Tag Archives: Monterey california




Big Sur coastline - Monterey County
Big Sur coastline – Monterey County (Credit: Robert Schwemmer, NOAA)

In 1975 I was working in Washington DC on the staff of a President’s Advisory Council created to protect historic sites. The Council met several times each year, usually in Washington, DC, but also made site visits around the US.

I suggested we take the Council to California to review Federal management of sites in Monterey County, where I had been part of the preservation movement before relocating to Washington. (See my earlier post, SAVING THE COUNTY.) Our Director and the Council members liked the idea, and I was told to set it all up. For me this was a stroke of good fortune. In my two years of working at the local level, I had helped to save many sites, but a great deal remained to be done, and federal power could make a big difference.

We decided we would visit Monterey County in detail, followed by a stay at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, a tour of the US Mint in San Francisco and a ceremonial meeting of the Council at The Presidio to supplement our main meeting in Monterey County.

Restored 19th century officers’ houses, Presidio San Francisco

Now I began to learn a lot about governmental potential. We knew that the National Park Service would help. I knew the people in local government who worked with the private sector historical societies in Monterey County and I was confident I would have their cooperation. The Army was more problematic. Under Federal law, we could require any agency of government to assist us with our tour. But, because the Council was a small agency, we knew that the Pentagon might provide only minimal help unless we prepared carefully. Our General Counsel drafted a latter for the signature of Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash), Chairman of one of the powerful committees that dealt with preservation, requesting the Department of Defense to provide all necessary assistance to us, on the grounds that we would be doing fact finding for him. One of the Senator’s staff members, a longtime ally of the Council, secured the necessary signature. Then our Director and the General Counsel sought a similar letter from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, directing all military commands in California to be helpful to us. Soon, as I went forward with arrangements for the trip, my phone calls to the Army were being returned more promptly.

We needed a background report, to give to everyone who would be involved in the tour, on the significance of the historical sites we would be visiting and the policy issues related to preserving them. I already knew a great deal of the information from personal experience. To supplement it, I went out to the Council’s Western Regional Office in Denver, where the files were kept for every case west of the Mississippi River, and put the report together.

Old San Francisco Mint
Old San Francisco Mint (Credit: Library of Congress)

The research in Denver taught me an important lesson about stereotypes. From my experiences while living in Monterey County, I had concluded that the biggest Federal obstacle to protection of the historic sites was the Army. After reading all the correspondence, however, I could see that the major problems had resulted from delays by the National Park Service. To make sure this finding was not overlooked, we circulated my report to more people at the Department of the Interior than originally planned.

Finally the big week arrived. From points all over the U.S., the Council members arrived in Monterey County. My first indication that I was now dealing with a national examination of California’s historic sites was the surprising variety of reactions to the landscape. I took it as an axiom that Monterey County was beautiful. So did some of the people in our tour group; but not everyone. A lot of the visitors grumbled about the morning fog that is common along the Pacific Coast. They found it depressing, even eerie. Several of the visitors who had never been west of the Rockies were upset by the brown vegetation. Summer is the green season in the United States east of the Rockies. But in the far west, the green season is the winter. There were also stereotypes about beauty. A friend of mine on the Council staff, from Maryland, seemed unimpressed by the dramatic coastline around Pacific Grove and Carmel. He complained about the “debris” in the water, by which he meant the kelp, and seemed to want a Miami style coast. I suggested that he compare the coast to Japanese paintings, but the advice didn’t appeal to him. Then there were the restaurants. There were a number of very fine ones in and around Monterey, offering not only excellent food but also the opportunity, by way of the cuisine, to learn more about the place — an experience that is familiar to anyone who has read the works of the California writer, M.F.K. Fisher, on France. But the main consideration of our Council members, when choosing restaurants, was status, not whether they could learn about local culture.

Jolon Stage Coach Stop, Hunter Liggett Military Reservation
Jolon Stage Coach Stop, Hunter Liggett Military Reservation


We arranged for some bus tours to put the Council members in direct contact with the sites that were the subject of the meeting. The parts of the landscape that the members felt most comfortable seeing were the ones along the coast: the cute shops and breakfast houses at Carmel — the ones Steinbeck had once said were created by the “Pixie People” who ruined the area — the golf courses and mansions around Pebble Beach, the military compound at the Monterey Presidio, the restaurants and restored factories at Cannery Row, the Spanish colonial buildings in the city of Monterey. These were all, to our Council members, part of a tourist environment they could respond to in well-rehearsed manner, even if they had never been in the area before.

