in 1947 'When you're married, it's a duty'
honors came in her later years
Stanford, San Franciscos last grand madam, who later had
a more sedate career as the mayor of Sausalito, died yesterday
at the age of 78.
died in Marin General Hospital at 3:10 am, apparently of a heart
attack. She had survived 11 previous heart attacks and, in May,
successfully underwent surgery for cancer of the colon.
who in the late 1920s succeeded Tessie Wall as the queen
of San Franciscos high-toned bordellos, retired in 1950
to Sausalitos waterfront as operator of the plush Victorian
restaurant, the Valhalla.
quarrel with town fathers over installing an electric sign for
the restaurant first ignited her interest in seeking public office.
She won a seat on Sausalitos City Council on her sixth try,
in 1972, and in 1976 was re-elected with the majority that made
her mayor as well at the age of 72. She also served as vice mayor
before she retired from politics.
stylish and outspoken, Mayor Stanford sought to "return Sausalito
to the pleasant little village it was 25 years ago," but favored
liked money, cops, the flag, and being a guest on the Johnny Carson
"Tonight" show. She
disliked bureaucracy. She was nonchalant about death and all the
major heart attacks she survived.
sinners never give up," she once said.
being Mayor Stanford, she was the Rev. Stanford when she felt
like it, officiating at occasional marriages by authority of a
mail order diploma from Kirby Hensleys Universal Life Church
addressed seminars, received senior citizens awards for
distinguished citizenship, and was backed by Sausalitos
Good Governance League in her later career.
before she left the demi-monde, she was the undisputed queen of
San Francisco nightlife.
the aficionados of local bordellos, Sallys girls were the
prettiest and most elegantly gowned, her place the most sumptuous,
her patrons the most select. She was the friend and confidant
of many an important figure in the life of the city.
was born in Baker (San Bernardino County) on May 5, 1903, as Mabel
Janice Busby. Her father died when she was young and Sally had
to help her mother support the family. Sally had three brothers
and a sister.
a child she earned money by caddying on a golf course.
life on the other side of the law began at 16, when she eloped
to Denver with a man who boasted he was the grandson of a former
governor of Colorado.
helped him cash some checks he stole from a lumber mill in Medford,
later years Sallys eyes would fill with tears as she related
how she was sent to the Oregon State Prison at Salem for two years
for obtaining goods under false pretenses.
gave a $10 check for an electric iron to take with us on our honeymoon,"
she would relate. "When I was taken to Salem, the warden said
he had no place to care for a child, and turned me over to his
wife, and I lived in their house for two years."
three decades later, Governor Earl Snell of Oregon gave Sally
a pardon. She carried it around in the bosom of her dress.
the 25 years after her first arrest, Sally was arrested 17 times
under as many aliases on a variety of charges, but was only found
1938 she was fined $500 for keeping a house of ill fame in San
Francisco, and in 1944 she was fined $1500 and given a 30-day
jail sentence by a federal court for charging rents in excess
of the wartime ceiling.
came to San Francisco in 1924, and modified her given name of
Mabel to Marsha, the name by which close friends know her.
most people, however, she was "Sally" perhaps from a song
title. The Stanford came from a headline she saw reporting that
Stanford University had just won the Big Game, and the idea of
a pseudonym struck her.
the late 1920s, she married Ernest Spagnoli, an attorney.
This was annulled after three years when it was discovered that
Sally was not divorced from her first husband, Dan Goodan.
third husband was Louis Rapp, and the marriage lasted 12 years
longest of Sallys five matches.
1951, she eloped to Reno with Robert Livingston Gump, grandson
of Solomon Gump, founder of the Post Street importing firm. "Its
a real meeting of minds," said Sally, but she divorced Gump nine
fifth and last marriage was in 1954 when she eloped to Las Vegas
with Robert Kenna, 44, operator of a Fresno trucking company.
This marriage ended in divorce two years later.
better off just being a friend," said Sally. "Then you do things
because you want to. When youre married, its a duty."
children are a son, John D. Owen, and a daughter, Hara Melinda
Owen, better known as Sharon, both adopted. Both were infants
when she took them to rear, and in the case of John Owen, she
adopted not only the infant, but his name.
1971, she went to court and changed her legal name from Marsha
Owen to Sally Stanford. But she retained the name of Marsha Owen
for phone listings at her residences on Pacific Avenue in Pacific
Heights, in Sausalito, and at a 50-acre ranch in Sonoma County.
D. Owen, now 53, recalled Sally as a straight-laced mother. He
said there was a time when she took him aside for their first
chat about the birds and bees. John was in grammar school.
was hemming and hawing so much, I finally had to tell her what
Id learned from the guys on the playground," he said. "That
was the end of the lecture."
said that when he was young his mother "kept me tucked away in
military school to keep me away from the whole situation."
she never advised him to patronize a bordello, and criticized
him for taking out women who worked at her restaurant in Sausalito,
which Owen eventually managed. " She told me I shouldnt
be playing in my own backyard," he said.
most famous of Sallys establishments was the house at 1144
Pine Street, reported to have been built by Sanford White for
Anna Held. The huge Pompeiian drawing room held a fountain and
off to one side a marble bath where the actress was said to have
lavished herself in milk.
was a giant fireplace in the room, and intimates of Sally tell,
with misty eyes, of the jolly social evenings around the blaze
when spirits were high and one of the girls would whip up a batch
Sally recalled, she caught a glimpse of a man peering through
the skylight. She slipped out to a vantage point, and spotted
Sergeant Jack Dyer, of the police vice squad trying to spy on
her and her guests.
telephoned police saying there was prowler on the roof, and watched
with amusement as embarrassed police ordered the flustered plainclothesman
off the roof.
publicly denied that she ever paid a cent of protection money.
She lived by the code of the underworld, that no on ever talks.
carried on your profession quite openly, didnt you?" she
was asked by a state attorney during a liquor license hearing
I did was well known," she replied. "I didnt hide anything."
civil officials and police knew all about you?"
dont know what they knew."
reign as "empress" of 1144 Pine Street was memorialized in her
book, "Lady of the House," which was ghost-written by the late
newsman Bob Patterson. A television movie starring Dyan Cannon
was based on the book.
was critical of Cannons portrayal of her. "She just didnt
have it in her to play me," Sally said after seeing the premiere
of the movie in 1978. "I have to admit, its a hard act to
and cleanup were the order of the day in the postwar years, and
Sally quietly folded her seraglio. In 1950 she blossomed as the
operator of the Valhalla. The waterfront restaurant was a business
success from the start.
was known to her intimates as a woman of impulsive charity. She
would read of the death of a homeless man, for instance, and anonymously
pay for his funeral. She would send money in unmarked envelopes
to disaster victims whose stories stirred her.
was a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, and personally
tried to persuade Governor Goodwin J. Knight to halt the execution
of Barbara Graham at San Quentin even though Graham once
had lied to establish an alibi for an ex-convict who had mercilessly
beaten Sally in a robbery attempt. Sally saw her only as "a sweet
In addition to her children, Sally is survived by her sister,
Juanita of Oakland; two brothers, Joseph and Arthur Busby of San
Francisco, and grandson.
services are pending. Flags in Sausalito, along with the Sausalito
ferry boat flag, were flown at half-staff yesterday in her memory.