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Other historic heirlooms

Post new topic   Reply to topic    CAGenWeb Monterey County Genealogy Forum Index -> Old Monterey: California's Adobe Capital
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:11 pm    Post subject: Other historic heirlooms Reply with quote

THE House of the Four Winds—California's Yankee Hall of Records (before Secretary of State Halleck moved the records of the province to El Cuartel) is another contribution coming down from Thomas Oliver Larkin. Three captivating adobes in a row. And but for a modern building— an architectural monstrosity—that separates the House of Four Winds from the rose-covered adobe quarters of Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman, the half-block would be one of the most interesting spots in California. How could they perpetrate such an atrocity in such a lovely setting?

The poetic name applied to the old Hall of Records was because of a weather-vane perched atop its roof, said to have been the only one in the Old Town. For some years Juan Bautista Alvarado had a store there.

After a rather checkered career, the building came into the hands of the Monterey Women's Civic Club, And under its aegis, the building has come into its own. On occasions of social or historical importance, the club opens wide the doors of its clubhouse and gardens, serving tea where numbers make the social amenity practical. It is said, and without contradiction to date, that the House of Four Winds is the oldest women's clubhouse in the United States. (About 1836.)

Incidentally, one of its recent presidents, Mrs. Ruth Darling, is a daughter of Jonathan Wright, the old mountaineer who saved the life of Robert Louis Stevenson, when he lay prostrate in a creek-bed by the old hunter's home in the Santa Lucias.

The Cooper-Molera House is one of the old residences in the Capital, Built by Captain John B. Cooper—Don Juan Cooper—an American trader, who came to Monterey in 1822, it holds a dominant position on the Old Plaza. Here was the scene of the major community activities—fiestas, fandangos, horsemanship feats; and on the opposite corner was the famous Bull and Bear Pit.

From the balcony of the Cooper House, the exciting contests between bruin and el toro could be viewed. On Sundays and holidays, when the fiesta spirit demanded a bull-and-bear fight as one of its entertainment features, the hospitable home of Dona Encarnacion—sister of General (then Lieutenant) Guadalupe Mariano Vallejo—was the rendezvous of relatives and friends. Not always were relatives friends, however. There was a round dozen of children, for instance, in Don Ignacio Vallejo's family, all of whom had wed and raised huge families. And California families held an ineradicable belief that the homes of relatives were open to them— a family right, to come and go at will. Dona Encarnacion was not one to be snowed under by an avalanche of relatives, even on feast days. But to friends of her own choosing, her home was a joyous rendezvous.

The house has been continuously in the possession of some branch of the family, their pride and joy, Something of a house of mystery, particularly the huge barn in the block-wide garden, where, it is said, much of the elegance of living in the old days of the Capital is exemplified—old furniture, old equipages, old ornament.

When the "Applegarth Plan" for Monterey's preservation, involving replacement of the Old Plaza, goes into effect, the Cooper House will be one of its outstanding features. Let us hope it may be white, as in its youth time.

Amesti-Elkins Adobe stands around the corner, an aristocrat in its beautiful proportions and its noble setting. Plane trees adorn its bricked sidewalk, and clipped Italian cypresses flank its dark door-way.

The house was built by Don Jose Amesti for his daughter, as a bridal gift, when she became the bride of James McKinley, in the late '30s. Her mother was a Vallejo.

One of the surviving tales about the newly-weds relates how rough-and-ready "Jim" McKinley, then a cooper in the employ of Don Jose on the Amesti rancho in the Salinas plain, was fond of carrying about in his strong arms the bonny infant daughter of his friend-employer. Twenty-four years after, she became his bride. A curious union.

The Amesti family retained possession of the house until about 1918, when Mrs, Frances Elkins became enamored of it and bought it. With a gracious respect for the beauty of the old place, obviously designed by an early architect of taste and knowledge, the building has retained all its original features.

As with all Old Monterey houses, the center of beauty and hospitality is in the garden, enclosed by tall stone walls, topped with red tile. The garden here is a paradise of quiet and simplicity—not an old Spanish garden, where flowers grow pretty much where they list, with paths radiating from a center bed. A French garden is here, with clipped green box outlining the beds, with inviting seats in retired nooks. The gracious old fig trees, planted by loving hands when Monterey was young, tower over the west wall, affording a shel¬ter for a moss-covered gravestone of a member of the old family. That spot in the garden is held to be a holy place by its chatelaine.

The Stokes-Gragg Adobe stands facing Polk Street, on Hartnell, named for the useful British scholar who was interpreter for the first Americans, and who pio¬neered the first school for boys on his Alisal rancho.

The house was built in the 30s by Dr. James Stokes, a shop keeper. Medicine was not then a regulated profession. Anyone who could roll a pill, or administer "draps" not only could, but did, hang out a shingle in California.

