Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Field in Fairfax

You'd think that a gigantic, anomalous field in the middle of a town would be easy to spot. But I managed to miss it for seventeen years driving by it nearly every day. It is located behind the Fair-Anselm Shopping Center in Fairfax. Find the intersection of Center Boulevard and Pastori Avenue on the east side of Fair-Anselm and follow Pastori, a two-block long street that runs from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, to the concrete bridge spanning the San Anselmo Creek. This bridge marks the entrance of the magical field. But be careful! It is now private property. But a little history lesson never did any one any harm, right?

This 22-acre parcel of land, now worth millions of dollars, has undergone dozens of changes in community purpose and ownership. It began as a land grant from Mexico called Canada de Herrera. It changed hands twice before it was given to Lord Charles Snowden Fairfax in 1855.

For decades it was used as a picnic spot for San Franciscans looking for better weather and a place to get drunk. A reporter wrote in 1884, "last Sunday there was a picnic at Fairfax. About 2,000 attended and fifty fights occurred." The field was a madhouse of drunkenness and debauchery, and the adjacent railroad station made the commute very convenient. Sounds kind of fun.

Then in 1905, Charles and Adele Pastori, two Italian chefs, bought the land and opened Pastori's Italian restaurant. The restaurant was located in the main building where Lord and Lady Fairfax lived all that time ago.

In 1925 Adele Pastori sold the land to the Emporium, at which point it was converted into a country club getaway for its employees. Swimming pools, baseball diamonds, and tennis courts were added to the grounds.

The Emporium closed the club in 1937 and leased the land to the Marin School for Boys, a private school with less than one hundred students.

Four years later in 1943, San Francisco businessman Max Friedman purchased the land and built the Marin Town and Country Club. At that time it was 32 acres and included where the Fair-Anselm Shopping Center and the empty building formerly known as Albertson's stand today. The Country Club had small cottages and bungalows, six swimming pools, tennis courts, a baseball diamond, restaurants, and a dance pavilion. Today, you can still see barbecue pits, dilapidated bathrooms, and rusted signs advertising Coca Cola scattered in the field's overgrown grasses.

In 1960 Max Friedman sold 8 acres to build the Fair-Anselm Shopping Center and the supermarket, but the nortern 26 acres remained for the club.

The Marin Town and Country Club went on the market in 1971. The town council voted down a proposal to buy it as open space for public enjoyment--I wonder if the raucous days of old had anything to do with it? Since then, all development plans have been stalled. With such a valuable piece of property, people have reached a stalemate deciding what to do with the gorgeous 22 acres. As of now, people live in the existing buildings and cottages.

Why I Love It
I wish I could describe the feeling I had when I realized this field's existence. Finally seeing it after having driven by it almost every day of my life, I was reminded of how much we miss when our eyes are so firmly fixed on the ground ahead. I was struck by the enormity of it and how incredible it is that the land has resisted asphalt and condos. And walking around, raising my feet high over the tall grasses and shrubs, I envisioned fathers barbecuing hot dogs on the crumbling barbecue pits. I saw kids running around in Keds from building to building, grabbing Coca Colas from the cooler, and jumping into the pool. I imagined how many feet had passed the ground where my feet were planted. I thought of how different it must have looked with six pools and tennis courts and a baseball diamond, now that all it was was a big field struggling to withstand concrete encroachment. It is a relic of the past in a time when development, change, and space is maximized for profit. I love its beauty, its hugeness, and its endurance.

Golden Gate Transit Route 23 goes from the San Rafael Transit Station to downtown Fairfax. From the Parcade in Fairfax, walk east along Center Boulevard for about four blocks. You'll pass the Fair-Anselm Shopping Center. At the intersection, take a right on Pastori Avenue and in under a block you will see the bridge that is the entrance to the glorious field!

Here is the bus schedule for Route 23:


Fairely, Lincoln and James Heig. Mount Tamalpais: A History. Scottwall Associates, San

Francisco: 1987.

Mason, Jack. The Making of Marin: 1850-1975. North Shore Books, Inverness: 1975.

Mason, Jack. Early Marin. House of Printing, Petaluma: 1971.

Spitz, Barry. Marin: A History. Potrero Meadow Publishing, San Anselmo: 2006.

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