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Much is still going on in old Monterey.

Something was afoot. For days, American Consul Thomas Larkin had been running back and forth from his two-story house overlooking the bay to the American flagship Savannah, anchored offshore since July 2. Conferences with Commodore John D. Sloat had run long and late. In the white adobe houses of Monterey--the Mexican capital of Alta California--hide brokers and merchants speculated: what were the Americanos up to?

It was soon evident. With the Mexican-American War underway and the Monterey Presidio virtually unguarded, there was little surprise--and no resistance--when 250 Marines landed on July 7, 1846, marched to the Custom House, and read Sloat's proclamation that "henceforward California will be a portion of the United States."

Three years later, delegates would meet in Colton Hall, California's first public building, to frame a constitution, and in 1850 California would become a state.

Walk through downtown Monterey today and your footsteps echo this history. The Custom House still stands, with a ship's cargo from Boston spread out for inspection. Up the hill is Larkin's elegant home, so complete with original furnishings that he might have just stepped out to take a breath of foggy summer air. Behind is Colton Hall, where books, inkwells, snuff boxes, and wire-rimmed spectacles of delegates lie scattered among blue-sheeted drafts of the half-written constitution.

And all around town, tucked between nondescript buildings of more recent vintage, are the remnants of Monterey's oldest adobe houses, some still private homes, others businesses or restaurants. With their thick walls and tile or shake roofs, many look as if they haven't changed since the days of the Californios.

The house that Cooper built

On July 1, one of the oldest of these venerable houses, the Cooper-Molera Adobe, will open to the public as the new centerpiece and interpretive center of Monterey State Historic Park. Exhibits inside trace the history of Monterey from the bay's discovery by Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602, through the early settlement in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra and Gaspar de Portola, to the Mexican and early American periods.

But it is the building complex itself, and the displays and demonstrations on the grounds, that will make you feel that you're stepping back more than a century. Combined with visits to several other important period buildings, a walking tour of old Monterey can offer a fascinating glimpse into the early days of California before the gold rush.

You can march through the itenerary outlined here easily in an afternoon, but we prefer to make a leisurely day of it. Start at 10 with Cooper-Molera (where you can pick up maps), then visit Larkin House and Colton Hall before lunch, and you can easily finish before 5.

Two other adobes on our walk can be seen only on guided tours; sign up early at each. Unless noted, hours are 10 to 5 daily; fee of $1 gets you into all park sites. Downtown streets can be confusing because they follow the meandering cattle paths of the 1830s. From State Highway 1, take Del Monte Avenue west 2 miles to Pacific Street, go left up to Madison Street, then head down Polk Street to Cooper-Molera, where five streets collide.

Park in the tiny metered lot at the corner of Calle Principal and Jefferson Street or in garages at the corner of Del Monte and Tyler Street, where you can also get a free shuttle to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

A leisurely walk to nine historic sites

Coope-Molera Adobe, Polk Street and Munras Avenue; tours of the main house every hour. Leased by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the state park in 1972, this complex of nine buildings reopens after 13 years and $2.6 million of painstaking restoration. Our inspections during the work (adobe bricks were made by hand in the countryard) and during a special review in April (volunteers in costume re-created events of the 1840s) indicate the effort is worth the cost.

Originally built by John Rogers Cooper in the 1830s, the main 10-room house became the center of a 2-1/2-acre compound for several families; while chickens and goats roamed the grounds, women baked bread in a clay hornito (oven) in the courtyard.

At our deadline, plans called for re-creating daily life here--with visitors encouraged to pitch in with chores like making tortillas and gardening--and for special living history reenactments several times a year. For a schedule, call park headquarters at (408) 649-2836.

Larkin House, corner of Jefferson Street and Calle Principal; by tour hourly from 10 through 4, except at noon (closed Tuesdays). Designed by Thomas Larkin and built of redwood and adobe in the 1830s, this two-story house with its hip roof and wide balcony is the prototype for Monterey-style architecture. The old-fashioned side garden has an inviting rose trellis.

But the real treat is the 35-minute tour through the opulently furnished house, once Monterey's most elegant. Many of the items belonged to Larkin, including the cherry desk he designed in 1840 and the 1780 Sheraton mahogany dining table.

After the tour, duck through the back garden gate and cross Pacific Street to Colton Hall, the white stone building with twin flanking stairways above the lawn.

