Marin County Genealogy

Marin County - Our Towns - Greenbrae

Hosted by permission of Cathy Gowdy of the Marin County Genealogical Society.



Planned community

Timber gave way to dairy cows, which then gave way to hillside houses and smart shops


OTGrnBrae_BonAirHotel.gif (148250 bytes)
Larkspur Heritage Preservation Board

The Bon Air Hotel, shown here in 1914, had the first swimming pool in the county. Palm trees on the property now grace Marin General.

Sitting half in Larkspur and half out of it, Greenbrae still manages to stand out as a specially designed, functional community. Before reaching its current developed state, however, Greenbrae's hills played home to a variety of diverse dwellers and projects.

For thousands of years, Miwok Indians would make their way to Greenbrae during summer and winter months to take advantage of the berry bushes that covered the hills. In 1840, the area was granted to Captain Juan Bautista Cooper as the Punta de Quentin Rancho. Eventually it came to be owned by James Ross.

Under Ross's ownership, the land was cleared of lumber in order to bring in dairy cows-the start of the Greenbrae Dairy. After Ross's death in 1862, the land was sold to earn much needed cash for his family. The area switched hands a number of times until 1890, when the archbishop of the Catholic Church of San Francisco, Patrick William Riordan, purchased the ranch for $50,000. The Catholic Church subleased the Greenbrae dairy ranch for the next 50 years.

Around this same time, at the turn of the century, other projects were also thriving in Greenbrae. In 1891, the Remillard brothers of Canada founded Remillard brickworks. Many Remillard bricks were used to rebuild San Francisco after the quake of 1906. The kiln was shut down in 1915, but was preserved after becoming part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In the late 1980s, the French restaurant Remillards incorporated the kiln into its design, and the site has continued as home to a restaurant since-currently, the new El Quijote.

Another popular turn-of- the-century establishment was the swanky Bon Air Hotel. Erected in the late 1800s, it functioned as a summer resort near the Corte Madera Creek. The hotel lured guests in with its swimming pool, dance hall and bowling alley. By 1920, the Bon Air had been sold and demolished.

In 1949, the site of the former hotel got a new look when it was chosen as the site for Marin General Hospital. The location was convenient because at that time nearly 90 percent of Marinites lived within five miles of it.

From the 1940s onward was a time of development of Greenbrae's residential areas. Developer Niels Schultz, Sr. sought to build Greenbrae into a united community that included its own shopping centers, schools and churches, along with lovely homes. He wanted all of these structures to complement and enhance Greenbrae's natural beauty. By 1947, 90 homes were occupied and another 107 lots were ready to be developed. The Schultz Company quickly gave 7 acres of the former Greenbrae dairy land to the Kentfield School District to build an elementary school. In 1952 the Bon Air Shopping Center opened.

Although Greenbrae has relied on Kentfield and other Marin towns for services such as postal delivery and education, it has, through its natural harmony and cohesive design, remained a community all its own.

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© Copyright 2007 Ron Filion and Pamela Storm. All rights reserved.