What was more interesting was to watch the way the Council members had their perceptions challenged on the day we devoted to going inland. The bus picked us up early in the morning and headed east along highway 68. The Council members at first stared blankly out the windows of the bus as we passed through beautiful but not especially distinctive hills covered with brown grass and occasional clusters of oak tress. Over the microphone, for the rest of the bus ride. I explained that we had just crossed the Salinas River and that we had been staring at the Spreckels sugar beet factory. Soon, as the bus moved on and we turned onto highway 101 and headed south, I was into a long description of the Salinas River, the rich soil of the Valley, and the towns and people who made their living from it.

Most of the passengers on the bus had never seen a world quite like the one we were riding through — a place stamped by Spanish and Mexican culture, conquered by industrial Americans, engulfed by American business monopolists, made legendary by Steinbeck, made fertile by the largest irrigation projects in the world, and given over to the regimental dictates of international agribusiness. The bus ride smashed all the categories of the Council members. And I loved being the source of the destruction and their first hints as to how they might rebuild.

After we had been on Highway 101 for about an hour, our bus turned west near King City and headed into the mountains that lie between the Valley and the Pacific Coast. Here we snaked along a two-lane road for a while, past creeks and groves of trees and clusters of cattle, until we reached the Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation. Our first stop was the San Antonio Mission. Here it was my turn to be challenged. I think the Mission is one of the most beautiful historic sites in the world. But, until that moment, I had never faced the fact that it is, in a way, a falsehood. One of my colleagues from the staff of the Council asked me if the Mission was on the National Register of Historic Places. I said, come to think of it, no. He said that the site would, in fact, never be eligible, because reconstructions were not eligible. I was enraged. The comment felt like an intentional insult. Then I realized that my colleague was simply being objective. In fact, the Mission was p

ractically gone when, in the 1930s, as part of the romanticism of the Spanish revival in California, Harry Downey and other Catholics rebuilt all the missions.

San Antonio Mission
San Antonio Mission

After touring the Mission, we were met by about twenty Army jeeps. They drove us in a convoy for about ten miles along narrow dirt roads to an isolated area where we would be able to see the most interesting of the Stone Age caves that had been the homes of the Native Americans who once lived in the region. This was the riskiest part of the trip. The temperature was about 95 degrees – like a safari. In view of the age of some of our Council members, we had been warned in advance to carry first aid supplies. Fortunately, the heat was bearable.

I found this part of the trip unpleasant. The convoy seemed imperialistic. I knew that the Native Americans who had lived in the Hunter-Liggett area were not saints, probably not even fastidious stewards of the land. But, as I looked again at their cave paintings, I thought I saw a delicacy, an artistic interaction, a reverence for the fragile landscape. Now, however, jeeps had taken a group of wrinkled white people noisily into the hills, and the boots of the soldiers and of the rest of us were trampling the area. Even worse, our conversation was all about federal rules and regulations and jurisdictions and grants: as if we ever could, really, govern such a mysterious, ineffable place.

By the time the tour was completed, and the bus had returned us to our motel, I realized that the visit to the Hunter-Liggett area, all by itself, had done a great deal to protect the historic resources there. Seeing a bunch of White House appointees crawl all over the property made the Army more attentive. We were confident that, as a result of the visit, the Army would allot some of its men and resources to protect, improve, and maintain the site and structures. And the National Park Service would behave itself. In a way, therefore, the actual meeting of the Council back in Monterey, when we heard the official statements from the Army and others, was almost redundant. It did, however, reveal some interesting aspects of organizational culture, and it served the very important function of allowing local groups to be heard.

The Council meeting began in the morning with the usual welcome by the Chairman, and his statement of the issues before the Council. As always, the Chairman simply read his remarks from the big briefing book the staff had given him, changing not a word. Then the Army and local groups said their pieces. A Colonel who had obviously been to briefing school read his prepared remarks accompanied by maps and photographs on an easel and what seemed to me like thousands of images projected onto the screen behind him. There were graphs, flow charts, outlines and sub-outlines. If ever the terms “bullet points” and “blowups” seemed appropriate to describe a style of presentation, this was the time. In sum, the Army’s message was that they had numerous missions to carry out, numerous laws to obey, and not enough dollars and personnel to do everything. That was what every agency told us, of course, and the briefing officer knew it. But, by the mere fact of putting the Army on the agenda, the Council had accomplished its purpose. The Army would try harder.

The speeches by local governmental representatives were similarly ritualized. A member of the County Board of Supervisors officially welcomed us. City and county planning officers described the ways they were including preservation in their work. The director of the county parks department lectured angrily about the need for greater federal sensitivity to grass roots concerns. ‘We asked the National Park Service and the Army for more help, and they didn’t give it,” he intoned sweepingly. “We may not have your national prestige, but we’re busy people, too,” he added.

