Forgotten fire shines on town’s founding

David Briggs
The wealthy pig trader of Point Reyes Station, the 100-year-old sidewalk, the mill that turned San Francisco’s old clothes into newsprint, the town’s “two curves”—these are just hints of the trivia passed along in a new series of historic walking tours through the town once known as Olema Station. Dewey Livingston, who recently uncovered information about a fire that made way for the construction of the town as we know it, has sporadically offered tours for over a decade. In a new collaboration with the Tomales Bay Youth Center, the West Marin Fund, the Community Land Trust of West Marin and others, Mr. Livingston and a cadre of young guides will be hosting hour-long Saturday morning tours from July 27 through September 28. Proceeds from the $10 tickets, available online and at the information booth at the Point Reyes Farmers Market, will benefit the youth center and affordable housing initiatives. Tours start at the farmers market at 10 a.m. Above: Madeline Hope, Dona Larkin, Max Wessner, Dewey Livingston, Kim Thompson and Nancy Addess. — Tess Elliott

Local historian Dewey Livingston has unearthed a long-forgotten moment of the region’s past: an 1879 conflagration in what is now Point Reyes Station that marked the beginning of the town as we know it.

Olema Station, the town’s former incarnation, had sprung up around a depot serving the North Pacific Coast Railroad in 1875. The town’s founding traditionally was dated to the arrival of the depot, but in a discovery that Mr. Livingston said even longtime local historian Jack Mason missed, it was not until several years later that Point Reyes Station began in earnest.

While perusing 19th century newspapers as part of research of Kentfield and Greenbrae, Mr. Livingston, who has studied the area for 30 years and for 10 worked as the official historian for Point Reyes National Seashore, discovered a turning point in the town’s history.

The Marin County Journal in 1879 reported a devastating fire. “Olema Station is not only dead, but buried,” it reported. Two hotels, along with other buildings that may have flanked them, burned to the ground. “No lives lost, except that of a wee piggy, which was kept in an alley way between the houses, and intended for a roast.”

Although the Journal noted that the town “has looked like a good place for a graveyard since,” landowner Galen Burdell acted quickly to breathe new life into the town, building a hotel and roads to Olema and Nicasio. 

In 1881,  Petaluma merchant A.P.  Whitney built a store, which he sold less than a decade later to Salvatore Grandi. The building collapsed in the 1906 earthquake, and a new one—what is now the first floor of the Old Western Saloon building—took its place. Relatives later constructed the massive brick mercantile that today is known as the Grandi Building.