The following interview was published in Vol. 1 No. 1 of the Golden Hindesight in 1975, a magazine project designed by
San Anselmo teacher, Bernie Griff with his students in the 6th grade class at Wade Thomas Elementary School.
THE SAN ANSELMAN - DON PERRY
GH: As we walked into the Sunnyside Nursey on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, we were anticipating an interesting interview with Don Perry. We couldn't find hide nor hair of Mr. Perry, then someone said he was in his office. Just as we walked in, he turned and said, "You're right on time," indicating the clock on the wall over his desk - 4 o'clock even!
The first thing he said was: "ORMUS, GORMUS, THANK GOD THERE'S NO MORE OF US! ONLY ONE DEAD CATFISH TO DIVIDE AMONG THE FOUR OF US! And here you "girls" here want to know all about San Anselmo in the early days. Well, San Anselmo at one time was a real hick village and I know "cause I was born right here on this property... right here on the back end of the property here. Right between the Sunnyside Nursery and the bank here and that was 73 years ago. It's about twice as old as you girls are you know....
With hardly a break in his voice, Mr. Perry continued with that merry twinkle in his eye and his joking way of calling us "girls."
PERRY: Well anyhow, this creek you know that goes right by here at the back end of the property here - when I was a young boy here and the first of April came along, I could catch 50 trout between Barbara Track Bridge and this bridge right here (near Sunnyside Nursery).
GH: Must of fooled the fish..... it was April Fool's Day that you are talking about.
PERRY: I didn't get that - anyhow in addition to the trout that used to come up this creek here, we used to have salmon. And we used to go down there and spear them with a pitchfork. And that was a lot of fun too because there were great big salmon... some of 'em 3 to 4 feet long here.
PERRY: And then too, as I say I was born right here on this property and the city hall over here, well you know where it is ... right across -
PERRY: Over on San Anselmo Avenue, they used to have a firehouse over there, and the fire department consisted of one man, a man by the name of Mr. Courtwright, and he had two big white hosses - and they also had some bells up there in the tower in the firehouse - whenever they had a fire that was called in why they'd start ringing the bells and Mr. Courtwright would start hitching up the hosses before he could - ya know - take off in the fire engine and by that time, I could run from my place here and jump on the end of the fire engine and go to all the fires. So that was a lot.. a lot of fun. And then too... another thing that you might be very, very interested in hearing is that I saw one of the first bank robberies that ever happened in the State of California. Now right here on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, on the corner of Bank Street was the First Bank of San Anselmo. And I remember one day when I was only in 4th or 5th grade - something like that - I went to Wade Thomas School which was right up here at the end of the street here.
GH: That was there then?
PERRY: What - pardon me?
GH: That school was there then?
PERRY: Oh yes - yeah but it wasn't called Wade Thomas School - it was just called the San Anselmo Grammar School - that was all. And we had 3 rooms downstairs and three rooms upstairs and that was it. But, anyway, I was going back to school that particular day - the day that the bank robber held up the bank here... to beat the dickens here... and here he came riding a hoss with two money bags in his hand just galloping for... to beat the dickens here and he got right up here on top of Bald Hill or someplace but anyhow he got away and nobody ever found him and so he got away with the money here.
And in those days, that was really something to get away with anything that happened in San Anselmo because we only had one policeman in those days. A man by the name of George Martin. And George Martin was a very, very smart man, because he could tell by the type of the crime who committed it! And I can remember when I was also in grammar school we played Fairfax Grammar School up there in a basketball game one day and we were one of the few families in town here that had a hoss and wagon, but it could hold about a whole basketball team - and half the rooting section - ya know! And we were coming down from a - Fairfax, and uh, as we reached Yolanda there why... some Fairfax kids started throwing rocks at us. .. now that wasn't very nice to do... to throw rocks, but anyhow, we stopped the hoss and wagon and got out and started throwing rocks back at them. Well, unfortunately, why one of the rocks hit the railway tracks and bounced all the way. It bounced a hundred feet or maybe two hundred feet... and right through a plate glass window. Well, of course, we were all very scared, but when we got back here - the corner of Barber and San Anselmo Avenue, why here was George Martin waitin' for me... and he said, "I understand that you threw a rock through the big store window at Yolanda... now what you gonna do about it? Well, that was another problem, but it cost $40 or $50 to fix and that was a lot of money in those days. Yes?
