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Marin’s Top Gun: Part II

By Steefenie Wicks


Frank Lloyd Wright cut quite the dashing figure in his cape and hat as he walked beside another dashing figure, that of Sheriff Louis P. Mountanos, exploring the ranch in northern Marin that would one day become the site for the Marin County Civic Center. Mountanos remembered that at one point, Wright pointed to a lone tree standing on the hill. “We’ll save that tree,” he said… and they continued on.

Sheriff Mountanos was re-elected to office 4 times, from 1958 to 1978, but his first place of office, Sausalito, would always be special to him.  At one point as Chief of Police of Sausalito, he was called to investigate an assault case in which the celebrated union leader Harry Bridges was punched in the nose in the restroom at controversial madame Sally Stanford’s Valhalla restaurant.  By the time he arrived, Sally had settled the matter and no arrests were made.

Then there was that morning in 1955 when the movie crew from the new John Wayne film “Blood Alley” was filming a scene on the waterfront in Marinship.  They were making fog with an old Liberty airplane engine resting on a sea mule in the harbor and burning diesel fuel.  It looked like the real stuff and when it wafted up to Waldo Grade, it blocked the morning traffic.  After inspecting the scene, Chief Mountanos went down and told the crew that they would have to figure out a way to control their fog.

Chief Mountanos would later tell the story of how the new John Wayne film had once been the new Robert Mitchum film.   Wayne had been flown out from New York to replace Mitchum after he had been fired because of a dunking incident in which a picture company staff member was pushed into the bay off of Angel Island.  Wayne and Mountanos got along well and the Chief always described Wayne as a big and friendly fellow.  Both the Chief and Wayne hoped that Mitchum would learn from this folly, but Wayne assured the Chief that this incident would not hurt Mitchum’s career.

Being involved with the community was always one of Sheriff Mountanos’s greatest achievements, but as time went on and he watched the surge in Marin’s population, he saw his duties change as Sheriff.   Now he was involved with the courts, the jail and other facets of official business.  One of these was to bring him into a relationship that he later would have to defend, that being his connection to the group Synanon.

The group was founded in Santa Monica, in 1958 as a drug rehabilitation program by one Charles E. Dederich. In 1971, he moved part of his organization to San Francisco.   The Synanon approach to drug rehabilitation was at that time one to be proud of and the Synanon community had as one of their biggest supporters, governor Ronald Reagan. 

So when the group made their move to Marshall, Sheriff Mountanos supported them.   It was later in 1977 that the group would prove to be a cult with alleged criminal activities including attempted murder and Federal and Civil problems with the IRS.

It was also around this time that the development of Waldo Point Harbor on the Sausalito waterfront erupted into out and out war.  As Sheriff of Marin, Mountanos felt that he had to protect the rights of the owners of the property who wanted the people living there to leave and open up the area for development.

Those people had other ideas, and when officers were sent in they were met with waterfront resistance that was shown on the 5 o’clock news and around the world. 

Later critics would say that the Sheriff had been soft on Synanon and much too hard on the residents of Waldo Point Harbor.  Mountanos would say that’s “baloney.”  Yet in 1978 he was defeated, and after an awesome 20-year career in law enforcement, he had to step down.

The Marin Independent Journal reported that his retirement celebration, in November, 1978, drew over 500 friends, associates and family members.  Among the accolades were tributes from the California Legislature, the Marin County Police Chief’s Association, the Marin County Board of Supervisors and many others.

That Sheriff Louis P. Mountanos, held office for so long (1958 -1978) was a strong indication that he was doing his job and as a Greek with that warrior background …what else could he do but a job that would make his ancestors proud.


Sheriff Mountanos at his retirement.

IJ staff photo by Scott Henry

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