Strawberry Point: ‘The Capital of the World?’



Tuesday, March 26, 2014

If architect William W. Wurster had had his way, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Marin County Civic Center might not be Marin’s most famous post-World War II building. It was Wurster’s idea that the slender peninsula jutting into Richardson’s Bay called Strawberry Point would have sported not homes and a Baptist Seminary, but instead, a “World Peace Center” serving as the permanent headquarters of the United Nations.

Charlene Mires, an Associate Professor of History at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, has published a book detailing the efforts of many communities around the country, and for that matter, around the world, to become “The Capital of the World” by hosting the UN, an effort which finally ended with New York City receiving the honor. She unearthed some 248 proposals or suggestions which earned at least a passing nod for the honor back in 1945.

Among the proposals Mires unearthed was one prepared by Wurster and two colleagues, Ernest Born and Theodore C. Bernardi. They prepared a plan which would have accommodated a domed auditorium capable of seating 10,000 delegates, staff, press and the public as well as office buildings for the organization’s permanent bureaucracy and a library/archive/museum to house and display the documents of this new world body.

While most proposals for a home for the United Nations would be expected to include facilities like those, the plans for Strawberry Point included such unique features as a small craft harbor to allow commuting from San Francisco by boat and a “Seaplane Landing Base.”

A ceremonial “Court of Flags” and the plaza surrounding the main auditorium would have faced toward the northeast with the Tiburon Peninsula as its vista, but sloping down the western edge of the point facing Sausalito would have been the library and both an indoor and an outdoor museum. It would have placed a broad plaza approximately where the homes on Starboard Court are today.

Architect Born waxed eloquent in his description of the site and the plan, saying “Caught in the meeting of land, sky and sea there is a sense of unity understandable by people of anywhere in the world. Unhampered by political prejudice or selfish bias, Strawberry Point, Marin County, has been selected by the architects as the area in the Bay Region possessing in highest degree features of a building site for a center of world importance. The site of unsurpassed beauty, indefinitely expandable generally northward and accessible to the bay cities is at once detached from urban cramp while still part of the urban scene.”

Northern California and the Bay Area had reason to anticipate the possibility of the United Nations establishing its headquarters here. The Charter of the United Nations was formally established in a two-month conference where delegates from 44 nations met in San Francisco’s Opera House between April and June of 1945 as World War II was coming to an end and the form of the post-war world was beginning to take shape. It was, and may still remain, the largest single gathering of an international conference, with 850 delegates, nearly 2,000 advisers and staffers and over 2,500 reporters.

Mires’ book, Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations reveals that just what the UN would require once it got underway was unclear at the time. Would a new city be founded as a “World Capital” with embassies for each of the member countries, residences for staff and all the accouterments of a capital city, or would a “Headquarters” within an existing locale be sufficient? Wurster, Bernardi and Born assumed a working headquarters would suffice, but that it should be of a design that spoke both to the dignity of the organization’s goals and of the aspirations of a world tired of war.

The Strawberry Point proposal wasn’t the only Marin County entry in the very informal competition for a “World Peace Center,” “Capital of the World” or “Permanent Headquarters for the United Nations.” California Democratic State Senator Herbert W. Slater of Santa Rosa introduced a joint resolution in Sacramento which, if it had passed, would urge the placement of the facility - whatever it might turn out to be - “in a redwood grove in the west’s world famous Redwood Empire.” While that might have been some redwood-rich area on the North Coast, it might just as well have proven to be the grove in Muir Woods where the United Nations held its memorial tribute to Franklin Delano Roosevelt on May 19, 1945.

Mires’ book details the way that New York City earned its place as the UN Headquarters with the last minute agreement of John D. Rockerfeller, Jr. to fund the purchase of the site on the East River between 42nd and 48th Street for the UN at a price of $8.5 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would amount to over $110 million today. Strawberry Point couldn’t compete with that.