Flying High in Fairfax: The History of the Marin Town and Country Club

Flying High in Fairfax

There are 32 acres in Marin worth knowing about. The above graceful back dive took place on this parcel of land in 1944 when it was the Marin Town and Country Club — but that’s not half the story. 

It all started in 1846. That’s when Charles Snowden Fairfax, inherited but ultimately refused the English title of Lord Fairfax, 10th Lord Baron of Cameron. Instead, Charles Fairfax chose a life of adventure and spent six months sailing around Tierra del Fuego to California. 

Once there, he was first a 49er, then a politician. In 1855, Fairfax, then the speaker of the California assembly, married an attractive San Francisco girl named Ada Benham — and a dear friend gifted the couple his 32-acre estate in Northern California’s newly incorporated Marin County. Appropriately, the Marin town where these 32 acres of land are located now bears Charles’ family name, Fairfax. 

In 1870, after Charles Fairfax’s early demise, Ada moved to Fort Ross and by 1893 the 32-acre estate was owned by a family named Pastori who, over two decades, developed the well respected Pastori’s Hotel and Restaurant. Then in 1925, San Francisco’s Emporium Department store bought the Pastori’s beautifully maintained 32-acre property for $250,000 with plans to create a “country club” for their 2,000 employees. Tennis and croquet courts, a golf course, baseball diamonds and, yes, two swimming pools were among the Emporium’s intended features. 

The Emporium Country Club lasted a but dozen years and was followed on the 32-acres by a school for boys, which endured the end of the depression and the start of a world war before selling in 1943 to San Francisco businessman Max Friedman for $175,000. Friedman added five more pools and on its opening day in 1944, the Marin Town and Country Club (MTCC) welcomed 1,500 guests to its baseball diamonds, sunbathing lawn, picnic areas and one big swimming pool with high-diving board seen here. The club, which also featured an outdoor bandstand and dance floor called The Redwood Bowl the broadcast live dance music throughout the western United States on Saturday nights. 

But in 1972, the M.T.C.C. closed after Kaiser Etna made a failed attempt to purchase the property. In 1998, an effort by Friedman’s heirs to reopen the club was decisively defeated by town voters and in 2002, they sold the land to a real estate investor. Currently, several structures have been rehabbed and rented to families and individuals who live in a bucolic enclave nestled amid the chaos of modern suburbia. The property — along with its colorful history — is now being marketed for a reported $68 million.