The Museum’s complex of historic buildings is the stage for our visitors’ experience. They house our five galleries, a suite of offices, art and history archives storage, and spaces for other community businesses. These buildings have their own interesting stories dating back to the late 1800s when Bolinas was a little town growing around it’s embarcadero with an economy that was, until 1933, dependent on busy schooner traffic between Bolinas and the markets of San Francisco. These structures have served the community in a great variety of ways including as saloon and boarding house, meat market with post office, antiques store, county library, restaurant, water department office, surf board fabrication shop, woodshop, beauty salon, galleries, art studios, offices, stores, apartments and more.

Over the decades Bolinas residents have picked up and moved many of the town’s buildings including the Museum’s structures. The photograph above shows the original setting of our buildings.  Left, the big saloon with its distinctive doorway is facing the street corner. After the 1906 earthquake, the little market building (right) was moved behind the saloon and today it serves as our Photography and Coastal Marin Artists galleries. In 1935, owner Henry Hoirup had the big saloon building picked up and rotated ninety degrees to join it to a hotel that had been built next door. Today, visitors enter the main gallery through that corner doorway, which is now in the courtyard.

By 1988, this complex of buildings had suffered from years of neglect. Empty and rotted, it was put up for sale and seemed fated to be torn down. But, Ewan Macdonald understood the importance of preserving historic structures. Bolinas downtown architecture, with a handful of more modern exceptions, dates from between 1851 to early 1900s – and a few from the 1920s. Ewan purchased the complex and oversaw its challenging and massive restoration. He also created the lovely courtyard where there had been a rubbish filled swamp. The result is the handsome buildings that anchor the corner of downtown Bolinas.

It was a significant gift to the community.

buildings before and after

As the restoration neared completion, Ewan offered little Bolinas Museum the large room in the main building. Linda Samuels helped design a floating display wall that provided separate space for art and history exhibitions in the same room. The Museum opened there in 1989, supported by it’s thrift shop across the courtyard.

In 1996 Executive Director Dolores Richards led a successful capital campaign for the Museum to purchase the entire complex and expand its exhibition and public spaces.  Many people gave significant donations to ensure the success of this goal:

  • The Floyd Russell Family History Room for Bolinas history was established with the support of Susie Russell Buell, who spent much of her youth in Bolinas and named the room for her family parental family.
  • The Helene Sturdivant Mayne Photography Gallery was the gift of Lesly Mayne with his daughter Chrissie Mayne Crawford and son, Stephen Mayne. Their family has owned their Bolinas house since 1901. Helene was a noted pictorialist photographer.
  • The Margaret Greene Permanent Collection Gallery is supported by the John A. Sellon Family at the behest Jefferey Sellon, as a gallery to exhibit selections from the Museum’s permanent collection.  Jeffrey named the room in honor of a woman who was renowned in Marin County and Bolinas as a social activist and remarkable character.
  • The Wintersteen Courtyard is a gift from James and Beth Wintersteen, long-time supporters of the arts in America, who were instrumental during the development of the Bolinas Museum. The lovely courtyard is a welcoming place for locals and visitors to relax, and is used for many courtyard events.
  • The courtyard contains many special gifts. The Japanese maple trees and their enclosure benches were gifts from Dr. Herman Schwartz and his artist wife Leah Schwartz, art collectors David and Mary Bromwell, and from Margaret Greene in memory of her son Rogers GreeneDavid and Mary Bromwell also gifted the museum with the stone fountain by Welton Rotz that has become a centerpiece for the courtyard. The handsome stone-sculptured bench is a gift from the sculptor Welton Rotz. Bay Area metal sculptor Carl Dern was commissioned to create the gate to the courtyard through a fund provided by Friends of Jeffery Ruesch as a memorial to a man who loved Bolinas. Carl Dern gave his sculpture “Chair” as a permanent installation.
  • Gina’s Patio, between the main gallery and the Photography and Coastal Marin Artists galleries, is a gift from Mimi Griffin Jones in memory of her granddaughter Gina Marin Monaco.  The Macdonald Family gave all the welcoming benches that invite visitors to sit awhile.

In front of the street-side double doors, handmade bricks display the names of generous donors who contributed to the capital campaign. Inside the Museum, a plaque honors major donors whose sizable donations led the way in purchasing the Museum’s permanent home. The success of the capital campaign was aided by many smaller donations as well.

During Dolores Richards‘ tenure as Director she enhanced the buildings by changing doorways, adding a floating wall and hardwood floor in the main gallery, an art storage room, a history-archive room, porches on exterior doors, the gateway, courtyard storage and an enclosing fence. Each change was crafted to blend into the original structure. When Dolores retired she left the museum with newly painted and ready for the next chapter.

When Lucy Van Sands Seeburg (Vandy) became Executive Director in 2006, she had hard wood floors installed in the rest of the galleries, initiated conservation-oriented changes to the Permanent Collection gallery and, with a memorial fund honoring Amy Jordan, Vandy redesigned and renovated the history room, creating a fresh, expanded exhibition space.

Director Jennifer Gately arrived in 2012 and gave the galleries an fresh coat of paint and made great improvements to the “back of the house” including office and collection storage upgrades. Thanks to the generosity of museum friends and auction goers, the fine art collection storage space was renovated and rolling racks and humidity and light controls were installed. The collection of historic objects that were once was housed in a cramped attic, was inventoried, tagged and moved to a renovated office complete with humidity and light controls, and earthquake proof shelves, cabinets and drawers. Both collections are now easily accessible due to the upgrades and the institution of a way-finding system initiated by a newly hired Registrar.

Maintaining buildings originally constructed more then one-hundred years ago is demanding, expensive and on-going. The historic complex of buildings is certainly the jewel in the Museum’s permanent collection, welcoming locals and visitors from all over the world. We are so very grateful for the support of friends near and far for their ongoing support! Thank you!

autumn tree and gate