El Paseo today (photo by Franklin Walther). Photographs courtesy of the Lucretia Little History Room.
Construction begins on El Paseo. Note the removed windows and exposed beams on the street level. Mill Valley Record, May 17, 1940.

El Paseo, the moniker for the gorgeous, red-bricked lane at 17 Throckmorton Ave. that has connected the street to Sunnyside Ave. for decades, is also home to Dennis McNicoll’s Gallery 15  and Jeffrey Levin and Bonnie Powers’ ever-creative Poet and the Bench lifestyle store and jewelry atelier space.

Its flagship tenant is Paseo: A California Bistro, a slightly tweaked moniker from the restaurant that legendary Mill Valley musician Sammy “the Red Rocker” Hagar owned for many years but closed in 2018 “to be able to spend more quality time with” his family.

El Paseo is the subject of the latest installment of Mapping Mill Valley History, a collaboration between the MV Chamber and the MV Public Library‘s Lucretia Little History Room in which we invite you to tour familiar streets and buildings and see how they have evolved over the years. To date, we’ve covered the O’Shaughnessy Building at 59-67 Throckmorton Avenue, currently home to the sleek home goods store Prevalent Projects, as well as the former French Laundry at 138 E. Blithedale Avenue, now home to Revery Salon, as well as MV City Hall at 26 Corte Madera Avenuethe Sweetwater Music Hall and the Mill Valley Lumber Yard.

If you have questions about this project or any of the buildings, people, or businesses mentioned please reach out to the Mill Valley Library’s History Room or Jim Welte, Executive Director of the Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Since 1948 Mill Valley has been home to El Paseo, a charming complex home to various shops, galleries, apartments, and restaurants. While its tenants have changed over the years, the arcade has stayed true to developer Edna Foster’s vision: a project that was dedicated to Mill Valley’s past but adapted to modern business.

In 1935, Mill Valley residents Edna and Henry Foster purchased the three-story historic Holtum Building at 15 Throckmorton, as well as the lot behind it on Sunnyside Avenue. At the time of purchase, the Holtum Building housed a cleaning establishment and shoe repair shop and was generally in poor shape; an “old eyesore,” as Edna Foster described it. As an active member of the Marin Art and Garden Club, the Marin Historical Society, the Outdoor Art Club, and the Mill Valley Book Club Edna was extremely involved with the Mill Valley community.

Edna hired local architect Augustus “Gus” Costigan to remodel the Holtum Building. Costigan oversaw the design of many homes and buildings in Marin, including the former Mill Valley Record offices at 70 Throckmorton and the restoration of John Reed’s sawmill in Old Mill Park. He was also elected as chairman of the Mill Valley Architectural Advisory Committee in 1960. Costigan worked closely with Edna to help her envision an adjoining complex of buildings, courts, and gardens, with a passageway running from Throckmorton to Sunnyside. She named the complex El Paseo, using the Spanish word paseo, meaning “scenic path.”

Construction of El Paseo was officially completed in 1948 and a two-day-long party, or “Fiestaval,” was held on May 15th and 16th to celebrate the opening of the complex. Festivities included an exhibition of works by the Marin County Association of Artists, music performances, and scores of food.

During its first three decades, El Paseo’s tenants included landscape architect Herman Hein, pianist Ethel Harding, photographer Phil Planert, artist and instructor Nevin Kempthorne, interior decorator Charles Durre, and illustrator Alyn Strened. Other tenants and businesses have included the Greenwood Tree art store, John Finn’s Accounting, Verne Hockett’s Insurance, and Gene Heide’s El Paseo Realty. The Christian Science Reading Room and Nora Zimmerman’s Mill Valley Health Foods were longtime occupants of the two stores facing Throckmorton Avenue. Dennis McNicoll’s  Gallery 15  and Jeffrey Levin and Bonnie Powers’s  Poet and the Bench  are among El Paseo’s current tenants.

The El Paseo Restaurant has been open continuously since 1947, under various management. The first owners were Mildred Snell and Amy Hanson. In 1957, Mary Harkins took over the restaurant and her vivid, colorful personality endeared her to the Mill Valley community for fifteen years. In 1972, Mark Bottmeyer and Gunter Kollner took over the restaurant where the menu changed from Continental to French fare. A wine bar was added 13 years later. After 33 years of continual service Bottmeyer and Kollner retired in 2005. One year later chef Keiko Takahashi and her sommelier husband Seigo Takei took over as owners. El Paseo earned a Michelin star under their tutelage. On October 7, 2009 they stepped aside as owners, ending an era of French and Continental restaurants that had lasted over 52 years. In 2011 celebrity chef and Food Network star Tyler Florence opened El Paseo House of Chops in partnership with musician Sammy Hagar. When Florence parted ways after a few years, Hagar flipped the menu to Spanish fare and remained the owner until 2018.


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