Prior to World War II, the land that would become Marin City was home to a dairy farm and a handful of families. Soon after war was declared on December 8, 1941, Marin City was rapidly built in order to house 6,000 of the 20,000 workers who migrated from all over the United States, attracted by the jobs at the Marinship— the Sausalito waterfront shipyard. A total of 93 liberty ships and tankers were built and launched from the Marinship Shipyards in less than three years, a major contribution to winning the war..
This "instant Marin City community," constructed by a joint venture between the federal government and the Marin County Housing Authority, which was created to manage the project, boasted 2,700 dormitory and apartment units; a school; a public library; a variety of stores, cafes, barber/beauty shops; a health facility; and a community center.
As the country's first integrated federal housing project, Marin City, at its peak, had a population of 6,500 people, including over 1,000 school aged children. Marin City was home to mid-western whites (85%), southern blacks (10%), and Chinese immigrants (5%) who worked around the clock in the Bechtel-owned Marinship Shipyards.
After the war ended, many of the African American shipyard laborers who had migrated from the Southern United States became permanent residents of Marin City either by choice or due to various racial discriminatory laws limiting housing opportunities in other parts of Marin County. In contrast to war times, when African Americans comprised only 10% of Marin City's population, they soon became the core of the community while the majority of guest laborers departed at the end of the war.
In 1958, a Redevelopment Agency was formed, with the sole purpose of constructing a permanent Marin City. The Urban Renewal Plan for Marin City was adopted. The Plan called for the building of public housing, single family homes, cooperative apartments, commercial facilities, and a high school.
By 1962, the 6,500 population had been reduced to 1,300. The white and Chinese population was virtually gone, leaving behind a community that was now 90% African American. The wartime housing was torn down and in its place 300 public housing units, 82 single family homes, and a 104-unit cooperative known as Golden Gate Village were built.
By 1978, construction on the hillside had begun. Eventually, 198 market-rate apartments and 235 townhouses and condominiums were completed in the Headlands. Shortly after this time, the diversity of the community increased. However, Marin City was never incorporated and remains an unincorporated area of Marin County.
During the 1980s and 1990s, there was considerable residential and commercial development, including several new housing developments, apartment complexes, and condominium developments. There was also an expansion of the commercial area with the building of the Gateway Shopping Center facilitated by the Marin City Community Development Corporation. The Gateway Shopping Center continues to be the core commercial center of Marin City today and includes the following major stores: Target, CVS Pharmacy, Ross Dress for Less, Massage Envy, Subway, Panda Express, Burger King, Starbucks, Sleep Train and West Marine.
Today, the demographic composition of Marin City is 39% white, 38% African-American, 14% Hispanic, 11% Asian/Pacific Islander and 4% other. It continues to grow and change while remaining a resilient community of promise. The Marin City Community Services District (MCCSD), a multi-purpose California special district that is governed by a publicly-elected five-member board of directors, and the Marin City Community Development Corporation (MCCDC), a locally based private non-profit community development corporation, seek to lead the community into the future in concert with its residents, community- based organizations and faith-based leadership.