HISTORYNA Brief History of Fairfax

by Margaret Miles, Fairfax Library Branch Manager
(photo courtesy of Fairfax Historical Society)

The town of Fairfax is named for Charles Snowden Fairfax, a descendant of English lords.  Rather than accept his title as Tenth Lord of Fairfax, he went instead to the gold country in California, and in 1851 he became active in California politics.  After marrying in 1855, he visited his old friend Dr. Alfred Taliaferro at his estate, and the good doctor gave the couple his property as a wedding gift.  Charles and Ada, known jokingly to their friends as “Lord and Lady Fairfax,” were renowned for their lavish entertaining at Bird’s Nest Glen, and the phrase “let’s go to Fairfax” became a common expression.

In the 1890’s, the original Fairfax property was sold to Charles and Adele Pastori, who created Pastori’s hotel and restaurant.  Visitors from San Francisco could take the ferry and railroad to Fairfax for the weekend, and one evening lucky diners heard Irving Berlin play piano from the tree platform in the outdoor dining area.  Though the original restaurant burned in 1911, Adele rebuilt.  That structure still remains on the property, which became the Marin Town and Country Club from 1925 until the 1970’s.

As the town of Fairfax grew, and hillside lots were being developed, an incline railroad was built on Manor Hill, and opened in 1913 to great fanfare.  Many lot owners pitched tents on their sites before building summer homes or permanent residences.  A tavern at the top of the line had an outdoor dance floor with a spectacular view, and if the tavern got a tip-off call, it was said that any illicit activities could be hidden before the law reached the top of the hill.

Fairfax was the site of numerous Broncho Billy westerns in the early 20th century, and several movie companies filmed in the area.  The film “Salomy Jane” is still occasionally shown by the California Room at the Civic Center Library.

While all of Marin County was known as hip and mellow in the 1960’s and 70’s, Fairfax acquired a unique reputation as a center for grooviness, owing to its string of nightclubs, the amazing musicians who performed, and the audiences who showed up and often spilled into the town.  Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead once played a softball game in the local ball field, an event which is still discussed (but you’ll have to find a local to tell you who won).   Today Fairfax is still a center of musical activity, with art galleries, boutiques and distinctive restaurants adding to the mix.  Mountain bikers frequently use Fairfax to start for points east, and the mosaic installed on Bolinas St. in 2012 commemorates their role in Fairfax’s long history.

As the Coast Miwok Indians were the first to discover, Fairfax is fortunate to receive warmer weather than most of Marin; while Sausalito is buried in fog, it is frequently sunny here.  Early billboards promoting the Marin Town and Country Center in 1964 boasted “when it’s cold and foggy in San Francisco, it’s like this over here!”  Though much has changed, the weather is still just as beautiful, “only in Fairfax.”

For more information go to the Fairfax Historical Society website:   www.fxcahs.com