Designing History – Architecture & decorum brought to life for a new generation of locals and travelers.
When sitting in the dining room at Murray Circle, with its high tin paneled ceilings and soft toned colors, you can hear lively voices from long ago bouncing off the walls. You feel as though you are joining many others who have been there before, much like when sitting in a dining room at the Yosemite Lodge. You can sense the history. I mentioned this to an acquaintance that I had I bumped into at the bar one evening, and he said that I was imagining it, and that the space had been totally renovated and staged.
I paused for a moment, feeling a bit stung for basically being called gullible, and also was surprised that I could have possibility have imagined the historic liveliness of that space. Naturally I had to investigate. I can gleefully report that he was wrong.
“No other restaurant can fully capture the splendor of life in the San Francisco Bay Area like Murray Circle when you are seated on one of its expansive patios.” NorthBayFork.com
Some structures you enter exist to help you feel like a part of something, like a club or a business. Others are there to provide shelter while you look out at some impenetrable forest or terrain or storm. Some cause you to look forward in time, and others back. Restaurants are enormous works of art designed to create an experience for all of your senses. From the textures and materials in the furnishings, to the music and lighting, they are chosen to create an ambiance around you and their cuisine that places you in a particular era, or frame of mind. Some help you feel like a part of nature, others make the world disappear and transport you to some other time.
I am one of those people who doesn’t want to know how a movie is made, I just want to experience it. I prefer not to see the wild workings of the kitchen, and just enjoy the presentation and flavor of the food. But when a restaurant is located in a historical place, I can’t help but want to know its history, especially when I suspect that every detail and every menu item has been chosen to express that history. It makes every bite more meaningful, and I love savoring the story along with its flavor.
History: The Straight of The Golden Gate
The straight called the Golden Gate was carved by melting water rushing to the ocean as ice retreated with the ending of the ice age. Giant redwoods emerged in the shadowy valleys, and local inhabitants thrived in the grassy rolling hills on the northern side of the straight.
The peninsula reaching up to the straight was settled by the Spanish, and settlers from Russia explored and inhabited the northern coast from what is now Alaska all the way down to Sonoma County, just north of the Golden Gate. The Russians established a friendly relationship with the local Miwoks. This is in stark contrast to the area now called San Francisco, where families lived on what were once marshlands until the Spanish arrived with the goal of conquering and enslaving the land and its people. Soon after arriving they established the Mission of San Francisco, and the region, which had remained relatively the same for thousands of years, began a rapid transformation. The Russians expanded their explorations and settlement across the straight into the growing city of San Francisco. San Franciscans expanded north of the straight to establish livestock farms. Over just a few generations, tragically the original populations and culture were overwhelmed and replaced by a rush of explorers from the far reaches of our planet. That magnetism, drawing seekers of fortune from around the world continues today.
Both sides of the Golden Gate were established as military bases in order to control who could enter the straight. The city of San Francisco, and the interior of the bay had become a thriving economic hub, and its ports hosted trading ships from around the world. On the north side of the straight, the area once called Lime Point Military Reservation was renamed “Fort Baker”, and in 1901 permanent structures were built to house military recruits and officers. For the next 100 years the fort hosted these personnel. The original barracks and officer’s housing have been preserved. Murray’s Circle is in the building that was once sleeping quarters upstairs, and downstairs were a mess hall, and a “great room”, where soldiers gathered for entertainment.
Those lively voices that I had heard echoing off the wall were indeed, 100 years of soldiers from around the country eating, playing, and most certainly, a fair amount of laughter, preparing for dispatch around the globe.
Cavallo Point Resort & Spa
The fort stood while the Golden Gate Bridge was constructed in the 1920’s. If you love the thrill of library quests that include glass doors and secure reading rooms, you can view the Joseph Strauss’s final engineer’s report for the building of the Golden Gate Bridge by special request at the San Francisco Library. It is as much narrated story as it is engineering, and describes San Francisco from another era.
Fort Baker is named after a general who died during the civil war. The fort supplied personnel for WWI, WWII, and many wars since. When Fort Baker was officially closed, its management was transferred to the National Parks Service, and in 2005 its transformation to the Gold LEED certified Cavallo Point Resort & Spa began.
Editor’s Note: As always, much is left to discover after reading this article. We share only enough to entice you to visit. We also are not writing a review, there are enough critics out there. Instead we are celebrating this place that we have chosen because of its uniqueness and special place in our foodie hearts.
As you sit on the patio overlooking the great parade field, the city of San Francisco sparkles across the bay, and the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge soar skyward. They often disappear into a thick blanket of fog that usually flows in from the Pacific Ocean in the afternoon like an enormous, slowly moving tidal wave. Wind swirls in front of the wave, cooling the air even when temperatures reach into the 100’s inland, emboldening your appetite for a warm meal and glass of bourbon. The visuals, the tastes, the sound of salty sea air mixing with the fragrance of the leaves of giant eucalyptus trees surrounding the restaurant will fully engage all of your senses. Your mind will likely store the memory of this place in the category of “somewhere very special”.
