Juanita Saves the Waterfront

Photo from Cover of Juanita! By Sally Hayton-Keeva  | post by Larry Clinton

Juanita Musson, Sausalito’s favorite fun, feisty restaurateur, first laid eyes on our town in 1952 when she joined her husband Dick, who had been stationed at the Presidio Army Base, on the west coast. After his release from the army, the couple decided to stay in Sausalito while Dick began his career selling insurance.

While Dick was traveling for business, Juanita discovered a bait shop and makeshift café called the Barnacle at the end of Gate 5 Road. The Barnacle catered to fishermen, dishing out hearty breakfasts as early as 4:00 a.m., and Juanita became a regular. But soon she found that the owner was thinking of closing the place down. According to the book Juanita! by Sally Hayton-Keeva, Juanita declared, “‘Oh, you can’t do that! Where will the boys get their breakfast? They’ll get seasick if they don’t eat first. I’ll rent the place from you,” Juanita offered after a brief meditation. “I’ve always loved catering to men,” (here speaking the famous words for the first time) “and the only way I can do it legally is to feed ’em, I guess.'” And that’s when Juanita, with no experience or cooking skills, became a restaurateur.

Here’s how the periodical Marin This Month described the Barnacle:

“A far cry from the chic seaside bistros of today, it remained during Juanita’s tenure pretty much what it had been before; a bait and tackle shop clinging with ramshackle charm to the end of a pier. A hole in the floor was left uncovered so that a line hung from the ceiling could hook the occasional minnow. A bell attached to the line signaled a catch, at which time an assortment of stray cats would assemble to partake of the feast. This procedure was often of more interest to the restaurateur than such mundane matters as refilling coffee mugs. ‘Oh, get it yourself, you got legs!’”

“From the very beginning,” says author Hayton-Keeva, “Juanita put a whole new spin on running a restaurant. ‘I never charged prices high enough to take bullshit,’ she always said. Soon there was a sign on the wall that read, ‘Home cooking complete with argument.’”

After six months of raising hell at the Barnacle, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Juanita undertook a series of moves to other waterfront locations.

She remodeled an old Marinship joint and dubbed it the Ferry Slip. In July, 1955, the Sausalito News, announced the opening of the Ferry Slip “adjacent to the Clipper Yacht Company’s Sausalito Sports Fishing Pier at the end of the Gate 5 road in Marinship.”

Herb Caen got wind of things and mentioned this new and unusual addition to the Sausalito waterfront in his column—putting the Ferry Slip on the map as a place people simply dared not miss.

One night, in Sally Hayton-Keeva’s words, “She realized that the Ferry Slip had become a favorite hangout for the type of young man who might find the name of the restaurant objectionable. Whacking down the Ferry Slip sign, she replaced it with the name Juanita’s Galley.”

Unfortunately, she didn’t have a lease on the property, and lost it when the owner’s nephew decided to try the restaurant business himself. Juanita had to move the Galley once again, this time to a location near a gas station. That move proved fortuitous both for Juanita and the town, as the San Francisco Examiner reported:

“It was a hot summer day. Juanita stepped outside the Galley for a breath of fresh air, only to inhale a lungful of benzene. Across the street a gasoline truck was being filled with such dedicated thoroughness that it had overflowed onto the pavement in a noxious little stream ambling off down the gutter toward town. Juanita began to scream, but since Juanita screaming was not an unusual occurrence, nobody paid her any attention. As Juanita tells it, ‘I know that everybody was just thinking, Oh, there goes that crazy woman again! while gas was just pourin’ all over the blacktop.’

“’Now gas and blacktop just don’t mix; the blacktop goes all soft and the gasoline explodes and nothin’ is the way it should be. If anyone woulda lit a cigarette, the whole waterfront would’ve gone up, boom!’ Eventually someone realized what “that crazy woman” was actually yelling about and the Fire Department rushed clanging to the rescue and washed the pavement down. A newspaper story the next day credited Juanita’s infamous lungs for saving the waterfront and there were hash browns on the house that night at the Galley to celebrate the lack of hash browns all over every house in town.”

The Historical Society has two copies of Juanita! In its collection and the 294-page paperback can be ordered online.

Coming next: Juanita aboard the ferry Charles Van Damme.