Saturday, April 22, 2006


Rounded out three days of shooting with a bounding walk down Marincello-which-is-not from Wolfback Ridge to not quite Rodeo Beach, filming and recording the four TPL founders and accompanying walkers. Felt elated and satisfied at the time but now can't keep my eyes open - we of course had to run in front, fall behind, catch up etc, and it takes its toll, even in beautiful surroundings and on a mercifully downhill slope.

These past three days have been so interesting, the Trust does such important work, and goes about it in such an inspired and sensible way, it is a pleasure to work with them, hear the speakers, see the structure etc. I am drawn much more to the social aspect of it - creating inner city parks in deprived neighbourhoods - than the preserving the wilderness side, but there is room for both. See

One day off before Jane Fonda.

I have been thinking about the Communion of Saints, but right now would far rather just sleep.


Blogger Stefan said...

Marincello was the vision of a man named Thomas Frouge, a prominent developer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Attracted to the site by its proximity to San Francisco, he seems genuinely to have fallen in love with it. “It is probably the most beautiful location in the United States for a new community,” he wrote. He secured backing from the land development division of Gulf Oil and in November 1964, announced Marincello with a massive sales campaign.

Glossy drawings and three-dimensional models showed a city unlike anything the Bay Area had ever seen. The original version of Marin-cello envisioned housing 30,000 people on the rugged 2,100-acre site. The plans called for 50 apartment towers, shoals of single-family homes, low rise apartments, and townhouses. There would be 250 acres of light industry, a mile-long central mall with pools and elephant trains, and a square bounded by churches called Brotherhood Plaza. At the summit of the city, on the highest point in the Headlands, would rise a “landmark hotel.” Construction would last 20 years and consume $285 million in 1964 dollars.

If the first thing that struck you about the project was its sheer size, the second was a certain attractiveness. Frouge marketed Marincello as a “New Town,” a dense, carefully planned, self-sufficient community in which the wasteful mistakes of conventional suburban development would be avoided. Its apartment houses would concentrate people and permit the opening of green expanses. Other urban amenities would abound. “Our goal,” said Frouge, “is to make Marincello the most beautiful planned com-munity in the world.”

Marin County leaders quickly came on board. By its very size and density, many people persuaded themselves, Marincello would relieve some of the pressure to de-velop other open land. The conservative daily newspaper, the Marin Independent Journal, supported the plan, but so did the Pacific Sun, a liberal weekly: “We expect Tom Frouge to build a city . . . which will be a showcase, which will point the way to preservation of the clear and open areas essential and unique in Marin.”

And what of the “clear and open area” that would immediately be sacrificed? The astonishing fact is that no one other than Tom Frouge yet valued it much. Not even project opponents proclaimed the subtle beauty of this windswept landscape. One of their criticisms of the plan, indeed, was that the site was unsuitable for human habitation.

Looking back on the debate, we long to put words in the opponents’ mouths. We want to hear them talk of flowers and wildlife. We want to hear them rise to the defense of Marin Headlands State Park, which Marincello would have overwhelmed. Above all we hope to hear them promote the Marincello site as a keystone in a larger coastal greenbelt. This is projection. No one had yet called attention to the possibility of such a greenbelt. If Marincello had been built, perhaps no one ever would have. “We knew we didn’t like Marincello,”’ says veteran campaigner Peter Erickson of Sausalito, “but we didn’t know what to offer as a substitute.”

On November 12, 1965, twelve months to the day after the first Frouge news conference, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved the Marincello master plan, minus a few apartment towers. Some conservationists seemed relieved to be rid of an issue that had puzzled and divided them. But a few opponents kept fighting. They found grounds for legal action in the way the county had rushed approval and muzzled opposition, disqualifying a petition drive to bring the issue up to a countywide vote. A couple of lawsuits were filed.

Three attorneys labored on this seemingly lost cause: Robert Praetzel of San Rafael, and Martin Rosen and Douglas Ferguson of Sausalito. What drove these men at the time was not so much affection for a threatened place as fear of the precedent so massive a development would set. They were also outraged at the process, the way the county had been swept along. “I got involved not so much for an environmental purpose as a civic purpose,” says Rosen, later a founder of the Trust for Public Land. “I just felt it was terrible that these few people could turn around an entire landscape, and not even consult the local citizens. I was more Jeffersonian than Thoreauvian.”

Meanwhile, in the Headlands, construction began. At the north edge of the property, the builders laid out a wide access boulevard, climbing from Tennessee Valley into the hills. A pair of handsome stucco entry gates were built: gates leading to nothing, but not (it appeared) for long. Then, late in 1967, the noise from Tennesee Valley quieted. The work stopped. It was a crucial moment in the history of the Headlands.

It is not entirely clear what forced this pause. The menace of the lawsuits probably had something to do with it. One judge, though declining to halt the work, had warned Gulf Oil and Frouge that they proceeded at their own risk. No less significantly, Frouge and his backer had had a falling out, and were also facing off in court. A paralyzing uncertainty had set in. Even as lawyers labored, the climate of opinion was shifting steadily against the project. Slowly, imperceptibly, Marincello was becoming an anachronism.

On November 2, 1970, Gulf and Frouge settled their quarrel. On the same day, however, a state appellate court ruled on one of the long-running lawsuits against the 1965 development approval. Verdict: the plan must be submitted all over again. “To invalidate a multimillion-dollar development on a technicality is silly,” snapped a counsel for Gulf Oil. Robert Praetzel, whose legal theory was the one that prevailed, still bristles at this. “The technicality was the fact that they didn’t follow the law.”

By then an alternative to Marincello was coming into view. A government study, focused initially on Alcatraz Island, had raised the possibility of a national park around the Golden Gate. The Headlands forts, obviously, would be part of it. The Marincello site was almost immediately recognized as their necessary complement. In the ensuing two years the park concept would balloon, yielding the vast Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) we now accept as our birthright.

Behind the scenes, Huey Johnson, then Western Regional Director of The Nature Conservancy, had begun talking to Gulf Oil, holding out an alternative to continued battle. At the end of 1972, the company sold the Marincello site for $6.5 million dollars to the Conservancy, which passed the site to the National Park Service.

Today the Marin Headlands is one of the most visited, most appreciated sections of the GGNRA, itself the most heavily visited national park in the country. Four million people, park planners estimate, head over Conzelman Road, through the Rodeo tunnel, or out Tennessee Valley every year, while the land remains prime habitat for coyotes and bobcats and, reportedly, mountain lions. Bird watchers flock to see the resident peregrine falcons and hundreds of migrating raptors. Hikers, bikers, joggers, and equestrians travel the ridges, in fog or in sunshine. Amateur botanists kneel to the flowers that, in spring, seem to cross the landscape in waves. History buffs look out from the old gun emplacements toward the horizon over which enemy fleets never came. Kids and adults at The Headlands Institute learn of the landscape and its stories. Artists of all kinds converge at the Headlands Center for the Arts. Across the way at the Marine Mammal Center, crews tend to injured seals and sea lions. Nobody seems to complain about the wind.

Few people puffing up Wolfback Ridge or meandering along the floor of what is now called Gerbode Valley (named for a Nature Conservancy donor) have any idea what was slated to be built here. But rising from the trailhead in Tennessee Valley is a curious swathe in the landscape, a gently climbing, brush-covered shelf that is far too wide for a fire road. It is all that remains of Marincello. It will be there for hundreds of years.

9:17 PM  

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