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Colton Hall

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Joined: 27 Nov 2007
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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:13 pm    Post subject: Colton Hall Reply with quote

COLTON Hall is California's "Constitution Hall.”

As the scene where the people of California set up the machinery for a government to their liking— State government, under the flag of the United States —the pink-walled, dignified New England structure on Pacific Street (Calle Estrada) holds a place all its own among the landmarks of California. It was completed in the spring of 1849, its dedication the occasion of a grand ball on Washington's Birthday.

After piecing out both Colton's and Sherman's statements, supported by maps from Washington, it is obviously impossible that Colton Hall functioned as California's First American Capitol. That honor, as stated elsewhere, belongs to the destroyed El Cuartel. But it is honor enough that the Yankee alcalde's stone building should go down in history as the scene of one of the most diverting political assemblages in the history of the nation. Absolutely without precedent, east or west. And entirely typical of California.

The convention assembled September 3,1849. Eight of the delegates present were Californians, among them General Mariano Vallejo, Sonoma, Pablo de la Guerra and Jacinto Rodriguez, Monterey, Manuel Dominguez, Jose Antonio Carrillo, Jose M. Covarrubias, Miguel de Pedrorena and Antonio Maria Pico—the last five representing the owners of the ranchos in the south, Their signatures to the constitution are characteristic of their leisurely, elegant manners. All proceedings were carried on in both Spanish and English.

The greater number of the English-speaking delegates were Americans, of whom Thomas Oliver Larkin, formerly American consul to Mexican California, was the floor leader. Nearly all were young, and eager for action. Of the forty-eight delegates, fourteen were lawyers, twelve rancheros, seven merchants, and the remaining fifteen, engineers, bankers, physicians and printers.

Tall Dr. Robert Semple, Benicia, was elected president, and Captain William C. Marcy, of Stevenson's New York Volunteers, secretary.

It was soon discovered that the preponderance of opinion favored outright statehood. The fact that California had not served an apprenticeship as a territory mattered not at all. So a committee of twenty was appointed to draft a state constitution.

Although slavery was a burning question at the time throughout the country, and had been responsible for the failure of the Congress to relieve California from four years of military rule, under foreign laws, the constitution went through, unanimously declaring that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, unless for the punishment for crime, shall be tolerated in this state.” (Not a state, however, for nearly a year afterward.)

The convention adjourned on October 13th, On November 13th, the constitution was ratified at popular election. On September 9, 1850, President Fillmore signed the bill, admitting the eager California to full statehood. Hence, the seal of the State of California, whereon Minerva, sprung full-grown from the brain of Jupiter, is the dominant figure. Dramatic California!

The record reads a bit dull, but the Old Capital was never so gay. Such an opportunity for dinners and bailes was not to be overlooked by the pleasure-loving donas and senotitas of Monterey. Forty-eight men in town, many of them distinguished gentlemen, with delectable social graces. And they gave such dinners! It is of record that many of them had shipped cases of champagne ahead, to give zest to their leisure hours.

The Washington Hotel, California's first hotel (built about 1834, torn down in 1914-15), was the scene of great gayety, many of the delegates making their headquarters there.

Among the town hostesses, whose home was particularly gay during the month, was Dona Angustias Jimeno, wife of Don Manuel Jimeno, Secretary of State during Alvarado's administration. Daughter of Don Jose de la Guerra, she possessed the beauty and wit of her mother, also her arts of hospitality. So the Jimeno home at Franklin and Main (Calle Principal) was the rendezvous for both Californians and Americans.

As for the genesis of Colton Hall, it was built from fines of gamblers and bibulous persons, and from the sale of town lots, erected mostly by prison labor. Alcalde Colton designed his structure from his knowledge of public buildings in the East, to serve first for school purposes, to supplement the primary school held in El Cuartel; and for an assembly hall. He tells us it was the finest building in California. He apparently had forgotten about the Missions. But it was, and is, a monument to his good taste. Originally, it was white, not pink. Like its American neighbor, it was shingled, not tiled.

It must be said, in justice to its designer and builder. that the outside steps that now cross windows and otherwise mar the architectural plan, were added by some later addict of efficiency. The original stairs were in the rear. "The portico," Colton tells us, "is entered from the upper chamber." It was then one large room, a railing having been introduced to separate the constitutional delegates from spectators. It is hoped that the partition now dividing the chamber in two will soon be removed.

The building was restored in the first decade of the twentieth century by State funds, through the efforrts of Joseph R. Knowland, then a member of the senate; but not until the City of Monterey leased the building to the State for ten years. State funds are not available for use other than on State property. Monterey got her building back in due time, its local uses never having been interfered with in the interim. Such a use of California's public funds was a happy inspiration. Otherwise the landmark might have gone the way of others.

Curious, the apathy of Montereyans of yesterday to the wealth they were turning their backs upon. In contrast was the care given by most private owners of their historic adobes, in good times and bad. The result—Monterey rises today to the stature of a public monument in the possession of nearly a half-hundred historic buildings, around which is wound the gripping romance of Old California. A story that cannot be duplicated in the nation, in character nor in dramatic interest.
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