January 2017 First Wednesday Talk – Pacific Sun’s Steve McNamara

Steve McNamara
Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017
7 PM,  Mill Valley Library  

Steve McNamara graduated from Princeton in 1955 and since then has written for, edited and/or owned a large variety of print publications, including the Winston-Salem Journal, Miami Herald, Car and Driver magazine, Competition Press, San Francisco Examiner, Tiburon Ark and, for 38 years Steve and his wife, Kay owned, published and edited the Pacific Sun, then located across from Mill Valley City Hall. The Sun is the second oldest alternative newsweekly in the United States, after the Village Voice in New York City.

In 2008 Steve helped revive the San Quentin News as its de-facto publisher. The SQ News, which now goes to all of the state’s 36 prisons, is the only inmate-produced newspaper in California and one of the few in the world.

Steve first moved to Mill Valley in 1962. He and his wife, a therapist, have six children and live four blocks from City Hall in a house built in 1896.

Steve’s talk will focus on how the Pacific Sun helped change Marin and Mill Valley from an outpost of small-town Republicanism into a liberal enclave. Plus why San Quentin, the state’s oldest prison and one of the most rundown, is the one where most of the state’s 100,000 inmates hope to do their time. At San Quentin one of best inmate jobs available is writing for the San Quentin News, even if it only pays 37 cents an hour.

Vestige of Mount Tam’s Railroad History Returns to Mill Valley

The model locomotive at the Scenic Railway’s Mill Valley shops, December 16, 1911. Photo by Howard Folker, Sr., Howard Folker, Jr. collection. Courtesy Fred Runner.


After 86 years, an extraordinary piece of local history returns to Mill Valley. From December 9th through the month of May, the Lucretia Little History Room of the Mill Valley Public Library will display a one-of-a-kind handcrafted steam engine model that was built 105 years ago by the once world-famous Mill Valley and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway.

A fantastic work of machinery with still-working piston rods and drive shaft, the 80-pound, 57-inch-long model is a remarkable example of a Shay engine locomotive, one of the types of locomotives that once climbed Mount Tam. Employees of the Railway built the all-metal model in the railroad’s Mill Valley shops, right next to full-sized Shay steam engines.Most of the work on the model was done by Mill Valley resident Howard Folker, a conductor, engineer, and machinist for the Railway. Folker completed the model in December 1911 and that same month the engine was put on display in the Railway’s ticket office in San Francisco’s posh Palace Hotel. A 1911 newspaper article in the Sausalito News describes how holiday shoppers would crowd around the Market Street window to get a glimpse of the locomotive and its moving parts.

In 1929, after years of popularity, including passengers such as Susan B. Anthony, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, and John Muir, the Scenic Railway ran its last trains, eventually filing for abandonment in 1930. The Railway was scrapped that summer by Chicago’s Hyman-Michaels (now Azcon Metals), and the model was taken to the company’s Midwest headquarters. Earlier this year, the nonprofit Friends of Mt Tam arranged a two-year loan of the model. In April 2016, after a meticulous restoration by master modeler Phil Gazzano, the model went on display at the Civic Center Library in San Rafael.

An unveiling event and short talk by historian and Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway author Fred Runner will take place in the History Room at 1pm on Friday, December 9th. On Wednesday, March 1st, as the featured speaker of the Mill Valley Historical Society’s First Wednesday program, Runner will visit the Library to speak in more detail about the model and the history of the Scenic Railway in Mill Valley.

Many thanks to Fred Runner, Arlene Halligan and the Friends of Mt Tam for making this display possible.

First Wednesday Event for Dec. 2016 – Man vs Nature

man-vs-nature-clip
Alex Kenin

Wednesday, Dec. 7
7 PM,  Mill Valley Library  

If you’ve hiked in San Francisco, you may have enjoyed the dense forests of the Presidio, Mt. Sutro Open Space Reserve, or Mt. Davidson. Or you may have relaxed along the plentiful lakes found throughout Golden Gate Park. But what you may not realize as you explore the city’s 70 miles of trails is that much of what you’re seeing is non-native-or even manmade.

Ever since the Spanish arrived in Yerba Buena in the late 1700s, the area has undergone a transformation from its native sand dunes, coastal scrub, grasslands, oak woodlands, and lakes and creeks. Today, it is thought that 40% of the flora in San Francisco are non-native.

Alex will discuss some of the major changes to San Francisco’s natural areas and the people who drove these changes including the US Army, John McLaren, and Adolph Sutro. She’ll discuss a few success stories for habitat restoration, and a few places where you can still see San Francisco’s landscape in its original state. And why no San Francisco hiking guide is complete without including Mt Tamalpais.

 Registration highly recommended. Click here to register.


About Alex Kenin

I’m Alexandra Kenin and I’m the founder of Urban Hiker SF. Originally from New Jersey, I’ve lived up and down the East Coast in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. While living in New York in 2004, I took a vacation to San Francisco and realized I didn’t want to come home.

It took three years, but I finally moved to San Francisco in 2007. When I bought my one-way ticket out west, my father bought me a copy of Adah Bakalinsky’s Stairway Walks in San Francisco. At the time, I was a marketing manager at Google and would commute up to three hours a day. On weekends, inspired by the Stairway Walks book, I would take off to explore my new home on foot. One fateful day, a native San Franciscan friend brought me on a walk to the Embarcadero via the Vallejo and Filbert Street Steps. I loved the views from by the stairways, I loved the exercise I got from climbing them, and I loved how they seemed to be a secret to most. From that moment on, I was hooked on urban hiking.

Since then, I have fallen into an entire band of urban hiking enthusiasts. A group of us now goes on monthly day hikes – up to 30 miles in distance. We love finding new secret spots in the city and now I want to share our findings with you!

First Wednesday Event for November: Mt Tamalpais: Inspiration for action and art

gary-yost-1st-wed-11-2016
The Mill Valley Historical Society’s November 2ndevent is about Mt. Tam’s place in our community as a creative force, told through a story of connection and how Gary Yost has been introduced by the mountain to many creative friends along the way.  It’s a story that starts with Gary’s work on the East Peak as a fire lookout and how that led to his creation of the “West Peak Trilogy” — collaborating with Miwok artist Sky Road Webb and activist Peter Coyote on the film “The Invisible Peak”, street-painting artist Genna Panzarella (“Mountains Made of Chalk Fall into the Sea”) and musicians Jimmy Dillon and Lorin Rowan (“Song of the Last Place”).  Gary will take us on a guided tour, showing how those collaborations have been synergistic, leading to unexpected creations.   Gary will present the West Peak interactive timeline encompassing the full history of that forgotten 106 acres on the summit of Mt. Tam and he’ll bring us up to date on the very real restoration work going on at West Peak right now.

This special evening will feature Gary, Sky Road, Genna, Jimmy and Lorin sharing their thoughts, playing music inspired by the mountain and leading all of us in Miwok songs, accessing the pure spiritual energy that Mt. Tamalpais makes available to each of us in every moment. Registration recommended. Click here to register.


Gary Yost is a filmmaker, photographer, and 20-year resident of Mill Valley who focuses on telling stories about the interesting people and places where he lives.  He  has been using photography and technology to tell complex stories for a long time.  As the leader of the team that created Autodesk 3DS Max, he gave millions of people 3D modeling and animation tools, enabling them to use computers to visualize anything they could think of…. and a lot of those things were too large, too small, too fast or too slow to show with conventional video or photography.  These days, Yost spends much of his time on the West Peak of Mt. Tamalpais, donating his skills to the Marin Municipal Water District and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy supporting the restoration of the 106 acres on the mountain’s true summit.