March 2017 (republished from December 2001)
On March 31, 1934, 11 Homestead residents formed the Homestead Progressive Club. Bill Brown, a grocer on Montford, loaned the club $2000 to build a community center on Miller between Montford and Evergreen in Homestead Valley. Local carpenters volunteered their time for the construction. Brown’s Hall was initially used for carpenters’ union and boy scout meetings, but it soon became the center of other activities. In 1947, Mill Valley annexed the two-block long commercial strip on Miller Avenue. From then on, Brown’s Hall was within the city limits of Mill Valley.
In the late 1950’s, Brown’s Hall was suffering from lack of maintenance, and was no longer serving the community very well. The Homestead Valley Improvement Club, formed on June 12, 1951, had trouble meeting its expenses. Real estate taxes owed the city of Mill Valley were a particular drain. In March 1960, the board of governors voted 19 to 3 to accept a $17,500 offer for Brown’s Hall. Jo Schlesinger, president of the Improvement Club, was determined to save Brown’s Hall. The deed of conveyance specified that the property could only be sold with the approval of the community. Election results were 130 against and 13 for selling.
Jo rallied community volunteers, first to clean up Brown’s Hall, and then to develop ideas for producing at least one money-making event every month. As a result there were lectures, plays, art shows, concerts, dances, etc.
Will Geer, a famous impresario, initially brought morality plays, and later performed in his memorable Mark Twain monologue. Local acting talent organized themselves into the Homestead Players. Sali Lieberman’s involvement in the theatrical productions led to the establishment of the Marin Theater Company which today offers highly rated plays in its theater across the street from Brown’s Hall. A Candlelight Concert series of five winter concerts, including three by the Bach to Mozart Players with musicians from the San Francisco Symphony, began in 1960 and continued until 1978. In 1962, the same group presented an outdoor concert in Stolte Grove. These concerts continue to be held every year on the day before Labor Day.
Such are the legacies of Jo’s rescue of Brown’s Hall. Tune in next month for the second rescue and its transformation in response to a higher calling.
If you have comments or questions about this article
or other topics pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.