Monday, October 28, 2013

Charles Crocker

A tycoon named Charles Crocker (1822-1888) is the single most important figure in the early development of Monterey Peninsula, because it was he who got excited about tourism potential here, and built the magnificent Hotel Del Monte, which opened in 1880. Crocker financed his Monterey venture with money he made building the Central Pacific Railroad, a massive project that required a certain ruthlessness. Historians ponder the human toll of the endeavor, and debate the exact number of men who died from accidents. The number may be in neighborhood of 50 to 100 (probably not the "thousands" cited in some sources).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fish Culture

The fish in Monterey Bay brought diversity to the land as well. Rumsen Indians had a fishing village for centuries at what is now Custom House Plaza. Portuguese whalers arrived in the 1850s, about the time Chinese fishermen landed at Point Lobos. Fresh fish markets were limited until the railroad arrived in 1874, then Italian fishermen moved to Monterey with larger boats to catch fish for San Francisco buyers, according to Tim Thomas, historian at the Monterey Maritime and History Museum. With growing competition, discriminatory laws were passed to limit Chinese fishing, so the “Chinatown” then in Pacific Grove turned to squid that nobody else wanted. Japanese divers arrived in 1895, settled on Cannery Row and started harvesting the abalone no one else valued. Monterey started focusing on sardines soon after that and Sicilian fishermen with large purse seiners moved in to catch tons of them for the 41 Cannery Row processing plants that were booming into the 1940s. Japanese fishermen dominated salmon fishing by then and owned 80% of the businesses on Fisherman’s Wharf until World War II erupted and they were forced to move to inland camps.

Photo: Monterey Wharf and waterfront. Ca. 1907. Credit: Monterey Public Library, California History Room

Seaside Blossoms

Seaside is the most racially and culturally diverse community on the Monterey Peninsula, a direct result of its history with the Army. Before 1950 it was a sprawling, unincorporated area known as “North Monterey” with an array of chicken farms, one major housing subdivision, some shacks left over from the Depression and some quickly built, affordable housing put up for soldiers’ families and civilian support staff during World War I and World War II. After President Harry Truman ordered the Army integrated in 1948, military officials decided to transfer all the black troops to Fort Ord because they were worried about racial violence elsewhere. The surge of black troops and their families into Fort Ord more than doubled the population of Seaside in the early ‘50s, and it incorporated as a city in 1954. When the base closed 40 years later and the soldiers left, many Latinos and Asians moved into the housing built for troops, helping change the racial and cultural mix of the city yet again.


Pacific Grove recognizes a Chinese heritage, but that was basically a “Chinatown” fishing settlement that burned down in 1906 when the land owner wanted to convert the property to oceanfront villas. “Chinatown” was at Point Alones, which now holds Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, next to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Chinese fishermen who moved there in the 1850s and ‘60s built wooden shanties in a one-street village that eventually caught as much as 100 tons of squid a year, which was dried on their rooftops and racks that stretched to Lovers Point. The stench was a major concern when the Pacific Improvement Company wanted to subdivide and sell the 30 acres leased to the Chinese. The tenants refused to leave. In May 1906, on a night many of the Chinese were away watching their children graduate from Pacific Grove schools, an explosive fire believed started by coal oil swept through “Chinatown” and the Pacific Grove Volunteer Fire Department found the only hose they brought to fight the fire was slashed and unusable. The next day the property owner put a fence around the area and hired guards to keep the Chinese from rebuilding. Some of the inhabitants from PG"s Chinatown had fled the San Francisco earthquake disaster just weeks before.

Photo: Chinatown procession along Ocean View Boulevard in 1905. Credit:Pacific Grove Museum.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Green Gold

Salinas may be best known as the birthplace of Nobel Laureate John Steinbeck, but it’s been lettuce not literature that has driven the area’s economy. For nearly a century, the city and the 60-mile long Salinas Valley have been called “The Salad Bowl of the Nation” because more than half the lettuce eaten in the U.S. has been grown on those fertile fields. The cool climate is ideal for lettuce and allows three – sometimes four – crops a year. The growers in the 1920s learned how to pack head lettuce in ice so it could be shipped all the way to the East Coast, expanding the market dramatically. Head lettuce became known as “iceberg” because of that packing method, and it dominated the fresh vegetable business through the 1980s. After a bag was invented in 1989 that can keep cut vegetables fresh for several days, ready-to-eat bags of salad popped onto the market, changing eating habits, tripling the value of lettuce crops and creating new markets for vegetables that can be mixed together for inventive salads. The more delicate leaf lettuce surpassed iceberg in acreage and income in 2002, as Salinas continued to be the nation’s major supplier of lettuce and salads. Note: a failed experiment to send iced lettuce east via rail was featured in East of Eden, both the Steinbeck book and the movie.

