History and Heritage

The Way We Were
By Adam W. Weiland

Pacific Grove: The Early Years

The city of Pacific Grove originated as a Methodist Christian seaside resort. In 1874, Reverend J.W. Ross, a Methodist minister and his wife, visited the area and decided it would be an ideal location for a proposed Methodist Retreat. The pine, oak and cypress trees, along with many varieties of wild plants and flowers, made Pacific Grove an attractive place for camping. On June 1, 1875 the Pacific Grove Retreat Association was formed in San Francisco to administer the Christian Seaside Resort in Pacific Grove. The Pacific Improvement Company (which later became Del Monte Properties) and David Jacks provided the land for the Retreat area. This Retreat Area, as surveyed at that time by St. John Cox, covers the area from the Bay up to Lighthouse Avenue and from First Street to Pacific Avenue.

It was the founders’ intention that Pacific Grove be a “retreat” for a few weeks in summer; an encampment of tents rather than a city of houses. Lots sized 30 by 60 feet, enough space for a tent, were sold for fifty dollars. Twelve to fifteen wood-framed tents were set up during the first year to accommodate about fifty people.

In the summers that followed, the area between Eighteenth Street and Grand Avenue turned into a city of tents. When each summer ended, the tents were taken down and stored in Chautauqua Hall and the wooden frames left standing. In 1889, with 1300 permanent residents and an area of one square mile, Pacific Grove was incorporated as a city. By 1910, three separate additions were made to the city limits. Also, all tents had disappeared replaced by rows of tiny board and batten cottages, many of which were built directly over the tents with canvas as insulation as well as larger homes of varying architectural style.


What was it that drew the people to Pacific Grove and made them want to stay? Robert Louis Stevenson during his visit in 1879 wrote:
“One day – I shall never forget it – I had taken a trail that was new to me. After a while the woods began to open, the sea to sound nearer at hand. I came upon a road, and, to my surprise, a stile. A step or two farther, and without leaving the woods, I found myself among trim houses. I walked through street after street parallel and at right angles, paved with sward and dotted with trees, but still undeniable streets, and each with its name posted at the corner, as in a real town.”

During a 1977 interview with the Pacific Grove Heritage Society, W.R. Holman, President of Holman’s Department Store for almost 75 years, was asked what Pacific Grove looked like when he first arrived in 1888. He responded:
“It was just beautiful, that’s all. Wild lilac in those days was everywhere. Of course it grew wild. There’s a little wild lilac around the Peninsula yet. But the odor from the wild lilacs was like a perfume bottle in those days. And then the butterflies, like the butterflies that are here now, they were here in, oh, much greater quantities than they are now. They would settle on pine trees. The trees that they selected, you couldn’t see any foliage hardly at all-just one solid mass of hanging butterflies in great cones…And then on nice warm, sunny days, the butterflies would be all through the air, just thousands of them…”

The Pacific Grove Review newspaper reported in 1981:
“Another advantage of Pacific Grove…is that one can snore to his heart’s content…as any sonorous noise is naturally attributed to the automatic fog horn anchored off Lighthouse Point.”

However, something happened in 1883 that was destined to keep things “interesting” in Pacific Grove even to this day. The first rules and regulations were published! Among other things, these early rules prohibited intoxicating beverages, gambling, dancing, profanity, fast buggy riding, bathing (at the beach) without costume, dirty outhouses, firearms, and smoking in or near buildings! Also, a curfew law was passed in 1885 which made it unlawful for those under 18 years of age to be out after 8 P.M. in the winter and 9 P.M. in the summer. To help residents adhere to these rules a fence was erected that extended from the Pacific Grove-New Monterey border to the ocean and circled the Retreat area. The fence had a stile-gate for foot traffic and a wagon-gate for vehicular traffic. Those living in Monterey often joked: “Pacific Grove must have left her gate open last night as it is foggy in Monterey today.”

