A Tower in Tiburon, Once the Gateway to a Utopian Health Village

Once the gateway to the utopian dream of a Civil War embalmer.
Lyfords Tower
Dated 1910. Courtesy of Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society.

 

THE ABOVE TOWER and archway were built in about 1889, on what is now Paradise Drive, east of downtown Tiburon overlooking San Francisco Bay. At the time, Paradise Drive was Tiburon Boulevard and the direct way into Tiburon. The structure was to be the entranceway into a proposed utopian village of healthful living named Lyford’s Hygeia, for the Greek goddess of health. Such was the dream of Dr. Benjamin Lyford, a retired Civil War embalmer who had the good fortune of marrying Hilarita Reed, whose father, John Reed, owned much of the Tiburon Peninsula thanks to a Spanish land grant. Lyford was nothing if not a dreamer; it was in the follow-through that he came up short. His descriptions were inspiring: “This marvelous spot, where even now events are shaping it to become the most far-famed health resort the world has known, is free from elements which retard growth and destroy life.”

Designs for Lyford’s Hygeia called for an innovative sewer system, well-ventilated homes and the privacy afforded by its natural setting. Lyford was the arbiter of who would be allowed to live in his village: “Only those of unimpeachable character will be given [read purchase] deeds to lots,” he decreed. According to sources, he further stipulated there’d be “no dancing or gambling in Hygeia, but you could drink and smoke in your own home if you are quiet about it.” Needless to say, Hygeia failed to hit its marks and, in fact, was never developed. Lyford died in 1906; in 1926, the archway was destroyed so the road could be widened. Today, only the tower remains; it is item No. 76000497 on the National Register of Historic Places.

To read more about the history of Marin, check out more articles by Jim Wood.

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s February 2020 issue with the headline: “Lyford’s Tower”.

Categories: Looking Back, Marin History