A Victorian Reception Room
The glitter of 22-karat gold greets visitors to the China Cabin, once the elegant social saloon of the PS China, giving them a glimpse of the old-world luxury and attention to detail that first-class passengers enjoyed when the ship first sailed from its home port of San Francisco.
The Victorian saloon, now a fixture on the Belvedere waterfront, boasts elaborate walnut woodwork, etched-glass windows panes with a floral design and oil-burning brass chandeliers hung with crystal prisms. The walls and arched ceiling are panels of wood painted with crisp white paint, highlighted with gold leaf.
The walnut border on the white oak floor marks the location of a grand staircase that led to the first-class dining saloon and cabins on the promenade deck below. The circle on the ceiling and the compass rose on the floor indicate the spot where the mid-mast went through the saloon. To complete the picture, period furniture with original horsehair fabric is located in the sitting area. Ship’s officers occupied two staterooms at the end of the China Cabin that is closest to shore. Original access was from the deck, but the former cabins have been converted into a galley and a lavatory with access from the interior.
The Pacific Mail Steamship Company commissioned the construction of the PS China, a side-wheel steamer rigged for sail, in 1866 to service the route between San Francisco and the Far East.
It was built in the famous William H. Webb Shipyard in New York City and was one of the four sister ships the United States Postal Service ordered to carry mail and passengers from California to Asia.
Although it had a colorful life, the ship was destined for a short career because it had a wooden hull. By 1879 iron-hulled vessels had come into regular use, and after 30 round trips to Yokahama and Hong Kong, the PS China became obsolete. It was burned for scrap metal in a ship crematorium in Belvedere Cove, but first the social saloon was removed intact, barged to shore and set on pilings. It took on new life as a weekend home, and during its 90 years as a residence, locals, who regarded the unique shoreline structure with affection, gave it a new name—the China Cabin.
In 1978, the former first-class saloon was designated a National Maritime Monument, and the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society took on the task of restoration. With cooperation from the City of Belvedere as well as donations from community members and grants to underwrite costs of $600,000, it completed the project in 1986, thus returning the China Cabin to its former splendor as a Victorian drawing room.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation featured the social saloon of the PS China as its cover story in the magazine Historic Preservation, March-April 1991, in recognition of the quality of restoration and its national importance as a unique landmark.
Today, the China Cabin is a wonderful site for celebrations such as weddings, reunions, corporate meetings and private parties and is also a popular site for elopements.
Private group tours: Landmarks offers group tours for all of our historical properties. Whether for senior excursions, school visits, or just large groups (10 or more) from out of the area – our docents teach the exciting history of this beautiful area and each Landmark. The easiest accessible sites are the Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum and the China Cabin. (Old St. Hilary cannot accommodate large buses; therefore, groups need to walk about 100 yards uphill to gain access.) We ask for a donation of $5 per person/per site to be paid in advance to help defray the operating and maintenance costs of each of the sites. For more information, please call Landmarks at 415-435-1853.