The first 75 years of
The Sausalito Lions Club

1927 – 2002
By Peter Arnott

From an Anniversary Musical Presentation
on April 24, 2002, which also included
many popular songs of the various years

But first,
A short Lions prologue

The year is 1917  --  At the silent movies, people are lining up to see Birth of a Nation.  General Pershing is in Mexico, looking for Pancho Villa.  In football, a field goal, which was worth five points in 1883, and four points in 1904 – is now marked down, permanently, to three.  There’s some fighting going on in Europe, and the cartoon strip, The Katzenjammer Kids, is renamed The Captain and the Kids because of growing anti-German sentiment.  

And in Chicago, Illinois, an insurance man named Melvin Jones sees that many clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis exist mostly to promote mutual interests among its members, and says to himself, “What if these men who are successful because of their drive, intelligence, and ambition were to put their talents to work improving their communities?” And so, on June 7th, 1917, at Chicago’s LaSalle Hotel – Melvin Jones founds an organization that will, by the end of the century, boast nearly one-and-a-half million members in over 185 countries.

The Sausalito story begins

The year is 1927 --   Calvin Coolidge is now President, and we are learning how to live with two new amendments to the Constitution .. the 19th amendment: everyone can now vote.  The 18th amendment: no one can now drink.

And some new words have entered the English language: Gangster, Bootlegger, Speakeasy.  All of which apply to a small, quiet community of coves and hills sitting happily isolated in a cul-de-sac on San Francisco Bay, just north of the fabled Golden Gate.  It’s a perfect spot for fast boats, loading up with contraband liquor for their midnight dash to San Francisco.  

And at least one prominent Sausalito citizen is in jail convicted of conspiracy to violate the Volstead Act.  He is former Sausalito Mayor, Herb Madden, a partner in Madden and Lewis boat works.  Convicted of repairing a known “rumrunner”, Madden was last year fined $5000 and is now imprisoned at McNeil Island, Washington.  Upon his release, he will once more become a leader in the community.  And once more be elected to the City Council.  And once more be chosen Mayor.

Right now, Sausalito – San Francisco’s closest ferry stop and train depot in Marin County is bustling.  Last year, on the July 10th weekend, the combined Golden Gate and Northwestern Pacific ferries carried over seventy-thousand automobiles.  At the height of the weekend, ferryboats loaded with autos left Sausalito every twelve minutes.

Meanwhile, everybody’s making money on the stock market -- as the Dow Jones skyrockets to a record 206.  

It is into this atmosphere of bustle and activity – and dramatic change -- that the Sausalito Lions Club is born, With twenty members from all areas of civic enterprise.  The newspaper editor.  The postmaster.   The Presbyterian Minister.   A drugstore owner.  An author.  A hardware store owner.  A tailor.   A meat market owner.  A clothing store owner.  A dentist.  An agent.  A contractor.  A bank cashier.  A lumber store manager.  A PG&E serviceman.  A grocery store owner.  Two real estate men.  A garage owner.  

And Ernest W. Jackson, the owner of the newly-rebuilt Alta Mira Hotel, where, on April 8th, 1927, the first meeting of the Sausalito Lions Club is called to order by President Robert Miller.  And a new chapter in Lions Club history begins.

Then suddenly…
The Depression

We’re in the 1930s -- The stock market has crashed. Many were wiped out. And, on top of that, we’re still trying to deal with prohibition.

In Sausalito, Mason’s Distillery is no longer making whiskey, but is now producing alcohol for industrial and medicinal purposes.  And, under the name Mason By-Product Company, it is now producing two million gallons of denatured alcohol per year – nearly one-sixth of all the alcohol produced in the country.

At the Alta Mira, each Wednesday at noon, the Sausalito Lions meet to loyally drink only soda pop.  And have lunch – for which they pay a dollar.  But they pay their pianist, Mrs. Victoria Miller, two-fifty.  And well worth it, since each meeting begins with the singing of America, The Beautiful.  And there are Lions Club songbooks stacked on the piano for later harmonizing.  In fact, there is even a Lions Songbook Committee.

In this era, with the local population around three-thousand, many Lions are officially involved in the big changes going on in the town.  And this involvement is reflected in the young Club’s many committees.

There are committees for Membership, Constitution & By-laws, Welfare,Publicity, Ways & Means, Civic issues, Fellowship, Finance, Education, Entertainment -- and the Christmas Tree Committee which is looking into securing – and planting – a six-foot tree in the Town Park.  Which, seventy-five years later, will top more than fifty-feet – and continue to light the downtown streets with its brightly glowing Christmas welcome.

