Have you read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row? Don’t need to because it’s right outside your door? We get it. And we would love to share some of the history of Monterey’s Cannery Row landmark, named in 1958 to honor Steinbeck.
History of Monterey’s Cannery Row
Often mentioned in words, music, and film – Steinbeck, Dylan, and others – this area is as famous and popular for its history as for what you will discover there today. In fact, parts of its history are preserved. You can still find Edward Ricketts’ Pacific Biological Laboratories; now 800 Cannery Row. It was operated by Ricketts’ between 1928 and 1948. His fishery was one of the largest in the world at the time, with ‘supplies’ bubbling up due to the Monterey Canyon’s funneling of nutrient-rich waters into the area. Right across the street from the Laboratories, you’ll still see the Chinese-American owned store that as referred to in Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, as well, of course, in Cannery Row.
Before the canneries existed, this famous and most popular vacation spot on California’s Central Coast saw Native American, Asian, and Europeans settle. There was a boom – and subsequent bust – for the whaling and sardine industries. There was “structural and economic despair followed by restoration and re-development.” The past architecture and history of Monterey’s Cannery Row influence the present. There’s a confluence of design and lifestyle and spirit here.
Frank Booth built the first cannery at the turn of the century. His salmon cannery, located near Fisherman’s Wharf, would spawn others further out, right along Ocean View Avenue. Its first major canner was the Pacific Fish Company, founded in 1908. Fishing and canning processes improved in time for the demands brought about by World War I. The industry expanded. This was truly a boomtown. By 1918, production had increased from a pre-wartime 75,000 cases to 1,400,000 cases. Things slowed during the Great Depression, but picked up again when World War II came about.
Workers in the industry knew the unique sound of the cannery they worked for, by way each of the whistles was used. The night catch started out the day, and their day wore on until that day’s catch was canned. At first there were no regulations for hours or shifts. Work life was unpleasant for workers in cold, smelly, and in some cases unsafe environments. The industry collapsed due to over-fishing. Yet, as we all can attest to, Cannery Row lives on.
Today, Cannery Row bustles with activity. In part, Steinbeck is responsible for this. There are still a few privately owned and operated fishing companies on the Row. Inland, there are all of the restaurants and tourist spots you know so well. Offshore you’ll find the Edward F. Ricketts State Marine Conservation Area, which is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. A large population of California sea lions make this their home.