Sausalito Historical Society: Memories of Juanita

Juanita flees the fatal fire that destroyed the Fetter’s Hot Springs Hotel in 1975. Courtesy of the Sausalito Historical Society

Juanita Musson, the colorful former Sausalito restaurateuse, died Feb. 26 at Sonoma Valley Hospital following a stroke 10 days earlier. She was 87.

“By her own account, Juanita Musson has opened and closed 11 restaurants since the 1950s,” wrote S.F. Chronicle critic Grace Ann Walden in 2002. “The first was Juanita’s Galley, located on Gate 5 Road in Sausalito, and another was in an old ferryboat nearby.” That ferryboat was the legendary Charles van Damme, which had been beached off Gate 6 Road at Waldo Point.

Walden recalled: “She ruled the kitchen in her flowing muumuu, turning out sumptuous feasts of roast turkey and prime rib … She was ribald, eccentric and a damn good cook.”

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat recalled, “While in Sausalito, Juanita befriended madam and eventual mayor Sally Stanford. Often enough Juanita was asked if she’d worked for Stanford and she’d reply, ‘I never charged a nickel from a horizontal position.’ ”

According to the Arcadia Book “Sausalito,” compiled by the Historical Society, “Juanita frankly called her place a ‘dive.’

“The Galley opened at 5 a.m., and catered to fishermen. Animals, including a rescued fawn, wandered around the place. If upset with a cantankerous customer, Juanita was just as likely to throw a rolling pin or a skillet at him as serve him.”

Expectations for service were defined by Juanita’s “House Rules,” a copy of which is preserved in the Historical Society’s archives. Patrons were required to pour their own coffee and to write out their food selections on order pads, which proudly proclaimed, “Our food guaranteed — but not the disposition of the cook.”

Customers were also invited to specify their desired level of service: Slow, Don’t Care, or Damn Big Rush. However, Juanita added the caveat: “Doesn’t mean that you still get what you ask for — But check any one that will make you feel better.”

There was no complaining about the quality of the food. Juanita’s unofficial motto was “Eat it or wear it.” No one was exempt from these rules, from Hells Angels to local officials. As reported in the “Sausalito” book: “It’s a known fact that a local police officer, tired of waiting for his hamburger, left the Galley without paying. Juanita followed him and threw his hamburger through his squad car window.”

In the 1960s, Juanita left Sausalito and opened a series of destination restaurants in the North Bay. The first two, in El Verano and then Fetters Hot Springs, burned down around her. But the buoyant, busty hostess kept resurfacing in new incarnations, and loyal fans followed her to such far-flung locales as Port Costa and Willets. She eventually retired to a dilapidated cabin on the grounds of the burnt-out Fetters Hot Springs Hotel. When developers took over the property and began eviction proceedings in 2002, the Sausalito Historical Society staged a get-together and silent auction that raised $1,900 to help her relocate.

Her final years were spent at a retirement home in Agua Caliente. According to her obituary in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, “Juanita, who dressed every day in a colorful muumuu and placed a decorative comb in her grayed hair, greeted every visitor and read to each resident his or her daily newspaper horoscope.”

The home’s administrator told the Press Democrat: “Juanita also hounded the staff to make certain they provided for the residence’s pet bird. Even if the bird had enough food and water, she’d yell at you to make sure they were full to the top. She didn’t really have a censor. She was the light of the Villa. She was the nurturer.”

What a fitting epitaph.

Juanita’s last wishes were for no memorial service. Her ashes will be scattered in the bay off Sausalito.

There are many more fabulous Juanita stories, and the Historical Society would like to collect them. If you have a particular memory you’d like to share, please send it to info@sausalitohistorical society.org and SHS will add it to the archives.

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