There is a move afoot to rename the Waldo Tunnel -- the gateway into Marin on Highway 101 -- after Robin Williams.

A change.org petition now has more than 4,000 electronic signatures. The request is being made: "To remember and honor the very important citizen and world renowned entertainer, Robin Williams, for the joy he brought to the world and to bring awareness to the silent illness that eventually took his life."

Williams, 63, died last Monday at his home in Tiburon in an apparent suicide.

Once 5,000 people sign on, the petition will be sent to state Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who represents Marin.

Caltrans lead worker Nina Kiniery applies a coat of paint to the base of the rainbow on the northbound Highway 101 bore of the Waldo Tunnel near Sausalito
Caltrans lead worker Nina Kiniery applies a coat of paint to the base of the rainbow on the northbound Highway 101 bore of the Waldo Tunnel near Sausalito on Oct. 1, 2009. (Jeff Vendsel — Marin Independent Journal)

Levine says he is on board with the idea, but would like to hear from Williams' family before proceeding.

"It's a wonderful idea, but the Williams family needs time to grieve and heal," Levine said. "It would appear an appropriate way to honor a man that so many people feel connected to both in San Francisco and Marin. But I would like to hear from the family first."

Such a change would have to be approved by the Legislature, said Steve Williams, Caltrans spokesman. The request could not be made until December, when a new session begins, Levine noted.

It would cost roughly $5,000 to make sign changes, money that would have to come via donations.


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Comedian Williams had local ties, graduating from Redwood High School in Larkspur in 1969, attending the College of Marin and living in Tiburon.

Levine noted that in his role as "Mork" on the TV program "Mork and Mindy" -- which introduced Williams to the world -- the actor often wore rainbow-colored suspenders. Painted rainbows adorn the southern portals of the Waldo Tunnel.

"I had those rainbow-colored suspenders as a kid," Levine said.

It was 1970 when the rainbows went up on the tunnels after Alan S. Hart, former director of the San Francisco District of Caltrans, then known as the state Division of Highways, ordered it. Hart was about to retire and made a last-minute decision to skip permission from his bosses in Sacramento, and he ordered the portal arches to be painted multiple colors because they reminded him of rainbows.

Initially the Sacramento brass was furious, but they calmed when the public embraced the rainbows, which somehow fit naturally into the rolling landscape. Marinwood resident Robert Halligan, a Caltrans spokesman and an engineer, took the idea and pushed it through, making sure the job got done.

In 2009, Caltrans deemed the faded rainbows in need of a touch-up. With the help of Marin Color Service Inc., which donated the paint, and Belinda Hallmark, an architectural color and finish consultant from Novato, who worked on the project for free, the rainbows were brightened.

The tunnel is now named after William Waldo, a Whig Party candidate for governor in the mid-19th Century.

"In Sausalito, Waldo Street has disappeared from the map, but the name is perpetuated with Waldo Point, at the foot of Waldo Grade; Waldo Court in Marin City; and the Waldo Tunnels," according to Louise Teather's 1986 book, "Place Names of Marin."

"During the days of the railroad a station called Waldo stood opposite the point." ------ (c)2014 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com