Perry’s on Magnolia: a burger with a side of paranormal activity

Olivia Jeffry

“Suddenly the vacuum stopped, the fan began spinning uncontrollably, and the potted tree beside me started to shake as if someone had it by the base. But none of the other potted trees were shaking, the fan switch wasn’t on, and the vacuum was plugged in. While all this was happening, I felt like someone was standing right behind me, putting their arms around me but not physically touching me. The sweet smell of a woman’s perfume filled the air. I turned around and said; ‘What is going on?’ As I said that, the tree next to me stopped shaking, the fans shut off and the vacuum cleaner went back on. That is when I realized the house was haunted,” said former 1984 Lark Creek Inn busboy, and current father of a Redwood student.

Nestled amongst Larkspur’s towering redwoods lies the “haunted house.” While around Marin County it is simply known as the building that housed The Lark Creek Inn, The Tavern at Lark Creek, and now Perry’s on Magnolia, historical evidence and local tales suggest otherwise. 

Courtesy of Larkspur Past and Present
The O’Brien-Probert house in 1971, shortly before its transformation to The Lark Creek Inn. Note the absence of the dining room on the south (right) side.

According to the book, Larkspur Past and Present, local pioneer Patrick King sold his land to a San Francisco school teacher, Catherine O’Brien, in 1881. Once the house was built in 1888, the O’Briens and extended family occupied it until the early 1920s. The history of the home then became unknown, as it stood vacant until Hildred “Hil” Probert and his wife Mildred, who had been scouting a gas station location, bought it in 1937. During this time of vacancy, Larkspur locals dubbed the home “haunted.” An article released in 1972 by Ross Valley journalist, Jim Jackson, suggests why. 

“Indeed, several years [after it was abandoned], two female skeletons were found immured in the walls of the house,” said Jackson. 

Decades after the supposed bodies were found, an undeniable presence remained, contributing to the folklore. Along with many other locals, Jill Branch grew up hearing the tales of 234 Magnolia Avenue. However, it wasn’t until she started working there in 1972 when The Lark Creek Inn opened, that she experienced the unexplainable activity.

“Since I was the pastry chef, I was always the first one in the building. With my own set of keys, I’d enter through the back door, unlock the big walk-in refrigerator, turn on the oven and go upstairs to change my clothes and put my stuff away. But what freaked me out was when I’d come back downstairs the refrigerator door would be closed and locked and the oven would be off and stone cold. I was the only one in the building, the only one. And after that happened a few times, I started taking the lock with me. Things would either be off when they should be on or vice versa,” said Branch. 

Over the six years Branch worked at the Lark Creek Inn, ghost stories and individual experiences were commonly discussed among employees. It was through these conversations that Branch and the busboy learned that there were bodies found in an upstairs wall. Thus, providing a reasoning for the peculiar occurrences. 

 “People had said that they would hear things upstairs. I recall one lady saying she heard someone laughing and talking in the upstairs bathroom, but when she checked, no one was there. Some employees would also say that they’d see figures/shadows upstairs and things like that,” said the previous Lark Creek Inn busboy.

His recollection of the figures upstairs is eerily similar to a recent event at Perry’s involving the cleaning crew. A current employee at Perry’s recalled an especially haunting story. 

“Especially in those upstairs rooms, staff report paranormal encounters or feeling like they’re not alone. People have said that it’s haunted. The creepiest story that I heard was when the cleaning crew came in a couple of months ago. One of the employees who was cleaning walked past the staircase and saw something. However, the security camera only caught the cleaning lady dropping everything and running away screaming,” said Perry’s employee. 

According to Pew Research Center, nearly one-in-five-U.S. adults (18%) say they’ve seen or been in the presence of a ghost. Although the existence of paranormal activity is debatable, the pattern of events at 234 Magnolia Avenue may lead nonbelievers to reconsider.