Basically, it’s a room; a big, fancy room. Yet it’s where this room has traveled — and how it wound up on a dock in the Marin County town of Belvedere — that make this a captivating story.
In 1866, the paddle-wheeled steamer China was launched in New York City. After sailing around South America to San Francisco, China began carrying passengers to Japan and stopped in Hong Kong, a round-trip of over 12,000 nautical miles that meant spending 63 days at sea. China made an astonishing 31 such round-trip journeys, and vintage photographs show her having a multi-windowed “Social Salon” on her top deck just aft of the two steam-powered paddle wheels.
The salon was used for receptions, religious services and as the ship’s library. But in 1886, the outdated paddle-wheeled steamer China was scrapped and burned in a Tiburon dismantling yard; only the glamorous social salon was saved. Sensing opportunity, a local retired sea captain bought it, put it on jury-rigged pilings along Belvedere’s scenic shoreline and rented out as a cabin.
Fast-forward 93 years to the mid-1970s; Belvedere is cleaning up its waterfront and the rental cabin, which was once a social salon, has to go. Enter Beverly Bastian and the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society. Instead of China’s once-magnificent cabin being carted away, Bastian and Landmarks — along with maritime historians, craftsmen and skilled volunteers — waged a decade-long campaign that resulted in it being carefully restored to its 1870s glamour and remaining in place on sturdy new pilings at 52 Beach Road in Belvedere. Those conversant with the restoration place its cost, including volunteer labor, at well over one million dollars.
The China Cabin, with its etched glass windows, brass chandeliers and gold-leafed escutcheons and finials, was opened to the public in 1986 and is now available on a rental basis for seminars, receptions and weddings.