Early Soda Works Tapped Mt. Tamalpais Spring Waters

San Rafael has seen a long line of bottlers drawn to the pure spring waters of Mt. Tamalpais.

San Rafael Creek

From high in the hills above , San Rafael Creek winds down through central San Rafael and into San Pablo Bay. The creek now trickles through concrete culverts under the streets of the city's commercial and residential neighborhoods. A mineral springs near the creek has also disappeared, yet in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, these waters presented a business opportunity – the raw material for bottled beverages.

At the time, soda waters were considered health drinks. Pharmacists first created these elixirs with curative powers by adding roots and herbs to carbonated water. Raspberry leaves, birch bark, dandelion, nettles and fruit juices gave flavor and therapeutic benefits. As the drinks became more popular, bottlers sought ways to package the products for wider distribution.

Martin Petersen's Marin Soda Works

In the 1880s, Martin Petersen created one of San Rafael's most successful soda works, distributing products throughout California and the western states. A German immigrant from Schleswig, Germany, Petersen opened a bakery when he came to San Rafael in about 1872. He married Mary J. Kelly in 1877 and over time, their family grew to six children.

In 1886 Petersen started the Marin Soda Works on the southwest corner of First and D streets, where he and his family also had their home. An 1887 Sanborn map shows a structure designated as a saloon, drugstore and a grocery, along with the soda works and its warehouse. Petersen's business thrived, and by 1888, he had hired Fred Schenkel to manage an office on 415 Battery Street in San Francisco.

The 1892 publication The Bay of San Francisco described the Marin Soda Works' products:

This soda-water is recommended by the leading physicians as absolutely pure, and is refreshing, pleasant and wholesome. In these works are manufactured no less than 17 different qualities of temperance drinks. Also Mr. Petersen has the agency of Jackson’s famous Napa soda and the Geyser and Aetna soda-water. All of Mr. Petersen’s syrups are manufactured under his own personal supervision, and a specialty is made of iron and orange phosphates; also fruit champagne, of which he is the originator and sole proprietor. Lately he has registered in the United States Patent Office a new drink, named 'Hoarhound, Honey and Lime-juice.' The sales of Mr. Petersen’s products are not confined to the surrounding counties, but find their way also to all the interior counties, and go even beyond the confines of the State, through the wholesale dealers.

The publication noted that Petersen manufactured his soda with a new, exclusive process that used pure bicarbonate of soda instead of marble dust. A common method of creating carbonated water at the time was to combine marble dust with sulphuric acid. The resulting gaseous carbonic acid was then passed under pressure through water, which in turn became bubbly. Petersen's alternative process may have assuaged concerns about the safety of carbonated water created with marble dust.

Buy Local

The Sausalito News of April 26, 1889 noted that “the finest soda water in the State is put up at the Marin Soda Works in San Rafael. A speciality is Peterson's (sic) Iron Phosphates, which is a most refreshing and pleasant, as well as healthful, beverage.”

On April 11, 1890, it reported that “Petersen's Marin Soda Works, of San Rafael, have placed their iron and orange phosphates and syrup soda in every first class saloon in Sausalito. The beverages make a refreshing drink and are known to be pure and unadulterated.”

Petersen's business grew, and on April 18, 1890, the Sausalito News reported that Petersen had expanded his soda works by adding new equipment costing $1,500. “Everything is in good working order. Home industry should be patronized."

Temperance Drinks

Long before Prohibition outlawed alcoholic drinks, a strong anti-alcohol movement promoted beverages called “temperance drinks.” These included milk, tea, coffee and various types of soda waters such as those made by Martin Petersen. The San Francisco Chronicle of June 13, 1886 described a temperance bar in Boston that offered “ice-cold soda in all its agreeable compounds, phosphates, ...egg phosphates, acid phosphates, Moxic's nerve food, hot beef tea, chicken tea, and other refreshing and invigorating fluids – all of the kind that cheers without inebriating.”

Some temperance beverages were temperate in name only. The SF Chronicle of June 12, 1887 reported that the Massachusetts State Board of Health, in examining a large number of temperance drinks, found that “all contained alcohol, and one as high as 44.3 percent. The majority contained over 20 percent. A preparation analyzing 41.6 per cent was claimed by its manufacturer 'to be a purely vegetable extract.'"

