Monterey, California History
Monterey was the site of many important California historic events and activities between the time it was first sighted by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo—believed to be the first Euro-American to see the bay on November 17,1542—until its transformation into a popular travel destination beginning in the 1880s.
Along the way its name was changed from La Bahia de los Pinos (Bay of Pines—the name given by Cabrillo) to Monte Rey Bay 60 years later by Don Sebastián Vizcaíno—the first European to actually set foot on the shore—in honor of his patron, the Count of Monte Rey, Viceroy of New Spain.
Spain eventually decided to strengthen its claim to the region with a series of missions with additional goals of converting the native population to Christianity and teaching them to farm and ranch so that they could be good subjects of the King.
In 1770 Gasper de Portolá and Padre Junípero Serra arrived in Monterey to establish the first presidio in Alta (Upper) California. Serra moved the mission to nearby Carmel a year later to separate it from the military presence in Monterey.
Monterey becomes California capital
1776 was an eventual year as Spain named Monterey the capital of Baja (Lower) and Alta California and Captain Juan Bautista de Anza arrived with colonists for Spanish California from Sonora. Most were bound for San Francisco.
The only known land and sea battle fought on the West Coast of the United States took place in Monterey on November 20, 1818 when a revolutionary privateer, Hipólito Bouchard sacked the town in an effort to destroy Spain’s presence and claim to California.
Repairs were quickly made and the settlement gained increasing importance as a foreign trade center after restrictions were relaxed by Mexico upon gaining independence from Spain four years later in April 1822.
Monterey State Historic Park contains many buildings from early Monterey including a Custom House from this period which was used by the Mexican government for imposition of taxes on foreign governments.
With Monterey serving as California’s port of entry hide and tallow became important exports via American and British ships. Dried steer hides, referred to as “California Bank Notes” and worth about a dollar each, were shipped out to be processed into leather goods such as saddles, harnesses and shoes.
Whales, spotted from the second floor of buildings such as the still surviving Old Whaling Station, were killed and towed to shore for processing. Whale oil to be used for lamps or to oil machinery was rendered by heating blubber in large pots such as one in the back yard of the Old Whaling Station in Monterey Historic Park.
California becomes part of the U.S.
The American Flag was briefly and embarrassingly raised over Monterey for the first time when an inaccurate rumor of the beginning of the much anticipated war between Mexico and the USA led Commodore Thomas Jones to raise the Stars and Stripes in 1842 before withdrawing a few days later. Commodore John Sloat repeated the flag raising on July 6, 1846 after war really did break out.
Monterey’s fortunes change when San Jose replaced Monterey as the state capitol and the California Gold Rush beginning in 1849 sent many people north to the gold fields and increased the importance of the port of San Francisco for trade.
Monterey’s transition into a tourism destination began in the 1880s when the first luxury hotel in the city built by Southern Pacific Railroad entrepreneurs attracted wealthy San Franciscans.
Sardine Capital of the World
Cannery Row formed in the 1920s as fishermen took advantage of Monterey Bay marine life and by the late 1930s was known as the “Sardine Capital of the World.” Cannery Row’s fame outlasted the supply of shrimp thanks to the novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck.
As abandoned warehouses were converted to shops and restaurants, tourism grew enhanced greatly by the opening of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1984 on the site of the former Hovden Cannery.