GH: I'm still back on Bald Hill. How did Bald Hill get bald?
PERRY: Yeah, no grass grew on it. The wind blew on it. You were talkin 'bout Bald Hill... now there's another story....
GH: And, so it went with Mr. Perry... story after story about this town.
PERRY: Oh, snowing here... it snowed one time here.... about 1912. I think... or something like that..... and that's something that never happened in San Anselmo before... and we had a lot of snow... about... oh six inches. And they let out school... and I remember we came home and we built sleds ya know - to go sledding and we went right up here on this hill over here on Lincoln Avenue and slid down that hill there for all afternoon while that snow was on the ground. We had a lot of fun that day.
PERRY: I can tell you about the old days in San Anselmo down here the business district was not where it... where it is now... it used to be down on Ross Avenue. And about... oh... 30 Ross Avenue was right across from the old Druid's Hall that they have there now, was the main mercantile building and that held a drug store... Hund's Drug Store.
GH: Do you remember when San Anselmo was called Junction... and it was a dirt road?
PERRY: Un-huh, I do remember that. And... but... anyhow as I say... that building there at 30 Ross Avenue was moved from its present location up to where Wells Fargo Bank is now... and it stayed there for a number of years and then, finally was moved up to Bank Street and ...four or five doors down... its the last two-story building on Bank Street now. But that building saw quite a bit of moving. and then at... up at the head of the street here... right up at the junction of Sir Francis Drake and Red Hill where it comes on through, there were two or three stores up there and the main one was Shapiro's Drug Store and Miss Shapiro... a woman who ran the thing... and she made some toothpaste which was rather famous... it wasn't toothpaste, it was tooth powder, but the main importance of Miss Shapiro's Drug Store was when the stage came through that went from San Rafael to Bolinas... why all us people that lived in the Ross Valley here would go up and sit in Miss Shapiro's porch there and wait for the stage to come through... and we'd catch the stage... and the stage in those days was either a four or six hoss team that went to Bolinas and it left about 11 o'clock in the morning and those were the days we went to Bolinas... why as soon as school was over... why, you boarded the stage and and you went there and you stayed over in Bolinas until school started again in the fall because of the long, long way back unless you walked. But San Anselmo was growin'... I can remember when I was a kid why we used to go up in the Barber tract... and ride our bikes down... now you don't know what a "Minister's bike" is . I'm sure... well a "Minister's bike"... we used to call in those days a bike that didn't have... you know... a coaster brake or anything else... so anyhow I got a bike I think that Christmas and I learned to ride it by holding on to the post on the back porch... and getting going but I had to get on to something ya know... to get started... so I remember taking the bike up to the top of Barber Avenue up here... which was quite a steep hill and it was up at the top there there's a brick wall that you can lean up against and get on it. So I started off down Barber Avenue and by the time I got down to the place where you had to make a right angle turn, I was going about 40 or 50 miles an hour and nobody told me I had to slow up to make a turn, so I couldn't slow up, I just kept on going and went into the ditch and bounced over a six foot hedge and bout 20 feet into Miss O'Hara's garden, ha ha, but I didn't break the bike up very much as I remembered and I certainly learned after this you had to go slow whenever you made a turn.
GH: Did you get hurt?
PERRY: No, no, I was always kind of tough.
GH: Do you know which is the oldest house in San Anselmo today? ...still standing in your opinion....
PERRY: I think it might be the home houses around the Seminary. I know one or two there - the house that my mother and father lived in when they were first married. But, there were many, many houses in San Anselmo in 1900. My grandmother's house used to be at 40 Ross Avenue but it was torn down about 28 years ago.
Editor's Note: Later, Mr. Perry talked to our staff on the phone and told us he did some digging himself and said it was probably the Tompkin's house above United Market.