Colton Hall, City Hall Complex, Pacific Street (between Jefferson and Madison); 10 to noon and 1 to 5 daily. What's this New England--style building doing in Mexican Monterey? When Walter Colton designed the town hall in 1847, he did what most transplanted Easterners did: built with stone in the shape of a box.

Upstairs, the state constitution was drafted and later approved on October 13, 1849. A new display re-creates the scene: tables in a U shape (the front left on reserved for Spanish-speaking delegates) are littered with the notes of 19th-century lawmakers. Costumed delegates will step into the scene and discuss period issues on October 11; for details, call 646-3851.

Casa Gutierrez, 590 Calle Principal (near corner of Madison Street). This 1841 adobe is now Sancho Panza Mexican Restaurant, open 11 to 10 daily. Prices are moderate (about $6 for lunch) and there's a delightful courtyard for sunny-day meals.

Across the street in the restored 1830s Stokes Adobe, Gallatin's is open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays 6 to 11 (the food justifies the $20 price range); for reservations, call 373-3737.

Allen Knight Maritime Museum, 550 Calle Principal; 1 to 4 Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 to 4 weekends; free. Weekend sailors will enjoy this look at Monterey's seafaring past, with emphasis on ship models and decorations. You can light the 1887 Fresnel lens from the Point Sur light tower.

Cut back through the Larkin House garden and head down Pacific Street.

Casa Soberanes, 336 Pacific Street; by tour hourly from 10 through 4, except at 1 (closed Tuesdays). Even if you don't tour this delightful 1830 adobe, which provides a workingman's counterpoint to the elegant Larking House, do go through the blue gate and walk around the colorful gardens, with planter borders defined by abalone shells and wine bottles buried neck first.

California's First Theater, corner of Scott and Pacific streets. If Jack Swan had doubts when a group of soldiers asked to stage a few plays in his new boarding house and tavern, they vanished after he counted the opening night receipts of $500--in 1847 dollars.

This summer you can see The Troupers of the Gold Coast perform melodramas (what amateurs may lack in polish they make up for in enthusiasm) on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 8, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30; tickets cost $5 for adults, $3 for children under 13. Call the box office at 375-4916.

In the lobby, newly opened Jack Swan's Tavern offers a limited "pub menu" ($4 to $6); it's open 11:30 to 7. Call 375-5100 to reserve places for a light preshow supper.

Casa Del Oro, corner of Scott and Olivier streets; 10 to 4 Wednesdays through Sundays. Joseph Boston and Company operated a general store in this small adobe in the 1850s. Last April, the volunteer-run Boston Store, specializing in handicrafts from the East Coast and Monterey area, opened to carry on the tradition.

Next door, a small demonstration garden has a large collection of the herbs used in the old days for everything from cooking to healing.

From the garden, cross the street and enter the broad, magnolia-shaded Memory Garden courtyard behind Pacific House. In the 1850s, this was an open court where bear-and-bullfights and other extravaganzas were staged. It's now a peaceful oasis where you can rest road-weary feet. Dated exhibits in Pacific House (built by Larkin in 1847) trace Monterey history in yawn-provoking detail. Skip it and cut across the Custom House Plaza to one of Monterey's oldest buildings.

Custom House, across from Fisherman's Wharf. Built about 1827 at the "Landing Place" where sailing ships unloaded goods in exchange for "California bank notes"--dried cowhides--this was Monterey's center of commerce. Business was brisk in spite of duties that could reach 42-1/2 percent; long tables stacked with cargo for customs inspection doubled as displays for shoppers.

Step inside today and you'll find a typical 1850s cargo stacked in similar style. The goods aren't for sale, but a costumed park guide will explain unfamiliar items.

Custom House Plaza is where Sloat's Marines hoisted Old Glory; at 2 on July 6, you can hear Sloat's proclamation read.

another ongoing program this summer features the colorful productions of Monterey Bay Theatrefest. Running weekends July 13 through August 11, five plays ranging from an hour of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 2 hours of Romeo and Juliet will be performed daily. The free shows run between noon and 8; for a schedule, call 649-6852.

Before you leave home. Room reservations are now almost a year-round necessity; just a mile away, the New Monterey Bay Aquarium (see the cover story of the November 1984 Sunset) has brought a deluge of visitors. For lodging information, a downtown map, and other help, write to Monterey Peninsual Chamber of Commerce, Box 1770, Monterey 93942, or call 649-1770.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Jul 1, 1985
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