With the public excitement over the planning for the Golden Gate Bridge, there is much discussion of the plans for construction of the road which will be built to connect the bridge to Marin County.  So the Lions Club appoints a Highway Committee -- which includes the owner of the Alta Mira and the publisher of The Sausalito News – to propose the route that the road should take.  With an eye toward helping-out local Sausalito business -- here is the plan that the Lions Committee officially presents to the Golden Gate Bridge District.

Recommended -- …that the main highway to the bridge run not over the Waldo Grade, but through Sausalito.  That, leaving the bridge, traveling north, an eighty-foot high elevated freeway enter Sausalito at Alexander Avenue.  Then at Shelter Cove, continue north – over the water – outboard of all businesses and residences – reaching ground level at the Golden Gate ferry building.  And then continue north on landfill – still along the shore line – until it reaches Waldo Point.

In essence, a busy freeway along the Sausalito shore – outboard of all other buildings – and in full sight (and sound) -- of every shop, office, restaurant, and hillside residence.  What was the reaction from the Bridge District?  No!!

But, still with an eye toward business, the City Council changes the name of Water Street to Bridgeway Boulevard. Which, according to the Mayor, might sound to confused motorists like “the way to the bridge.”

The war years

The early 1940s – At home, food, clothing, and gasoline are rationed.  Everyone is confused by red stamps and blue stamps for food -- and A, B, and C coupons for gas.  To conserve rubber, the national speed limit is set at thirty-five miles per hour.

And Sausalito is jumping.  There are now over twenty-five thousand men and women who have come to Sausalito to build Liberty Ships.  The town’s merchants can barely handle the flood of new business.  And residents are converting every attic, basement, and spare room into bedrooms to accommodate the flood of new arrivals.

Meanwhile, Sausalito Lions are now meeting every Monday at the Alta Mira, and there is much discussion about hurting the war effort by conducting evening meetings during security blackouts. In addition to providing continuing aid and cash donations to the community, Sausalito Lions are now contributing toward the entertainment and hospitality of military personnel at Forts Baker and Barry.


The late 40s -- The war is over – and the Lions are still meeting every Monday evening for dinner at the Alta Mira.  And the price for dinner has now been raised to a dollar-fifty.

Some personal notes from the Forties: Mrs. Victoria Miller steps down as the weekly pianist.  Her replacement will now receive one dollar – plus dinner ...   Lion Vince Maggiora – the current Lion Elmo’s father – passes around a box of cigars in honor of the arrival of a new grandson ... Lion Bill Erskine – the current Lion Bill’s father – is appointed Entertainment Chairman … and, after spirited discussion, the Club votes to impose a fine on anyone throwing things during the meeting.

Although they have been happy all these years at the Alta Mira -- the Lions are now looking for a permanent Clubhouse of their own.  And, because the end of the war has left many buildings empty, there are several choices.  

There’s an old ferry boat for sale.  And there’s an empty houseboat, about thirty-five by seventy feet, which can be purchased for seven-hundred-and-fifty dollars.  Some members urge the Club to buy a vacant lot -- and start building.  Finally, Herb Madden offers a portion of a building on his land with a twenty by seventy-foot meeting hall – a former military barracks -- at a rent of twenty-five dollars a month,

And so, on January 14, 1947, in what the official Minutes call “The Yacht Club Building,” the Sausalito Lions Club holds its first meeting in its newly refurbished quarters.

And a new Committee is added: The House Committee.  Which almost immediately faces a raise in rent of ten dollars to cover the cost of a janitor to clean the hall after each meeting.  Then the caterer wants a minimum guarantee of forty people if he is to continue serving the Club meals.  Upon a motion from the floor, a majority of those present votes to change the caterer.

But – while it’s nice to have your own bar, dinners have become a problem.  
One member suggests that the Monday night dinner served to the Lions is simply the leftovers from the previous weekend’s buffet for the other renters of the building.  So, after a few years of going it alone, the Lions find themselves back at the Alta Mira.

There are, of course, some exceptions.  For an installation party and dance, the Alta Mira quotes four-dollars-and-fifty-cents each without refreshments – and the Woman’s Club quotes the same price with refreshments.  The vote is to go to the Woman’s Club. And yet another Committee is appointed to investigate the mysterious loss of a rug from the Woman’s Club during the last time the Lions were there.

