Joined: 27 Nov 2007
Location: Monterey County, California
|Posted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:28 pm Post subject: Old Monterey
|OLD MONTEREY is the sanctuary of the Soul of California.
In her Old Presidio church, the altar lamp has burned with never a break since the first white men settled in California, north of San Diego, in 1770.
Every episode of major importance in California from that day to the discovery of gold, began, or ended, in Monterey—capital of the empire on the Pacific from the first.
From those glamorous colonial days, the Old Capital holds in trust for California and for the rest of the United States: Two beautiful old churches whose founding antedates the Declaration of Independence; a national military reservation—the Presidio of Monterey—that was well beyond adolescence when the French Revolution broke on Paris; the Old Customs House, where ships of all nations were declaring their cargoes when Napoleon marched on Moscow; nearly a half-hundred lovely old adobe or sandstone houses, where the Soul has laughed, wept, prayed, sung, danced, lived and loved. To walk in their gardens, to dream on their balconies, to sleep in their cool chambers, to pray in their chapels, is to be re-born of the spirit. Under the moon, their witchery is inescapable.
In no other part of California is the experience possible, although San Francisco, Santa Barbara and San Juan Bautista bear to a marked degree the Old California flavor—the warm, hospitable spirit of the Latins, conditioned by poignant pioneering in the then most inaccessible part of the White Man's World.
Old Monterey is the result of the fusing of three nations, two of them rich with the heritage of old civilizations, overlaid by rugged Cape Codders, who came a-whaling along the blue coast, liked it, tarried, married its daughters, grew rich, and became Don Juans instead of plain Mr. Johns. The procedure was common to all four presidial towns of Old California—San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Barbara, as well as Monterey— and the pueblos, San Jose, Los Angeles and Branciforte, with her outlying ranchos; but in the Capital was centered the Big Picture. Here the governors lived, with two or three exceptions, with grandiose simplicity and much gaiety. It was here the governors were launched with elaborate ceremony, or deposed with a quick gesture of revolt. Grand weddings and christenings took place in the old Royal Presidio Chapel of San Carlos de Borromeo de Monterey, that brought guests from San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Sonoma.
Juntas assembled here during the Spanish and Mexican eras furnishing the excuse—if excuse be needed— for a baile grande in the Customs House and a baile in every sola in town during the meeting, and a merienda at Point Lobos and at Punta de Pinos. Such feasts! Empanadas, enchiladas, tortillas. And such wine! Imported, mostly, though some good wine was made at the Mission. And at fandangos, aguardiente. Then was there often need for the alcalde, he who picturesquely preceded the sheriff in the annals of early California law and order. Oh, it was a colorful life in the Old Capital, spreading out from the pueblo to the ranchos that stretched north to Mission San Juan Bautista, and to Missions San Antonio and San Miguel on the south. Peace, and plenty for all, and an open door for the wayfarer.
Old Monterey was made capital of the Californias in 1776, co-incident with Philadelphia, the working capital of the Atlantic colonies. Prophetic year, that!
Here it was that the Stars and Stripes was officially raised by Commodore John Drake Sloat on a shining July day in 1846, notifying the world to keep hands off of California. And it was an envious world that looked on, for reports had filtered to remote countries of the alluring land that stretched in the sun along the Pacific, where life was serene, living easy and a climate of eternal summer. And when, one and a half years later, gold was discovered in California's northern mountains, that July flag-raising held a new and poignant significance.
Singularly, though, it was the discovery of gold that wrought the last phase of the decadence of Old Monterey in the exciting '40s, The cry of "Gold! Gold!" drawing men from the remotest parts of the world, drained the Old Capital of her caballetos and haciendados, leaving only her old men and her women at home. All off to the mines, most of them unprepared for the hardships they were soon to endure.
That the Soul did not desert its sanctuary in the crucial hour is proof, if proof were needed, that gold is not the goal of the spirit. Over the ruined Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Monterey del Carmelo, where rest the bones of the founders of California—sainted Junipero Serra, his loved companion, Fray Juan Crespi, and the great administrator, Fray Fermin Lasuen— it dwelt in solitude, sorrowfully perhaps at times at man's crass ingratitude. But the beauty of river and valley, mountain and sea, in which Serra had set down the Mission for his Indians, must have cheered the soul in its dark hour. But, assuming its omniscience, there was help ahead. A roof over the sanctuary; a flower for the tombs of the blessed dead who had brought civilization to California. Worshippers again at the shrine. A better day a-dawning.
That day has come—almost. Revolt against indifference in high places will help.
Foreshadowing its dawn were the literary and painter precursors—Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Warren Stoddard, Daniel O'Connell, Bret Harte, Ina Coolbrith, Joaquin Miller, William Keith, Jo Strong, Jules Tavernier; and a bit later, Francis McComas, Charles J. Dickman, Evelyn McCormick and Charles Rollo Peters. Still later, came George Sterling, James Hopper, Frederick Bechdolt, Mary Austin, and a host of other sensitized folk to what is now Carmel, to write, paint, sculpt, and live humanly in the sage and lupine by the seawall of whom succumbed to the Soul that found sanctuary in Old Monterey.