gallery - steps, lanes and paths of mill valley
Available December 29, 2010 my new hardcover 120 page photo essay book (8x10 inches) has 68 images, including all the photos in this Gallery. Historical photographs add a perspective how the Steps developed.
There is also a chapter on the legendary Dipsea Race, with photos of the race course from Start to Finish.
Corte Madera Creek flows though West Blithedale Canyon.
In the early 1900’s, owners of the long-gone nearby Blithedale Hotel dammed the creek to create a swimming and boating pond.
In 1900, animals outnumbered people on Upper Willow Path. Mill Valley had passed an ordinance requiring ducks and chickens to be licensed to have the privilege to roam the streets. If they didn’t have a large brass tag with the owner’s name (costing 50 cents a year), they were fair game for hunters.
With tidal marshes and Richardson Bay bordering Mill Valley, there are occasional high tides covering some of the paths.... for only an hour. Seabirds play or hunt in water over Battlefront Trail. Normally you would see people walking dogs, running or riding bicycles.
Local Mill Valley Boy Scouts volunteer to keep this trail clear.
These steps on El Paseo lead to private apartments above.
In the mid-1940s, Edna and Henry Foster created a private pathway with complex of buildings and gardens on either side of a passageway between two streets. The name, El Paseo, was accepted by the City Council as a street for mail purposes.

“The Steps, Lanes and Paths are much loved and increasingly used by people of all ages. Each set of steps and each path has a different personality, and many have distinctive views that are a ‘window on the world’ in different corners in Mill Valley." Stephanie Moulton-Peters, 2009
West Blithedale Canyon Park is enchanting.The park looks like a mini-Muir Woods, but unlike Muir Woods, you can see the hand of man. There is evidence of a 100-year-old treehouse, built above the ground in the trees, where the redwoods have actually grown around the floor beams of the house.
Runner at high tide Richardson Bay - a 40 minute walk from downtown.
Mill Valley’s paths were:
“…an important part of the fabric with which the town was woven… they were paths to which livings were earned, children educated, transportation secured and supplies bought by early day free spirits who abandoned city life for the redwood covered slopes that would become Mill Valley.”
Isobel Hellander, Come Whizzing Down the Chutes, 1984
La Paloma Lane is across the street from the site of old Blithedale Hotel, built by Dr. John Cushing in 1873. Cushing also erected cottages around the hotel. Blithedale Hotel was a sunny resort oasis for San Franciscans anxious to escape the notorious summer fog in the city. In 1910, there were rooms and cottages for 125 guests.
Maintenance and liability for the publicly used steps have been issues for years. Private citizens may own the land, but who is going to pay for repairs when the steps used by everyone need repair? Some generously donated their land to the City.
“The house my father built on Hillside Ave. in 1902 still stands… It is on a steep hillside, and an unnamed lane ran beside it from Hillside Ave to Oakdale. I ran down it (and up again) to & from school from Kindergarten thru high school. Perhaps that’s the main reason I’ve lived so long."
Roger Barber, 2003 at age 99