“Combine a dramatic coastline and mystical forest with a rich history of world-class accommodations, warm hospitality, expert service and grand recreation. … It’s no wonder Pebble Beach Resorts has attracted extraordinary visitors throughout its history. From Samuel F. B. Morse to Clint Eastwood. Teddy Roosevelt to Sir Winston Churchill.”
– Pebble Beach Resorts
You live here, or nearby, or perhaps have visited. You know about the Links, the vivid coastline, the forests and parkland, the hospitality, the Concours d’ELEGANCE, and something of its heritage. Speaking now of the history of Pebble Beach, we hope you enjoy this post, meant to touch on some of the major stopping points in its rich and important past.
History of Pebble Beach
Fabián Barreto acquired the land, that is now Pebble Beach, through a Mexican land grant. Once he died, the land (a rocky cover and some beach) passed through several owners. For a time, in the mid-1800s, a number of Chinese fishing settlements were formed along Carmel Bay, including one next to Pebble Beach. Things began to take a more orderly path in 1860, following David Jack’s purchase of the original Mexican land grant. Here are a few highlights, beginning at around 1860:
- Jack sold the land to the “big four” railroad barons behind the Pacific Improvement Company (PIC) in 1880. What’s perhaps most significant about this is that it was this company that created and laid down 17-Mile Drive. Go-California has an interesting and useful article entitled 17-Mile Drive Visitor Guide. An interesting piece of trivia: The “big four” included Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University. The company owned the Hotel Del Monte, so it was in their interest to bring guests right to it.
- Chinese fisherman, villagers, and workers made a huge contribution to the area, including labor they put into the Central Pacific Railroad, but growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the early 1900s was to change the landscape.
- Pebble Beach Lodge (the original of which burned down in 1917) was built and completed in 1909 by architect Lewis P. Hobart, commission by the Pacific Improvement Company. It overlooked Pebble Beach, and was approximately at the halfway point of 17-Mile Drive. It was operated by the people behind the Hotel Del Monte. In 1916, manager Samuel Morse (a distant cousin to the inventor of the Morse Code), then perhaps only in his early 30s, convinced the group to build a golf course at the edge of Pebble Beach. While the Lodge burned down as the golf course was being completed, it was replaced by the Del Monte Lodge, a multi-story hotel. Both Lodge and Links opened in 1919.
- Morse was to be instrumental in shaping the area. In 1919 he acquired extensive holdings of the PIC group, including Del Monte Forest, the Lodge, and the hotel. The lengthy story of Morse’s time included his bringing his son in as president in the late 1940s, then his son-in-law, who in 1954 was named president of Del Monte Properties Company. Fast forward to 1969/70 when the elder Morse died, and Alfred Gawthrop Jr. was serving as chairman of the group. In 1977, it was reincorporated as the Pebble Beach Corporation.
- The Corporation changed hands a number of times from 1977: 20th Century Fox purchased it in 1979, and even after the studio was sold to Rupert Murdoch in 1985, company assets – and the Aspen Skiing Company – were retained by Marvin Davis. He sold the Pebble Beach Company to Minoru Isutani, who worked under a holding company called Lone Cypress. Mr. Isutani was investigated by the FBI for money laundering in the 1990s, after taking a loss of over $340 million on the sale of Pebble Beach. In more recent history…
- Lone Cypress was acquired in 1999 by a group headed up by Clint Eastwood. Eastwood and partners (including Arnold Palmer and Peter Ueberroth) created and tried, twice, to have passed into law “Measure A”. This controversial development proposal failed as originally conceived in 2006, and again in 2007. It’s interesting to note that in 2009, the group formed by Eastwood (which had grown by a couple of new members) began to offer limited partnership interests, but with the explicit understanding that Pebble Beach Company could never be sold to another ownership group.
A lot happened between and after some of the main events you see above, and certainly, Pebble Beach is known for a much more than real estate transactions and development projects! Witch Tree, a famous landmark that stood until a storm felled it in 1964, was often used in Hollywood movies. Lana Turner’s Mr. Imperium featured it as part of Italy’s coast in 1951. In 1956, Doris Day’s Julie had showed it in a scene where she was fleeing from her husband. The LA Times did an interesting piece on this tree and other 17-Mile Road landmarks in 2013. In 2009, the area near this famous landmark was deemed off-limits by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Today Pebble Beach is an affluent gated community, in which visitors flock to tour 17 mile drive for the $10 per car fee, or play the world famous golf courses for significantly more. The Lone Cypress, an attraction on the drive, is one of the most photographed trees in North America.