Author: JD Conway
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing
The following interview was conducted by: NORM GOLDMAN: Editor of Bookpleasures.com
Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures.com is honored to have as our guest, Jim (JD) Conway, author of Monterey: Presidio, Pueblo and Port (The Making of America Series). Jim is in addition to being an historian and genealogist, the Museum Coordinator for the City of Monterey.
Good day Jim and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.
Jim could you tell us something about your personal and professional background. What are you duties as the Museum Coordinator for the City of Monterey?
Thank you Norm for your interest in my book. As the City of Monterey's Museum Coordinator I am responsible for the city owned museums along with the cultural arts activities.
We have 4 museum facilities:
*** Colton Hall: that was started in 1847 and completed in 1849. It was the site of the Constitutional Convention in 1849, it is where California became as state
*** Presidio of Monterey Museum. It is located in the heart of the Lower Presidio Historic Park, which is 26 acres of some of the most historical land in all of California. The Museum traces the city's military heritage through the Spanish, Mexican and American periods.
*** Located on Cannery row we have 3 "worker shacks" interpreting living conditions for the seasonal workers who helped make Monterey the Sardine Capital of the World.
*** Across the street from the shacks is the Pacific Biological Lab This was the home, office and laboratory of Edward Flanders Ricketts, who Steinbeck immortalized as Doc. The city also has an extensive art collection, which I oversee.
I was born in Hope, Arkansas, grew up in Southern New Mexico and went to college at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico where I majored in History and Political Science.
I like to say that after four years of college I then spend 4 more years in the Marine Corps where I got and education, including a tour in Viet Nam. After the Marines, I worked as a logistics and warehouse manager for many years. As matter of fact, it was that business that bought me to Monterey County where I worked for the Spreckels Sugar Company. That was close to being in a time warp. We lived in the company town with generations of employees who had worked for company. It was quiet an experience and when I went back to graduations school in 1997, my thesis was on Spreckels and it first fifty years in the Salinas Valley. While working for the Sugar Company, I became interested in family history, went back to college taking classes in genealogy and that rekindled my passion for history.
After receiving my MA in History form San Jose State I went to work for the City of Monterey as a museum attendant and research assistant. Over the next 6 years my duties expanded to include all the museums and cultural art activities. But at heart, I am a historian. I am married and we have two grown children, and two grand kids.
How did you become interested in the history of Monterey and what compelled you to write Monterey: Presidio, Pueblo and Port?
When I first came to work for the city my boss asked me to research Monterey's history between 1849, the end of the constitutional convention, and 1880, the opening of the Hotel Del Monte. What I found, was that this period had been highly neglected by historians. And much of what information they had had was based on a prevailing idea that Monterey had been passed by during the gold rush, and was a "Mexican village with no ambition" according to one prominent California historian. The more I researched, the more I realized that an updated history of Monterey was needed. New evidence, research and new interpretation were redefining Monterey and that story needed to be told.
What important historical landmarks should one visit or look for when visiting Monterey and why are they important?
Monterey has such a varied past that choosing landmarks becomes personal preference.
*** If ones interest is the Native people or the Spanish and Mexican periods then the historic old town section is the place to be.
*** The Path of History offers the visitor a chance to visit all the historic buildings and sets that make up the historic district.
*** Located on the path is the San Carlos Cathedral, one of the oldest European buildings in California, and is still used today. I think that is a must.
*** I may be biased, but the Lower Presidio Historic Park was the site of a native village 2000 years before the Spanish arrived. It is also the location where Vizcaíno landed in 1602, and where Father Serra and Captain de Portolá met to found Monterey on June 3, 1770. Within the park, is the only site in California where a land and sea battle was fought, and the Site of the first American fort in California and possibly all of the West Coast. And that just takes one up to 1846 with much more following the American take over. Did I mention that some of the most stunning views of the bay are from the park?
*** If one's interest is tied to the literary history promoted by Steinbeck, they will not want to miss Cannery Row. I like to challenge visitors when on Cannery Row and try to differentiate between the stories stories and the actual events and places that made up the cannning and fishing business. Monterey has museums and art galleries that can keep the youngest to the oldest person's interest.
When is the best time to visit Monterey and why?
Another difficult question. If it is good weather you are looking for I would suggest the fall. However during the summer months (the problem is cool not hot) more festivals and activities are going on. But, if you want to miss a lot of the crowds December through April are the best times.
How does the history of Monterey differ from other neighboring areas such as Carmel, Pacific Grove, Salinas, etc?
They all start with Monterey and then branch off to come up with their own identities. Salinas' history is associated with agriculture, which makes it a little different than the Peninsula communities that surround Monterey. That is not to say the only history in Salinas is agriculture but it is the cornerstone of its existence. Pacific Grove came along earlier than Carmel. It began as a Methodist Church retreat in the 1870s and has maintained an identity as a seaside village with a quite demure and hometown atmosphere. Carmel-By-the-Sea was an artist colony that became prominent with California artist following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. It developed a bohemian flare that has spread down the coast to Big Sur. One of the best things about Monterey and the surrounding communities is its verity of cultures, and the unique role that they have developed to make this area more than just a one dimensional location.