GH: What about the water towers like the old one on Alder and another one at the end of Merced Street?
PERRY: Well, I can remember in the days when I was a kid here, why, of course this was a junction of the railroad, and from here, why it took off as a steam line, you see, from San Anselmo on up to Point Reyes and there used to be a couple of water towers right up about where the new City Park was. and those days too, those trains that run on up to Camp Taylor and Point Reyes and Inverness used to have these cars that had side-seaters, just like your trolley cars or cable cars in San Francisco and you sat there and faced out. And I can remember as a kid, we used to get on those and ride up to about Camp Taylor and whenever you wanted to go fishing at the Paper Mill Creek we'd just jump off the train and let 'er go - wouldn't wait for it to stop - they didn't go so fast - we'd just jump off the train and fish all day and when the train came back in the afternoon at 4 o'clock, why we'd have to be at Lagunitas or San Geronimo or some place along there where the train stops, so we got on - it was going too fast for that.
GH: When were you born?
PERRY: I was born in 1901 - that was the year of the big flood in Africa - remember that?
GH: How about when the earthquake hit?
PERRY: Yes, I remember the earthquake very, very distinctly. I mentioned that little horse and wagon we had. I can remember having that hooked up here and we were driving down to Sausalito and just about where they had had that observation point by the Golden Gate is - stopping there and spending several hours watching San Francisco burn. I can also remember that our house which occupied this area between the bank and and the nursery here was a big house, I think with 16 rooms. Half of the house was two story and half was one story. The living room was large - it was much bigger than this greenhouse, probably twice the size. And I had an aunt who lived up in the Barber Tract here who had two or three kids at the time and I guess there were four of us, three of us kids in our family and my grandmother and aunts and so forth, that lived up on Ross Avenue, all came down for several nights and slept on mattresses put down in the living room because it was just one story high. I can't say that I actually remember the shake itself.
GH: You were speaking about the trains, Mr. Perry. What was it like to ride a train?
PERRY: Oh, they were wonderful. I can also tell you here that, in the early days, my great grandfather was old man Ross who the town of Ross was named after. In 1859, he bought what was known as Rancho Punta De Quentin (Ross came to San Francisco by way of Australia) which extended from approximately the Ross Hospital, to the top of Bald Hill, to the top of Red Hill, follow that ridge on down to San Quentin, and included San Quentin. that was the Rancho San Quentin. My great grandfather gave the Northwestern Pacific which was in that time called the North Shore Railway, right-of-way from San Anselmo right about half way up to the corner here(from Sunnyside Nursery) down through Kentfield and the right-of-way was for railway purposes and railway purposes only. And these electric trains ran on the tracks for a long, long time. Then, when the railway was abandoned, why then the right-of-way came on back to my family; my mother and my aunt who were the residual heirs of that particular time. They, in turn, gave the right-of-ways to my brother and two sisters so my brother and my two sisters and myself here owned the right-of-way on down from San Anselmo to Kentfield and that was sold - the section in San Anselmo was sold to San Anselmo, the property from Bolinas Avenue on down to Kentifield was sold to individual property owners adjoining the right-of-way. But those trains were really darn nice to ride in. I can remember there were two trains that came, one from Fairfax and one from San Rafael and like all kids, why you never got down there to the station to wait for the train. So I would always wait for the train from San Rafael to go by here, I would run like a trooper and I got to be a darned good fast runner, and picked up the train at Bolinas Avenue, the second train. To go to high school, we went on down to Tamalpias High School in those days - the same one that's still there. We used to come down to El Monte, the transfer point, and then have to wait for a train to come up from Sausalito to take us up to the high school which was only a half or three quarters of a mile, but we always waited.
GH: Do you remember the difference between the wide gauge and the narrow gauge tracks?
PERRY: In my time, I don't think there was any narrow gauge.
GH: What about the ferry boats?
PERRY: The ferry boats? Oh, that was fine 'cause you could get a cup of coffee - you could stand on the back end in 1929, why you could tell how much money you made by owning "gold and socks."
GH: What was that?
