The History of San Rafael’s Boyd Gate House

Marin History The Boyd Gate House

Get off Highway 101 at Mission Avenue and head west for three or four blocks and, if you’re not careful, you’ll drive right into it. It is the Boyd Gate House, a gingerbread Victorian built in the mid-1870s by Ira Cook.

It seems Cook’s sons, Dan and Seth, had struck gold in Bodie and Ira wanted in on the fun. Meanwhile, the Cook boys had John Boyd as a partner and in 1883, John married the Cook brother’s niece, Louise. As a wedding gift from Ira, the newly weds received this Victorian Gothic gate house; once described as “a remarkable demonstration of the skills and artwork of several master craftsmen.” As you see in the accompanying vintage photo, the structure has steeply pitched gable roofs along with porches topped with fine sawed scrollwork and supported by slender Gothic columns. In this home, John and Louise raised two boys and a girl. However, in the early 1900s, both of the boys died from rheumatic fever and, in their memory, John and Louise donated the gatehouse and surrounding lush parklands to the City of San Rafael, in whose ownership they remain to this day. As for their daughter, also named Louise, she not only inherited her parent’s nearby main mansion, but also became a famed Arctic explorer, specializing in the remote eastern coast of Greenland. She was the first woman to fly over the North Pole and her research was reportedly of benefit to the U.S. Navy during WWII.

Today, the beautifully restored Boyd Gate House is home to the Marin History Museum whose current exhibit, “Unbottled,” explores the history of Marin County’s bottling industry. According to Research Librarian Lori Deibel, “This includes antique bottles not only from dairies, but also breweries, soda works and pharmacies.” According to her, one attention-grabbing item is an antique blue-glass seltzer bottle from the old Blue Rock Inn, now occupied by Left Bank Brasserie in Larkspur. Sponsors of the exhibit are, appropriately, Straus Family Organic Creamery and Marin French Cheese Company.