Making the Past the Future
Cannery Row was a very important place to the local Native People, who were the Rumsien People, Rumsien was the language that they spoke.
You can find remnants of them all over the Row. Especially in the ground. If you look closely you can see how dark the dirt is, this is called midden soil, and the ground is littered in abalone shell, once called the “Abalone Pavement. Over the years, a number of Rumsien burials have been found along Cannery Row which is a testament to how important this area was to them.
484 Cannery Row is the most important, at least historically, address on the Row, In the late 1890s, a Japanese immigrant named Otosaburo Noda, who was responsible for the Japanese community coming to Monterey, leased that piece of property and had a Japanese fishing camp there, made up of a number fishermen, fishing and diving abalone, salmon, sardines, rockfish and even basking sharks. In 1902, on this site, Noda along with his American Partner, Harry Malpas, built and operated the Monterey Fishing & Canning Company, the very first cannery on what is now Cannery Row. They sold the cannery in 1907, to the Pacific Fish Company.
The Stohan's building was originally the reduction plant for the San Xavier Cannery, as you know, reduction was where the real money was in the Monterey sardine industry. So much so, by 1924, that’s all San Xavier was doing, along with two other canneries.
The Monterey sardine was never a popular fish to eat, people thought it was too oily. The Monterey/California sardine fishery is a product of WWI. Before the war people in the Unities States ate sardines daily, but the sardines they were eating were these smaller sardines coming from the north Atlantic, coming from France, France being the big sardine producer at the turn of the 20th century. When the war in Europe started in 1914, it cut off that market of sardines coming to the US., there were sardine canneries in New York state and Maine, but they couldn’t fish because there were German submarines in the Atlantic, the Monterey sardine industry was born. But the Monterey sardine, as you know, is big and is very oily and good for reduction, producing lots of meal. These processors found this out early, and when WWI ended, and the North Atlantic fishery was able to fish sardines again, people stopped buying the Monterey sardine, and the Monterey canneries were going bankrupt. But there was money in the reduction business., mainly for chicken feed, that was sold mainly to chicken farms in California.
The CA. Dept of Fish & Game (now Wildlife) tried to control this and was able to pass legislation that said the canneries could only use a small percentage of their catch for the reduction process, unless they could prove the fish was unfit for human consummation.
CDF&G took these three canneries to court in Salinas. Frank Booth was a witness for the State, he was concerned the reduction process was to easy and would eventually make the sardine extinct. He said, “they could go the way of the carrier pigeon!”
To make a very long and complicated story short, A lawyer representing the three canneries, was able to get Booth to admit that he was losing money canning and selling sardines therefore, the lawyer argued, the Monterey sardine was unfit for human consumption. The judge agreed and ruled in favor of the three canneries, including San Xavier, they could continue reducing all the sardines they needed.
Over the years many different businesses have been in that building, in 1970 a man named George Lockwood, was running the Monterey Abalone Farm, an early attempt at farmed-raised abalone. He actually was successful.
Before WWI, Mostly salmon was fished and caught in the Monterey Bay. Ninety percent of it was shipped to Europe. The San Xavier Fish Reduction plant came about in the 1920's, and began to heavily fish sardines along the west coast. The plant sold canned and reduced sardine parts, mostly used in chicken feed.
But after the war ended, so did the business. The fisheries in the north Atlantic reopened. Eventually the fisheries collapsed in the 1950's. A switch in preference, water temperature changes, environmental issues and overfishing were to blame. Some fisheries started mysteriously catching on fire and closing down, which is what happened to the San Xavier Plant. Thirty years after its closure the plant was used for different businesses. Now it's just an intriguing eyesore...
It is finally time to change that. An exciting part of the plaza will be the Cannery Row History Center. Our goal is to celebrate the rich history of not just this site, but of Cannery Row in it's entirety. The Cannery Row History Center will serve as an interactive learning experience to bring the past back to life.
Historic Summation Credit - Tim Thomas, Maritime Museum