Barbara Pace, a singer and botanist who hosted classical music concerts in her Bolinas garden for the last 40 years, passed away during the Easter afternoon storm. She was 94.
Friends remember Barbara for her graciousness, humor and reserve. “She was a woman of indomitable will. You couldn’t stop her. When she wanted something done, it would be done,” said friend Susie Stewart.
Born in 1916, Barbara was the granddaughter of George Dodge and Sarah Vilas, who traveled west from Vermont during the gold rush. George was a surveyor and drew the first detailed maps of West Marin. The Dodges built a summer home in Bolinas in the late 1800s on what is now Surfer’s Overlook.
As a child, Barbara and her parents George and Mabel took Stanley Steamer railroad to the top Mount Tamalpais and down to Muir Woods. Regular schooner traffic also brought commuters from San Francisco to the rolling hills of West Marin, riding the strong and steady summer sea breeze. Young Barbara sat at the window and watched for the white sails of the schooner Owl to hook around Point Bonita and make the long reach toward Bolinas.
In the 1940s Barbara married Mello Pace and moved to Maryland, where Mello conducted research for the Navy during the war. The couple eventually returned to the Bay Area. Mello taught physiology at UC Berkeley while Barbara earned her degree in botany. They had two daughters, Cindy and Susan, before the couple divorced in the 50s.
Barbara worked as a medical secretary at Alta Bates Hospital for the better part of a decade. “Half of her life was in Berkeley, and the other half in Bolinas,” said daughter Susan Pace. “But her bohemian roots started in Berkeley.”
Barbara retired to Bolinas in the early 1970s. Abandoning the cliff downtown, she built a redwood house on Horseshoe Hill with a crew of women. They called themselves the Women’s Carpentry Class, and were overseen by tradesman and activist Frank Cerda.
“Barbara was very sweet putting up with us,” said Renee Doe, who worked on Barbara’s house. “That was a big time for women’s lib, and a few women got arrested for going topless down on Bolinas Beach. So Frank suggested we go topless on the project.” Doe said topless carpentry wasn’t a good idea, however.
Friend Elia Haworth remembers the same era. “All these young counterculture people that came after 1971 alienated a lot of the older, conservative people in Bolinas,” she said. “But Barbara was the bridge. It was the music.”
Along with her mother, Barbara hosted music concerts at home, with Mabel playing the piano and Barbara singing and playing the flute. Neither of them studied music in school, but friends and fellow musicians describe the garden concerts as nothing less than a musical revival. Barbara and Mabel drew musicians of all talents, including pianists Landon Young and David Murray.
Barbara co-founded the West Marin Chorus and Orchestra during the early 70s. The group preformed musicals throughout West Marin, including Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, the Music Man and South Pacific. “Every show was sold out,” Susie said. “The early 70’s had a magnificent musical resonance. There was a list of first class musicians and lots of music, and Barbara played a huge part in that with concerts in house and in her garden.
Singers sang in the sun and deep grass of the garden, surrounded by the sweet smells of roses. Food was served—Barbara was famous for her cookies—as musicians rehearsed shows or preformed for friends. A whole symphony once played on the deck.
“When I first came to Bolinas, Barbara was the center of the classical music scene. There was a wonderful free sprit of enjoyment in her garden—anyone who could play would be appreciated,” said musician Dale Polissar.
At one point there were three Steinway grand pianos at Barbara’s house, two in the living room and a third in the bedroom. “Not long after the house was built there was a famous little concert,” Susie said. “They were playing the William Tell Overture, the Lone Ranger theme, which was originally written for three pianos. So someone had to stand in the hallway to give the person in the bedroom queues. It was delightful.
Two generations of Dodge women lived out their lives on Horseshoe Hill. Mabel lived with Barbara until she passed away in the 80s. Barbara passed away in the same room.
“When I last saw her, she was tucked deep in her bed,” Elia said. “She was so present. I brought her flowers and chocolate. She loved chocolate. Her body was failing but her mind was still there.”
Barbara Pace is survived by her daughters Susan and Cindy, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. There will be a service at Barbara’s house on May 1 at 2 p.m.