History

In 1874, the small town of San Rafael was incorporated. The original city was composed of 160 acres of land and had a population of 600. Six years later, in 1880, the population had increased to 2.276. The town of San Rafael grew steadily as Marin County's seat of government and commerce to a population of 8,570 in 1940, north San Rafael remained largely ranch and dairy land until after World War II.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Terra Linda and Santa Margarita Valleys developed rapidly. Much of the area initially developed in the County but later annexed to the City. Residential development came first in the mid-1950s. The first new school in Terra Linda was Bernard Hoffman, built in 1955 at Las Gallinas and Las Colindas. A particularly noteworthy addition came in 1972, when the residents approved a bond measure and assessment to purchase and preserve the surrounding hills as open space in perpetuity. These hills today enclose and define the residential areas of the Terra Linda and Santa Margarita valleys.

Google satellite image of our neighborhood

Map showing San Rafael neighborhoods

North San Rafael Development

The maps below show when various parcels were acquired by the City of San Rafael. (Click for larger image)

Don Timoteo Murphy: Days of the Earliest Rancho

by Jean Wasp — Terra Linda News p. 10 April 23, 1973

IRISH WILL AND SPANISH POLITICS mixed early in the Las Gallinas Bain when Timothy Murphy strode into Marin in 1828. One of Marin's 21 early ranchos, the three-fold San Pedro, Santa Margarita y Las Gallinas land grant was awarded to the giant Irishman in 1844. The 21,678.89 acres were used by the Don for stock-raising. Spanish steer, at that time, brought in $25 a head, and San Rafael was an important landing point for shipment overseas.

Murphy came to the area from Monterey where he had been supervising packing and importing of beef for a British firm. Born in 1800 in Wexford, Ireland, he was described by early Marin travelers as a jovial six-foot-two, 300-pound man who delighted in good food and wild fun and treated the Indians with fairness. Appointed in 1837 as admission administrator at San Rafael Archangel, he served 12 years over the remaining Indians in the county. (Mission records show only a few hundred Indians left in the area; many had been victims of diseases carried over by the Spanish explorers. One record noted 60,000 Indians had died of small pox and measles one year.)

A Frenchman visiting San Rafael wrote that while the Mission buildings lay in ruins, he found "some superb tobacco plants in the old mission garden, 20 Indians, and an Irishman named Murphy." A man of commanding appearance, Murphy had a fair, florid complexion and an aquiline nose. He reportedly could kill a deer or antelope at a distance of one-quarter mile with his rifle. His kennel, at one time, contained 35 beagles and greyhounds used for hunting. (otters abounded in Marin. Murphy could get $40 for each pelt he obtained. The sport added much to his wealth.)

Like other large land grand owners in Marin, Murphy had acquired his acreage by ingratiating himself with the current Mexican governor. He was awarded the large grant from Governor Micheltorena on February 14, 1844. It was later approved by the U. S. Land Commission when California became a territory. Some historians say Murphy received the grant for his work with the Indians. The Indians were willing vaqueros for the Don, riding herd over his cattle. It took 20 horsemen to deliver 60-70 head of cattle to the shipping point. Timothy Murphy was the first to build a permanent home in San Rafael. It sat several blocks from the Mission at what is now Fourth and C Streets. (After Murphy's death, the newly-formed County of Marin used his home as a courthouse.)

Murphy was known through the county as a man with a taste for fine food and fun. Reports from the guests at his many parties abound with details of a variety of meats and drink served at his dining table. At one affair in San Francisco, he killed a bear and three deer and put on a barbecue for old friends and Presidio officials. The party lasted two days and three nights and cost $1,500.

In 1849, Murphy brought his brother, Matthew, and young nephew, John Lucas, from Ireland to share in the wealth of his estate. (A year later, with a population of 323 white men, Marin became one of the earliest counties to be established in California.) Timothy Murphy never married—the story goes that he had been rejected by General Mariano Vallejo's sister, Donna Rosalia. He died in 1853 at the age of 53. The cause was a burst appendix. In his will, he left 7,600 acres of the Santa Margarita grant to his nephew, John Lucas. He left most of the San Pedro grant to his brother, Matthew (80 acres went to a long-time friend). John Lucas wasn't to hear of his inheritance until two years after his uncle's death. He left for Ireland in 1853 to fetch his bride, Maria Sweetman, and did not return until 1855. By that time, his other uncle, Matthew, had been dead a year—shot by accident by a prison guard at San Quentin Point as he traveled through the familiar countryside. Shot in 1852, he died from the wounds two years later.