How have historians established and interpreted Monterey's history and do you believe that their perceptions are accurate?
I love this question. Without going into a complete historiography of Monterey, I would say that earlier interpretations were overly romanticized and were often repeated without being researched. They where often one dimensional, only looking at one aspect of a subject, ignoring other elements that helped complete a more diverse picture.
One good example is that period between 1850 and 1880 when most historians say Monterey was in decline with no civic ambition or economic base. That was just not accurate. Yes, there were economic swings in Monterey, but every town in California suffered through the same problems. If you look at what the Chinese were accomplishing locally during this time, Monterey was better off than a lot of communities.
Too often in Monterey's history we have ignored the contributions of the different cultures. The study of history has changed considering over the last 30 to 40 years today we look more at cultures, gender and class in our interpretations and that gives us a more complete history. I suspect in 30 or 40 years another historian may be critiquing my work based on new sources and techniques that have been developed.
You mention in your book that culturally Monterey has a connection with its native heritage, but that connection remains secondary to its Euro-American past. Why do you believe this and how is it in evidence today?
The Native People of Monterey, known as Rumsien, did not have a written language, much of what we know about them is from what the missions recorded and a few oral histories passed down through the generations. To survive, the Native People intermarried with the Spanish and Californios and they are the ones who wrote the history often ignororing their own native heritage. We do know that descendants of those first residents still live in the area and that is the connection Monterey has to its native heritage.
What is the origin of the Seventeen Mile Drive and could you briefly describe this tourist attraction?
In 1880 Charles Crocker opened the Hotel Del Monte. It was dubbed as "The Most Elegant Seaside Establishment in the World." Presidents, royalty, business leaders and celebrities came from around the world to enjoy the hotel and all its amenities. One of its attractions was a drive or horseback ride through the Del Monte Forest and along the scenic shorelines of the peninsula. That original 25-mile loop started at the Hotel and ran out to the hunting lodge on Pebble Beach. Today the hotel is the Naval Postgraduate School and the lodge is the Lodge at Pebble Beach.
I understand that in early October Monterey will be having a History Fest. What is this all about?
The Monterey History and Art Association, California State Historic Park and City of Monterey, as part of their MOU for the promotion of Monterey's history sponsors History Fest. It is a means of promoting the multi layers and varied aspects of Monterey's Past. There are exhibits and programs that educate and enlighten visitors, and locals alike, on Monterey's history. Other organizations, such as the military bases, Historic Garden League and cultural groups join us in this celebration.
What is the historical significance of Cannery Row?
After the turn of the century (20-century) Monterey experienced growth in 3 areas. First was tourism associated with the Hotel Del Monte. Second, was the return of the Army to the Monterey Military Reservation, know today as the Presidio of Monterey and thirdly the expansion of the fishing and canning industry. Following WWI the demand for canned sardines helped create an entire industry based on getting the fish from the sea to the customers. Not only were there canneries but the offal was transformed into fertilizer, chicken feed, fish oil and other sundry needs.
Because the smell associated with the rendering facilities was so strong the canneries were moved away from the city and Hotel Del Monte along the waterfront on Ocean View Avenue.
It was from this industrial, blue collar, neighborhood that Steinbeck found his inspiration for Tortilla Flats, Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday and East of Eden. So the significance today is twofold. One, it was the location for the four canneries that made up the row. And secondly it has a literary history associated with John Steinbeck.
You indicate in your conclusion to your book that Monterey today is at a crossroads on how it will address development, water restrictions, traffic congestion, and the cost of living. Could you briefly elaborate?
The issues you stated above are common to all the communities on the Monterey Peninsula. How those issues are deal with local will be the next important chapter in Monterey's history. For the City of Monterey each of the issues have the potential to completely change how Monterey is viewed, or will be viewed in the future. What type of development will be allowed how we manage our limited water supply how will young families afford housing, where even the smallest cottage goes for $ 800,000, how we answer these questions will be our history.
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered, and what is next for Jim Conway?
I think we have covered a tremendous amount of ground. I hope that I have been able to provide some insight into Monterey's past and create some interest in it future. It is an exciting place to be a historian and I look forward to sharing it with those who discover its heritage.
Next for Jim Conway is a book on the California Constitutional Convention that was held in Colton Hall. It is surprising that more has not been done on that important event, especially when you put it into context with what was going in through the United States at that time. However, do not expect in the near future as I have to work it around my full time workload at the city. And that work is exciting in its own right.
Thanks once again Jim
To read Norm's Review of the book click on bookpleasures.com