Old-Country Charm with a View
An old-fashioned rose arbor, colorful flower-beds, a country cottage and a panoramic view of Richardson Bay give the Art & Garden Center its rustic but refined charm. Garden pathways link the lawn and terraces, and an antique bell and distinctive birdhouse add finishing touches.
The property was part of the earliest settlement on the Tiburon Peninsula—John Reed’s Mexican Land Grant, El Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio. The Cottage (c. 1870), believed to be the oldest structure on the Tiburon Peninsula, was originally a bunkhouse for workers at the Rancho’s brick kilns in an area called the Hilarita, which was named for Hilarita Reed Lyford, heiress to the 1834 land grant. Working class homes and a dairy, which was located where Reed School is now, were part of the neighborhood as well.
When the Northwest Pacific Railroad came to Tiburon in 1884, it added a stop called Hilarita station to the tiny community. The trains served passengers and also carried bricks from the kilns to construction sites in the North Bay and to ferries for transport to San Francisco.
After the kilns stopped operating, and the Rancho no longer needed to provide housing for workers, the Reed heirs expanded the bunkhouse and turned it into a residential cottage, which they rented to tenants. In 1944, artist William Newman and his wife Helen, an ardent conservationist, purchased the property and transformed the farmyard into a garden while preserving the historic house.
Fifty years later, Mrs. Newman bequeathed the property to the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society for use as an art center and to preserve the gardens. The society took on the task of restoring the cottage in typical farmhouse style and bringing it up to modern building codes, using rough-hewn materials from the original building as well as those of similar age.
The Newmans created the country garden and did most of the work themselves with guidance from a plan by Leland Noel, a noted landscape architect and botanist. The Landmarks Society preserved mature trees, shrubs and plants that had survived years of drought and neglect and made modifications to allow public use and accommodate current conservation practices. Master gardeners and volunteers planted the terraced acre with colorful flowerbeds and created restful vista points, and local residents contributed thousands of used bricks to complete the terraces and pathways.
The cast-iron bell at the side of the cottage was originally a fire bell for Belvedere Island, sounding the alarm to let firefighters know that their services were needed. When telephones came into vogue, operators began calling firefighters to alert them, and the bell found a new home at Belvedere School where it summoned children to class. It also chimed daily at 4 p.m. to tell children playing in the island’s open spaces that it was time to go home. It now hangs from a farmyard post, and celebrants ring it to mark special occasions.
The lovely 5-foot-by-7-foot pagoda birdhouse is a Victorian garden folly that dates from the 1890s, a time when oriental objects were fashionable, and was a fixture in the garden at 207 Beach Road, Belvedere, for many years. Mindful of its history, the owners donated it to the Landmarks Society for preservation in the Art & Garden Center.
Today, the picturesque Cottage and Garden, at the foot of the Tiburon hills with a spectacular view of Richardson Bay, make the Art & Garden Center a popular spot for weddings and private parties.