(Salinas Valley lettuce field courtesy of Stones55)

First Farms in Carmel Valley

The agricultural roots of Carmel Valley are frequently traced to Spanish priests who, in the 1770s, planted crops and orchards to feed the new settlements at the missions. But the European presence actually ended the original farming that had been going on in the valley for nearly 4,000 years. Rumsen Indian families had learned centuries earlier to harvest seeds in the meadows, till and plant them with “digging sticks” and turn wildlands into gardens. They also learned how to detoxify the acorns in the woods and mill them into edible flour. It took 13 acres of hard seeds and hundreds of pounds of acorns to support each family, according to Mark Hyklema, an archeologist with the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The Rumsen, one of the 50 or so tribes generally called Ohlone, also burned their gardens periodically to control poison oak, clear the land and release new seeds. But after the Spanish arrived and started building settlements, they forbid the Ohlone fires and ended 40 centuries of Indian farming in Carmel Valley.

(Mortar hole for acorns apparently used by Rumsen Indians found in Garland Park courtesy of tsallam)

Watering the Flower People

Back in the ‘60s, Carmel, fearing that it would become another Haight-Ashbury, adopted an ordinance against free-range hippies. The city council tried tried to ban “an extraordinary influx of undesirable and unsanitary visitors to the city, sometimes known as ‘hippies,’” finding that “unless proper regulations are adopted immediately the use and enjoyment of public property will be jeopardized if not entirely eliminated... for normal public use.” The ordinance banned climbing trees; sitting on monuments, fountains, fences, steps and planted areas; and lying on lawns (i.e., Devendorf Park). The California Supreme Court overturned the ordinance as discriminatory and unconstitutional. Then Carmel installed water sprinklers to discourage hippies from gathering in the parks. And perhaps to clean them up a little bit!

(Photo: Hippies in Haight-Ashbury in 1996 courtesy of

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dennis the Menace

Hank Ketchum’s most popular legacy has continued without him since he died in his Pebble Beach home in June 2001. The cartoonist created“Dennis the Menace,” one of the best-loved kids of all time, in 1950 on a drawing board in his Carmel Woods home. Ketchum was 30 at the time and his real son, Dennis, was 4, when his first wife, Alice, stormed in one day to complain, “Your son is a menace.” Thus a legend was born. It was almost an instant hit and Ketchum opened a studio in Monterey and hired staff to help. He lived in Switzerland during the turbulent 1960s and into the ‘70s, then moved to Pebble Beach in 1977 and worked from a studio next to his home until 1988, when he bought an 1850s house behind Monterey’s Colton Hall to convert to a studio for the cartoon, comics, paperbacks, movie, TV series and even a musical. The cartoon Dennis has remained a mischievous 5-year-old throughout his 59-year career, and his middle-American family has remained locked in the 1950s. “In my world, the birds are always singing,” Ketchum told an interviewer in 1990. The cartoonist left another legacy locally, the ever-popular Dennis the Menace Park in Monterey’s El Estero. Ketchum designed it in 1952 and the Monterey Peninsula Jaycees built it. The real father and son were estranged most of their lives.

(Photo: Dennis the Menace Park courtesy of John3000)

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Duke of Del Monte

Samuel F.B. Morse had nearly personal control of Pebble Beach development for 50 years, setting out in 1919 to protect the majestic shoreline as “one of the greatest private parks in existence.” He built golf courses with scenic views and rimmed them with residential lots. Sales of the lots paid for the golf course development and tolls from the private 17 Mile Drive – at first 50 cents for a car or two-horse wagon, 25 cents for a saddle horse – paid for maintenance. The “Duke of Del Monte,” as Morse was known, had such control that not even a tree in Del Monte Forest could be removed without his personal approval. The control reflected the racism of the times, with deed restrictions prohibiting “Asiatics or Negroes” or descendents of the Turkish Empire from buying or otherwise owning, leasing or occupying property in Pebble Beach. The racial covenants were ironic in light of Morse's dream of having the United Nations located in Del Monte Forest. Those covenants were dropped as unenforceable in 1964 after the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in the U.S. Morse died in 1969 and in 1978, Del Monte Properties became the Pebble Beach Company.

(Image: Bust of Morse at Pebble Beach golf sculpted by Richard MacDonald. Photo courtesy of E11y)

Morse Takes Over

Samuel F.B. Morse was sent to the Monterey Peninsula in 1915 to liquidate the holdings of the Pacific Improvement Company, a land company formed in the 1860s by the “Big Four” railroaders of the day. He had been hired by one of them, Charles Crocker, after befriending Crocker’s son while both were students at Yale. Morse was overcome by the natural beauties he found here and decided this is where he wanted to stay and live. Partnering with the owner of a bank in San Francisco, Morse formed the Del Monte Properties Company and, in 1919, bought the bulk of the railroad holdings. For $1.3 million, the new company bought the posh Del Monte Hotel in Monterey (now the Naval Postgraduate School) with its companion race track (now the Monterey Fairgrounds), polo field, Del Monte Golf Course and Monterey County Water Works (now part of Cal-Am); the bulk of Pacific Grove, including the stunning shoreline, Pacific Grove Hotel (now the Holman Building) and many residential lots; 17 Mile Drive and the forests and beaches that surrounded it; and acreage in Carmel Valley. In all, Morse obtained 7,000 mostly undeveloped acres on the Peninsula.

