Monterey: Cannery Row
Located on Monterey Bay between the breakwater and the Pacific Grove border, it's a vibrant area with a colorful
For author John Steinbeck, Cannery Row was "a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light,
a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream." Today, except for the stink and the noise, Steinbeck's
description from his novel, Cannery Row, still captures the essence of the place.
In 1995, the city celebrated the 50th anniversary of Cannery Row.
In its former heyday, the Row bustled with activity as workers packed sardines in its 18 canneries
and processed them in its 20 reduction plants. It was 1945, the year Steinbeck's book was published that marked
the peak of the industry with nearly a quarter million tons of sardines processed.
For many sardine canners, the waterfront was their whole life, encompassing both work and play.
When the last sardine had been packed for the day, brightly blinking neon signs over cafes and bars
beckoned. Steinbeck called the one in front of Flora Wood's Lone Star Cafe (the Bear Flag in Cannery Row),
"the lamp which makes perpetual moonlight in Cannery Row."
However, with the disappearance of the silver sardines in the late 1940s from over-fishing,
currents and environmental factors, the demise of a once major industry and the street that supported it became inevitable.
"A nostalgia, a dream," - that dream for many did not include the disintegration of the Row's memories.
Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday, kept the Row's history alive and brought people to the real
Cannery Row in hopes of seeing the fictional characters and scenes.
That visitor interest inspired developers to bring life back to the decaying buildings which once housed
canneries. So the bustle has returned to Cannery Row as canneries and warehouses have been renovated to house
restaurants, antique stores, art galleries, hotels, shops and the innovative Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Row has not abandoned its past nor neglected its future and thus retains a special aura all its own, quite
different from the once pervasive stench of sardines. The old Hovden Cannery is only a stone's
throw from Ed "Doc" Ricketts' lab, a weather-beaten frame building at 800 Cannery Row where for 20
years Doc collected sponges, anemones, barnacles and octopi to sell to schools teaching marine biology.
Today the "lab" is owned by a small group of local professionals who maintain it as a private club.
Besides preserving the building and the memory of the "man who loved women, tipped his hat to dogs and
bandaged the wounds of derelicts," the club's primary goal is to preserve camaraderie, jazz and good times.
In fact, members claim that the Monterey Jazz Festival was in effect born there, having evolved out of discussions that
took place one evening at the club's small bar.
Other visages of the past and Steinbeck's novels remain on the Row. "Lee Chong's Heavenly Flower Grocery," which served
as grocery, general store, bank and gambling hall for cannery workers, has given way to an antique shop.
La Ida's Cafe, one of the Row's houses of ill repute, is now home to a restaurant. Hopkins Marine Station,
the first marine laboratory on the Pacific coast, was the location of Chin Kee's Squid Yard in Sweet Thursday.
Steinbeck actually attended a class in general zoology in 1923 at Hopkins, now an educational and research facility of Stanford University.
Today, scuba divers explore the riches of the sea off Cannery Row just as Steinbeck and Ricketts
once experienced the interwoven chain of life in the sea and on the Row.