If you live in or near you probably know some of the history of Pacific Grove, and why it’s been referred to as:

  • The Most Romantic City in America
  • Butterfly Town U.S.A.
  • A Dreamy California destination
  • The Best Seaside Sanctuary

People all over the world, particularly those of you who live here, understand the beauty, breathtaking views and vistas, poetry, romance, and ambience of our Pacific Grove. So how did we get here? What are some of the most influential happenings throughout the history of Pacific Grove that brought us to today? That’s what this post is about.

Through the Years: The History of Pacific Grove


One of the Ohlone groups originally inhabited the area we now know as Pacific Grove. They hunted, fished, and gathered. The Peninsula was rich, and this was how they prospered.

Early 1800s

Over 2,500 acres were claimed by Jose Maria Armenta in a land grant. It included Monterey and Pacific Grove. Approximately 20 years later, in 1855, Point Pinos Lighthouse was built. It’s still operational and is known as the “oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the west coast”.

1864 – 1881: The David Jacks Era

Darrell Stokes Gregory sold Punta de los Pinos Rancho to David Jacks. In 1868, Jacks further acquired more Rancho lands. As the late-1800s approached, the following additional developments took place:

  • Meeting in San Francisco in 1873, the Methodist Annual Conference talked about how they wanted to create a seaside resort on the West Coast. They would soon begin negotiations with David Jacks. The Conference planned to fashion a town after Ocean Grove (New Jersey).
  • A couple of years later, after forming The Pacific Grove Retreat Association (PGRA), the group signed a deal with Mr. Jacks for 100 acres of land. In August of 1875, the first Methodist camp met in Pacific Grove. Part of the deal involved Jacks’ donating some of the land.
  • A little later, unsold portions of Pacific Grove Retreat lots reverted back to Jacks, and in 1880 he sold remaining land to the Pacific Improvement Company (PIC). By 1881, eight families were living in Pacific Grove.

1883 – 1896: Pacific Improvement Company and Pacific Grove Retreat Association

PGRA and PIC signed a contract in 1883. The former would control “the moral and prudential management” of the Grove, while PIC would manage the financials. Springing forth from this arrangement were many things. In 1884, a summer school. In 1886, the first library, as businesses began to appear on Lighthouse Road. The El Carmelo Hotel opened in 1887 (at Fountain and Forest), and St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea was consecrated. Pacific Grove incorporated in June of 1889, the same year the railroad came to town. Many other developments happened before 1900:

  • The Pine Street School opened in 1891
  • Hopkins Seaside Lab was built (part of Stanford)
  • The Bath House was built
  • In 1879, on wandering into the Methodist campgrounds, Robert Louis Stevenson said “I have never been in any place so dreamlike.”
  • Electric lights came to Pacific Grove in 1895, and the first phone exchange in 1896

It should also be noted that, even before Steinbeck moved into town, from the 1890s forward, Pacific Grove was becoming a haven for artists, many of whom, from the En Plein air schools, were looking for natural beauty.

Turn of the Century

First President McKinley, and then in 1903 President Roosevelt visited Pacific Grove. In 1906, a Carnagie land grant was obtained so a public library could be built; it opened at its current location in 1908. Asilomar ‘Refuge by the Sea’ was created when PIC donated land to the YMCA. Around this time, artist William Adam moved from Monterey to Pacific Grove. The German painter Eugen Neuhaus also located here. On the site of the former Chinese fishing village, in 1916, the Monterey Boatworks was formed.

1923 – 1950: Explosive Development

What we know now as Robert H. Down Elementary School was opened in 1923; the same year the Pacific Biological Laboratory was opened. As Lighthouse Avenue was being paved in 1924, Holman’s Department store opened. And there were a number of other advances:

  • What we now know as Forest Hill Manor Retirement Center was built as a hotel. That was in 1926.
  • In 1930, an event happened, by way of the arrival of one person, that would begin to change Pacific Grove dramatically: John Steinbeck moved to Pacific Grove.
  • Pacific Grove’s first female Mayor, Julia Platt, was elected in 1931
  • A couple of years later the Museum opened, as did Pacific Grove golf course
  • In 1938 the Post Office was constructed, and the First National Bank opened
  • In 1939 history was made, as the town passed an ordinance making it illegal to molest butterflies
  • Post-WWII development saw the expansion of the city into subdivisions in the western and southern ends

1950 – Today: Modern Times

In 1950, the Pacific Grove Youth Center was dedicated to Bing Crosby. In January of 1963, the old Methodist-Episcopal Church was demolished. Did you know the city has the distinction of being known as “the last dry town in California”? In fact, not until the grand opening of the Pacific Grove Art Center in 1969 was alcohol served in public. Earlier in the year, residents had voted to allow it to be sold in town. In 1975, the Heritage Society of Pacific Grove was founded, and it became incorporated the following year.

In the 1980s, one of the most well-known computer software companies, Digital Research, was headquartered here. In 1994, City Council passed the first historic preservation ordinance. This was in keeping with our continued desire to preserve our historical heritage.

The history of Pacific Grove is rich and interesting, and continues today.

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