Also benefitting from Murphy's will was the Catholic Church, which received 300 acres to be used for an orphan asylum. It was to become St. Vincent's School for Boys. When Matthew died, the San Pedro Rancho — which includes China Camp and Peacock Gap—was sold to Samuel Todd for $10,577. The Murphy ranch home was sold to Timothy Magon for $1,050. On January 15, 1856, the tract now known as Santa Venetia was sold for $127.60 to pay delinquent taxes. The Las Gallinas Ranch had already been sold to James Miller by Murphy in 1851. Miller paid $680 for 680 acres. Hence, the first subdivision had taken place in the Las Gallinas basin, paving the way for many more. And the only remembrance of Don Timoteo today is an elementary school named after him by the Dixie School District in Terra Linda. [Ed. Note: St. Marks School was formerly known as Don Timoteo. However, there is a cul-de-sac still named Don Timoteo near Terra Linda High School.]

Before There Was Freitas, There Was Lucas...

In January 1896, The Marin Journal noted that "John Lucas, a prominent resident of Santa Margarita, was the weightiest man in the county, weighing 350 pounds." Not too long after that Lucas died [of heart failure] in his home in Bolinas on March 7, 1900. The nephew to Don Timoteo Murphy (the original land grant owner of 22,000 acres —what is now Terra Linda, Marinwood, Santa Venetia and Lucas Valley) Lucas sailed to California in 1852...to share in his uncle's estate. When he inherited his uncle's ranch, he built a home in the center of the valley and continued using the land for cattle grazing. The land stayed in the family for 30 years before being bought by Manuel T. Freitas in 1896.

Lucas's wife, Maria, actually sold the ranch. It was hers when the couple divorced. Walter Freitas recalls that according to the terms of the divorce, Maria kept the ranch but paid John $50 a month — a sort of alimony...Maria Lucas died in 1910 in Bolinas at the age of 82. The Marin Journal noted that at her death she was the "oldest pioneer woman in the county." The Journal also said that some parts of the Lucas Ranch had been sold in 1896 to meet mortgage payments. The sale brought in $12 an acre. [E. note: John and Maria Lucas are both buried at Terra Linda's Mount Olivet Cemetery, property they had given to the Catholic Church.] First published: Terra Linda News, April 25, 1973, p. 13.

Manuel T. Freitas: From Fry Cook to Cows

by Jean Wasp — Terra Linda News, April 25, 1973

"It got to the point that people would pay more money for the property than cows would," remembered Walter Freitas. Freitas leaned back in a chair at his office in Holiday Inn Plaza [ed. note: now Four Points Sheraton] and looked out the window at the Northgate Shopping Center and the parkway named after his father. "For sentimental reasons," attorney Freitas, the youngest of eight children, works in the heart of the land his family once owned. He must often glance out the window and [imagine seeing] cows instead of cars and wide-open grasslands instead of parking lots.

Manuel T. Freitas had bought what was eventually to become the home of many suburbanites from John Lucas in 1896. Lucas had inherited the Santa Margarita Rancho from his uncle, Don Timoteo Murphy. For 30 years, he had made his home in the center of the valley and raised cattle. Manuel Freitas came to San Francisco at age 17, a Portuguese immigrant born in the Azores in 1853. As a teenager, he made a living as a dishwasher, then a fry cook. "He was very frugal," said Walter. He eventually saved enough money to open up his own little restaurant. But Manuel didn't stop there. His "flair for finance" in the Portuguese colony led him into a commission business where he served as a go-between for the farmer and the urban consumer. He was the co-founder of the Portuguese-American Bank in San Francisco, and later was named Portuguese vice-consul. He used his mansion on the home ranch to entertain governors and ambassadors. (Through Freitas' friendship with A. P. Giannini, the Portuguese-American Bank was later sold to the Bank of Italy. The Bank of Italy was the forefather of the Bank of America.)

Walter Freitas remembers finding the ranch house described as a "palatial farmhouse" in a civics book. Manuel Freitas bought a ranch every time he had a son. The string of six ranches ran from Terra Linda to Novato. [Ed. note: to be continued} First published: Terra Linda News, April 25, 1973, p. 12

The Home Ranch in the center of what is now Terra Linda was 1,200 acres. The Upper Ranch in what is Lucas Valley was 1,116 acres, and the Butcher Ranch right below it was 325 acres. Freitas also owned the C Ranch in Novato (2,000 acres now known as San Marin), the Black Point Ranch along Atherton Road, and another in Cordelia on Highway 80 right on the spot where the Red Top Restaurant sits today. Like many Portuguese, Freitas had come to Marin to begin a dairy farm. With the growth of San Francisco, beef cattle had given way to the more lucrative milk cows.

The Freitas family used to spend "the good months on the ranch, and the bad months in a San Rafael home." The home was located two doors east of where Bell Savings sits today. The ranch was a complete self-sustained unit with orchards, reservoirs, gardens, cows, and other kinds of animals. Several fields were filled with oat hay. The half-mile driveway ran from the highway to the home. Eucalyptus trees lined the driveway and served as a windbreak, Walter remembers.