Unworkable Hair

During the Age of Aquarius, there was no doubt the Monterey Peninsula was something of a hippie mecca. And, contrary to a popular stereotype, some of the hippies actually worked. The problem was when they lost their jobs and went to the Monterey unemployment office in 1970. As the popular song from 1971 went, "long-haired freaky people need not apply." The state unemployment office decided to deny benefits to long-haired men. Their reasoning was a survey of 900 employers found 81% of them would refuse to hire a man who was not trimmed at the neck and the ear and, therefore, such applicants were voluntarily limiting their ability to get new jobs. The state backed this local decision despite protests from attorneys that the decision violated first amendment rights. The Monterey unemployment office was more lenient toward free-spirited females however. As Time Magazine reported, “‘Only 3% of the employers surveyed want to hire girls who wear midi or micro-mini skirts either, but for the moment they are chivalrously being kept on the unemployment rolls."

Photo: unknown original source

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Peninsula’s Role in the United Nations

Monterey may be an international language capital now with the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio and the Monterey Institute of International Studies turning out linguists who frequently work for the United Nations. But before those schools were established, the Peninsula was considered a possible headquarters location for U.N. That was back in the 1940s before the new world organization decided to settle in New York City. Samuel F. B. Morse offered 500 acres of land in Del Monte Forest “without restrictions” to the U.N. if the organization would like to build its headquarters here. “I did it myself because I didn’t think anybody else had the territory to offer,” Morse told The Herald in 1945. He discussed it with the U.S. Secretary of State while he was a guest in his home, Morse said, then supplied complete data on the Peninsula climate, geographic and scenic advantages. The Peninsula was one of about 20 locations considered before the U.N. in 1946 decided to settle in New York City.

Picture provided by Air Ninja

From Free to Prestigious

Samuel Morse turned over 500 acres of Del Monte Forest for $1 to the Monterey Peninsula Country Club membership to build a new golf course. The magnificently-built Dunes course was opened on July 4, 1926, seven years after the Pebble Beach Golf Links. It look less than two years to build, as required by Morse. Membership was on an invitation-only basis and included a free home site! There were initially 500 lots bordering the course. According to a 2008 report by Forbes Magazine, initiation fees now run $175,000 (and definitely do not include a private lot!). The club was one of the three included in the Crosby tournament beginning its first year in Pebble Beach (1947) until it was replaced by Spyglass. When Gerald Ford lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter, Ford spent his first day in private life playing at MPCC with Arnold Palmer and according to news reports, appeared quite contented despite his golf performance. According to the New York Times, Ford "gave his audience little to cheer about as he sliced, hooked and occasionally three-putted his way through 18 holes of golf" during the Crosby tournament that year. Although MPCC is private, the club is generous in allowing members to sponsor functions there for local organizations such as the Peninsula Dance Quadrille and the Pebble Beach Riding & Trail Association.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


The Carmel Pine Cone began warning against the danger of a chamber as early as 1928. A chamber of horrors? A torture chamber? No, a Chamber of Commerce! The Pine Cone called it the "trademark of Babbitry." Then in November of 1931, in the depths of the depression, the paper reported that 40 business people had the temerity to consider the formation of "an organization to expound the charms of the village to the world." The paper noted that "despite the fact that at least half of Carmel's stores are owned by women, only one, a writer at that, braved the dangers of attending the session." Mayor Herbert Heron called the chamber idea ridiculous and said that "the merchants are cutting their own throats." One resident warned that if the chamber were established, people would call the town "Commercialism-by-the-Sea". A week later the Los Angeles Times reported that it was not surprising that Sinclair Lewis was about to take residence in Carmel now that the "charming little city has voted down a proposal for the establishment there of a chamber of commerce." The paper noted that "artists and authors...pooh-poohed the idea of commercial exploitation and would have none of it." A Carmel Business Association had been formed three years earlier in 1928 but it was organized to improve the city, not to be a booster organization. In 2003 the Carmel Business Association was renamed the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, 75 years after the controversy started.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Carmel's Bell Tower

The stone bell tower on the center median of Carmel's Ocean Avenue at San Carlos Street was designed and built in 1922 by Charles Greene, one of the legendary architects of the Arts & Crafts Movement in the early 20th century. He broke away from the celebrated Greene & Greene firm, which designed many of the homes still treasured in Pasadena, and moved to Carmel in 1916 in order to devote more time to his personal painting and writing. Greene did only a few structures here, most notably his brick studio near Lincoln and 13th; the castle-like "Seaward" mansion that seems to sprout from the ocean cliff across Highway 1 from the Highlands Inn; and the downtown bell tower, which is actually the Carmel War Memorial, a monument to Carmel's World War I veterans. Greene also designed and built his family home in Carmel, a U-shaped redwood bungalow on Lincoln that has since been demolished. Personal note: I am not related to any of these people.