Moments in Time

Sausalito Historical Society Newsletter - Summer 2014

A Taste of Al Sybrian - 1924-2007

How The Seal Found Its Place

  A long standing complaint about the unsightliness of a manhole cover seldom leads to the placement of an iconic sculpture, but here in Sausalito in 1957 such an unlikely event occured.
  Sculptor Al Sybrian had been sketching sea lions from his cottage below the old Hearst wall for years and in 1957 finally approached his neighbor, Mr. Gratama, with his wish to create a sculpture of a sea lion to place on the waterfront.  Mr. Gratama and other neighbors agreed it was a great idea and pulled together $100 for materials. Sybrian set immediately to work on is vision.
  After three months his benefactors stood in amazement at the flow of natural energy emanating from the concrete sea lion in his studio. All agreed it was a fine creation now they just needed to find a permanent home for it.
  While working to create the Sea Lion sculpture, Sybrian was also in conversation with his up hill neighbor who lived where William Randolf Hearst had once planned to build a mansion. The view from Dr. Wipers home rivaled any in the Bay Area and included Belvedere, Angle Island and San Francisco Bay. But a single eyesore intruded into the perfect panorama; a five foot tall {at low tide}, full size sewer inspection pipe capped with a man hole cover. Both Wiper and Sybrian decided some beautification was needed.
  After completing his sculpture, a friend recalled how Sybrian contrived, "that several of his friends should cause a raucous scene at the far northern end of Sausalito, to divert the police from their normal rounds in the Old Town southern neighborhood. This would give Al and another group of friends enough time to park his Sea Lion sculpture on top of the man hole cover, and to escape without detection."
  That was a good story, one Sybrian loved to tell but it didn't happen. It appears that Mr. Gratama, the original benefactor, finally prevailed on the City Council to properly locate the Sea Lion the the designated manhole cover.
  There the sculpture endured decades buffered by wind, tides and sea until finally the worn cement version was replaced by a bronze casting in 1967. Stable for another 38 years, the Sea Lion suddenly took a tumble into the brine during a powerful winter storm in 2003. Bea Seidler of the Sausalito Foundation recounts the "spontaneous donations of $100-$500 poured in from the community" to pay for the remounting the Sea Lion. Now, 11 years later, the well known form remains firmly attached to a rebuilt concrete base and lives on as envisioned back in 1957 in Al Sybrian's paper notebook.

Al Sybrian at the NO Name

  In the 1960's and "70's in Sausalito the No Name bar, popularly known as "everyone's living room." was the preferred gathering place for an artistic community of writers, poets, artists, philosophers, musicians and others who enjoyed sharing a drink and conversation in a congenial environment. Neil Davis had bought the place in stages and, when it finally became all of his, he transformed the ambiance from the tastes of the swinger crowd to a more intellectual atmosphere with classical music, where creative people could meet and share ideas and visions.
  Some of its clientele over the years included novelist Evan S. Connell Jr., and poets Lew Welch, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlingherri. In his more bohemian days, linguist S.I.Hayakawa was a regular. Zen philosopher Alan Watts frequented the No Name as did Lenny Bruce and jazz bassist Charles Mingus. Sterling Hayden, Geraldine Page, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Smothers Brothers, Allen Ginsberg, Clint Eastwood were all customers. Eventually, it became a famous place because of all the well known people who hung out there.
  Al Sybrian was a regular at No Name, but not always on his best behavior. "We all knew Al Sybrian was a sweetheart," said Davis, "But I repeatedly had to ask him to leave the bar for drunkenness." Davis's friendship with Sybrian survived this setting of limits, however, and they remained correspondents for years after Sybrian moved from Sausalito.

 Article in this Newsletter were written by Margaret Badger


[ Historical Society Newsletter - Al Sybrian page 1 ]