To the north of the drive were large marshy areas, buckeye trees, and a lake. Many migrating ducks used the lake in the winter (where Northgate One and the new Citizens Savings building is now). The main creek through the valley all but dried up in the summer. But Walter remembers large steelhead trout swam up it from the bay in the wintertime when it rained heavily. The family used to hunt quail with a shotgun near what is now known as Quail Hill.

In San Rafael. Manuel Freitas, active in San Francisco, also contributed to life in San Rafael. He served as president of the Bank of San Rafael and of the Portuguese Independent Political Club. The latter was formed to encourage nationalization among Portuguese families in San Rafael and educate those immigrants in American ideas. Freitas died in September 1923 at the age of 70. The estate was valued at a million dollars. Much of it was held in trust until the youngest, Walter, had reached maturity. The balance was distributed to more distant relatives and to a number of charitable institutions in the United States and Portugal. At the age of 12, Walter Freitas, the youngest, was an orphan. His mother, Maria B. Freitas, had died four years before her husband. The older sons took over management of the ranches in a family partnership. Walter assumed many duties, too, after he turned 21 in 1932.

The Freitas family began to feel the pressure to sell pieces of the ranch after the war when employment was high and families were pouring into Marin to live. "From 1945 to 1954, a lot of overtures were made. But we always wanted it to go as one well-planned integrated community." The Freitas Family eventually decided to begin selling when tax assessment for the property was hiked because the cow pasture had become looked upon as valuable potential subdivision. (One parcel of 250 acres was assessed for $20,000 in taxes, Walter remembers.)

Sale of some 400 acres for eventual subdivision came about in 1953 with the Terra Linda Master Plan. It didn't take too long to see that people didn't mix well with cows. Having problems with trespassers, horseback riders cutting fences, and children teasing the bulls, the Freitas family closed down the ranch in 1954 and moved the 500 head of cattle to the ranch in Novato.

As years went by, more and more of the ranch was sold to subdividers and commercial developers. In 1956, the 10 acres of ground where the Freitas ranchhouse stood was donated to the Catholic Church. It became St. Isabella's Church and School. The sons and daughters of the Freitas family have remained in the area. Carlos and Walter are both attorneys. Carlos is a judge. Walter served on the Marin County Planning Commission. At 61 [in 1973], he is almost ready to retire. He says he is frustrated by the influx of new people and the attitude of the people now living on what was once Freitas land. He is critical of what he calls "snob zoning." "What pleases me most is that living here can make so many people happy," he said. "But it's fast coming that there is no room for the less fortunate. Why not let others enjoy it too?" [Ed. note: A formal 1976 oral history with Walter Freitas is online at http://www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/lb/main/crm/oralhistories/freitasft.html.] First published: Terra Linda News, April 25, 1973, p. 12

The Planned Community — largest concentration of residential development

The Terra Linda News Progress 1968 special edition: A Look at 16 year's growth in Gallinas Valley (sic).

The most phenominal (sic) aspect of progress in the Terra Linda area was, of course, the multiplication of rows of new houses. The big boom started in Terra Linda in 1954 was preceded by moderate growth until then.

In 1941 Elizabeth Wray, who moved here then, remembers that there was a scattering of homes in Santa Venetia and a few dairy farms. "We were the first to build on the hillside," she recalls, "and people told us we were crazy. They said Santa Venetia would be a deserted village when the war was over." Mr. James Dalton of Santa Venetia, who moved there in 1948 from San Rafael, remembers her mother fretting about her daughter moving so far out in the country. Nevertheless, the postwar period saw new development in the area between Mabry and Meadow Drives.

In 1951 a school teacher from Booneville, CA, Dennis Willis took his first job with the San Rafael School District and opened the Santa Venetia School as its first principal. By then John Kenny had completed a 200-home tract in Rafael Meadows. And, Portola Estates, south of what is now the Civic Center, was subdivided. A few homes were started in Los Ranchitos and John O'Connor started construction on the filled tidelands of Gallinas Village.

In 1954 Terra Linda came into being as Cal Wheeler began construction of the Terra Linda Master Plan which was the first "planned community" in the area involving ultimate development of Terra Linda Shopping Center, community and local school sites. The homes were gobbled up by young veterans utilizing their G.I. loans. The Stetson Dairy was turned into Northbridge Homes.