Communities attempted to control liquor consumption through high license fees to saloon owners. The Sausalito News of August 3, 1888 notes that liquor dealers in the county had formed an association to resist high liquor license fees, which were $150 per quarter. Those in favor of the high fees defended it “as an heroic remedy for the numerous shebangs of the lowest class that were springing up all over Marin.” (The term “shebang” comes from the Irish “shabeen,” an illicit bar where liquor is sold without a license.)

Petersen in Fairfax

In 1893, Petersen purchased 65.7 acres near Fairfax Station from Jesus M. Sais, a son of Domingo Sais, recipient of the 6,658-acre Canada de Herrera Mexican land grant. The acreage included the Fairfax Park and Pavilion, which the North Pacific Coast Railroad leased as a tourist destination for picnickers and revelers.

On the corner of what is today Broadway Avenue and Bolinas Road, Petersen built a structure that served first as a residence and then a saloon called the Fairfax Park Annex. In 1894 Petersen received a liquor sales license for Fairfax Park to serve the merrymakers - the butchers, the stereotypers, the railroad freight men, the military guards, the Odd Fellows, the veterans, the church groups and the throngs of others - who flocked to Fairfax on weekends for gatherings.

Petersen owned and operated Fairfax Park from 1893 to 1900. In 1901 the property transferred to Salvatore Pacheco, trustee for the Sais estate, which held a $6,000 mortgage on the property. After several transformations, today on the site stands the 1920 Alpine Building, housing the Fairfax Coffee Roastery.

The 1900 federal census lists Martin Petersen living in San Rafael as a saloon keeper and his son William as a soda bottler. Martin Petersen died on Sept 19, 1903 at 56 years old. The funeral was held at his home adjacent to the soda works at 247 D St. in San Rafael.

Klammer and Malz

In about 1900, Petersen sold his San Rafael business to two young German immigrants, Eugene R. Klammer and Emil Malz. Their business included the Marin Soda Works and the Marin Bottling Works. The 1900 federal census shows them sharing a residence in San Rafael. Klammer, age 24, is listed as a soda works manufacturer, and Malz, his partner, age 33, a bottler. They married, Eugene Klammer to Christine Hoch and Emil Malz to Maria Louise Pellaton, and grew their families along with their soda business.

On September 21, 1902 the SF Chronicle reported that an incendiary fire had burned down the barn at the Klammer and Malz Marin Soda Works. The SF Call reported, “It was only after a stubborn fight of several hours that the firemen succeeded in saving the main buildings. The stable is a total loss, including many tons of hay.” The soda works continued despite the damage. In the 1911 Polk-Husted Directory, Emil Malz advertised a Cascade Ginger Ale that “has the real smack of Old Ireland.”

The Buffalo Soda Works

Another company, the Buffalo Soda Works, also operated in San Rafael in the late 1800s. The town's soda works seemed to attract fires, for according to the San Francisco Chronicle, on September 22, 1896 a fire that broke out at the Buffalo Soda Works and “destroyed the main building and outhouses. The building was the property of A. Arbini and the soda works was conducted by J. Phelps.”

The Borello Bros.

The Borello Bros. Company purchased the Buffalo Soda Works in 1903. Brothers Frank, John and Andrew Borello owned a thriving soda water manufacturing business based in Fresno. From the Piemonte region of Italy, Frank and John had followed their father to the San Joaquin Valley where they developed the first soda works in the area.

Brother Andrew immigrated in 1883, settling first in Madera, then in San Rafael, where he managed the Borello Bros. soda works. In 1903, Andrew bought a lot at First and Hayes streets from David and Jerusha Warden. There he operated a store and a soda works, which in an October 1904 election served as a polling place for San Rafael precinct no. 5.

Tamalpais Mineral Well

Andrew Borello drilled a well at First and Hayes streets, described by the U.S. Geological Survey in a 1913 report on the springs of California:

Tamalpais Mineral Well is situated in the town of San Rafael, in Marin County. A mildly saline water that is obtained from it has been carbonated and bottled for a number of years as Tamalpais Natural Mineral Water and is also used with syrups in the preparation of carbonated beverages. The well is in the southern part of the town, at the base of a tuffaceous hill, and has been sometimes referred to as San Rafael Spring. The water rises in a stone-curbed well 6 feet in diameter and 25 feet deep in the basement of the building of the Buffalo Soda Works.

