Pacific Sun Article August 15, 2008

Pacific Sun

Homes, Gardens, Real Estate
Friday, August 15, 2008

Point San Pedro Road—where industry, development and history converge…
by Allie Weiss

To the unfamiliar, downtown San Rafael may seem the only spot worthy of a trek to the county’s most populous city. With its concentration of food and retail attractions, this area is a frequent destination for families from all four corners of Marin.

However, hardly more than a stone’s throw east are acres of natural beauty as worthy a visit as anywhere in town (and nowhere near as crowded).

Point San Pedro Road—which stretches from Third Street and loops scenically by the San Rafael Bay, ending a handful of miles later in Santa Venetia—passes the friendly communities of Loch Lomond, Glenwood and Peacock Gap. These neighborhoods, sandwiched between the waterfront and an expansive set of hills and natural habitat, are home to an eclectic set of Marinites—from yachters, golfers and hikers who make frequent use of the myriad recreation options to the families and retirees drawn to the laid-back, unpretentious feel of the community.

As locals will tell you: Marinites who have yet to explore the area are surely missing out.

The first signs of life as you head east from the highway past the Montecito Shopping Center toward Loch Lomond are of a nautical nature—the Loch Lomond Marina, in fact, sits past the Marin Yacht Club on Pt. San Pedro Road.

Loch Lomond Marina was established in the early 1950’s by the McCarthy family, who operated the boat harbor for more than four decades. Over the years, the 517-slip marina has received multiple upgrades, including a picturesque boardwalk along the water’s edge (a favorite of area dogs that have come to enjoy the scenery as much as their owners). The docks, with grand views of the San Francisco and San Rafael bays, are home to their own yacht club, as well as the Loch Lomond Market and a few small neighborhood-serving businesses. (The marina’s longtime hotspot, however, no longer exists. Bobby’s Fo’C’Sle Café, situated feet from the bay, met a tragic fate in November 2007 when a fire in the middle of the night destroyed the restaurant. Bobby’s has since reopened in central San Rafael, though many Loch Lomonders feel that the relocation has left an empty
space in their hearts—and stomachs.)

Development projects brought before the San Rafael City Council in 2007 have inevitably faced controversy because of the desire to maintain the marina’s charms. Proposals include the development of residential units, a new grocery store, retail stores, a restaurant and public park facilities.

Continuing to follow Pt. San Pedro Road past Loch Lomond, one stumbles upon the local communities of Glenwood and Peacock Gap, nestled against McNear’s Beach and the expansive China Camp State Park.

Much of this land was originally in the hands of Ireland native Timothy Murphy, who received the land as a grant from the Mexican government in 1844. According to local historians, after Murphy learned a bit of Spanish while working at a meat-packing company in Peru, he moved to California and befriended the local Mexican governor. This friendship, combined with his own missionary work with Native Americans, scored him three large plots of land in San Rafael.

John A. McNear and his brother George purchased land in San Pedro Point in 1859. A decade later, according to Marin historian Jack Mason, the McNear brothers owned 2,500 acres, including five miles of waterfront.

John McNear had big plans for the land. A shipping and railroad mogul, he hoped to establish train tracks that would run from Ross all the way through Point San Pedro, where ferries would carry passengers to San Francisco. His transportation plans crumbled with the 1906 earthquake, and the land remained largely pasture. (This outcome was arguably for the better: Although Peacock Gap commuters might appreciate a San Francisco ferry that embarks right at San Rafael Bay, it is hard to imagine the laid-back Pt. San Pedro community bustling with early-morning commuter traffic.)

When the railroad plans went up in smoke, the ambitious McNear family took up a variety of other building projects. A one-of-a-kind brick dairy barn was built in their name off Biscayne Drive in Peacock Gap, along with an over 10,000-square-foot family home located on Knight Drive in Glenwood. This home, which occasionally appears in movies and television commercials, was sold to the Episcopal Diocese of California in 1957, according to the Glenwood Homeowners’ Association. A church and preschool now exist on the site. The family also created a resort near the water that was popular during the 1930’s. Some 40 years later, the former hotel and the land surrounding it was transformed into a county park: McNear’s Beach, which is now a haven for recreation seekers in warm months. The beach sits right on the edge of San Pablo Bay, and visitors enjoy thepool, tennis courts, picnic spots and fishing pier.

The McNears designated the area south of Peacock Gap as the location of the McNear Quarry and Brick Company. In 1894, the McNears opened the brickyard—their most successful venture in East San Rafael. This industrial center is the oldest continuously operating brickyard in California, according to the Marin Historical Society. The massive quarry that sits beside the brickyard—it’s surprisingly difficult to spot from the main road—is now owned by the Dutra Company. According to The Center for Land Use Interpretation , the Dutra Quarry is one of two major quarries on the shores of San Francisco Bay, with a pit that runs over 200 feet deep. Recent construction proposals—to expand quarry operations and, when mining ceases, to introduce residential and community development—have been a point of contention among neighbors.

The McNears’ presence in Pt. San Pedro began to diminish when the family’s descendants sold property to various developers. Consequently, a large amount of homebuilding in Glenwood and Peacock Gap took place in the mid- to late-1900’s. Thousands of acres of the McNears’ pastureland transformed into a crowded real estate yard.

“We lost our heritage to subdivision,” admits Sandra Sellinger, president of Glenwood Homeowners’ Association. Now some 700 homes, an elementary school and a public park exist within the Glenwood limits. This friendly community comes together when public issues arise, such as when the perilous combination of high tides and winter rains landlock Glenwood during flood season. The neighborhood of Peacock Gap, northeast of Glenwood, faced massive homebuilding projects in the 1980’s. Now Peacock Gap contains an array of luxury homes and a handful of condominiums surrounding its own golf and country club.

China Camp State Park, the largest and hilliest stretch of North San Pedro, is a busy weekend destination for hikers and picnickers. With 15 miles of hiking trails, campgrounds and an accessible waterfront, the park has a clear attraction for the nature-loving Marinite. But hidden to the naked eye at China Camp is a fascinating history. From the 1860’s to 1950’s, this land was a hub of unified cultural inclusion (and a solace from sharp foreign exclusion) for a group of Chinese villagers. Many Chinese immigrants remaining in California following the Gold Rush were forced to take difficult, low-paying jobs to avoid poverty. According to Making of Marin by Jack Mason, a group of immigrants settled in the China Camp area, hoping to escape the overcrowding in San Francisco; many began to harvest shrimp, which brought in significant profit.

Conflict, however, was inevitable—as white, xenophobic America of the late-19th century wasn’t appreciative of immigrants not looking to assimilate. Sure enough, restrictive anti-immigrant laws (including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882), strong anti-Chinese sentiment and an untimely 1913 fire would gradually drive the Chinese away from China Camp. Although the village continued to survive, due to a 1920’s shrimp-harvesting revival under villager Quan Hock Quock along with the successful business of the family store, by 1954 the shrimp beds were dry and the Chinese had moved on. In 1976 the California State Parks Foundation purchased the land, transforming it from an abandoned ghost town to a natural destination.

Today residents fill Loch Lomond, Glenwood and Peacock Gap—but it never feels overly crowded. Something about the gorgeous bay and state park have a calming effect over the entire area. The lack of businesses nearby contributes to the quiet by keeping traffic low. Neighbors say hello as they pass each other and work together when a conflict arises—whether it is marina and quarry development or another seasonal flood. Today’s Point San Pedro is much more populated than when John McNear left it, yet he would be heartened by its evolution.