the town’s history that Elliott Brown wants to make sure isn’t forgotten.
Under the auspices of Belvedere and Tiburon’s recreation department, the retired Tiburon resident leads guided walking tours of Tiburon, telling lesser-known stories of the area and its evolution, like how it took 200 years for the Spanish to enter the San Francisco Bay through the Golden Gate, the fires that virtually destroyed the town, and the conservationists who fought to preserve the area’s beauty and small-town charm.
With the help of Tiburon town historian and Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society’s historian and archivist Dave Gotz, dozens of books, newspaper articles and other resources, the 74-year-old used his newfound knowledge to design and launch the tour last month.
Q How did this idea begin?
A Almost every day I walk my dog along the waterfront in Tiburon. Since living here, I’ve loved learning something about the history. I would notice tourists and others coming off the ferry, and looking somewhat bewildered. I would engage them and say, “Can I tell you something about the area?” Someone said to me, “You really ought to do walking tours here.” Deep down, I have always been a teacher. That’s been a fundamental part of my personality.
Q Why is it important to tell these stories?
A I talk about the indigenous people. I talk about the Coast Miwoks, which is not an easy subject for people to hear about. One person who did the tour said, “That’s kind of depressing.” I said, “I know, but it’s important. We have to be conscious of our history.” The more people I speak to, the more I learn and the more I have to figure out what’s important.
Q Who do you most relate to of Tiburon’s cast of characters?
A Caroline Livermore. She was so determined to preserve the beauty of the area. She wanted to do things that would live long after her and benefit all the people, not just a select few.
A That Al Capone figures twice in Tiburon history. In 1934, they had decided to move him and 52 other prisoners to Alcatraz. They put them in armored railroad cars and transported them across country. In order to divert attention, the government switched the train onto the freight-only track, so that it came into Tiburon.
The story goes, one day, Al Capone and his crew showed up in Belvedere Cove in their yacht, and the Belvedere police chief heard from some residents that there was a yacht out there with guys with guns, and they were not happy. The police chief took a rowboat to the yacht and he asked Capone if he would move his yacht a few 100 yards into Tiburon waters, and he did.
Q What makes Tiburon unique?
A It has maintained its early 20th century character, and I think that’s what continues to keep people living there. There’s a spirit and an energy about the town that makes it unique in my experience, and it gives me great optimism for the future of the town.
Q Has this made you look at Tiburon differently?
A Yes. I came into Tiburon with the same preconception. I ask people at the beginning of the tour, “What do you think of when you think of Tiburon?” People think of what we expect them to think of, and when I show them a picture of what it looked like when the whole downtown area was railroad yards, it’s a big surprise to them and it was to me, too. I live right off Lyford Drive, and it’s like I now know who Lyford is. Now I know who Reed is, all these names that meant nothing to me when I moved in.