In the late 40s post-war era Niels Schultz dreamed of creating a sustainable community in the heart of Marin that was respectful of the surrounding natural beauty. An experienced and well-respected builder who was instrumental in developing the Millbrae Highlands community, he purchased 700 acres of land that is now known as Greenbrae. Schultz and his family were some of its first residents in 1946, a time when the land was more populated with wildlife than people. And as the community grew, its needs grew too.
Show morePhilanthropy was a cornerstone in Schultz’s vision; he donated land to build a school, fire department, recreational field and yacht basin, now known as Marin Rowing. But it quickly became clear that the burgeoning community’s greatest need was access to groceries. It was this need that gave birth to Bon Air.
Niels Schultz’s son, Niels Schultz Jr. who held a degree in civil engineering from Stanford University before joining the Army Air Corps in 1941, returned from the war in 1946 and was placed in charge of this Greenbrae project. In 1947, his was the first house built in Greenbrae. As further building commenced in 1951, preservation efforts included thoughtful road and building site design to save centuries-old trees including the grand oak at the west end of Bon Air.
In 1952 Bon Air opened its doors with Kilpatrick Market, which soon became known as Bon Air Super. In 1955, five more specialty service stores followed, a hardware store, beauty salon, barber shop, laundry and Greenbrae Pharmacy. Bon Air became a place to not only shop but to gather and visit with neighbors building a sense of small town community in the process. The completion of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in 1956 drew East Bay residents to Marin’s communities and nearby beaches for recreation and shopping.
A little more than a decade later, in 1964, Bon Air Super became the new location for Greenbrae Pharmacy where Joe DiMaggio sightings were a regular occurrence, and a U.S. Postal Service satellite office was installed. Petrini’s opened its first and one of its most successful supermarkets in the location that is now Mollie Stone’s. Pronzini’s Christmas Trees, an annual tradition that continues today, made its debut in the adjacent parking lot. Meaders Cleaners and Luxton Optical opened in 1966 and are businesses still serving the community under new leadership today.
The 70s saw more growth with second-generation families making Greenbrae home. With these new families came Bon Air’s family-friendly restaurants like Swensen’s Ice Cream and The Refectory to complement local Greenbrae activities like bowling, trampolines, go-carts and miniature golf.
By the 80s, Bon Air Center was stretched and a needed expansion was underway. In 1985 additional storefronts were added extending from what is now Peet’s Coffee eastward towards CVS Pharmacy, and Chevy’s opened one its first restaurants. Meeting the needs of the community, Bon Air also started its annual Gather and Give campaign collecting non-perishable food items for Marin food banks. Marking the end of this decade, The Sleeping Princess, local artist Dennis Patton’s interpretation of Mt. Tamalpais was installed at Bon Air’s entrance, and Bon Air held its first invitational car show, an annual tradition still held today.
Generational change heralded in the next two decades with Petrini’s Markets’ owners retiring and Mollie Stone’s opening its doors in 1996. Ms. Schultz, third-generation and Niels Schultz Jr’s youngest daughter joined her father in support of the family business and neighboring communities. Philanthropy continued with both Schultzes serving on Marin General Hospital’s Board and generous donations ensuring medical advancements in Marin were made. The first regularly scheduled mobile blood drives were also organized in Bon Air’s parking lot.
Show moreFollowing her father in business and community service, Ms. Schultz took the helm at Bon Air in 2006. With an eye towards preserving Bon Air for future generations, a team was put in place to envision a center-wide redesign. Building on the legacy of Bon Air’s community, the refresh was completed in 2017 with a focus on new outdoor gathering spaces, environmental sustainability and landscape design. A sign of a new era, electric car charging stations were installed and additional works from artist Dennis Patton, the ballerina and deer, were also acquired.
With the impact of the 2020 global pandemic, both the community and merchants faced extremely difficult challenges. The Bon Air management team worked with merchants to help keep them in business and provide a range of essential services for the community. Accommodations were made for retail, dining and fitness services by erecting large outdoor tents to allow businesses to operate safely. A partnership with the Larkspur Chamber of Commerce and generous donation from Bon Air management provided grant money for businesses in need. With Bon Air’s larger annual events in flux, the center also partners with the Lark Theater in Larkspur to boost their shuttered business and provide safe, family-friendly outdoor entertainment with Drive-In movies under the large oak tree. Bon Air restaurants, Gott’s and Mollie Stone’s, donated and led food drives for health care workers, in addition to Bon Air’s mask and PPE drives for healthcare workers.
2022 and beyond
Community by situation and community by definition, Bon Air remains the heart of downtown Greenbrae with its beautiful outdoor areas and year-round community gathering events. The center welcomes new merchants like sweetgreen, Bear Flag Fitness and Dance with E.N.A. A 70th Birthday Celebration brings the community together again for the official “Bon Air Day,” and a new mural that depicts Bon Air’s past, present and future in partnership with Marin Open Studio’s and the Canal Art Alliance is unveiled. Seventy years, and still family-owned, Bon Air continues to adapt to the ever growing and changing needs of the community. It’s unwavering commitment to service and giving back to the community still holds steadfast and true from Niels Schultz original vision.
A special note of Thank You to the Kentfield Greenbrae Historical Society for providing historical records, images and support.