The Coyote Point Recreation Area, which includes the marina and the yacht club, has a long and storied history dating back to pre-colonial times. Home to the Ohlone Indian tribe, the indigenous Californians would ply the waters in boats, fishing for sturgeon, halibut, or shellfish, not unlike many members of the club today. Navigation charts from as early as 1810 label the area as San Mateo Point, but the locals referred to the marshlands and their surrounding islands as “Coyote Hill,” “The Big Coyote,” or “The Coyote,” hence the name Coyote Point.
In 1860, the land was acquired by the Howard family, whose name now graces a major thoroughfare in Burlingame. The Howards did not develop the property, but rather, left it in its natural state for picnicking and recreation purposes. The property went through several changes in the beginning of the twentieth century; in the early 1920s, an amusement park known as “Pacific City” was erected on the current site of the Magic Mountain play area, and in 1932, a project financed by the WPA allowed for the draining of the marshes and construction of a golf course on the site. The amusement park was short lived, however, succumbing to the wild winds that plague the north side of Coyote Point.
In 1940, the county of San Mateo purchased about 50 acres of reclaimed land west of the Coyote Point knoll; the purchase included a small, natural harbor, which had long been an anchorage for small boats and also a meeting place for what the county labeled “a loose association of boaters [who call themselves] ‘the Coyote Point Yacht Club.'” This loose association of boaters was officially incorporated on July 20, 1941, with Oscar Thayer as the first commodore, and Coyote Point Yacht Club was born. At this same time, the United States found that they needed many new officers for the merchant marine, so a Merchant Maritime Academy was established at Coyote Point. A deep-water channel was dredged on the east side of the point, with the dredge- spoils forming the center berm that now separates the two basins of the harbor. Thanks to the presence of the Merchant Marine and their large training vessel, the harbor channel was kept well dredged. At this same time, the county began installing pilings and floats to form rudimentary docks; the local boat owners helped build a head float on logs overlain with planks, and the county soon began renting out slips, which boaters frequently modified to make their own finger floats.
After World War II, the Maritime Academy was decommissioned, and its facilities leased to the San Mateo Junior College (now College of San Mateo). Abandoned Quonset huts served as temporary classrooms, and a small children’s museum and zoo was established in one of the old warehouses. The recreation area continued to grow, at one point, boasting a Tiki themed restaurant called The Castaway, and an over the water roller rink. The College of San Mateo continued to operate on the premises until 1963, when it moved to its current location on the top of the West Hillsdale Boulevard. The museum and zoo operated on the site until 1982, when it was merged with the new Coyote Point Museum (now CuriOdyssey). The restaurant closed in the late 1990s, and was demolished in 2008. The last vestige of Coyote Point’s history can be seen just west of the harbor master’s office, where a portion of the Maritime Academy’s practice mast still stands.
When San Mateo County developed Coyote Point and dredged the harbor in the 1930’s, a group of yachtsmen, who had been mooring their boats all around the Peninsula, were encouraged to move to San Mateo. This little group met in the harbor behind Coyote Point and recognized the need to have a more formal organization. On July 20, 1941, about 45 of these boaters decided to form a club, initially holding their meetings at the old San Mateo City Hall on B-street. The original burgee, a red and blue split triangle with the letters “C” and “P” on each half, was designed from scrap material, and served as the club’s ensign until the merger with Palo Alto Yacht Club in 1997. Oscar Thayer served as the Commodore for the first three years; the original board included, among others, a certain Andy Byrd (for whom the Byrd Pursuit Race is named) and a Gustav Barth (the Barth race namesake). Andy Byrd then learned about a 5 acre plot that was available for sale for $1200; the members of the club put up $25 per person, and had shares in the club.
The original clubhouse was designed by club charter member Oscar Thayer, and constructed on a jetty that sat in the basin. After three years of construction, the membership officially moved into the new clubhouse for their first meeting. By 1965, the membership had outgrown the old building, and plans were underway for a new, more modern clubhouse. Dues were raised, and in 1967, a long-term plan was presented to the membership. Everyone assisted in fundraising and building the new facility, and, by February of 1967, the members had raised $150,000 for construction of the new clubhouse. Groundbreaking for the new clubhouse was held on September 23, 1967. The first floor (the Regatta Room) was designated for the “Ladies Auxiliary.” Hanging on the wall leading up to the second floor was a large ship’s wheel that came off an old Navy gunboat. The club was officially opened on March 2, 1968, with the new board of directors being installed at the same time.
As with most projects though, inflation stepped in, and the final total for the project came to $2000 beyond what was projected. Members again pitched in, with the Ladies Auxiliary hosting fashion shows and brunches; members also had the option to purchase brass placques for a chair on the upper deck. On July 4th, 1975, the last of the bonds were paid off, the final payment on the mortgage was made, and the club was officially debt free; this is why the club’sbirthday had traditionally been celebrated on July 4th.
A “Ladies Auxiliary” of the club existed from 1943-1984. At the time, the Auxiliary was primarily a social group for the spouses of the members, with women undertaking fundraising and benevolent projects. One of their biggest events was the annual fashion show (in which I participated as a very junior model in 1979). There were occasional “yachty” events as well, such as the annual PowderPuff Regatta, reserved for female skippers. With the shifting sentiment of the 1970s, however, many felt that the spousal members were being relegated to a second-class status in the club; still, others felt that with the mortgage having been paid, there was no longer a need for huge fundraisers such as the fashion show. The CPYC Ladies Auxiliary formally disbanded in 1985, with social and fundraising duties now handed over to the Board of Directors.
Coyote Point Yacht Club celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2006, and hopes to continue to grow well into the future.