In reply to all of this, the Council members offered very few reactions. There were some questions about specific points of fact. The Chairman made some statesmanlike comments about the need to focus on our shared respect for heritage. And there was one egregious comment by a Council member who had grown up in the East. “We need to have compassion for these local groups in the West,” she observed. “They really don’t have very much history. They’re trying hard to cling to the little they possess. This isn’t like Charleston or Savannah or Philadelphia.” The woman seemed to be framing the problem as a debate about who owned the most antiques. And she was, of course, factually in error as to who had the most history. By certain definitions, the West did. The people in the audience, wiser than she realized, simply let her patronizing comments pass.

For me, the most inspiring part of the meeting came during one of the breaks when I had the opportunity to see two old friends from King City, Olive and Rachel Gillette, who owned ranches in the county, and who had helped in the struggle to preserve local history when I had worked there. “You said you wouldn’t forget us, and you kept your promise,” they noted as we greeted each other. “Yes,” I answered, “I guess I did keep my promise. But I didn’t know that luck would be quite so much on our side.”





In our era we are familiar with examples of nations that have experienced impressive development because of sudden infusions of wealth from a single natural resource and then faced chaos and decline when the resource was exhausted and no other basis for stability was available. One thinks, for example, of Venezuela and Nigeria where prosperity was tied to petroleum and then slowed radically as oil reserves were depleted, because profits were not used to produced a diverse economy, a sound political infrastructure, and a treasury surplus to sustain the country during difficult periods. One can also think of counter-examples, such as Norway, where profits from petroleum have been invested in sovereign wealth funds designed to ensure balanced development and social equity over the long term.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, California had the potential to become a state based too much on one resource, but instead crafted a future that, while not without problems, was filled with great possibility because it was based on multiple sources of strength.

In 1848, as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the U.S.-Mexican War, California became a possession of the United States. That same year, extensive deposits of gold were discovered in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the areas north and south of the Sacramento River and its tributaries. As news of the discoveries spread, huge numbers of wealth seekers made their way to California from Asia, Australia, Latin America, other parts of the United States, and Europe. Even though many people did not find gold, others did, and their stories produced a mania and a single-minded view of California as a place known for quick riches and nothing more.

There were, however, more farsighted people who suspected that the bonanza would not last forever; and they asked themselves whether it might be possible to create a more multifaceted California that would not disintegrate after the gold was gone.

Bayard Taylor
Bayard Taylor

One of the people who thought rigorously about California’s future at mid-century was Bayard Taylor (1825-1878), a talented journalist whose reporting continues to be a highly informative exploration of the identity of the Golden State.

Bayard Taylor grew up in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His father was a wealthy farmer and his parents were Quakers. Possessed of great literary ability, Taylor made his way to New York City where he gained prominence as a poet, travel writer and journalist. During his lifetime he journeyed to and wrote widely read books and articles about many places, ranging from Hawaii to Egypt to Japan. In his last years he served as a U.S. diplomat in Germany, where he died.

In 1848, Taylor caught the eye of Horace Greeley, the founder and editor-in-chief of the New York Tribune, which was by the 1840s the most influential newspaper in America. Greeley commissioned Taylor to go west and write articles for East-Coast readers about the new mining regions. In June 1849, aged twenty-four, Taylor left New York by ship, made a hazardous journey across the Isthmus of Panama, and then sailed north, arriving in San Francisco after brief stops in Mexico. During the voyage to California and after arrival, Taylor regularly composed “letters” about the places and people he encountered, intending that each letter eventually be reprinted in the Tribune.

San Francisco 1848, as illustrated in Taylor's book Eldorado
San Francisco 1848, as illustrated in Taylor’s book Eldorado
San Francisco 1849, as illustrated in Eldorado
San Francisco 1849, as illustrated in Eldorado

Taylor’s letters duly reported on the Gold Rush. But he soon began to focus upon a story that he judged to be of more importance. With the shift in California from Mexican to American rule, an older society was waning in influence, and a new one was beginning to take shape. The challenge of adjustment was being intensified by the sudden arrival of thousands of migrants, and there was a possibility that Yankee California might be a house of cards if the gold ran out, the gold seekers left, and the area had no basis for any kind of life except the sleepy rancho society of the earlier Mexican period.

