Louise Pepper, a stylish, commanding and compassionate career woman who spent her life at the helm of Seashore Realty, died on June 2. She was 95 years old.
Louise lived in Bolinas from a young age, after her father got a job as a mechanic for Longley Garage, the site of the current gas station. Frank Pepper, who she married, was part of a family that had lived in Bolinas for generations and was responsible for subdividing downtown. Frank, a merchant marine, was at sea most of the year, and Louise ran both her household and Seashore Realty, where she worked for 45 years, until she was 80.
“Real estate always came first,” said Connie Pepper-Lewis, who now sits in her mother’s chair at the same real estate office in Bolinas. “I really appreciate that that was what she loved, that was her passion. She was never prejudiced. She taught me to be open-minded: it doesn’t matter how much money a person has, she could always find something for them.”
Louise was born on May 19, 1924 in Santa Rosa to Louisa and John William Locknane. She graduated from Bolinas School and Mount Tamalpais High School. Her first job was as a statistician in industrial relations for Pan American Airlines in San Francisco. Reflective of the glamour her friends report her carrying into her old age, she also worked as a model for several agencies in the city. After receiving her real estate license in the late 1940s, she took up work at San Francisco Real Estate.
Louise moved back to Bolinas after marrying Frank, a friend from childhood, in 1957. Frank was one of eight siblings from a legendary family in Bolinas. Frank’s father was Louis Pepper, whose parents arrived in Bolinas in the 1880s, homesteading the land that is now Gospel Flat Farm. The parents of Frank’s mother, Marin Waterhouse, subdivided the cow pastures that now make up Brighton and Terrace Avenues in 1882. Continuing a family tradition of building, Frank and his father and brothers operated Pepper and Sons, constructing many of the buildings in the town today, including Saint Aidan’s Church, the post office and the Waterhouse Building that today houses Seashore Realty.
Growing up alongside Frank’s large family was formative for Louise, according to Connie.
“Putting up with all of those siblings, I think, was overwhelming at times, considering she was shy before she became part of the Pepper family,” Connie said. “It was intimidating. I think it gave her the strength to overcome her fears.”
Connie added, “She was a very strong personality: her opinion was her opinion and she believed in it. She was very good dealing with men, and that was way before women’s rights. She had a lot of respect in the real estate business, and it was very unusual for women to be successful back in those days.”
In 1962, Louise began working for George West, the founder of Seashore Realty. She never owned the company, but worked alongside several owners over the years, including Jane Dunn, who took over from George.
Flower Fraser, the current owner who got her start under Louise’s mentorship, said Louise was a second mother to her during their 27 years working together.
“Louise took me under her wing,” Flower said. “She was one of those people: she cared so much about everybody that she met, and she was a model for me.”
Flower described Louise’s commanding presence. “She could really handle people,” she said. “Over all those years, I saw just one client get the best of her. She really enjoyed people and was comfortable with them. If someone needed help, she would spend time talking with them, giving them advice; I saw her doing that a lot. She helped me: I was very shy back then, and had not done any business like this.”
Flower said that Louise always wore beautiful clothes and jewelry, and that she glowed: she was ageless, never having liked to spend time in the sun. She preferred to sleep in late, and “the energy in the office only started when she entered the office,” Flower said.
Tink Thompson, who found his first rental in Bolinas in 1976 with Louise’s help before he and his wife purchased property in town, said Louise always did what she thought was right and often took matters into her own hands. Tink, himself a private investigator, remembers Louise catching wind that some of her renters were taking out furniture and loading it into a van. She drove up to the house, which was on the Little Mesa, with her 38, “and fired across the bow, as it were. They all fled. That was Louise,” Tink said.
In another instance, Louise asked Tink to look into a neighbor’s plans to build a driveway through the town’s cemetery, where many of her relatives were buried. Tink told her they must have permits, but Louise, he recalled, responded: “Maybe.” Tink wound up discovering what he called a “momentous legal screw-up,” and the driveway never came to be.
Mike Aitken, a lifelong resident 20 years Louise’s junior, said she had a strong sense of right and wrong that helped to put him in his place, “back when I was a punk kid.”
He said Louise was the type of woman anybody would feel great about calling “Mom,” and “there’s not a lot of those running around.”
Mike added, “She really enjoyed helping people that needed help. Not necessarily money-wise, but for advice. She always had the right advice for the right reasons.”
Connie recounted how Louise reached all classes of people, not just those who could afford to buy homes. She developed long-term relationships with people who lived on the street; one, Connie said, “looked over my mom, like her guardian angel. She said she felt safe at night with him there, asleep at the community center. I think when he passed away, she had a broken heart.”
Louise watched big changes in Bolinas as housing prices skyrocketed. Elia Haworth, a historian and curator at the Bolinas Museum, said the ‘60s and ‘70s in particular brought a big adjustment for the Pepper family—and for Louise.
“After the oil spill, when all the young counterculture people came in, it was an interesting thing for her world,” Elia said. “The long-haired hippies were from Harvard, or else very educated and world-travelled. They saw the planned giant sewer systems and saw it as a disaster; they got on the water board and created the water moratorium. It was supposed to be temporary, but you couldn’t build a house unless you had a water meter or a well. In the end, I think Louise saw the reason behind it and was supportive.”
Connie said that part of continuing her mother’s legacy has been to collaborate with the Bolinas Community Land Trust. She has brokered two deals for the trust, including a 20-acre parcel of the ranch owned by the Tacherra family on the Big Mesa last fall and a 2.5-acre property downtown earlier this year. In memory of her mom, she is directing donations to the trust.
“Mom’s big deal was families: her family, and all the villagers,” Connie said. “It’s so important to me, in this short time I have, to donate my time as a realtor trying to fill her shoes, and to help the land trust. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have enough affordable housing or rent that is affordable. They are trying to bring family back into the community and to get the school system back on its feet, and that was my mom’s whole focus—family.”
A memorial for Louise Pepper will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Bolinas Rod & Boat Club. Donations can be made to the Bolinas Community Land Trust at P.O. Box 805, Bolinas, CA, 94924.