Clockwise from left: The Octagon House is now the Jose
Moya del Pino Library; the
Kittle mansion, transformed
into a Queen Anne after the
couple bought it in 1882, and
barn; the Barn Theater, home
of the Ross Valley Players; the
Kittle Sunnyside Estate.
IT WOULD BE A DANDY PLACE TO BUILD
homes, the owners of a 10-acre site across
from Ross’ City Hall decided. A creek splashed
through it, and homes would be shaded by
native oaks and exotic trees planted by two of
Marin County’s pioneer families.
But Caroline Livermore, a midcentury conservationist, had a different vision. She and
her friends, mostly women, all pioneers of the
movement to preserve open space, helped save
the site for public use and dubbed it the Marin
Art &Garden Center in 1945.
Antonia Adezio, who runs the nonprofit
center today, sees it largely as a peaceful oasis
approaching its well-deserved 75th anniversary
in 2020, but the place bristles with an exciting,
Most people enter the quiet flower-filled
grounds through its main gate, but to better
appreciate its story, use the entry just to the
east, up the original carriageway that went
to a no-longer-existing home owned first by
George and Annie Worn since 1864 and then
by Jonathan and Harriet Kittle starting in 1882.
Annie Worn, who owned most of what is
today San Anselmo, was the daughter of James
Ross, the town’s namesake. The Worns’ home
on what is today the MAGC property was a
substantial ranch house; the Kittles transformed
it into a Queen Anne mansion after they bought
it in 1882. Jonathan Kittle was an early settler
Tragedy struck in 1931, first when the Kittles’
son died from eating toxic mushrooms, then
when the mansion burned in 1931. All that
remains of the original homestead are a fairy
ring of magnolia trees that sprouted from the
magnificent Southern magnolia that bordered
the mansion, a barn, and an eight-sided two-story structure, built in 1864, whose elegance
belies its original function as a pump house.
In the ever-evolving center, the Octagon
House, as the pump house is now called, became
the Jose Moya del Pino Library, named after the
Coit Tower muralist who also helped found the
garden center, in the late 1960s. In the past,
though, the pump house has served as a billiard
room, a residence, and an informational center
for the county fair from 1947 to 1970.
The barn, theater for Ross Valley Players,
has been a site for local theater since 1939.
Photographers, bird-watchers and dog walkers
can still enjoy the rose garden, the basketry garden
and such remarkable trees as the dawn redwood,
English oak and giant sequoia, all of which add
to the rustic bay region flavor left by midcentury
architects who helped design the center.
Landscape architect Thomas Church worked
on the center’s master plan. The Pixie Park
playground, originally designed by landscape
architect Robert Royston, remains popular with
center visitors. During the late 1940s, Gardner
Dailey created an art studio that today holds
exhibits. The whimsical Bottle House is a 1948
creation by Ray Oleson, and a cluster of understated modernist buildings by Don Emmons,
of the firm Wurster Bernardi & Emmons,
genuflect to the site.
And yes, a few new homes were built on the site,
and some were later incorporated into the garden
center. One repurposed house is now an antiques
consignment shop redolent with history. n
REAR WINDOW BY DAVID WEINSTEIN
Marin Art & Garden Center
celebrates its past while
moving into the future.