Pacific Biological Laboratories, Cannery Row

Pacific Biological Laboratories, Cannery Row

by | Mar 3, 2022

Pacific Biological Laboratories is a small, unpainted, two-story wood-frame building toward the northwest end of Cannery Row that served as a biological supply company operated by Edward F. Ricketts from 1937 to 1948, on a small property on Monterey Bay now sandwiched between the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Intercontinental Hotel in Monterey, California. The company sold preserved animals many of which were marine specimens, and also prepared microscope slides for schools, museums, and research institutions. The animals were collected mostly from Monterey Bay, which hosts a high diversity of marine organisms, particularly from the rocky intertidal reefs. The rocky shore consists of porphyritic granodiorite which forms the core of the Monterey Peninsula. Porphyritic granodiorite crops out on the Monterey Peninsula and is light gray to moderate pink with orthoclase crystals ranging from 1-4 inches (3-10 cm) long. Radiometric dating indicates a Late Cretaceous age of about 79.5 million years ago for the porphyritic granodiorite. The massive granite is cut by numer­ous pegmatite dikes. The dikes are typically about 4 inches (10 cm) wide and composed of coarse-grained quartz and feldspar. The removal by waves and weathering of the granite from between the more resistant dikes produces a very rugged rock surface. The shore is also characterized by many large, granite boulders and by rocky islands which project above the water level near shore. These features offer a very large surface for the attachment of benthic organisms and also provide varied animal habitats characteristic of this rocky coast. Monterey Canyon begins off the coast of Moss Landing in the center of Monterey Bay and extends 249 miles (401 km) to reach a depth of 11,800 feet (3,600 m), creating one of the largest underwater canyons in the world. The deep canyon is the source of nutrient-rich water that upwells close to shore to support a food chain of many species including marine mammals, fishes, sharks, mollusks such as abalone and squid, birds, turtles, intertidal benthic invertebrates, and seaweeds with several varieties of kelp that form extensive kelp forests in present-day Edward F. Ricketts State Marine Conservation Area.

Pacific Biological Laboratories was started in 1923 by Ed Ricketts with his college roommate and business partner Albert E. Galigher. Galigher soon moved on to Berkeley, but Rickets stayed, incorporating the company and adding six shareholders in 1924. In 1928, the lab was forced to move when the original building was scheduled for demolition. The new lab was on waterfront property and consisted of a three-room plastered house, with a cement floored shed and cement tanks for storing specimens. In 1929 the lab published its first catalog with the University Apparatus Company of Berkeley, California. The lab was directly across Ocean View Avenue from Flora Wood’s Lone Star Restaurant, which doubled as a house of ill repute, as did the La Ida Cafe, just a few doors northwest of the Lone Star. The Wing Chong Market, owned by Chinese entrepreneur Won Yee, separated these enterprises. In 1936, a fire broke out in the neighboring Del Mar Cannery and destroyed the lab and most of Rickett’s belongings and work. In the fire’s aftermath, the Pacific Biological Laboratories was forced to sell the northwest half of the property to Won Yee in order to rebuild the lab and continue the business. The new lab was built in 1937 and is rectangular in plan, resting on a concrete slab foundation. The exterior walls are board-and-batten, except for the facade along Cannery Row. The ground floor only has a wooden overhead garage door and a side approach staircase leading to a second-floor landing and entry. The interior second-floor rooms included an office and living area at the front and a kitchen to the rear. The ground floor interior consisted of the garage entry, a specimen preparation area with two open spaces separated by a wood partition. To the rear of the lab, on a cement deck, are two concrete specimen holding tanks and a metal reduction vat. The concrete specimen holding tanks were in place when Ricketts first purchased the property from Vicente Rodriguez in 1928. They had been used as part of a fish salting operation before Ricketts employed them to store dogfish and other marine specimens. In 1949, a year after Ricketts’s death, the Pacific Biological Laboratories building was sold to Yock Yee, a local grocer. High school literature teacher and jazz enthusiast Harlan Watkins began renting the building and purchased it in 1956. In 1958, after Watkins had married and moved to Europe, friends of Watkins, including Frank Wright, Ed Haber, Joe Turner, Fred Fry, and Ed Larsh joined together to purchase the building under the name ‘Pacific Biological Laboratories’ for use as a men’s social club. The building served as a weekly meeting place for club members, many of whom were prominent Monterey artists and writers. In 1993, the building was sold to the City of Monterey and it was restored by the Cannery Row Foundation.

Edward Ricketts was born in Chicago in 1897 and had a public school education before entering the army in World War I. In 1919, after discharge from the military, he was at the University of Chicago and came into contact with ocean sciences under the influence and critical guidance of the early ecologist, Warder Clyde Allee. Allee developed a theory about the universality of social behavior among animals, and in his concept, any given animal (including man) behaves differently in a group than as an individual. Allee’s ideas were significant in the development of Ricketts’s own views regarding the subtle interdependence of organisms and physical phenomena, which he would later develop in a pioneering study of the habits and habitats of animals living in the intertidal zone of the Pacific Coast. Ricketts married Anna “Nan” Barbara Maker in 1922, and in 1923 with their first child, moved from Chicago to the Monterey Peninsula, where he and former schoolmate Albert E. Galigher established Pacific Biological Laboratories. As part of the business, he maintained extensive correspondence with the scientific community on a broad scale. Over time he became known throughout academic circles, and because of his breadth of knowledge of marine animals, many correspondents assumed Ricketts held advanced degrees which earned him the nickname of ‘Doc’. He wrote the ecological classic Between Pacific Tides published in 1939, which is still considered a pioneering study of intertidal ecology. He became known for his influence on writer John Steinbeck and was portrayed as ‘Doc’ in the books Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, ‘Friend Ed’ in Burning Bright, ‘Doc Burton’ in In Dubious Battle, ‘Jim Casy’ in The Grapes of Wrath, and as ‘Doctor Winter’ in The Moon is Down. They collaborated on the book Sea of Cortez, which was republished in 1951 as The Log from the Sea of Cortez. In 1948, Ricketts and Steinbeck planned together to go to British Columbia and write another book, The Outer Shores, on the marine life north towards Alaska. A week before the planned expedition, Ricketts was driving across the railroad tracks on his way to dinner when a passenger train hit his car and he died three days later. Read more here and here. Explore more of Pacific Biological Laboratories and Cannery Row here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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