Cannery Row, Monterey

Cannery Row, Monterey

by | Nov 30, 2021

Cannery Row is the Monterey waterfront between San Carlos Beach and Cabrillo Beach, or between the Monterey Harbor Marina and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where several historical Pacific sardine canneries once operated, about 25 miles (40 km) south-southeast of Santa Cruz and 1 mile (1.6 km) southeast of Pacific Grove, California. The waterfront and neighborhood of Cannery Row were made famous by the novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. The first book was set in time during the Great Depression and the sequel occurs following the end of World War II. San Carlos Beach is located at the southeast end of Cannery Row next to the U.S. Coast Guard Pier and at the end of Reeside Avenue. Coast Guard Station Monterey was established in January 1946, and with two 47-foot Motor Lifeboats and one 29-foot response boat, the station is primarily involved with maritime law enforcement and search and rescue along 120 nautical miles (222 km) of the central coast of California and extends 50 nautical miles (93 km) offshore between Point Ano Nuevo in the north and San Luis Obispo County in the south. Cabrillo Beach is located at the northwest end of Cannery Row between the Hopkins Marine Station and Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium is known for its regional focus on the marine habitats of Monterey Bay and was the first to exhibit a living kelp forest when it opened in October 1984. The facility receives around two million visitors each year and the organization also conducts research and conservation efforts on marine mammals, birds, and fish. The facility is located at the former site of the Hovden Cannery, which was one of the oldest and largest of the sardine canneries in the early 1900s.

The Rumsen Ohlone people historically inhabited the area along the coast of the Monterey Peninsula. The archeological record and numerous shell middens indicate they subsisted by hunting, fishing, and gathering primary marine food including mussels and abalone. In 1539, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was commissioned by the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), Antonio de Mendoza, to lead an expedition up the Pacific Coast in search of trade opportunities. In 1542, while returning south along the coast, Cabrillo entered Monterey Bay and named it ‘Bahia de Los Piños’, presumably for the Monterey pines. In 1602, Sebastián Vizcaíno anchored in the bay and named it Puerto de Monterrey, in honor of the Conde de Monterrey, who was then the Viceroy of New Spain. But the Spanish did not make Monterey Bay a settlement before the eighteenth century because it was too exposed to rough ocean currents and winds. In 1769, the first European overland exploration of Alta California was led by Gaspar de Portolá who traveled north from San Diego. Portolá returned the next year and erected the Presidio of Monterey. Junípero Serra arrived by sea and founded the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo inside the presidio enclosure. In 1777, Monterey became the capital for the New Spain provinces of Alta and Baja California. In 1818, the Argentine buccaneer Hippolyte Bouchard landed about 4 miles (7 km) from the Presidio of Monterey, and then attacked and subsequently occupied the city for six days. While the Argentine flag flew over the presidio, they stole cattle and burned the fort, the artillery headquarters, the governor’s residence, and several Spanish houses. In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain and in the 1830s secularized the missions converting most of the mission pasture lands into private land grant ranchos. In 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Commodore John D. Sloat of the U.S. Navy raised the U.S. flag over the Monterey Custom House and claimed Alta California for the United States.

Commercial fishing on Monterey Bay dated from the mid-1800s and by 1896, when the first cannery was attempted, small communities of Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, and Genoese Italians made a living at market fishing and supplying San Francisco packers. The initial canneries began packing salmon but encountered difficulties caused by the reluctance of local fishers to sell their catch to anyone other than their San Francisco patrons. In 1902, Frank E. Booth purchased a struggling plant on the Monterey waterfront and began experimenting with canning the Pacific sardine. Booth recruited Knut Hovden who was a Norwegian fisheries expert and engineer responsible for designing a modern assembly line operation and much of the machinery for mass production of tinned sardines. Booth also hired Pietro Ferrante, a Sicilian fisherman who organized a loyal fleet of boats to catch the sardines. Ferrante and his brother-in-law, Orazio Enea, arrived in 1905, quickly attracted members of their extended families from a group of fishing villages in the immediate vicinity of Palermo, and steadily assumed control of the Monterey fleet by displacing Genoese and Asian competitors. With a growing labor pool of Sicilian fishermen, mechanized production facilities, a ready cannery labor force including the families of fishermen and displaced ethnic fishers, and bountiful sardine runs, Booth’s cannery led Monterey into the industrial age. World War I created brisk demand for the once-specialized sardine market and led to an actual row of eight canneries and reduction plants along the waterfront which was soon known as Cannery Row. The industry expanded in the 1920s as larger boats and nets were introduced and an increasing proportion of the catch was reduced to fish oil, meal, and fertilizer where profits were far greater. Early warnings of depletion by overfishing met disbelief and resistance in Monterey, and legislative limitations which set a quota were persistently attacked in the courts as unconstitutional. Whether a result of overfishing, changes in ocean tides and temperatures, long-term species life cycles, or some combination of all, the annual sardine catch often in excess of 200,000 tons during the boom years of the 1930s fell to 2,000 tons and the industry collapsed in the 1950s.  This resulted in massive plant closings, unemployment, and property sales to salvage and real estate firms. The industrial, working-class, and ethnic ‘old’ Cannery Row came to an end, and ‘new’ Cannery Row of property development, service industry, and tourism eclipsed the original. Read more here and here. Explore more of the Monterey waterfront here:

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