Something new: a “Police Action”

It’s now the 1950s -- There’s a war going on in Korea, only we’re not allowed to call it that.  And there are a lot of new ideas around.  The Diners Club has a revolutionary concept: eating out on credit -- but nobody’s sure if it will catch on.  At the movies, the nation is scandalized when a film called The Moon Is Blue says the word, “virgin” – right out loud.  And with the attraction of artists to this quiet town of natural beauty, this decade marks the real launching of Sausalito’s “Art Colony” years.

At the Alta Mira, the Sausalito Lions Club still meets on Monday evenings – but no longer every week.  At the now twice-monthly meetings, here are the kinds of subjects discussed.

The Lions annual Student Speakers Contest… Where local Clubs sponsor young people who are given a subject of broad interest – and compete for the right to participate at the national level.

The annual Sausalito Halloween party… A city-wide event, sponsored for years by the Sausalito Lions.  Featuring a parade, a costume party, candy and ice cream, and a movie in the Central School auditorium.

The annual Fourth of July Fireworks Fundraiser…where Lions organize the display and sale of fireworks, the parking of cars, and the sale of refreshments.

The Lions Hot Dog Booth… Built and maintained by members for fund-raising events.  But frequently loaned-out to a variety of organizations to support their own fund-raising efforts.

And this is the decade when a Member of the 2002 Lions Club first makes his debut as President, when in June, 1954, dressed in the required formal white dinner jackets, all the new Lions officers are installed.  And at their head, as the new President of the Sausalito Lions Club, is Lion Elmo Maggiora.  Next year, C. D. Madsen, another Member of the current 2002 Lions, is elected to be the 1955 President.

Korea’s gone; now what?

It’s the 1960s -- and there seems to be some confusion in a little-known country called Viet Nam.  And soon, American students everywhere will begin to speak out.  In sports, a relatively unknown, twenty-two-year-old golfer beats Arnold Palmer in the U.S. Open – and Jack Nicklaus begins to change the game of golf.  Much to the delight of orthopedic doctors, we all learn to dance The Twist.  Sausalito Lions Club Picnic Chairman Lion Elmo reports that over one-hundred adults and children enjoyed themselves at the Maggiora ranch in Cloverdale.  

This is the decade that Sausalito Lions approach some serious issues.  There’s a noticeable drop in attendance at meetings.  At one meeting, a former Lions District Governor arrives to find he is joining only seven Members of the local Club.  There is even some suggestion of merging the Sausalito and the Tiburon Clubs.

And in legal matters, it is suggested that since the Club is now participating in the construction of city parks, that it should be incorporated.  And, following a hospital-involving accident to a female volunteer in the hot dog booth, the Club moves to acquire liability insurance.

On a happier note, a third Member of the 2002 Club picks up the gavel.  As on June, 1967, Lion Jackson Perry is installed as President.

And this decade has its lighter moments, too.  To apparently encourage visitation to and from other Clubs, the Lions apparently encourage theft.  Here are a series of entries in the minutes…

“President asks at least 5 Lions to attend the meeting of the San Rafael Club to retrieve the Sausalito bell and gavel which the San Rafael members took from the last meeting.”

“President asks Secretary to inform the San Rafael Club that to redeem their equipment, 15 of their Members will have to attend the next Sausalito meeting.”

“President reports a visitation to Napa to retrieve the bell .. and to Mill Valley to retrieve the badges.”

“President asks Secretary to inform Petaluma Club that Sausalito has the Tail Twister’s receptacle.”

“In a visitation to Mill Valley, that Club presented us with our chamber pot which they stole at the last visitation.  But we gave it back, since we’d stolen it from them years ago.  Before we left, we took their bell and gavel.”

And finally, at the Sausalito Lions Club Installation of Officers in 1968…

“New President Lion Bert Domergue wielded the bell and gavel – now attached to the table by an anchor chain.”

Home from Viet Nam

We’re into the 1970s --  The war in Viet Nam is ending, and American troops are beginning to come home.  At the Alta Mira, the Lions Club meetings are now called to order on Monday evenings by a fourth member of the 2002 Club -- Lion President Ted Klinck

Attendance is still a problem – and it becomes even more so with the premiere of a brand new idea in sports television.  Monday night football.  Now, for the first time, several meetings are cancelled for lack of attendance.  At one meeting, there are only three Members present to receive an official visitation by Lions Deputy District Governor, Bud Wedemeyer.  A motion is made to fine all absent Members one-dollar.  It is tabled.

