From Radio Waves to Relaxation at Marconi Historic State Park

Marconi Historic State Park courtyardBeneath the canopy of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss are six slatted, wooden arm chairs, weather-worn by Pacific coastal fog that regularly blankets Marconi Historic State Park and gently salts the air. They lie in wait for guests wishing to indulge in moments of relaxation at this secluded, 62-acre property on a steep hill overlooking Tomales Bay in Marshall, CA.

Chairs and trees form the focal point of a quiet, grassy courtyard linking four rustic wooden structures housing 40 guest rooms for lodging. The buildings’ names pay homage to area seabirds –  Sandpiper, Seagull, Heron, and Pelican.

Until recently, Marconi Historic State Park in Marin County was Marconi Conference Center, and the 40 rooms had been used exclusively for those attending meetings, reunions, and weddings.

Now, in a welcome addition for the local hospitality industry, Marconi Historic State Park also makes those guest rooms available to travelers and local visitors for overnight stays.

Lodging at Marconi Historic State Park

I bow to the lure of the chairs, take a seat, and stretch out my legs, enveloped in quietude and dappled sunshine. I hear soft sounds, and then only occasionally. The chirp of a soaring bird. The rustle of offshore breezes through the cypress trees. The distant throttle of an engine as a boat speeds across Tomales Bay. None disturbs my reverie.

This restful setting is one of many within the park’s lush landscape. It speaks to the low-key vibe that Landes Good, who manages community outreach and social media at Marconi Historic State Park, wants overnight guests to experience at this West Marin retreat.

“Chill,” she smiled, as she escorted me on a quick tour of the property when I arrived. “There’s nothing on the coast like this. It’s special, and we want to share it.”

Chilling, I’m finding, comes easy here.

Tomales Bay

Colorful past at Marconi Historic State Park

How ironic, though, that my decision to do absolutely nothing would have been highly unlikely a century ago, if not impossible.

Back then, this area was a hub of activity as a center of global radio communication conceived by Italian inventor and engineer Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), the namesake of today’s Marconi Historic State Park.

n 1896, Marconi patented a wireless system that used electromagnetic waves to transmit telegraphic messages. His Marconi Wireless Company moved Station KPH, a high-powered wireless transmitting station, from San Francisco to nearby Bolinas.

Needing a duplex receiving station, the company purchased 1,114 acres near Marshall from a dairy farmer in 1912. For the next two years, on land long ago occupied by the indigenous Coast Miwok tribe, they built structures to serve the Marshall receiving station. Among them: a luxurious, 35-room residence for staff and families; two cottages for the chief engineer and assistant; an operations building; and a powerhouse for electric transformers and batteries. Ridges of grazed grassland above the receiving station were ideal for the seven 270-foot steel towers set in concrete that supported a mile of single wire acting as a radio antenna.

Together, the two stations formed the first dependable ship-to-shore communication link between the United States, Hawaii, and Japan.

I cast aside the temptation to lounge any further. I recall with bemusement that two weeks ago, after hiking nearby on Tomales Point, I had driven north on Highway 1 toward Hog Island Oyster Company and right past the park’s entrance, oblivious to this hidden gem. Time to seize the opportunity and explore some more.

Marconi Historic State Park trail

Walking on the nearly three miles of crisscrossing trails, I head to the grassy activity meadow where Marconi Historic State Park holds its summer Music in the Park series for the public. Nature makes both bold and subtle appearances as I climb through grasslands, coyote brush, and forests. I encounter gentle waterfalls set within rocky enclaves, the vibrant kitchen garden behind Redwood Dining Hall, rows of leafless naked lady flowers, and, best of all, spectacular panoramic views of glistening Tomales Bay.

Marconi Historic State Park

Panorama of Tomales Bay

I come to the two-story, rectangular building that served as the hotel for staff and visitors when Marconi’s receiving station was in full force. Now abandoned and in disrepair, the Mediterranean and Craftsman-style building nevertheless remains imposing. Old radio equipment and black and white photos from the receiving station period are on display in the lobby of the administration building, further reminders of the history that unfolded here.

Old hotel at Marconi Historic State Park

Lobby at Marconi Historic State Park

As an overnight guest, a breakfast buffet prepared with local ingredients under the direction of chef Joann Fusco awaits me tomorrow. Lunch and dinner are on my own, and plenty of options are close by.

I eat lunch on the restaurant porch at Nick’s Cove, a local classic with a pier and historic cottages situated atop wooden stilts over the bay.

Nick's Cove pier

I spend the afternoon perusing Point Reyes Station, a gateway to Point Reyes National Seashore and home to West Marin’s largest commercial district. Small and quirky, Point Reyes Station seems to offer one – and mostly just one – of everything. One bank, one grocery store, one bakery, one book store, one hardware store, and an all-in-one feed store/gift shop/art gallery/organic farm stand. I stop at the award-winning Cowgirl Creamery to buy some of their artisan cheese. Alas, they are closed for the day.

Toby's at Point Reyes Station

The town does have several eateries. Even without a reservation, I score a table at Osteria Stellina for an Italian meal that any restaurant in Italy would be proud to claim. Stellina commands a national reputation for rigorously sourcing fresh, organic, and seasonal ingredients from the community’s farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and cheese makers.

I return to Marconi Historic State Park and make my way to my deluxe guest room in the Pelican building. Attached to my room key is a small flash light, a help at night given the darkness brought on by fog.

Landes, who had a hand in the recently completed project to refresh the guest rooms, calls the interior style rustic chic. Standout features are new linens and blankets, and accessories and artwork that employ feathers left behind when flocks of wild turkeys wander the grounds. How fitting that a note pad on the desk recreates the look of a Marconigram from his telegraph company. Psychedelic might be the best word to describe the colorful mosaic tiles adorning my shower, a design holdover from the 1960s when the property was the headquarters of Synanon, a rehabilitation program for drug addicts-turned controversial cult.

Deluxe guest room at Marconi Historic State Park

Shower at Marconi Historic State Park

I open windows and let in crisp, clean air. Landes had speculated that after dark I might hear a fox make its distinctive noise like that of a crying child, but I fall asleep to the sound of total silence.

In the morning, a light fog rain falls. After just a one-night stay in this idyllic place, I feel renewed. I cross Arrigoni foot bridge and turn left to scale the hill leading to Redwood Dining Hall and breakfast.

In keeping with the décor’s natural theme, a photo of a barn owl in flight hangs over the serving line, so life-like I expect the bird to burst from the frame and alight on the counter. I help myself to the buffet, choosing granola and grapefruit, and take a seat at one of the handmade communal tables. At this early hour, the dining room is mine alone.

As I drive away after breakfast, I exit my car for a last look at the old Marconi hotel. Marconi’s legacy of communication is alive and well, yet of a different, gentler, less urgent sort. You can almost hear Marconi Historic State Park whisper to its overnight guests.


Landscape at Marconi Historic State Park

My overnight stay was courtesy of Marconi Historic State Park. My experiences and story are my own.


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