Monterey, California, is one of my favorite coastal cities in the state. With bright blue waters and rich history, it’s a lovely little city. The Esselen and Rumsien Ohlone have lived on this land for thousands of years. The Spanish arrived in 1770, the Chinese fishing families in the 1850s, and the canneries in 1902.
What follows are some photos and some historical information about several sites in Monterey. Why? Because I’m a history nerd, that’s why.
Established by Gaspar de Portolá in 1770, the fort was a key base for the Spanish military as they colonized California. Padre Junípero Serra arrived with Portolá and began the systematic slaughter and enslavement of thousands of Indigenous people in the name of the Catholic church and Spanish conquest.
During the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the Philippine-American War from 1899-1902, the 24th and 25th Infantry and 9th and 10th Cavalry – aka the Buffalo Soldiers – garrisoned at the Monterey Presidio.
Also known as the House of the Blue Gate, this adobe structure was built by Rafael Estrada in the 1840s. The Soberanes family owned it from 1860 to 1922. It was restored by the Serrano family in the 1920s and 1930s.
California’s First Theatre
Jack Swan built this adobe structure in 1846-1847. Originally it was a lodging house and tavern frequented by sailors and became a theatre in 1850. Swan built a stage and sold tickets for $5 a pop. After Swan’s death in 1896, it fell into neglect. The California Historic Landmarks League bought it in 1906 and was donated to the state.
Right next to Fisherman’s Wharf is the Custom House at the Monterey Harbor. Starting in 1827, the Mexican government collected custom duties here from foreign shipping. It was rebuilt by Thomas O. Larkin in 1841. Near this site Commodore John Drake Sloat raised the US flag in July 1846 during the Bear Flag Revolt.
Casa del Oro
Thomas O. Larkin built this limestone and adobe structure in 1845 and leased it a few years later to Joseph Boston for a general store. The store held Monterey’s first safe and may have contained gold from miners coming down from the Sierras.
The ruins of several canneries that once stood along the “street of the sardine.” The first cannery was Monterey Fishing and Canning Company, opened by Japanese immigrant Otosaburo Noda in 1902.
During the Gold Rush, Portuguese sailors launched boats here to hunt whales migrating past Monterey. They towed the carcasses back to McAbee Beach. This was also the site of a Chinese settlement that existed from about 1853-1906 when it burned down. In the early 1900s, John McAbee bought the land and rented boats, tents, and cottages to tourists.
Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo
This is the oldest, continuously operating church in the state and California’s first cathedral. Padre Junípero Serra established a mission at this site in 1770 near Tamo, an Esselen village site. He relocated his mission to Carmel a year later during a conflict with Pedro Fages, the first Lieutenant Governor of California. In 1789, a fire sparked by a gun salute burned down the original wooden structure. It was rebuilt of sandstone in between 1791-1795 by Indigenous laborers. It was renovated and enlarged several more times in the 19th century.
“California’s First Theatre.” California Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed August 3, 2019. https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=959.
“Casa Soberanes.” California Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed August 3, 2019. https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=955.
“Custom House.” California Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed August 3, 2019. https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=954.
Dillon, James. “Royal Presidio Chapel.” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1976), Section 7. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NHLS/66000216_text.
“History of the Presidio.” City of Monterey Museums. Accessed August 3, 2019. https://www.monterey.org/museums/City-Museums/Presidio-of-Monterey-Museum/History-of-the-Presidio.
“Joseph Boston Store (Casa Del Oro).” California Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed August 3, 2019. https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=953.
Mendoza, Rubén G. “The Cross and the Spade: Archaeology and the Discovery of the Earliest Serra Chapels at the Royal Presidio of Monterey, 1770-1772.” Boletín 29(1), 2013. https://www.sancarloscathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Cross-and-Spade-archaeology-of-Royal-Presidio-Chapel.pdf.