Hygeia - Embalmer's Utopia.
Tower as it appears today.

Hygeia: Embalmer's Utopia

Field review by the editors.

Tiburon, California

Around 1889, a retired doctor had a cylindrical stone tower and archway built as the gatehouse entrance to his health utopia. He named his new community "Hygeia" (after the goddess of health) and situated it on a rocky perch of the Tiburon penisula, with a spectacular view of Angel Island and San Francisco Bay.

Dr. Benjamin F. Lyford was a Civil War surgeon who'd married Hilarita Reed; through her family they inherited huge tracts of land. Lyford operated a medical practice in San Francisco, and even invented a new embalming method that was reported to perfectly preserve dead bodies much better than previous methods.

Hygeia - Embalmer's Utopia.
Gateway to Lyford's Hygeia, 1895.

After retiring from medicine, Lyford developed real estate in southern Marin County, laying out plans for Tiburon's first subdivision, Hygeia, and promoted it with a promise of residency near the "fountain of youth and health."

Hygeia - Lyford's Tower.

The Hygeia 1895 sales brochure text, reprinted by the Tiburon Landmarks Society in their Spring 2013 newsletter, is both florid and inspiring: "Of this marvelous spot, which even now events are shaping to become the most far-famed health resort the world has known, of its matchless combination of location, climate, water facilities, freedom from fogs, noxious vapors, and in a word, total immunity from all those elements which retard growth and ultimately destroy life..."

Lyford conducted scientific experiments with sensitive instruments, according to the brochure, to verify the perfection of Hygeia's location. "For many years Dr. Lyford has been fully alive to the matchless location of this favored spot; of its accessibility to the great metropolis with its vast population; of its balmy, invigorating atmosphere free from fogs and malaria; and with the unswerving intention of perfecting his property so as to make it an earthly Elysium, he has toiled and planned..."

Hygeia was designed with innovations in its sewer system and water closets; rooms were well ventilated and privacy was implicit in its naturally isolated setting.

Dr. Lyford was the arbiter of exactly who would be allowed to buy a tract and join his community. "Only those of unimpeachable character [are] being given deed to lots." No gambling or dancing was permitted in Hygeia, but you could smoke or drink in your home if you were quiet about it.

Ultimately, Hygeia sputtered out; the Lyford heirs sold the property, and non-Hygeian homes started to fill up the real estate along the coast.

All that remains is Lyford's stone tower, which was saved and restored starting in the 1970s. The tower is open to the public, with the caveat that there is nowhere to park nearby (other than on the private driveways of rich people). We walked up the sidewalk from the bottom of the hill.

Walking is good for your health.

Hygeia: Embalmer's Utopia

Lyford's Tower

Address:
2029-2099 Paradise Dr, Tiburon, CA
Directions:
Belvedere-Tiburon. Tower is on a coastal curve with no shoulder and private driveways on either side. Sidewalks lead up along Paradise Dr., about 1/4 mi. past the Railroad Ferry Museum.
Hours:
Open to public, no parking.
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October 20, 2019

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