In April 2015, the California State Senate unanimously voted to rename a tunnel in honor of late funnyman, Robin Williams. Known for years as the Waldo Tunnel, the rainbow-rimmed passageway that provides access to and from Marin County is now officially dubbed the Robin Williams Tunnel.
The historical name change came about partly due to a popular petition hosted by Change.org. Started by Belvedere resident Julie Wainwright and addressed to San Rafael assemblyman Marc Levine, the petition to rename the well-traveled tunnel ultimately garnered more than 61,000 signatures.
Until this week, the busy tunnel had no officially designated name. Since its opening in the 1930s, locals generally referred to the excavated highway span as “Waldo Tunnel” in deference to the grade upon which it traverses. William Waldo, in case you’re wondering, was a 19th century politician who arrived in California by wagon train at the height of the 1849 gold rush. The Connecticut-born Waldo ran as a Whig candidate for state governor in 1853.
Located on U.S. Highway 101 in Sausilito, the newly-named Robin Williams Tunnel comprises two separate tunnel bores, each boasting four one-way lanes. The westernmost of the two tunnels leads southbound drivers to the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco. The eastern tunnel moves traffic into the North Bay Ara and beyond.
As noted by NBC Bay Area News, two green-and-white highway signs declaring the tunnel’s new moniker were installed on March 1. The signs cost a total of around $3,000 and were paid for with private donations.
Robin McLaurin Williams was born in Chicago in the summer of 1951. The usually comical, sometimes serious actor attended the College of Marin and Claremont Men’s College in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as the Juilliard School in Manhattan. By the time he achieved fame on national television, Williams was already well known in San Francisco and Los Angeles for his hilarious, often impromptu comedy presentations.
Among Robin Williams’ numerous fans was a gorilla named Koko who communicates with American Sign Language. Of his friendship with the great ape, Williams said,
“I recently had a mind-altering experience communicating with a gorilla. We shared something extraordinary: Laughter. Koko understands spoken English and uses over 1,000 signs to share her feelings and thoughts about daily events, life, love, even death. It was awesome and unforgettable.”
The rainbows that greet travelers as they enter the northbound tunnels remind many people of the colorful suspenders worn by Robin Williams’ first major television character, spaceman Mork from Ork.
The rainbows that greet motorists heading northward through Robin Williams Tunnel were the original handiwork of longtime Caltrans engineer and information officer, Robert Halligan. Hand-painted sans official sanction in 1969, the colorful arches came as an unwelcome surprise to Halligan’s supervisors at the California Department of Transportation. According to Our Sausilito, the now-iconic rainbows were scheduled for removal when local residents successfully appealed to city supervisors who deemed them worthy of permanence.
Upon initial publication of her petition that led to the naming of the tunnel, Julie Wainwright said,
“Like many worldwide, I am mourning the death of the immensely talented entertainer and incredibly good person, Robin Williams. I live in Marin County, California, about three miles from Robin’s home in Tiburon. He was my neighbor — I often saw him running errands, walking the dog, performing at the local theater, working at the coffee shop. Robin wasn’t just an international icon — he was an integral part of our community here in the Bay Area. We claim him as our own.”
She was right. The Bay Area, along with countless fans around the world, did indeed love Robin Williams. This week’s tunnel renaming is certain proof of that.
[Photo Isaac Brekken/AP Images]