A local jewel turns 100
The Blue Rock Inn, built in 1895, and the classic art deco Lark Theater, built in 1936 (below).
Photos by Tim Porter
The city of Larkspur is toasting not one but two major milestones: Celebrations have been going on for the last year marking 100 years since the town’s incorporation in 1909, and in addition, Redwood High School celebrated its 50th year last month. That’s a lot of candles to blow out.
According to Heritage Preservation Board and former city council member Richard Cunningham, interest in the city’s history was reignited during the 1976 U.S. bicentennial when a group of local women took on the task of preserving, uncovering and teaching people about the city’s past.
“We fell into these roles,” Cunningham says about the historical walking tours he and his wife now lead twice each year as well as their work on the board. “We are merely the latest to take this on.”
As part of the 100-year celebration, the board is updating the book Larkspur Past & Present originally published in 1991. Cunningham will write a chapter, while primary authorship goes to planning commission and heritage board member Helen Heitkamp. “The task is mammoth,” councilwoman Kathy Hartzell says of the book, which will be released this year.
The book is full of all kinds of interesting information about history in the area, including how the city was put on the map in 1849 after the Baltimore and Frederick Mining and Trading Company established a sawmill in the area that later, in 1866, became Patrick King’s farm and finally how, in 1877, the name “Larkspur” was coined after early developer Charles W. Wright and friends saw pretty blue flowers during a picnic. The name Larkspur stuck as did the names Baltimore (Baltimore Canyon) and Patrick King (King Street and, indirectly, St. Patrick’s Church).
Cunningham says he loves to share the city’s rich history with those who take his tours. “It has been interesting; many people have a fierce identity with the city,” he adds. “There is endless talk about small-town character, but mostly, it is just a nice place to live.” Councilman Larry Chu agrees and adds that living near the charming downtown district that runs along Magnolia Avenue is a real plus. “This town still has so many elements of its history,” Chu says. “Buildings are in their original state; city hall looks like it did in the early 1900s.”
Chu also enjoys the fact that he can send his children to what he calls one of the best school districts in the state—the Larkspur School District, which, like the police department, is shared with neighboring Corte Madera. “There is a real strong sense of community in the district,” says the second-term councilman. “You cross paths with just about every family at some point.”
Councilman Ron Arlas is glad to see new faces like Chu and Hartzell on the council and invites other residents to “go to a few meetings.” In the fall of this year, Arlas is stepping down after 20 years on the council and made the announcement last year to give new residents the chance to get up to speed. “My 20 years have been a very pleasant experience,” the four-time mayor says. “The votes weren’t all 5-0, not everything went my way, but I didn’t let it get me down.”
Arlas says the city staff and council are very stable, have controlled debt and have a great working relationship.
“We all have a love for the city,” he adds. It may be these personal connections as much as the physical characteristics of the city that create the “old town charm” that Bradley Real Estate agent Heidi Ellyn says is a big selling point in Larkspur.
“The homes aren’t extravagant, but are well made and the city has that cute downtown village,” the Larkspur specialist says. “You’ve got the natural environment, Magnolia Avenue and the great weather.” Buyers looking to get a piece of that charm can expect to pay $700,000 on the low end, $379,000 for a condo, or as much as $2.4 million on the high end. She says there is more variety this year, with about 30 homes, including condos, currently on the market. Although home prices may be a little higher than they were in 1909, it appears Larkspur’s charms are worth the price.