The ambitious young man built in his beautiful white house one of the largest salas in the Capital, So it often came about that when affairs of political import were to be staged, the Stokes house was pressed into service. During one of these, the guests were treated to a bit of gun-play that left a dead man on the dance floor. In the sixties and seventies, a mere detail.

A wealthy Frenchman, Honore Escolle, was its next hospitable owner. A few years ago, it passed to Mrs. Hattie Sargent Gragg, daughter of Senator Sargent, one of the leading American pioneers of Monterey county. Its quaint garden, with a shady battanca at its eastern boundary, from which eucalypti tower in all their variety of color, is a delight to painters and to lay lovers of things beautiful.

Fremont Headquarters, said to have been occupied by Captain Fremont on his second visit to Monterey, is diagonally across the street. Like many adobes, it is encased in a prosaic jacket of wood—to disguise its adobe character, before the West "went Spanish," or to save the walls from storm? No documentary evidence to support the claim, however, that Fremont ever tarried here.

The "Blue Adobe" at the corner of Hartnell and Polk Streets bears an inscription, "FEDERAL COURT BUILDING, 1834." As there was no Federal Court in California until after 1850—the alcaldes handling all minor matters, the major cases going before military governors and their staffs for final adjudication—the adobe was not a federal court, but the home, and court, of Alcalde Jose Joaquin de la Torre. It was he who resigned when the Americans raised their flag, Walter Colton taking his office. Quite a leap for a staid New England naval chaplain.

The garden, with its intriguing barranca gives the adobe atmosphere and character.

The Old Whaling Station near the Presidio gate belies its ill-smelling name.

Built in the late '50s for a boarding house for the Portuguese whalers that held forth in the Port of Monterey, it was not the thing of beauty it is today.

The building passed into the hands of the McNear family of Marin County, by whom the balcony was built, and the garden and its lovely stone wall added. About 1904-5, if memory is playing no tricks.

The willows sweep the mellow wall with a grace that symbolized life in the Old Town, before the mammals of the deep attracted the swarthy Portuguese to the port. Whaling there always was in Pacific Coast waters, but the whalers went far for their quarry and boiled it out aboard ship. Whale blubber boiling ashore is said to have given off an odor not to be confused with myrrh and incense. First, whale blubber to pollute the sea air—later, burnt sardines in Cannery Row ovens. A vigilant "smells" committee, with a non-stalling city administrator (1934) and an aroused citizenry may have terminated the olfactory offense from Cannery Row—a most picturesque place to see, but not to smell —and the delight of Monterey's art colony.

Alvarado's House, a squat adobe, on a cul de sac back of Colton Hall, belonged to Don Juan Bautista Alvarado, who cleverly made himself governor of California in 1836, holding office until 1842. Not a pretentious "mansion" for a governor, one thinks. Its dignity is impaired by the wooden jacket it wears—on all sides but the south, where the adobes are most exposed to the elements—which seems to lend support to the theory that the wood encasement was imposed to Americanize the adobe, in an age when the Californians of Spanish or Mexican descent were put on the spot as "Greasers” their adobe houses condemnatory evidence. Mostly in the vulgar '60s and '70s and in the '8os.The house had its patio in the rear, in which the deft leader of the political group that wrecked the Missions held festivities, A patch of cactus at the corner of Jefferson and Franklin Streets is a survival of its existence.

A story is told, and its source is credible, that when a daughter of the governor was to be christened at the Royal Presidio Chapel of San Carlos, a path of rose-leaves was laid from the house to the church door, over which the little one was carried on a white satin pillow by her god-parents, a procession of friends following gaily. No carriages in the country then. None until after the American occupation, General Sherman and Walter Colton making that clear. Only catretas—two-wheeled carts drawn by oxen, yoked back of the horns by rawhide thongs. That, shanks-mare, or horseback, Such horsemen and horsewomen! Nowhere in the world, except perhaps on the Arabian desert, or in the Argentine, could their peers be found. General Kearny is authority for the statement concerning the men. He had not yet seen their women ride.

As for the adobe's present uninteresting appearance, it is urged that in the old days two beautiful cypresses towered over it.

The Vasqaez House, under the cypresses at the end of the street, was the home of Tiburcio Vasquez, Monterey's own bandit. A favorite with the poor— particularly to the dispossessed Indians—because he helped them; a favorite with the rest, because he was brave. Never an open avowal, of course.

A strange story is the origin of the outlaw, whose tenderness to women and children never deserted him. When Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza brought the first body of colonists to Monterey and San Francisco, there came with him Jose Tiburcio Vasquez, his wife and four children. The colonist first settled in San Jose, the newly organized pueblo, but soon moved south, obtaining a grant in the Corral de Tierra country— the origin of the famous Rancho Corral de Tierra in the hinterland. From this fine stock issued one of California's most noted Robin Hoods.

