Long before Tiburon became a popular suburban residential town it was the center for a variety of industries. Dairies, railroading including the manufacturing of equipment, cod fish processing and canning, and army and navy installations employed most of the population. One of the more unusual industries located in this now environmentally sensitive community was a ship crematory. The great sailing ships that had dominated international commerce for generations had become obsolete with the introduction of steam powered vessels.
Even some of the sailing vessels that had added steam power still used side wheels for propulsion. In this category was the S.S. China. Built in New York in 1866 it traveled around the horn to reach its home port of San Francisco. After thirty round trips to Yokahama and Hong Kong the wooden hulled China was consigned to the Tiburon ship breakers for destruction. Steel hulls and propellers would rule the seas from now on.
The practice of ship breakers of that environmentally liberal era was to salvage any parts of a vessel that could still be useful, such as masts and rigging, anchors, and any other metal objects, then burn the ship to the waterline and sink the rest.
The S.S. China, however, had on its main deck a magnificent social saloon, a Victorian reception room with walnut woodwork, cut-glass floral window panes and oil burning chandeliers of brass hung with crystal prisms. A grand staircase led up from the first-class dining room on the promenade deck below so that passengers could take their afternoon tea or after dinner drinks in this beautiful setting. A mast went through the ceiling, and two officers cabins were attached.
When the China arrived in Tiburon Cove and was being stripped in preparation for burning, the social cabin was removed intact and placed on a barge. It was towed to Belvedere Cove where it was used as a private residence for the next ninety years. In later years it was hardly recognizable, located on pilings along Beach Road, concealed under a shed roof and innumerable coats of paint.
The Belvedere Tiburon Landmarks Society acquired the China Cabin in 1978 and undertook the restoration. Most of the structure including windows and shutters were either intact or could be restored. The gold leaf was restored by artisans familiar with the technique of the period. It was move to new pilings and is visible from most of Belvedere Island and much of downtown Tiburon. It, and the Landmarks Society have won many awards for historic preservation.
The China Cabin is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from April to October, from 1:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon.
Private parties and group tours may be arranged through the Landmarks Society, please visit
http://www.landmarks-society.org or call 415-435-1853 for further information.