PERRY: Golden socks was the stocks I'm talking about. This was the day when everybody was investing in stocks, ya' know, and every night, why we'd gather on the rear end of the ferry boat, and of the stocks went up 2 points, why you made $48, ya' know, and you were rich, and then the crash came and everybody had to turn around.
GH: Did you lose a lot of money?
PERRY: I didn't have a lot of money to lose.
GH: Do you remember the "Peanut Butcher?" (Candy vendors on trains)
PERRY: Just a character that came on through, he had peanuts, probably some chocolates, gun - adn you could buy whatever you wanted on the train. But the "Peanut Butcher" was not on all trains by any matter of means, he was only on the excursion trains that came through here that run up to Point Reyes. He wasn't a regular character.
GH: What about the changes when the horse and buggy days ended and the spoke and sprocket days took over? Some of the stories from that particular era?
ERRY: Well, as I told you, my great grandfather was old man Ross, and in those days, why the train didn't stop at Ross Station, it stopped up about Bolinas Avenue and they all had fast horses and fast carriages and the job was to jump off the train as fast as you could and jump into your horse and buggy and take off so you could leave the dust for everyone else that was following you. So that was a great sport that the old timers used to have. But I could remember myself here. In the early days when cars were very, very infrequent, we could hear a car coming, ya' know, way up the road here. We'd run out to the front gate to watch the automobile come by - that was quite a sight. And when I went to high school - you talk about seeing all these cars up here at the hhigh school - Tamalpais - when I was there, there were just two cars. One owned by some people by the name of Gogen who lived up here in Winchester Park, and the other one was a fellow by the name of Copelli, who lived in Mill Valley. Both of them were Fords. Those were the only two cars that were around.
(Mr. Perry's son, Warren, former City Council man, came in briefly during our interview and said to us and to his father that the new book just out by Jack Mason, "Making of Marin," had quite a bit about their family in it, the Ross's and the Worn families and about Ross, Kentfield and San Anselmo and he was going to get that book for his father. There was some discussion between father and son and finally it was decided - by Don Perry - that his father Donald E. Perry was a trustee after San Anselmo was incorporated [March 3, 1907] and he married Annie Worn. One of the Worn sisters who were known far and wide around San Francisco and Marin as imaginative and sought after decorators and arrangers of Cotillions, Debutante Balls and parties in the 1890's.)
GH: The last person we interviewed had a book, "The last stage to Bolinas," and I think it mentioned Mr. Ross in it.
WARREN PERRY: Yes, that's right and I believe he (Jack Mason) mentioned Dad in that when he talked about jumping on or off the "Owl" or the "Jenny Griffin" which ws the schooner that ran from Bolinas to San Francisco.
PERRY: And the big thing was they used to send pigs over there and that was a lot of fun. We'd go down and watch. They had a greased gang plank and they'd latch the pig by its ears and the hind legs and throw them on to this greased plank and skid them on to the boat.
WARREN PERRY: The creeks in the early days of San Anselmo, one of which ran up on Mariposa Avenue up by Host Liquor Store is over there and the Post Office area. Well, the creek apparently ran up there towards the Seminary and in the early days, the creek was wide and deep enough they'd have to swim horses across it. So the geography of the community has changed a good deal through filling in over the years.
GH: What about the graveyard on Red Hill?
PERRY: Well, I'll tell you this, maybe this will be interesting to you. In the early days when Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery was being built, I think it was Forbes, wouldn't give the right-of-way for a road from San Rafael to the cemetery. So the cemetery people started on Red Hill started on Red Hill and started to build that zig-zag trail up to the top to get to the cemetery, and besides, having that zig-zag trail gave everybody a pretty good start to go to heaven, you know - ha - by the time you got there. But before it was ever used, I think the cemetery people came to terms with the Forbes in San Rafael and the road was always the present extension of Fifth Street from San Rafael into the cemetery.
GH: Any remedies for curing the hiccoughs?
PERRY: Yes - hold your breath for 3 1/2 minutes. There's no problem getting rid of them at all.
GH: Our's was to take 10 gulps of water without breathing.