Those who follow his story, however, as well as that of Joaquin Murietta—their separate wars on society sprang from much the same racial wrongs—cannot but hold a brief for his first outbreak in Monterey. His first difficulty had its origin in his boyhood admiration for Anastasio Garcia, a Carmel Valley bad man, too quick on the trigger. A constable in attendance at a fandango —the hall belonged to Tiburcio—undertook to settle a dispute between an Americano, who had taken Garcia's girl from him as they were dancing, and Garcia. Sides were taken, Tiburcio on the side of his hero. Suddenly the lights went out. When the tallow dips were lighted, a dead man lay on the floor.

Constable Haldiman had a fine funeral. Garcia and his gang were off on their mustangs before the smoke of battle cleared, Tiburcio Vasquez with him, headed for Cantua Canyon, sixty miles east, in the fastnesses of the Diablo Mountain Range. From that time, a price was on the head of the handsome young Mexican.

He went to the gallows in San Jose, in 1875, for the Paicines episode. But he went with his head high. He was laid to rest in Santa Clara.

The house in which it is said he was born is now owned by Louis Hill, who has added a second story, and modern stone wall. The gardens are charming.

The First Brick House in California stands east of the Whaling Station, Built by the Dickinson family from bricks made in the vicinity of the grammar school, in 1847, it is now the home of Senora de Garcia from Spain, who makes most excellent tamales and enchaladas, Pretty Josefa and young Juan may dance for you, if circumstances are propitious.

Casa Verde, where Charles Warren Stoddard lived, and from which went much of his best magazine material, stands a few doors east. It is now a fishermen's resort, debonair, open-doored, open-windowed, with oars, boats, hip-boots and dogs about.

How he loved the vista of the blue bay from his north window; and how he shuddered at the sound of the foghorn in the early morning, fearful of the plight of fishing-boats feeling their way to port.

His last days were spent in a pleasant little cottage on the east side of Van Buren Street, between Scott and Franklin, Always with the shining blue bay and its fishing-fleet in sight. Here he was soothed and tended to the end by a group of loving friends.

Carmel Martin, returning from Ann Arbor, had taken up his quarters in the same house, A warm friendship sprang up between the writer and the young lawyer, a friendship that enriched the lives of both— that made endurable that last year of helplessness of the lovable poet.

When it appeared that the end was approaching, it was to his young lawyer-friend that Stoddard turned to prepare his last testament and to discharge the tender commissions that should follow his setting forth on his Great Adventure. They were executed with the fidelity of enduring friendship.

His death came on April 23, 1909, peacefully, painlessly, as his dearest friends would have wished. He was laid to rest in the cemetery on El Estero, a tile from his loved Carmel Mission his eternal pillow.

It is devoutly hoped the Monterey History and Art Association may do itself honor to mark the last home of the author of In the Footsteps of the Padres, Tales of the South Seas, that exquisite bit, Old Chelsea, and a thousand other gems of prose and poetry that grace American literature. Many who loved him find time, now and then, to visit his grave by the lake and kneel for a brief prayer. His grave-stone was raised by his former colleagues in the Catholic University of Washington, where he held the chair of literature. Until, in fact, his nostalgia for California engulfed him, and he abruptly terminated his professional work. He loved the boys, but he hated teaching them.

In the pew in the old Presidio Chapel, where he loved to sit, the first on the left side of the east wing, there is just room enough for two, the humblest seat in the church. He felt himself isolated there, with God. If a boy joined him, he was elated. Otherwise, he sat in the dark corner alone, through Mass, emerging refreshed for his solitary spiritual experience. That is a hallowed spot for lovers of "Charley" Stoddard, who, on occasion, seek out his dark devotional corner for a meditative hour.

The Pacific House and Memory Garden are neighbors—delightful neighbors—of the Old Customs House.

Similar in general appearance, the Pacific House is distinctly of the "Monterey Type"' colonial Spanish, crossed by Cape Cod.

Built in 1834 (according to a date in a beam revealed in a recent overhauling) by Thomas Oliver Larkin or James McKinley, maybe by both, for a hotel, it came into possession of David Jacks, an astute Scotchman, who arrived in Monterey in 1850.

During its early life, it was the exclusive hotel in the Capital, its large, beautiful rooms, with many refinements of treatment, explaining its popularity with honeymooning couples. It is said that when General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo brought his lovely bride from her southern home—a daughter of the proud Carrillos—he brought her to the Pacific House until the home he had planned for her should be made to her liking. (Later, the Presidio of San Francisco became their home; then Sonoma.)

The hotel was the scene of many banquets that for elegance and extravagance would cause comment today. Among them was a dinner given to General Bennet Riley—hero of the Mexican war—last military governor of California, who had heeded the demands of the people for machinery to set up a State government.

