by Jocelyn Moss
From the Marin County Historical Society Magazine, vol. XVI, no. 1, 1991, pp. 12–13.
The eleven acre parcel on Mission Street in San Rafael was originally owned by Sidney V. Smith, one of the founders of the San Rafael and San Quentin Railroad. Mrs. Ella Parks tore down his house when she bought the property. Mrs. Parks hired the well-known architect, Clinton Day, to design her new home. He built her a beautiful mansion that included a profusion of gables, dormers and bay windows that fulfilled every Victorian fantasy. Inside there are parquet floors and stained glass windows. When the house was built, it was not thought bad manners to show off one's wealth.
The Robert Dollar family came to San Rafael in 1888. At first they rented one of the cottages attached to the old Tamalpais Hotel. but when the Mount Tamalpais Military Academy took over that property, the family moved to 115 J Street. They lived there until 1906 when they bought Mrs. Parks home. The family became associated with the home and it was locally known as the Dollar Home. Robert Dollar lived there until he died in 1932. The grandchildren lived there at various times as necessary. After Robert Dollar's death, his widow retained the home until her death in 1941. J. Harold dollar lived in the house until he died and then his son, Robert Dollar 11 lived there until 1943. Diana Dollar Higgenbotham with her husband Joe and two daughters spruced up the place and moved in during the 1950's. In 1968, Joe Higgenbotham died and Diana wanted to move out of the big old house. She had been the first to call the house "Falkirk" after the birthplace of her grandfather.
In the 1970's the family talked about selling the eleven acres to build townhouses and condominiums. Local people who loved the house banded together under the leadership of Fred and Mary Dekker to save Falkirk. They formed the San Rafael Historic Preservation Commission. This was the group that worked to bring the issue to the people. It was this group that succeeded in getting National Landmark status for Falkirk when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Commission proceeded to have a study done to determine the best use for Falkirk. The study suggested that Falkirk would make a wonderful cultural center. And so it has!
In 1974 the San Rafael City Manager negotiated with the Dollar estate to buy the house for $250,000. The City of San Rafael put the issue to the voters to see if they were willing to tax themselves to acquire Falkirk. The tax passed, approved by 65% of the voters. In 1975 the new Falkirk Community Cultural Center opened. The second floor was remodeled as an art gallery. Now Falkirk hosts art exhibits, writers workshops and other cultural events. The building may be rented for weddings and private parties.
And thus it is possible for the whole community to enjoy the beautiful grounds and the splendid Victorian home.
The Falkirk Community Cultural Commission was incorporated as Marin Heritage which continues to encourage the preservation of historical buildings. This group continues its interest in Falkirk. Recently, they restored the greenhouse that was originally built in 1927.
Because of Falkirk, San Rafael has entered a sister city relationship with Falkirk, Scotland, the birthplace of Robert Dollar. by arrangement of the Caledonia Club and the City of San Rafael, Falkirk received a replica of the lampposts in Falkirk, Scotland. A ceremony was held on August 31, 1989 with some of the Dollar family members in attendance.
Falkirk maintains a place in the heart of San Rafael not only as a fine example of Victorian architecture or as the historical home of the Dollar family but more so as a vital community resource for display and promotion of the arts.