THE GARDEN OF EDEN — IN MARIN COUNTY

It is the beginning of Summer and wherever I look, I see flowers, They are everywhere. Not only in people’s gardens, but on the hills, in the valleys, the medians in the road and at the water’s edge.  This is the Garden of Eden, and the people who live here must be “ the Chosen People” to be surrounded by so much beauty.

Where is Marin County ? It’s more easily accessed than you’d think — Marin is the county between San Francisco and Sonoma County. One gets there by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge by car and following the 101  Freeway North, or taking the Larkspur Ferry from the Ferry Building in Downtown San Francisco  to where it berths at Larkspur Landing in Marin County.  Many people who work in the city prefer to take the ferry and avoid the traffic, especially at peak hour.  On a good day, both routes take about thirty minutes, depending on the time of day for motor traffic and the wind and current for the ferry.

Marin has it all:  forests, beaches, creeks, waterfalls, views, the ocean and some of the cleanest beaches to be found anywhere.  There is such biodiversity, different ecosystems and microclimates,   Plants grow easily here where the soil, topography and climate seem to favor them — flowers are profuse.

Flowers aren’t the only ones who thrive. The deer are protected as they have lived here forever and arrived before the homeowners who took over their territory.  They are tame, roam free … and procreate in this Garden of Eden, adding to their numbers each year.  Moving freely through the hills and valleys of Marin in herds, they make gardening a challenge, gnawing at young plants growing in the gardens, favoring especially the roses when they are in bud.  This ruins the flowering season and upsets the homeowners, who live here and pay taxes – while the deer are freeloaders. But no earthly paradise is perfect…

Real estate is attractive.  Up in the hills, there are mansions of significant size with astounding views of the water and the little harbors with boats bobbing in the breeze….

… or the Golden Gate Bridge …

…or what looks like a miniature  San Francisco in the distance. The view is, of course, an important component of the price of the house. As one descends, so does the price of the houses.

Marin has become very developed and the neighborhoods run into one another, but each has its own character.  San Rafael, Sausalito, Tiburon, Corte Madera, Mill Valley, Greenbrae, Larkspur and Ross are some of the more recognized names.  The architectural styles are diverse.

There are a number of Queen Ann Victorian homes, carefully preserved and maintained with mature gardens and trees that are over one hundred years old.  Many are listed on the National  Register of Historic Homes in Marin County.

Other styles are represented: Colonial, Tudor. Georgian, French Provincial, Mediterranean, Craftsman,  Ranch, Bungalows and Cottages.  There are even mid-Century homes designed by Eichler, and in amongst all of this are some spectacular modern homes, several having been featured in design magazines.

The main business street in Larkspur is a declared historic neighborhood and many buildings in the center of Mill Valley are also historic.  This is some of the most expensive real estate in the country — and even cottages the size of a double garage are snapped up soon after going on the market, re-affirming Marin’s desirability.

Marin also has the Muir Woods, George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and the Frank Lloyd Wright Designed Civic Center,  built on one hundred and forty acres of prime land in San Rafael.

Built high up with an expansive view over its domain, it can be seen from the 101 Freeway where the design from a distance resembles a spaceship. The project was awarded to him in 1958 and opened in 1962 — Frank Lloyd Wright was in his nineties when he was designing this building and died in the final planning stages, so he never got to see his iconic and final masterpiece.  Despite his death, the construction of the building was completed by his West Coast Associate Aaron Green and his senior architect William Wesley Peters, both remaining faithful to his design.

Arches and circles are the theme of this building, which has three floors of arches and one floor of double circles, with a huge dome connecting the two structures that make up the Civic Center.  All the interior furnishings and details of this project were designed by the architect — including the doorhandles. Some of the custom designed furniture was made in San Quentin State Prison by their woodworking Department!

The Civic Center is now a State and National Historic Landmark Building and has been nominated to be a UNESCO Historic Site. Twice a week, there are docent led tours of the Civic Center, lasting ninety minutes and covering the stormy events leading up to Frank Lloyd Wright being given this commission and the intricacies of the architecture.

Speaking of prisons, there are two in Marin, the County Prison tucked into a hillside near the Civic Center and the other, more well-known San Quentin State Prison.  While the accommodation is much cheaper than the surrounding residences, I suspect the living quarters are cramped and the view is restricted !!

People in Marin have a genuine interest in the movies.  There are three historic Art Deco movie theatres, all of which have been saved from demolition by the local communities.

The Christopher B. Smith on Fourth Street in San Rafael is an art deco building originally built in 1918 and renovated in 1938 — and again in the early 2000s.

The Lark on Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur, a single screen theatre opened in the 1940s went  through a total update when it was saved in 2012. And the Sequoia on Throckmorton Street in Mill Valley dates from 1929 when it showed silent movies with accompaniment from a Wurlitzer Organ. It was completely updated a few years ago with new technology and sound system.

The Sequoia is part of the Mill Valley Film Festival that takes place annually and creates a real buzz in the community with all the showings and  accompanying events.  The movies shown at all three are mostly award-winning films, foreign films and recordings of opera, ballet and theatre.

Everyone complains about the cost of living, of course, but they do nothing about it, such as move away to a less expensive neighborhood. The reason is obvious: this is where they want to live – and who can blame them? People shrug their shoulders and exclaim: “Well, it’s Marin !!” as if that explains everything.

From my own unscientific observation, there seem to be more Tesla cars on the roads here than any other place in California (I am known to exaggerate !!)  – indicating a concern for the environment.  People in Marin are mostly educated (I said mostly), opinionated (everyone), politically aware and civic-minded.  It is a good place to bring up a family.

I’dd like  to say that in this paradise there are no drugs but alas, even among this demographic there are too many kids on drugs – and adults, even if it is recreationally.  People on the whole look healthy, however, and they are health conscious.  I am not into hiking, but it seems everyone else is in Marin, and this is an activity for the dogs of Marin, too. It’s close to the Muir Woods, Tam Mountain and the Marin Headlands and all have well-trodden hiking trails.

That’s a bit of background on Marin County, but in fact it is different things to different people. To all  who are blessed to live here, it is an enviable lifestyle (Please feel free to disagree, but only if you are humorous.  No nasty or hostile remarks are allowed. because  they will be zapped. Keep it light!)

All the flowers shown in this blog were found in various Marin neighborhoods, mostly growing in the hills, on the sidewalks.  the shopping centers, industrial parks, and gas stations.  Some images came from  Lisa and Anthony’s garden and other than those, everything is available. to everyone, free to enjoy.

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