On Christmas Day in 1969, Rita Abrams sat on a bench outside the Mill Valley bus depot and wrote a cheerful little song about the town she’d come to call home a few months before. “Mill Valley” celebrates the Marin County town, its creeks, sunshine and trees, and its sense of community and home.
The song might have stayed within the confines of Strawberry Point School, where Abrams was a teacher. But a chance encounter with a record producer sent her and a chorus of third-graders on an unlikely journey to the Billboard Hot 100 list in 1970 and more than 15 minutes of fame. Francis Ford Coppola, pre-“Godfather,” directed the music video (above).
After the song’s success, Abrams was able to buy a modest house. She left teaching to live the creative life full time, writing everything from musicals to greeting cards. She doesn’t regret that decision, but now economic realities may be forcing her out of the town where, in the words of the song, “life feels very fine and free”.
“The last line of the song is, ‘How could I leave Mill Valley?’ And here I am, leaving Mill Valley and not wanting to,” Abrams told KQED’s Cy Musiker. “But it’s really necessary.”
Abrams, who eventually sold her house, can no longer afford the condo she bought 26 years ago. So, she’s putting it on the market. “I have to have at least one cry in every room I’m cleaning out, and then I’m fine,” she said.
Once her condo is sold, Abrams isn’t sure where she’ll go next. A few weeks ago she posted on a neighborhood website that she was interested in an inexpensive rental or house-sit. (Which is how we found out about her story, thanks to listener and Mill Valley resident Joe Lisella.) Abrams said the response has been overwhelming.
“I have had such an outpouring of warmth and love and support from people — strangers — when they find out ‘Miss Abrams’ has to leave Mill Valley. I have nothing but good feelings about Mill Valley as a community, especially after this experience.”
But Rita Abrams is realistic about her future in what’s become one of the priciest towns in the Bay Area.
“Sentiment can’t run your life,” she said. “You have to be real about what’s necessary. There are an awful lot of people who would love to live in Mill Valley who can’t afford to, and I’m probably one of them now.”