Manager, Lenny Gumm
Chef Michael W. Garcia
Server, Fernando Sanchez
Arriving at the restaurant means that you have either hiked eight miles on the ridge trail from Tennessee Valley, or a shorter distance from the Headlands Hostel (a must stay even for locals), or stumbled off of the bridge by bicycle, on foot, or car to wind down narrow roads past incredibly fragrant eucalyptus trees, or you may have skirted the beautiful shore along the waterfront of Sausalito. Each is an experience on its own.
The patio of Murray Circle is enormous and on two levels. There is a view of the city and bridge from every seat, with plenty of room to social distance. Chef Michael W. Garcia has perfected his craft while working his way through the kitchens of some of the most iconic restaurants in the Bay Area. His choices for the menu at Murray Circle are clearly about color, taste, and local ingredients.
For those of you who have fallen in love with the great lodges anchoring our national parks, you will appreciate the incredible attention given to the preservation of these historic buildings, most constructed at the turn of the 20th century. The Murray Circle Restaurant inhabits a building that was once barracks on the second level with rows of bunks, and on the first level the dining hall and “day room” where enlisted men would gather to converse, play games, and pass the time.
The former military base was neatly established along the perimeter of Horseshoe Cove in the 1800’s on a meadow once inhabited by wild horses ( el caballo). What is special about this restoration and renovation is that Architectural Resources Group , in collaboration with BraytonHughes Design Studios, and in co-operation with the National Parks Service and other stakeholders, took great care to preserve as much of the original structures and interiors as possible. In an effort to minimize the environmental impact of the project, they were successful in achieving LEED certification of the buildings.
Here is a quote from BraytonHughes Design Studio, who chose the colors, textures, lighting, fixtures and design:
“The restaurant and bar feature a private Wine Room and Cooking School. The elegant dining areas celebrate the architectural detail of the restored tin ceilings, fireplaces, cast iron columns, and historic porches. The warm walnut woods, golden walls, and lush drapery compliment the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and California hill colors… the colors from the exterior flora are the design motivation, sage, golden yellow, and lupine purple.
Murray Circle and the adjacent Farley Bar at Cavallo Point encompasses the historical architecture of Fort Baker with the casual elegance of dining in the Bay Area. The timeless style combines classic furniture and lighting with the building’s own merits of original tin ceilings, restored fireplaces and views of the Golden Gate Bridge. The custom designed lighting and carpet is a modern interpretation of turn of the century design, combining past and present to enliven the interior. The colors and fabrics reflect the natural surroundings of the California hillside, the history of Fort Baker, and the atmospheric natural light of the property.”
Supporting Local Eateries
The pandemic has created heartbreak for food lovers, restaurant owners, and staff. Restaurants are a part of the fabric of our culture. Especially at our regular eateries, staff who stand there patiently as we pour over the menu only to order the same dish we always do become like old friends. They watch our children grow up, and our partners come and go, and sometimes come back again. The loss of these gathering places has felt almost unbearable. When I learned that Murray Circle had opened their patio, I felt a lurch in my heart, like when you hear that an old boyfriend is back in town. To see him would be part heartache, because you know it won’t be the same, but that yes, he would still be oh so beautiful to look at. I immediately made a reservation for dinner.
For those of us who have ventured out, I think we have all experienced the first time entering our old favorite places, seeing chairs stacked upside down on the dining tables, and the familiar staff who have taken care of us over the years covered in protective gear, risking their health to once again bring us a glass of deeply red wine. I have spent many Thursdays at Farley Bar, adjacent to Murray Circle, my night off from mothering, where I would escape to for some sophistication. I have sat at every table and bar stool, and have brought every close friend and a few dates who I deemed worthy of entering those doors. One of my favorite activities is to bring a friend to a place they did not know about that was hiding in plain site. Murray Circle is one of those places.
–Wendy Louise Nog, Editor In Chief
I have been admiring the gorgeous living works of art on display at Cavallo Point for years, so it was wonderful to have a reason to inquire about who creates these wonders. The answer was astonishing, and it solidified for me that there is a mystique to florists. They were created by an unassuming little shop in Sausalito.
The colorful front of a flower shop is designed to attract the passers by, arranged to inspire movement, the desire to pick things up and hold them out at arm’s length so as to let the colors blend together in some desired way to create some desired emotion. Inside of the usually tiny shop is a place to pay, and then there is a door…a mysterious door that goes to somewhere in the back, and from that back studio incredible living art emerges.