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Then and Now: East from San Anselmo's Hub

There are many untold stories in San Anselmo’s history.

As you approach San Anselmo’s Hub from the east, past , an apartment building and the , you see no clues of what was there in earlier times or who lived along the road and hillside above. The area, known as Bunker Hill Tract, has an interesting history.

In 1897, James and Mary Tunstead moved to a picturesque new home on this hillside overlooking the San Anselmo junction. They called their home Bunker Hill. The Tunsteads were prominent early residents of San Anselmo. James Tunstead donated the land where Town Hall and the are now, and the nearby street is named in his honor.

Mary Tunstead came to Ross Valley when she married James Ross Jr. in 1865; he died a few year later. James Tunstead, born in Ireland, came to Marin in 1866 and took up farming in Novato. In 1875, he was elected County Sheriff and served until 1880.

He married Mary Ross in 1878 and began to manage her inherited property, becoming a successful real estate agent with an office in San Rafael. Shortly after their marriage, they leased Mary’s lovely home, Linda Vista, and moved to a new home they called Magnolia Cottage (today’s Magnolia Avenue was the entrance), which was their primary residence until leasing it and moving to Bunker Hill.

Bunker Hill stood overlooking San Anselmo’s Hub for about 60 years. It is shown in the accompanying photograph circa 1907 with James Tunstead standing at the foot of the stairs. Bunker Hill sits above the Texaco Station, now the Packaging Store, in the circa 1950 photograph. 

Mary Tunstead died in 1909 and James in 1912. The Tunstead’s heirs sold Bunker Hill to San Anselmo hardware merchant Achille Bonaiti and his wife, Celia. The Bonaitis continued to maintain the beautiful home and gardens. After their deaths, the house was demolished and replaced about 1960 by the apartment building we see today. 

To the right of Bunker Hill, on the hillside above the Richfield Station (now Taqueria Mi Familia), was originally another home. Julia Brierton, the Tunstead’s housekeeper, lived there until she died in 1946. That house was demolished in 1948. 

Further to the right in the 1950 photograph is a large 2-story shingle house that still stands at 520 Red Hill Ave. It was constructed about 1913 and was originally the home of James Arthur Cahill, his sister Katherine and mother Mary.

At the time, Cahill was a well-known newspaper illustrator. He had started working as an office boy in the art department of the San Francisco Examiner and went on to be a major artist for the Overland Monthly, the San Francisco Call, Chronicle and Examiner, and other newspapers and magazines. 

In 1918, Cahill married Irene Cazeaux, the daughter of a San Anselmo hotel and restaurant owner. 

During his years in San Anselmo, Cahill became a noted portrait painter. Many prominent people sat for him, including General John J. Pershing, Brigadier General Cornelius Vanderbilt, Bank of America founder A.P. Giannini, Adolph Spreckels, Herbert Hoover, Harvey Mudd, John McLaren, and governors James Rolph and Hiram Johnson. Cahill’s north-facing studio with a large skylight is still a feature of the interior of the house. 

In 1924, the Cahills sold their San Anselmo home and moved to Pasadena. Arthur Cahill died in Oregon in 1970 at age 95. 

The unoccupied commercial building in front of the home at 520 Red Hill was constructed in the 1950s by owner William Dill for his Marin Rug and Upholstery Cleaners business. It was built as a three-story structure because in those days carpets were loose laid and cleaning them was a major project. They were picked up and brought into the shop and wet cleaned on the floor, then nailed to a wood beam and raised with block and tackle to hang vertical to drip dry. Three stories were required for the longer carpets. 

There are many interesting little histories like this yet to be told about San Anselmo.

george bennett November 21, 2011 at 03:08 AM
What about the now vacant Pavilion antiques building? What was that wonderful facade selling originally.
Kelly Dunleavy O'Mara November 21, 2011 at 05:17 AM
I don't know, but you could check out the San Anselmo Historical Museum in the basement of the library. They have lots of cool old information.
Judy Coy November 21, 2011 at 03:25 PM
It was constructed in 1924 for the Durham Garage and included a Dodge sales and showroom. See http://patch.com/A-fqrX

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