It has restaurants and artist spaces, a medical marijuana dispensary and an Italian sports car repair shop, spaces for houseboats and yachts, a world-class ceramics factory and kayak rentals. It is steeped in history, rests on landfill and sometimes floods, but those who spend time in the area can’t think of anywhere else they’d rather be.
Gate 5 Road in Sausalito came into being during World War II when the Bechtel Corporation started building Liberty, tanker and oiler ships in the new Marinship yard after demand exceeded what could be produced at other ports. The U.S. Navy used dredgings from Richardson Bay to fill in the area known at that time simply as the old Northwestern Pacific Railroad site. Later, in the 1960s, houseboat communities sprung up in the area and ever since that time artists, merchants, marine enthusiasts and others have found Gate 5 road to be a place where just about anything is possible.
One such couple was Edith and Brian Heath, who moved their ceramics production facility there in 1959 from the location that is now the Casa Madrona Hotel. After a successful one-woman show at the Palace of Fine Arts in 1944, Edith began producing a line of ceramics for Gump’s but became frustrated with the inconsistencies of the spinning wheel.
“She loved the craftsmanship and wanted the hands of the artist to be evident,” says Catherine Bailey, who purchased and revitalized Heath Ceramics with her husband Robin Petravic in 2003. “So she started using pottery molds based on her designs and it is still done that way today.”
To produce the kind of consistent quality she wanted, Edith knew she needed a unique space, so she and Brian built the Gate 5 Road factory that still amazes Bailey to this day. “It is nicely designed on a grid with natural light and a courtyard,” she says. “It is not your typical factory.”
Even more amazing to Bailey is the legacy Edith left behind that goes beyond the Coupe, Rim and Plaza lines that are still produced today. “She never threw anything out, no matter how good or bad it was,” Bailey says about the company founder, who died in 2005. “I have learned a lot about Edith and her creative process by working here and discovering stuff. It’s been seven years and I still find things.”
Bailey isn’t the only one fascinated by the old factory and retail outlet. “This place is a bigger and bigger deal all the time. The real source,” she says. “People drive from all over the country to see it. There is so little like this left in America.”
Another historic structure on Gate 5 Road is the 110,000-square-foot Industrial Center Building (ICB) constructed in 1942 as the yard office and mold loft building for Bechtel. It now contains businesses like West Marine as well as studio space for some 90 artists who are featured in biannual open studio events.
“People come to Sausalito and ask ‘where are the artists?’” says tenant and botanical and urban landscape painter Sue Averell. “We are here.”
Averell has occupied four spaces in the building in five years but recently moved to an open second-story studio with large windows and a view of the hills to the west.
“It is amazing when the fog rolls over the hills; I can sit here all day,” says the Fairfax resident, who spends as many as 50 hours a week in the studio doing commissioned and scheduled pieces. “This place is quiet and safe and there are restaurants and places to walk and, of course, I love the chance to interact with other artists.”
Just a stone’s throw from the ICB and Heath lies the Clipper Yacht Harbor, the largest harbor in Sausalito, which is a mecca for boating and water-sports enthusiasts. Sausalito resident and commercial banker Stephen Pugh took one look at the area and thought it would be the perfect place to launch a new business dedicated exclusively to a sport that seems to be enjoying a sharp rise in popularity.
“I announced to my wife that I was going to open a stand-up paddle board shop,” Pugh says about Bluerush Boardsports, which he opened in September. “She thought I was nuts.”
But people from all across the Bay Area have already found their way to the new shop located less than 50 feet from the water. “I knew this sport was going to take off,” Pugh says. “It is fun and easy to learn, anyone can participate and the fitness aspect is better than almost any other sport.”
So whether you are off the beaten path or in the heart of downtown Sausalito, what does it take to call this unique part of Marin home? According to First California Realty owner Sherrie Faber, single-family homes sales were up over last year for a total of 49 at an average price of just over $1.5 million. Also last year, 39 condos sold for an average price of $572,000 and, for the more adventurous, 12 floating homes sold for an average of $454,000.