As we’ve been reporting regularly over the past three years, Friends of No. 9, the organization formed by the Mill Valley Historical Society, Friends of Mt. Tam, Marin History Museum and others, purchased the Engine No. 9, the only surviving piece of the once world-famous Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway, which brought passengers from the Mill Valley Depot to the surrounding natural park areas from 1896 to 1929. Thomas Edison himself filmed the railway in 1898.
Since the coalition bought the engine in 2018 at auction for more than $56,000, they’ve focused on raising the money required to move, restore and relocate the massive, 36-ton locomotive. That restoration process will likely continue into 2023, organizers say. They’ve also sought to identify a place where the No. 9 could live going forward as “a crown jewel of local history and arguably the most important remaining, intact artifact from Marin’s early days,” says Eric Macris, president of the MV Historical Society.
During the pandemic, the Mill Valley Chamber has worked diligently with City of Mill Valley officials to experiment with an outdoor business use program that allowed for nimble application processing for use of both public and private space, including temporary parklets, street closures and converting outdoor spaces like parking lots into safe, convenient dining and gathering areas. City officials extended that program through June 2022. Those innovative practices have spanned across Marin and throughout the Bay Area, and Gov. Newsom signed a trio of bills last month allowing restaurants and bars to expand outdoor/parklet service, get a larger footprint for alcohol sales, and keep selling to-go beverages.
A broad array of local leaders have begun to consider the downtown’s longer-term, post-pandemic future. One possible component of that is expanding the downtown plaza into what is now part of the intersection of Miller and Sunnyside Avenues. This expansion would provide multiple benefits: more pedestrian space, improved pedestrian safety and a more attractive and people-first downtown – with no loss of parking spaces.
Coincidentally, the expansion could also make an ideal home for Engine No. 9 (rendering above). To socialize that possibility, the Historical Society organized a family-oriented building and painting of a full-size model, multi-colored model of the No. 9, both in the possible Plaza expansion area, and at the Mill Valley Community Center.
The MV Historical Society is working to create a coalition of support – which they hope will include the Chamber of Commerce and many local businesses – to urge the City to expand the downtown plaza and make a home there for Engine No. 9. “Just as it did 100 years ago, this iconic and enchanting locomotive will help bring people – residents and visitors alike – to our town’s central gathering place, highlighting the importance of the plaza, along with its historical roots, and enhancing the vitality that sustains local businesses,” Macris says.
While a design concept for the display of Engine No. 9 does not yet exist, MVHS officials say they are committed to including features to enable children to explore the locomotive in ways that are both fun and safe, along with interpretive multimedia displays that are easily modified and updated, allowing the engine to serve as a dynamic centerpiece for a revitalized plaza. That commitment to make the engine display engaging is critical to thw Mill Valley Chamber, which is relentlessly focused on supporting community vitality.
“We believe this proposal will help create a beautiful new public space that enables children and adults to interact with Engine No. 9 and learn about Mill Valley’s place in history,” Macris says. Returned to its original, historically appropriate location, Engine No. 9 will be a unique way to tell Mill Valley’s story – not only about our town’s unusual past, but also about how our community has evolved, why it looks and feels as it does, and what we want it to become in the future.”
Locating Engine No. 9 at the plaza could also serve as a magnet for private donations that could materially offset the cost of the expansion project. As word about this project has spread, the public’s enthusiasm for this piece of history has been significant. Part of this project will be a major fundraising effort to reduce public expenditures on the plaza expansion and revitalization.
Organizers have created a Change.org petition to support the plaza expansion and inclusion of the No. 9 within that space when the time is right. CHECK IT OUT HERE.
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The expansion of the Plaza is a great idea. Let’s make it happen.