Why was California a unique case of Hispanic colonization?

California began in Monterey. In the latter days of the Spanish Empire, a missionary and military expedition headed by Father Serra and Captain Portola arrived in Monterey where they established the headquarters of the Alta California colony. The Native American population who assisted the settlement were soon turned into a labor force that built the missions and cultivated the mission fields. California joined the world economy with the export of hides and tallow and the import of manufactures from New England and South America. Yet colonialism failed for many reasons including the unwillingness of Spaniards and Mexicans, after Independence in 1821, to settle on the northern frontier. Instead, a distinct “Californio” society emerged composed of Hispanics, Indians, Mestizos, and a growing number of Anglo-Europeans attracted to the new frontier.

Serra Mass

How did Monterey become a multicultural society?

The United States took possession of California in Monterey in 1846 and set in motion a transformation of the economy and society. Ownership of the land changed hands, a new class of merchants and land barons emerged while immigrant Chinese and Japanese joined the working class of Hispanic “paisanos”. The railroad arrived, especially the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad (coincidentally nicknamed “The Ocotopus”) which launched tourism with its “world famous” Hotel Del Monte. Monterey, along with much of California, developed an image and pseudo-history of romantic Spanish times designed to appeal to real estate investors. Beneath the illusion was a restive ethnic population that occasionally made its grievances known.

 Old Monterey

How did Monterey become The Sardine Capital of the World?

Although Asian and Italian fishing communities developed from the 1870s onward, Monterey’s legendary Cannery Row began in 1905, first with a salmon fishery and, before long, sardine canneries that would soon transform the town’s economy, society, and popular image. Owing largely to the unique Monterey Bay marine environment, the fishing and canning industry boomed in the early decades of the twentieth century. Monterey became the world’s third most productive fishing port. The population swelled including an ethnic working class composed of Italian and Japanese fishing families, Anglo and women cannery workers. Yet the industry based increasingly on “reduction” of fishmeal (and less on canning fish) overtaxed the fishery leading to industrial collapse in the 1950s.

Cannery workers

How to explain the new Monterey Bay environmentalism?

Following the collapse of Monterey Bay’s fishery, a new awareness developed recognizing the wisdom of earlier warnings from State Fish and Game officials and biologists including Julius Phillips and Frances Clark. The environmental movement of the 1970s and following took shape in Monterey through the work of Hopkins Marine Station, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Research Institute, Monterey Bay Sanctuary, Sea Grant Project, land-based conservation groups like the Big Sur Land Trust and many more. From the industrial town of the early twentieth century, Monterey has become an international center of environmental science and education as well as a laboratory for developing environmental solutions.

Plaque to former Cannery Row