According to a California State Mining Bureau list of mines and mineral resources, Andrew began bottling immediately after he had the water analyzed in December 1904. In 1909 Andrew bought adjacent property from the Pioneer Mill and Lumber Company, site of the lumber yard built by Isaac Shaver in 1870.

Famous Tamalpais Natural Mineral Springs

The Borello Bros. advertised their water as coming from the “famous Tamalpais Natural Mineral Springs.” An ad for their bottled water included a statement from Thomas Price & Son, assayers and analytical chemists, that specified the mineral content of the water and stated that “it is absolutely free of all deleterious ingredients of either an organic or inorganic nature.”

The California Board of Health found differently. In 1911 it charged the Mt. Tamalpais Bottling Works for failing to declare sodium benzoate as an ingredient in its gingerale, sarsaparilla, lemonade and Queen Charlotte beverages. Sodium benzoate is a preservative found in processed foods and drinks. The Sausalito News of March 11, 1911 reported that arrest warrants were issued against owners of the Mt. Tamalpais Bottling Works for violation of the Pure Food Law.

Today's beverage makers face similar constraints. On Sept. 8, 2011 the Los Angeles Times reported that the product Skinnygirl Margarita was removed from Whole Food shelves for containing the non-natural ingredient sodium benzoate.


A century ago bottlers also shared a concern for recycling. On Oct. 13, 1906, the Sausalito News reported that local liquor dealers formed the San Rafael Beer Dealers to address the high cost of bottle loss. The group included soda bottlers Klammer and Malz, the Buffalo Soda Works and the San Anselmo Soda Works. The dealers decided that “hereafter a charge of 50 cents per dozen will be made for quarts and 35 centers per dozen for pints will be made against all customers to insure the return of empty bottles.”

The San Anselmo Soda Works

A third San Rafael company, the San Anselmo Soda Works, was located in 1907 on D Street between Fourth and Fifth streets. Its proprietor was F.M. Weinbeck. In 1912, John B. Sutton and T. Francis Mulhern purchased the company and promoted their product with the motto “the best for the money.”

Meyer Bottling Company

In the 1930s, Edmond Meyer owned the Meyer Bottling Company, whose company slogan read “It's the water from the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais.” Meyer was born in San Francisco and came to Marin in about 1912. Meyer created a drink spiked with vitamin B, Meyer's Vitamin B Sparkling Water. Its label read "Recommended By Leading Physicians," and "Contains not less than 600 I.U. Vitamin B." In the early 1920s, Meyer established Marin County's first Coca Cola distributorship, with a plant on Second and Irwin streets.

On April 21, 1945 The Billboard announced that “Edward (sic) Meyer, owner of bottling plants in San Rafael and Santa Rosa, announced this week that he had closed a deal by which he had acquired 35 acres near San Rafael which he will convert into an amusement park after the war.”

Meyer intended to restore the old  by building a large auditorium to accommodate thousands, a skating rink and other attractions. Meyer's plans seemed to emulate Martin Petersen's business model, in which crowds of thirsty pleasure-seekers lead to vastly increased beverage sales. The park never materialized. Today there sits the Marin Square Shopping Center.

Joe Nation and the MMWD

Plans to capitalize on Marin's water resources continued late into the 20th century. In 1999, Joe Nation, then President of the Marin Municipal Water District Board, proposed that the MMWD bottle Mt. Tamalpais water. His plans called for a large holding basin at a spring below West Point Inn. Trucks were to transport thousands of gallons of Mt. Tamalpais water to bottling plants with the proceeds for sales split between the Mt. Tam Watershed Fund and the Marin Alliance for Public Schools. This dream also never materialized.

Today bottled waters of all types and flavors line store shelves, but who would dare aim to bottle and sell the waters of Mt. Tamalpais?


Several of these photographs were provided by the . If you are interested in purchasing these photographs or others from their collection please call 415-382.0770x3 or email photoservices@marinhistory.org.

 Primary source material was provided by the oral history and news clipping collections of the Anne T. Kent California Room of the Marin County Free Library -  http://www.marinlibrary.org/research-and-learning/california-room. 


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