The Corinthian Yacht Club

Landmarks History Collections Photo c. 1920

One of the most prominent buildings on the Tiburon waterfront is the Corinthian Yacht Club. Located on a point of land at the end of an island named for the yacht club it is visible from almost anywhere on or around the northern part of San Francisco Bay.

The Corinthian Yacht Club was founded in 1886 by a group of men who wanted a club which emphasized small boat sailing and racing. A small boat was a yacht under 45 feet in length. Previously, on long cruises by the two existing yacht clubs, the larger yachts would pull away leaving the smaller boats on their own. Club races were also dominated by the larger boats.

The word corinthian means amateur yachtsman, and the promotion of yachting by those who did not employ professionals to sail and maintain their vessels was one of the goals of the new club. In order to keep the focus on sailing the new club planned a plain club house where “no liquor, cigars or refreshments shall ever be sold on the premises,” a rule that did not last long.

The first cruise was held on May, 29, 1886 and the first regatta on June 19, 1886. James M. Donahue, son of Peter Donahue who founded the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad with its terminal in Tiburon, donated $400 toward the $1500 cost of building the first clubhouse. The members did much of the work themselves and the clubhouse was opened in record time in April 1887.

The club soon had several hundred members overflowing the facilities. A fire in the club house meant the end for this first building. A new clubhouse (seen above), designed by architect Walter H. Parker, was constructed at a cost of $25,000 on the site of the first clubhouse. It opened on July 4, 1912.

The new building was three stories above the water, and featured a 40 by 80 foot paneled ballroom, a dining room, a bar and storage facilities for members boats and equipment. By this time the club was known for its parties and “High Jinks” shows, so a stage was incorporated in the design.

Activities ware curtailed during World War I as many members were off serving their country. Not so during prohibition. The club, like most of Tiburon, was wide open. Anyone with a boat could visit the Canadian ships loaded with whisky just outside the three mile limit, and everyone at the club had access to a boat. The railroad ferries also brought liquor, or some substitute for it, from San Francisco by the barrel. The Corinthian parties continued unabated.

Beginning in the 1890′s the houseboats, known locally as “arks” that spent the summer months in Belvedere Cove, would be moved into the lagoon in Tiburon to avoid the winter storms. A draw bridge at the intersection of Main Street and Beach Road would be opened in the spring and fall to let them pass. “Opening Day” became the cause of many parties and parades, both on land and on the water. The Corinthians took part with relish.

A permanent road on the site of the drawbridge was built in the 1920′s ending this colorful part of our history. That is, until the 1960′s when Opening Day was revised with the Blessing of the Pleasure Fleet ceremonies at the Corinthian Yacht Club.

Opening Day on the Bay begins the yachting season for all the clubs on San Francisco Bay and begins with a breakfast at the Corinthian Yacht Club followed by the Blessing of the Pleasure Fleet. A Navy vessel or Coast Guard cutter anchored in Raccoon Strait in front of the Club is the setting for the ceremony. A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister and a Jewish Rabbi standing on the stern bless all the pleasure boats that pass by. Many of these yachts have taken part in the decorated boat parade along the San Francisco waterfront providing a colorful addition to the Tiburon parade.

The club has matured along with the developments in the Town of Tiburon. It has expanded to include berths for about 100 yachts, and finally acquired the land for a parking lot. The club has continued its emphasis on yacht racing and is host to the Friday Night Races that bring yachts from the entire Bay to Tiburon each week during the sailing season.

The old building was completely renovated and brought up to modern building codes in 1963. It will continue to be Tiburon’s showpiece on the Bay for years to come.

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