And, in 1956 Jerry Hoyt began construction in Marinwood, the second "planned community." At the same time Bud Sthymmel, a real estate salesman for Bill Timmer at the time, had what he believed a magnificent residential listing and went in search of a builder. The site was beautiful rolling hills where the civic center now stands. Sthymmel got in his car and called on one big San Francisco builder after another with no nibbles. He kept driving south and finally, in Palo Alto, managed to bring Joseph Eichler back with him. The deal didn't close but Eichler was sold on the area and came to be the biggest home builder here. His homes in Terra Linda caught on and he didn't stop building until he filled up Lucas and Upper Lucas Valley, the latter being completed in 1966.

John Kenny, meanwhile, took the southern half of Terra Linda and completed it. And in 1965 Marin Master Builders followed by the American Housing Guild (Perma-Built) filling the pasture lands now known as Twelveoak, San Rafael Park and Mont Marin. In the space of 14 years the number of dwellings jumped from 800 to 6,900 and the population grew from 2,500 to 24,000.

Originally all development in these areas was controlled by a series of "master plans" devised by the Marin planning department. Those were the Terra Linda, Marinwood and Las Gallinas Vallley Master Plans. The plans were attempts to logically integrate residential and service areas of a community to make it efficient and to preserve some sense of esthetic appeal. In most cases the development proceeded satisfactorily. The real test will come when the areas' project population of 70,000 is squeezed in under the real estate that is yet to be developed."

Very Local History

by Shirley Fischer

The North San Rafael Coalition of Residents predated the North San Rafael Vision process by a decade. In 1984, the multi-leveled efforts of this group of 12 homeowner associations worked on multiple projects and candidates' forums. Then in 1994, the NSRCR initiated the North San Rafael Vision process. Once the Downtown Vision was completed, Mayor Boro says it was brought to his attention over a cup of coffee with me. The North San Rafael Vision process, from 1994-1997, was guided by a 25-member Steering Committee that included Mayor Boro, Councilman Gary Phillips, Planning Commission member Jim Atchison, eight representatives from the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents and homeowner associations, six representatives of local businesses (including Northgate Mall), a lawyer, two architects, a renter, a high school student, and representatives from the Marin Conservation League, United Way, and a local church. The Visioning process included a series of workshops with community stakeholders, including businesses, residents, and school children, that generated over 10,000 comments on likes, dislikes, and desired changes. The final Vision workshop on October 19, 1996, was attended by 200 people, and it was from this workshop that the ideas of the Promenade and a Town Center at Northgate were born. The Vision Steering Committee produced the North San Rafael Vision 2010 document and disbanded after it was presented to the City Council in November, 1997.

The Vision in Action Committee (VIA Committee) was a 12-person committee appointed by the City Council in 1998 to work on implementation of the recommendations in the North San Rafael Vision. During the five years of its existence, the VIA Committee oversaw a series of public workshops in 2002 that resulted in the North San Rafael Vision Promenade Conceptual Plan, among other projects. (Ed. note: copies are available, email PromenadeCelebrations@msn.com). The VIA Town Center Subcommittee, chaired by myself and John Alden, developed nine goals for the development of a "town center" community gathering place at Northgate, which were used by the City to guide and inform redevelopment plans for Oak Plaza and the Mall. The VIA committee also had input into the gateway project (improving landscaping and the gas station at the Freitas Parkway entryway to Terra Linda) and numerous other community improvements, including renovation of the Terra Linda pool, development of the water feature at Freitas Park and many others.

The North San Rafael Coalition was restructured in 2002, but continues, in partnership with the Federation of San Rafael Neighborhoods (its counterpart in zip 94901), to be a vehicle of communication between community residents, developers and government officials. Email NorthSanRafaelCoalition@msn.com

Long time neighbor, Dave Zappetini, writes...

The area that is now Terra Linda was the "Home Dairy" for the Freitas Family and our family business at that time involved putting shoes on their horses and maintaining their ranch equipment. I used to hunt deer on the ranch property in Marin since we worked for all the property owners, and at that time there were no turkeys or coyotes. They are new to this area.

A few years ago we made traps for the MMWD to capture wild pigs in the watershed, but the pigs at one time were domestic and some got away and now they have taken over and are a problem. We (Steve Zappetini & Son) are working at Fort Baker and they have a problem with the coyotes and the problem they have is that people feed them. [Ed. note: Marin History Museum is collecting the Terra Linda Wind. Preserving our past for future generations is an incredible legacy. You are invited to be part of making this happen. For information and volunteer applications, please contact Shelley Hamner, Manager and Volunteer Coordinator at (415) 454-8538 ext. 4#, or e-mail shelley@marinhistory.org.]

Terra Linda in 1953

An article about the origins of Terra Linda in 1953.

Aerial Photos of Terra Linda from 1959-1968

by Ed Brady

The Marin History Museum has made these amazing pictures of Terra Linda available.

Self-guided Tours of Terra Linda

Self-guided tour of Terra Linda.
Auto tour of Terra Linda.

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