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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Historic Schwingers' Pad for Sale

We were surprised and a little excited—in a good way—to see that the old Swiss Club recently went on the market. (Asking price is $4.995 million.)

Anyone who's hiked Mt. Tam and put in around the Mountain Home Inn in Mill Valley has surely seen it: a sprawling, wooden chalet that, until a few years ago, had the words "Swiss Club" on its door. We figured it for some kind of Alpine hiking club (was excellent European beer on tap inside?) but we didn't know anyone who was a member, or even anyone who knew a member. Since the "For Sale" sign has stimulated recent discussions about the place, we figured it was a good time to head over to the library to investigate.

All we can say is: Who knew Swiss immigrants were such schwingers?

It turns out that there were many Swiss saloons in San Francisco in the early 1900s. Homesick for the Alps, many expats enjoyed taking the ferry to Sausalito and hiking to Mill Valley. Armed with pickaxes and shovels, they began clearing a path on the hillside—so they could haul a sled full of construction materials up the grade, and build a clubhouse. (The path would later become Edgewood Avenue.)

They raised a house in 1920 and dubbed it Schweizer Verein Tell—or Swiss Club Tell—after the apple-shooting, 15th century Swiss hero, William Tell. After the building slid downhill in a big storm, they rebuilt and that house is the one you see today.

For the first few decades of its existence, the Swiss Club Tell hosted parties and picnics and housed "a certain piece of equipment which was able to produce some kind of a liquid which looked to the uninitiated like holy water," according to reminiscences from early members. "But it was of much greater proof. It is said that those mountain waters supplied the necessary spirit in various Swiss saloons in the city."

During the Great Depression, "the club decided to open its doors for those few unfortunate enough to have lost their job and with it their place to live."

By the 1950s, the place was swinging. Or more accurately, schwinging: "There was a major gathering every month, including a Fastnacht dance, a March festival, a Hobo ball in April, a Mayfest and a Summer dance....They held several Schwingfests."

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Fast forward to the 50th anniversary gala in 1970, when both San Francisco's Swiss Gymnastic Club and Swiss Singing Club (practices were every Thursday at 8 p.m., all welcome) sent their congratulations. These were the days of raucous yodeling contests and dancing to Al Fassler's Swiss Orchestra.

Eventually, however, the club fell on hard times; the property was sold and, in the 1990s, the neighbors strenuously opposed the new owner's plan to connect the property to the city's sewers. He won on sanitary grounds. When the place sold in 2004, it fetched $2.75 million.

According to the current listing, $4.995 million buys you a "main lodge and three charming guest cottages...dramatically restored with character and attention to detail. The grounds are breathtakingly beautiful, with approximately 65,000 sq ft. of sun-drenched redwoods, lawns and private stone patios."

This time around, we're taking up a collection to buy it. We'll revive the yodeling contests.

[See related 2002 San Francisco Chronicle post]

[Photo credit: Swiss Club Tell file]


Bill Stoudt said...

Thanks for clearing that up. I always wondered what went on inside that place.

Sven Svensen said...


Ed Fennick said...

We used to stop here for a beer when we were hiking the mountain. Back when people cared less about real estate, and more about living off the grid.