In pursuit of his curiosity about California’s future, Taylor wrote articles covering many aspects of the world he encountered. In San Francisco he described the phenomenally rapid physical growth of the city, the kaleidoscopic interplay of peoples as diverse as Hawaiians, Chinese, Chileans, Malays, and Kansans, the harbor crowded with ships, the juxtaposition of gambling dens and churches and the powerful energy one could feel at every turn. He journeyed by mule across the Central Valley and wrote vividly about mining camps in the Sierras. He traveled by schooner through the Delta to the new and rapidly expanding town of Sacramento. He explored deteriorating Spanish missions and visited ranchos still run by the original Mexican families. He walked from San Francisco to Monterey, stopping for numerous conversations along the way.

Sacramento, from Eldorado
Sacramento, from Eldorado

Two aspects of California’s future interested Taylor in particular: One was government, the other the role California might play in the larger world.

The first issue, government, was arising at a time when national political leaders in Washington DC were anxious to consolidate the United States into a transcontinental nation. Annexation of California in 1848, by means of the treaty that confirmed America’s victory in the U.S.-Mexican War, provided just such an opportunity. And eagerness to strengthen ties to California became even greater as the Gold Rush increased the area’s population, offered a new source of wealth for the Treasury, and provided secure locations for military and naval bases. The dominant concern of leaders in the East was speed in achieving these specific goals.

What interested Taylor was the way in which political leaders in California made enlightened use of Eastern eagerness. Rather than simply throwing together a hasty, slapdash proposal for statehood and sending it off to Washington DC, California’s leaders came together in a carefully deliberative convention in the temporary capital at Monterey and crafted a constitution that provided for growth that could be sustained even without a large supply of gold.

Taylor was impressed by the conscientious, thorough manner in which convention delegates addressed difficult issues that had long-term implications. For example, the delegates carefully discussed slavery (voting to prohibit it), where to put the eastern border of the new state (locating it along the eastern side of the Sierras), and how to regulate land ownership (approving a system that integrated older laws based on Spanish land grants and newer laws based on Eastern forms of property rights).

Monterey, from Eldorado
Monterey, from Eldorado

Taylor was also impressed by the inclusiveness of the convention. Many delegates were chosen to represent U.S. interests, including, for example, the military hero John C. Fremont, the prominent Monterey newspaper editor Walter Colton, and the landowner John Sutter whose properties near Sacramento had been the location of the earliest gold discoveries. But, Taylor noted, there were also delegates representing the earlier Mexican order, such as the powerful landowner Mariano Vallejo and Andres Pico, the military leader from southern California who had been defeated by Fremont and had signed the surrender documents. Broad representation of this kind would help to ensure an orderly political and economic future.

After the constitutional convention ended, Taylor prepared to leave California, return by ship to New York, and oversee final publication of his “letters” in Horace Greeley’s Tribune, followed by collection of the articles into a book with illustrations based on his journey. But before departure he penned some final reflections concerning the larger question of California’s ideal role in an expanding America. Taylor imagined a California connected to the entire Pacific region. With enthusiasm he wrote that “the new Highway to the Indies, forming the last link in that belt of civilized enterprise which now clasps the world, has been established under my country’s flag.” He envisioned that California, with its varied topography, mixture of cultures, and potential for many kinds of economic activity, might well become “the Italy of the West.” Such a comparison has since become commonplace, but Taylor was among the first to make it.

In his concluding observations, Taylor declared that San Francisco was the place in California that most impressed him. He believed it would someday be the “New-York-of-the-Pacific.” And in one of the most powerful of his “letters” he wrote: “Of all the marvelous phases of the history of the Present, the growth of San Francisco is the one which will most tax the belief of the Future. Its parallel was never known, and shall never be upheld again. I speak only of what I saw with my own eyes. When I landed there, a little more than four months before, I found a scattering town of tents and canvas houses, with a show of frame buildings on one or two streets, and a population of about six thousand. Now, on my last visit, I saw around me an actual metropolis, displaying street after street of well-built edifices, filled with an active and enterprising people, and exhibiting every mark of commercial prosperity…. Like the magic seed of the Indian juggler, which grew, blossomed, and bore fruit before the eyes of his spectators, San Francisco seemed to have accomplished in a day the growth of half a century.”

If Taylor could have returned to California in later decades, he would have seen that the state in many ways did not live up to his hopes. In the second half of the nineteenth century, California was marred by racist violence directed at Native Americans and Asians, profligate exploitation of natural resources, political corruption, and consolidation of land ownership in too few hands. Nevertheless, and thanks in great part to visionaries like Taylor who were present at its birth, California did develop in multi-faceted ways that have laid the basis for relatively stable political and social order and a very large role in the life of the United States and the world.

Bayard Taylor’s ancestral home in Chester County, Pennsylvania

Eldorado: Adventures in the Path of Empire, based on Taylor’s reports in the New York Tribune, was first published in 1850. A modern, annotated edition was published in 2000 by Heyday Books and Santa Clara University.