Take a walk along Tiburon’s Old Rail Trail next to Richardson Bay any time of day or evening, and you’ll see dozens of individuals and families from all over the Bay Area enjoying the expansive views of water and birds. Located just around the corner is the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary, where you can wander the grounds for hours in search of raptors, waterbirds, songbirds, and more. What a treasure they are for everyone to enjoy!
What you may not know is that instead of a home for birds and other wildlife, most of Richardson Bay was once slated to become a business area and residential marina with as many as 2,000 homes. In 1949, Reedport Properties, a development company based in Tiburon, bought 879 acres of tidelands in Richardson Bay and unveiled plans to construct a yachting area similar to those in Southern California and along the east coast of Florida.
Saving Richardson Bay
Concerned citizens sprang into action, rejecting the development plan and raising funds to purchase the subtidal parcels from Reedport Properties. Realizing that Richardson Bay was part of the Pacific Flyway and an essential winter and spring stopover for thousands of wintering waterfowl, the National Audubon Society pledged $25,000, raising most of that sum from Marin County citizens. Through additional individual contributions, a bond issue, land donated by the Belvedere Land Company, and money from the California Department of Transportation, enough funds had been raised by 1957 to purchase 624 acres of Richardson Bay tidelands and the knoll along the Tiburon shore.
The National Audubon Society offered to manage the new bird refuge and water recreation area that we now know as the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary. Instead of a yachting harbor, which would have closed off public access, everyone can enjoy an open bay, rich with wildlife. Moreover, thousands of wintering waterbirds have a peaceful place to rest in the winter months.
Moving the Lyford House
As you visit or drive past the Richardson Bay Audubon Center & Sanctuary you can’t help but admire the ornate, yellow Victorian-era Lyford House that serves as its visual crown jewel. Built in 1876, the Lyford House is one of the oldest homes in Marin County. Once located on the east side of Strawberry Point, it was originally owned by Hilarita Reed and her husband Dr. Benjamin Lyford and served as the homestead for their Eagle Dairy Ranch. (Hilarita Reed was the daughter of John Reed, whose original Mexican land grant today comprises Tiburon, Belvedere, and much of southern Marin County.)
Damaged during the 1906 earthquake and neglected, the Lyford House was set to be demolished to make way for the new Harbor Point development on Strawberry. Instead, in 1957, Dr. David Steinhardt, who‘d helped organize the Richardson Bay Foundation to fight the Reedport development, asked if he could have the old house if he moved it. With help from conservationist Caroline Livermore, architect John Lord King and tugboat operator Tom Crowley, the historic home was barged across Richardson Bay and winched onto the 11-acre property previously deeded to the National Audubon Society by Rose Rodrigues da Fonta, Tiburon’s “Goat Lady.” The cost of restoring the old home on its new foundation was donated by Noel Dickey in memory of her husband Donald. Several local families and supporters donated period furniture, documents, and original John J. Audubon artwork.
How truly fortunate we are that more than seventy years ago, visionary and determined citizens put in the effort to save Richardson Bay and the Lyford House. How much richer our lives are as a result, and how better off are the numerous birds, fish, and other creatures that call the Bay their home.
Special thanks to the Landmarks Society for their work in preserving the history and architecture of Marin.