The Constitution finished and adopted at a general election, and all the loose ends picked up, the town trustees thought it right and proper that a testimonial dinner be given in honor of the man who had set the machinery in motion, with such a happy denouement.

Philip A. Roach, a silver-tongued orator of the old school, and the last alcalde, presided. With profuse libations of champagne to cheer them to a proper peroration, Governor Riley was presented with a watch and chain by the trustees. Quite overcome, he asked what he had done to evoke such a demonstration. The watch and chain were duly delivered, and the governor was a happy man.

When next the trustees met, a bill of $600 for the watch and chain was presented by the town jeweler. That was a detail the trustees had overlooked. For years, that watch and chain bill bedeviled the trustees, who never did have available funds to pay it. Riley kept the tokens, totally unaware of the comedy going on behind closed doors in El Cuartel.

The building is now owned by the Misses Jacks, by whom it was restored, though its stone base was laid by David Jacks, reinforcing the foundations, many years ago.

Memory Garden, patio of the old hotel, is one of the most interesting typical California gardens in the State. In it are staged Monterey's birthdays, with a gay and, in spots, grave ceremonial that involves all the color and song and legend that belong to the Old Capital. To it come the Spanish and Mexican consuls, descendants of old families that tie into the Old Town —Spanish, Mexican and Americano. And a birthday cake, borne in on a bier (borrowed each year from the Carmel Mission), climaxes the merienda, when the processional is led by La Favorita—selected from one of the old Spanish families for her beauty and charm. She halts before the wife of the Comandante of the Presidio, and asks her—in Spanish-—to cut the cake with her husband's trusty saber. All in the light, gay spirit so typical of the Old Town before the Gringo came.

The Mamas-Field House was one of the first adobes to be built outside of the Presidio walls. Don Esteban Munras of Barcelona, founder of the Monterey family, came to the Capital in 1820, in the monarchical interests of Spain.

Though the adobe he constructed lost its original character during a series of reconstructions—a bay window an innovation of recent years—the walls are an integral part of Old Monterey. The house is still in the possession of the family, whose name has been given to the street it stands upon—formerly California Street. Miss Maria Antonio Field and her brother, Esteban, carry on the old tradition.

The Abrego-Morrison Adobe, built by Don Jose Abrego, who came to Monterey in 1834, has had the good fortune to fall into the hands of Mrs. Mary Morrison, an artist of taste and wealth, a rare combination.

The adobe in its original state extended a block on Abrego Street, enclosed with a high wall, according to the grand-daughter of Don Jose, the beautiful Duke Bolado, now Mrs. Francis Davis of Tres Pinos and San Francisco. In its enclosure was the typical patio, where Dona Josefa received her friends, and partook of chocolate, or maybe a glass of old wine, as the afternoon shadows lengthened. An imperious person was Dona Josefa, and clever with her hands. Examples of her handiwork repose in the Customs House Museum, as well as her mantilla, her marvelous embroidered shawl, and her French fans that are works of art. Persons of wealth in Old Monterey had ships from every port in the world to buy from. Hence the beauty and elegance of their raiment, always a surprise to the uninitiated.

The House of the Blue Gate on Pacific Street (Calle Estrada) between Franklin and Jackson, arrests the attention on two counts—its charm and its romantic background.

It has been variously known as the Vallejo and the Soberanes adobe. But the house was built by Don Jose Estrada, then a ranking officer of the Presidio—hence Calle Estrada.

The house was sold to Don Feliciano Soberanes, whose family retained possession until about 1920, when it passed into the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Serrano, the former a descendant of the learned Don Florencio Serrano, whose ancestral adobe stands on Main Street, near Franklin. The rehabilitation within and without has been consistently carried out under the newer owners, its hall and sala good examples of Old Monterey type. Its garden and its overhanging balcony are among Monterey's esthetic treasures.

The association of the house with the Vallejos comes about, undoubtedly, through the marriage of Dona Maria Isadora Vallejo and Mariano Soberanes, brother of Don Feliciano.

The joy of finding the other adobes and stone houses of historic interest will be left to seekers after romance.

Park your cars, and go afoot, if you would get the best out of it. You will come across bits of old walls, with vines clinging to them, reluctant to desert the stones about which they have clung for a century.

In the moonlight, seek out the old church by El Estero; stroll through Calle Principal, past the Larkin House, to the Friendly Plaza and sit awhile, to indulge your soul. Sweet perfumes, a guitar twanging on the steps of Colton Hall, lights in de la Torre adobe above the Plaza. An hour that will set you at peace with the world.

Old Monterey, you will see, is the sanctuary of the Soul of California. See it under the moon, at least once.

At dawn, at least once, when the sun incarnadines the bay, and its out-going fishing fleet makes black silhouettes against the sky. Then, wander over the Old Town, still asleep, the tang of the sea and the breath of pines freighting the air.

The End.
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