The City of Novato, the second largest city in Marin County, is located in Marin County 29 miles north of San Francisco. It was incorporated in 1960 and encompasses 43 square miles with 3,500 acres of open space and parks. Novato features a variety of neighborhoods including waterfront communities, horse farms, and beautiful mansions.
What is now Novato was originally the site of several Coast Miwok villages: Chokeche, near downtown Novato, Puyuku, near Ignacio, and Olompali, at the present Olompali State Historic Park. The only battle of the Bear Flag Rebellion, which led to California's statehood, was fought at Olompali in 1846, and the Burdell family later established the first formal garden in Marin there in the 1870's. The Chosen Family hippie commune serenaded by Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead lived in the old Burdell mansion until it burned in 1969.
Novato was first established in 1839 when the Mexican government granted the 8,876-acre Rancho Novato to Fernando Feliz. The rancho was named after a local Miwok leader who had probably been given the name of Saint Novatus at his baptism. Subsequently four additional land grants were made in the area; Rancho Corte Madera de Novato to John Martin in 1839, Rancho San Jose to Ignacio Pacheco in 1840, Rancho Olompali awarded in 1843 to Camilo Ynitia, son of a Coast Miwok chief, and Rancho Nicasio, by far the largest at 56,621 acres, awarded to Pablo de la Guerra and John B.R. Cooper in 1844. Novato, along with the rest of California, became part of the United States on February 2, 1848.
The first post office at Novato opened in 1856; it closed in 1860, and a new post office opened in 1891. The first school was built in 1859 at the corner of Grant Avenue at what is today Redwood Boulevard.
The original town was located around Novato Creek at what is now South Novato Boulevard. A railroad was built in 1879, connecting Novato to Sonoma County and San Rafael. The area around the train depot became known as New Town, and forms the edge of what today is Old Town Novato. The depot consisted of two buildings, a warehouse and a station. The warehouse burned twice in the intervening years and was torn down in late 2007 to make way for a Whole Foods development, while the station is still standing. The Great Depression of the 1930s had a marked effect on the area as many farmers lost their land. After World War II, Novato grew quickly with the construction of tract homes and a freeway.
The city is home to the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, and several small biotech firms, such as Buck Institute for Age Research, Biosearch Technologies and BioMarin Pharmaceutical. Several small technology companies are also based in Novato, such as 2K Marin, Radiant Logic, Imagemovers Digital, and Sonic Solutions.
The former Hamilton Air Force Base is also located in Novato, but was decommissioned in 1974 and designated a Historic District in 1998. After lying stagnant for many years, the base has largely been redeveloped into single family homes. The former hangar buildings were gutted and redeveloped into two story office buildings. Hangar tenants include ImageMovers Digital, Sony Imageworks, Visual Concepts Entertainment, Smith & Hawken, The Republic of Tea, and Birkenstock Distribution USA.