Continuing the Sausalito Lions long-term relationship with the Fire Department, the Members unanimously vote to give the firefighters fifteen hundred dollars for an Oxygen System.  Though there is only five-hundred-and-fifty dollars in the special projects fund, it is anticipated that a raffle at every meeting – plus major fundraising – will provide the extra thousand.

Which turns out to be a prophetic statement.  Because this is the decade when the Lions begin to escalate the Sausalito Art Festival into their major fund-raising event.  Selling not only hot dogs, but baked potatoes – each for seventy-five-cents.  And for the first time ever, net sales produce over one-thousand dollars.  And that figure will eventually increase ten-fold!

Carter welcomes Reagan

It’s now the 1980’s -- And with inflation at 13.5%, the prime rate at 21%, gold at eight-hundred-and-eighty dollars an ounce, and the Dow Jones around 1000 – Ronald Reagan replaces Jimmy Carter in the White House.  And in California, Governor Jerry Brown discovers the med fly, and we all learn about malithion.

At the Alta Mira, to try to combat sagging attendance -- and eliminate the competition of those Monday Night football guys: Frank, Howard, and Dandy Don -- The Lions have now changed their twice-monthly meetings to Tuesdays.

And there is a major visitation.  The Sausalito meeting is interrupted by a busload of forty Lions from Vallejo.  And they have brought with them a belly dancer, who balances a sword on various parts of her body.  And collects many dollar bills for charity from Lions interested in the finer aspects of ethnic dancing.

And in this decade, the most important year for most Lions here in 2002 is… 1984 – eighteen years ago.  Because, with the exception of four members -- Lions Madsen, Maggiora, Perry, and Klinck – every one on the current Lions roster has joined the Club since this date.

And today, in 2002, the Sausalito Lions Club Membership is up, the attendance is up, the funding is up, and the spirit is up.  And though it owes much to the past – it’s not too big a stretch to see the Sausalito Lions Club as an eighteen-year-old – full of life.

Finally: 2002

We’re now seventy-five years from that first Lions Club lunch at the newly re-built Alta Mira Hotel.  That’s about twenty years of weekly meetings -- and the remaining years at twice monthly.  Nearly two-thousand-five-hundred meetings of the Sausalito Lions Club -- at almost every one of which, someone suggested a donation of money or time to support the city, or to fight disease, or to aid a worthwhile cause, or to help a person in need.  And because this is an ongoing interest in giving, the list is literally endless.

The Lion Eye Foundation, Canine Companions, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Boy Scouts, Little League, Firefighters, burn victims, senior citizens, shore cleanup, Dunphy Park, Harrison Park, Wilderness Camp for deaf children, City of Hope, Marin City landslide victims, Hospice of Marin, Presbyterian Orphanage and Farm, Transportation for the blind, Eye surgery for selected individuals.

The complete list fills pages and pages, ending with a significant donation -- voted at the meeting just last month -- to establish a Sausalito Lions Club scholarship for graduating Tam High seniors who show leadership and civic involvement.

There are now, in 2002, thirty-seven Members of the Sausalito Lions Club – nearly half of whom have served as President.  Lion Presidents Maggiora, Madsen, Perry, Klinck, Ecklund, Wohlschlaeger, Davey, Holt, Gergus, Bush, Marelich, Baker, Beers, Collings, Tatreau, Berkman, and Taylor.

With the continuing success of four major fundraising efforts each year, the Lions financial ability to support worthwhile causes has never been stronger.

As for the Lions themselves? Well, there’s friendship, accomplishment, laughter, debate – lots of debate – and fun – all the happy by-products of service.  Or, perhaps, it’s the other way around.  Perhaps service is the happy by-product of what Lions Founder Melvin Jones called “drive, intelligence, and ambition” so many years ago.

But that’s too theoretical.  In the Sausalito Lions Club, here’s what happens in real life.  When sign-up sheets are passed around for work to be done, the two categories always filled-in first are the ones which, in many organizations, are often the last – “setup” and “cleanup.” And many Sausalito Lions routinely ignore the hours allotted for working shifts -- because they plan to stay all day.  Every day.

The motto of Lions Clubs International – We Serve – means many things.  But here, in this Club -- the Sausalito Lions Club – We Serve not only includes concern for the community and for the nation – but for each other.

The End


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