Saturday, February 13, 2010

Boyd Memorial Park

Last Sunday, February 7th, 2010 was a beautiful day in the Bay Area – cool and clear with poofy white clouds, and since I had worked on Saturday we deserved a special day off. We decided on a HALS adventure in Marin county so headed out with our dog Stella. Driving over the San Rafael Bridge Mount Tamalpias and the surrounding Marin hills appeared lushly green, and the San Francisco Bay was calm. A perfect day.

Our first stop was a non-distinguished but well-designed neighborhood park on Lucas Valley Road by Theodore Osmundson, but not suitable for HALS. Next was a development of Eichler Homes, also on Lucas Valley Road, where the landscape architect had been Robert Royston. This development retained integrity, but did not inspire me, so we headed for Boyd Memorial Park in downtown San Rafael, near the reconstructed Mission San Rafael. Original construction 1817.

Boyd memorial park was created as a memorial to Seth and John Boyd, sons of John F. Boyd and his wife, Louise. Louise was the granddaughter of Ira Cook who settled in the City of San Rafael in 1874. Cook owned property along Mission Avenue that is now occupied by “Falkirk” the original family home. The property included the Cook-Boyd home now used by the Elks Club, and Boyd Memorial Park, which includes the Boyd Gate House.

Ira Cook commissioned the Boyd Gate house construction in 1879 to house family guests. Since 1959, the City of San Rafael has used the house for the Marin History Museum. The gothic revival style guesthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Dan and Seth Cook who were successful gold miners at the Bodie Mine in California developed the gardens for these properties. Dan and Seth hired a “noted landscape architect from Boston to design the gardens” according to Judith M. Taylor, in her book “Tangible Memories Californians and their Gardens 1800-1850”. The name of the landscape architect is unknown.

The most prominent features of Boyd Memorial Park are several mature trees including several exotic species, and a beautifully detailed wall and ornamental iron fence with four richly detailed gates. The core of the wall consists of a combination of stone cobbles and brick pieces that are faced with concrete. It has a carved, granite cap and an ornately detailed, ornamental ironwork fence.

There are two gates on Mission Avenue. The west gate is about 5 feet wide and has granite gateposts and a double ornamental iron gate. The left gatepost is etched with “Boyd Memorial Park dedicated April 24, 1905”. A concrete path and two sets of concrete stairs lead uphill into the park. There is a tennis court east of this path parallel to Mission Avenue.

Further east on Mission Avenue is a second gate, marked by two very large Yew trees/Taxus baccata that form dense spheres of dark foliage. A concrete path, with narrow, 3” wide concrete curbs, leads toward the east side of the Boyd Gate House. There is a stout granite corner post at the corner of Mission Avenue and B Street.

The third gate is a low ornamental iron two-part gate directly in front of the front door of the house, now occupied by the Marin History Museum. A carved post topped with a planted urn is integrated into the wall just east of the front door.

Further east on Mission there is a fourth gate. This two-part ornamental iron gate is at a driveway that leads behind the gatehouse and up into the park and other portions of the Cook-Boyd property. This gate is flanked by two, tall, ornately carved gateposts. To the east of the gate the stonewall is engraved with the name of the park and dedication date. The driveway is currently used for picnicking.

The park consists of terraced planting beds that rise up a steep slope. Rock-lined paths meander through the park; some follow the route of a rock-lined channel. The serpentine channel is bridged in a few locations and leads to the Old Mission Spring. This spring was likely the source of water for nearby Mission San Rafael, established in 1817.

Much of the under story plantings are no longer extant but the park has many large specimen trees including Araucaria excelsa, deodar cedar, camphor, incense cedar and a variegated thuya. New plantings have been added to the park. There is a wooden flagpole on a circular concrete base in the southeast corner of the park.

North and west of the house there is a granite monument surrounded by triangular concrete paths and three southern magnolia trees. There is a drinking fountain on the backside of the monument. The dedication says: “This park is the gift of Louise Arner Boyd and John F. Boyd, dedicated to Seth Cook Boyd and John Franklin Boyd Jr. April 24, 1905.”


  1. I enjoyed your post so much. The photos are wonderful. It sounds like a wonderful memorial park.

  2. I will have to see this for myself! Lovely Post YC.

  3. Great blog, keep up the good work. Glad to see sites like this.
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  4. Wonderful report about a beautiful and very lovely memorial gift to the people of the community from the Boyd Family. So much history here, not only because of the museum, but also because of those who lived here long ago. The spring and pond in the hills above were probably central to the lives of the indigenous peoples who lived here before the Europeans came. The natural terrain is well worth exploring. That beautiful old historic gatehouse is open to the public. A wonderful place to visit! Thank you!

  5. The place really look great. The view looks so nice too.