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HISTORY: Old Monterey


Old Monterey, California
by Nancy Pratt

Natural History - The importance of Monterey Bay may have first been recognized by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, a Portuguese Navigator for the Spanish in 1542 (Ship in upper border). The bay is a natural harbor for moorings. The secret of Monterey is the offshore canyon as large and as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Scenes shift dramatically to allow plants and creatures of almost every marine character to adapt and survive here. Giant kelp are the favorite food of the purple sea urchin and these spiny animals are sought by the furry sea otter. Elegant sea slugs, snails, crabs, starfish, and other giant kelp forest fish appear in the borders. Bay to shore travelers include Leopard sharks, sea lions and harbor seals. Western Gulls, Brown Pelicans also travel from the water to the shores where Coast Live Oak and Monterey Pines are abundant.

Cultural History - Wonderful cultures of people have come and gone from Monterey. First were the Rumsen Ohlone, a local group of Indians, who lived off the land and sea. They gathered shellfish like the abundant abalone and hunted game with bows and arrows and could walk up next to the deer as they wore deer heads.

Around the time American colonists on the Atlantic coast would struggle for independence from England the Spanish were fearful of encroachment of the English and Russians on the Pacific coast and wanted to protect their Acapulco - Manila silk trade. In 1770 Gaspar de Portola’ succeeded in establishing the Presidio of Monterey and Father Junipero Serra founded Mission San Carlos Borromeo, mother of the Franciscan missions in California (Serra’s monument in upper right corner stands on a hill of El Castillo overlooking Fisherman’s Wharf). The mission moved to Carmel in 1771, but the building became the Royal Presidio chapel. It is said that Father Serra’s favorite flower was the Rose of Castille (bottom in the border).

In 1775 the Spanish viceroy in Mexico made Monterey the capitol of California, Imperial Spain’s northernmost province in the Americas. Even after Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1822, the capitol of California province remained in Monterey. However, Monterey was never the Civil Capitol of California under American rule after 1846. It was the military capitol for awhile though..

Typical homes of the period were adobes with a half level above for sleeping. The Casa Serrano is an example of a "one and a half" with side stairs.

The sport of bear and bull fighting was loved by the Spanish as well as quitar serenading.

The Custom House - Custom duties were collected here and ships traded goods for the hides of cattle brought to the Custom House on carts. Cattle hides were called California bank notes. The ‘Californios’ wealth was their cattle hides rather than money in their pockets. The building was also used for balls, banquets and other public festivities. In 1846 U.S. Naval Commodore John Sloat landed and raised the Stars and Stripes on the flag pole of the Custom House and claimed California for the USA. Many parties were thrown for the officers of Sloat’s fleet

Colton Hall - (upper right corner) Built by Walter Colton who came to California as a U.S. Navy Chaplain under Commodore Sloat and became the American Alcade (governor) of Monterey. Today the second floor has been restored to its appearance in September 1849 when California delegates drafted, debated and approved a constitution for the State of California.

California’s First Theatre - (upper right corner) In 1850 Seaman Jack Swan produced some plays in his tavern and sailors quarters, 19th century melodramas are presented in the old theatre to this day.

?As the gold rush was beginning full force in California all but nearly 400 residents left Monterey to be a sleepy village.

Portuguese Whalers - came around 1855 via San Francisco from the Azores Islands. They were a novel sight to view on some exposed headland where they practiced offshore whaling, flenching the blubber off whales at the beach rather than on the open sea. The sails and the boats belonging to different vessels often had peculiar markings. Whaling around Monterey lasted into the early 20th century, longer than other American whaling site.

Chinese Fishermen - first came in the early 1850’s directly from China by sea, on the same currents that carried the Spanish Acapulco - Manila traders. They developed abalone, Salmon, squid, and fish fertilizer industries.

Robert Louis Stevenson - During Monterey’s sleepy village period in 1879 Stevenson roamed the shores for his future story ‘Treasure Island’, and wrote an essay ‘The Old Pacific Capitol’ before a vast change came to Monterey. Other artists retreated to Monterey from San Francisco.

Hotel Del Monte - (top left) was the first of California’s grand resort hotels. The famous golf greens and the scenic Seventeen Mile Drive began here. Today the hotel serves as the U.S Naval Postgraduate School. The hotel’s chapel, St. Johns Chapel, is still in use.

Cannery Row - Monterey’s economy really began to expand when sardines were fished and canned in the early 1900’s. Sicilian fisherman came with lampara nets and felucca sails. The ‘Monterey Clipper’, motor powered boats replaced the sail boats and then larger boats were needed when purse seine nets were introduced. Monterey sailed through the depression as the ‘Sardine Capitol of the World’. By the 1950’s the sardines had been fished out.

John Steinbeck - Through his best-selling novels, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck made Cannery Row world-famous. One of his story characters was based on his good friend and mentor, marine biologist Ed ‘Doc’ Ricketts.

Fisherman’s Wharf - developed first as a stone pier from the Mexican Custom House. Since then the Monterey Boating Club and later the German immigrant, ‘Pop’ Ernest who introduced the abalone to his restaurant menu, made the Wharf famous.

Monterey Jazz - is a tradition and is world-renowned through the Monterey Jazz Festival, Dixieland Festival, and the Blues Festival.

Monterey High School - (top right) old High School.

St. James Episcopal Church - first Protestant church in Monterey holds the Mayo Hayes O’Donnell library and still conducts small services.

Santa Rosalia - is the patron saint of Sicilian fishermen and is celebrated in a yearly September festival.

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