• Deirdre McCrohan

Belvedere architect Jim Mitchell served on rec district, community foundation boards


Belvedere resident Jim Mitchell, a retired architect and past recipient of the Tiburon Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year and the Tiburon Heritage Preservation awards, died Jan. 7 after a period of illness. He was 82.


Mr. Mitchell received both awards, respectively recognizing his contributions to the community and his dedication to preserving Tiburon Peninsula history, in 2005.


Mr. Mitchell briefly served on the Belvedere Planning Commission from March 1975 to July 1976. In 1978, in part in recognition of his roles in the creation of the playing field at McKegney Green and the creation of youth soccer leagues, he was appointed by the Belvedere City Council as a city representative on the Belvedere-Tiburon Joint Recreation Committee board of directors; three years earlier, in 1975, Belvedere and Tiburon had entered into a joint powers agreement that established Belvedere-Tiburon Recreation, also known as The Ranch, to administer and operate recreation programs for residents.


While on the board, he recruited Nancy Cappelloni as executive director to build a successful and popular recreation program and Hazel Carter, now a real estate agent, to create and run the Afternoon Academy program for elementary-school children and other classes for adults. He remained on the board for more than 20 years.


Since 1989, Mr. Mitchell had served on the board of the Tiburon Peninsula Foundation, helping to shepherd some of the organization’s community-building projects through to completion. These included the Historical Trail, a series of illustrated history plaques on pedestals stretching from Blackie’s Pasture to downtown Tiburon. He helped secure funding for Blackie’s Brigade, a volunteer group that formed to make low-key improvements to the Blackie’s Pasture area, and he himself installed the irrigation system that waters Blackie’s Garden.


“He’s one of those people who stays in the background, but because of his genius and creativity, is always making things happen,” said former Tiburon Mayor and Councilmember Larry Smith, another longtime foundation member.


In July 2016, Mr. Mitchell was appointed as the Belvedere representative to the Marin Commission on Aging, where he sought to bring about programs offering elderly residents an opportunity to gather socially, which he felt would help alleviate feelings of isolation. He resigned in October 2017 due to illness.


Mr. Mitchell also served on the Gulf of the Farallones Preserve board of directors and on the board for Women’s Health at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. He was on the board of UCSF’s “That Man May See,” a charitable organization that supports research and care for those with eye diseases and disabilities, from 2010 to 2015.


Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Mr. Mitchell grew up in a working-class neighborhood, where his family lived on the second floor of a four-story tenement. He later credited his elementary-school principal for tutoring him so he qualified to attend the Royal High School of Edinburgh. One of his high-school instructors steered him toward architecture, and he earned a full scholarship to Edinburgh University’s College of Art.


After graduation in 1960, he was hired by a London architecture firm. There he met Howard Backen, a visiting architect who lived in Belvedere and went on to design sets for Robert Redford movies. The two hit it off, and Backen invited Mitchell to visit California.


Mitchell landed a job with Anshen and Allen, the San Francisco architecture firm known as the original designers of Eichler homes.


After a stint back in Scotland, Mr. Mitchell and his wife, Janet, who were married in 1964, moved back to San Francisco, where he joined the international management-consulting firm of Arthur D. Little. The couple moved to a house on Belvedere Lagoon.


In 1978, Mitchell was invited to join architecture firm Backen, Arrigoni and Ross as the managing principal, a position he held for the remainder of his career. He retired in 2002.


Mr. Mitchell’s father and grandfather were “exceptional Scottish cabinetmakers,” talented artisans who worked for Whytock and Reid, Edinburgh’s premier cabinet and furniture makers.


Only after he became a successful architect did Mr. Mitchell’s father — who wanted his son to become a professional — finally teach him the craft of woodworking, and Mr. Mitchell made the cabinets and many pieces of furniture for his Belvedere Lagoon home. He furthered his woodworking skills with lessons from other masters at Agrell Architectural Carving in San Rafael and at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine. When his parents visited, he and his father often worked in the shop together.


When not in the shop, Mr. Mitchell was out cycling, having spent eight years on a racing team. When he was working, he biked the 28 miles round trip to work each morning. After retirement, he cycled 30-40 miles each weekday morning, either alone or with friends.


He learned to cook after meeting food personality and cooking-school owner Judith Ets-Hokin of Belvedere while out on a walk. He went on to earn a certificate from her HomeChef Cooking School.


In addition to wife Janet Mitchell, Mr. Mitchell is survived by the couple’s two children, Andrew Mitchell of Corte Madera and Julia Mitchell of Mill Valley.


Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.

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