People being people, those so inclined found ways to circumvent these rules and regulations. R.L. Holman, founder of Holman’s and father of W.R. Holman, along with S.E. Jubb and Bill Oyer built Mariposa Hall in New Monterey so they and other residents could go dancing. Hollenbeck’s Cigar Store on Lighthouse Avenue between Forest and 16th had two card rooms in the rear where poker games could be found occasionally. A little money from each hand was taken out to pay for the use of the room. Many residents would stop at the old Half-Way House Saloon in New Monterey for a drink before entering Pacific Grove. There were times when workers returning home to Pacific Grove from work in Monterey on the electric trolley (1903-1923) would rock it from its tracks and go in the saloon for a drink while they waited for the car to be repositioned on the tracks. As for the curfew, it was largely ignored after the first few years even though the curfew bell sounded each night from 1885 through 1912.

While the fence, at least portions of it, survived into the 1930’s, the wagon-gate lasted only a short time. A prominent Monterey County attorney and state senator, Benjamin J. Langford, (also referred to as Judge Langford, having served briefly as a judge in Nevada” owned a large house inside the fence. Although he used the home mainly on weekends, he soon tired of the long walk to the Retreat office for the key to unlock the gate. One particularly late evening when arriving at the locked gate, he took an axe and destroyed the gate. It was never replaced.

The rules and regulations had their effect as not a single arrest was necessary from 1878 through 1886 according to a letter written at the time by an early official. Eventually, there came a need for a jail, or so they thought, and a small 8’ x 12’ jail was constructed out of two by fours on Laurel between Grand and Fountain. But time went by and nobody was put in jail. A new constable was elected and, frustrated by the empty jail night after night, went to Chinatown one night at 2 A.M.. He kicked in a door and pulled a Chinese man out of bed and put him in jail-just to have someone in the jail overnight. He turned the poor fellow loose in next morning.

In addition to the electric trolley mentioned earlier, the local transportation consisted of horse and buggy or the horse drawn trolley (1891-1902). In early Pacific Grove, however, the tourist relied on the railroad. During the 1890’s there were three passenger trains a day in the summer. When the whistle of the incoming train was heard, the whole town rushed to see its arrival. The drivers with their horse-drawn surreys and wagons from the Mammoth stable, later known as the Kent Livery Stable, would line up in case any of the arriving passengers needed their services. During the months from May to September, the trains were packed due to the many organizations connected with the Methodist church.

For many years the Southern Pacific Railroad Company ran regular Sunday excursions form San Francisco and Oakland to Pacific Grove.
The aforementioned Mammoth Stable was indeed mammoth! It covered the two blocks on Laurel from Forest to Fountain. Grand Avenue ended at its front entrance. It was built in 1886 and the main building of the stable had a tower eighty feet high with facilities for taking care of ninety-five horses. It was rated “the largest, handsomest, most costly, and best-equipped on the coast.” After much initial success, competition from the Del Monte Stable and smaller, private stables started taking its toll on the large stable. Pressure came from some officials to move the stable so Grand Avenue could be continued through to Pine Avenue connecting with the upper portion of Grand Avenue. Finally, in February 10, 1909, a fire of suspicious origin burned the stable to the ground, killing many horses. The stable was never replaced.

In remembering the early years of Pacific Grove, we should also remember some more of the “interesting” early residents. Among them were “Whistling” Bob Mitchell, the postman who became the first “real” postmaster in 1879 (a grocer, J.B. Norton, was actually appointed first but serves less than two months in 1896) and used, for reasons now unknown, carrier pigeons to send messages to San Jose; Mr. Clark, who rented little donkey carts to summer visitors and residents; Mrs. Hattie McDougall, an early owner of the bathhouse, who erected a barrier across her property to prevent public access to Lovers Point and the beach; Dr. Julia Platts, the first lady mayor of Pacific Grove, who in 1932 chopped the barrier gate down with an axe-apparently inspired by the earlier deed of senator Langford: Amos Virgin, remembered by old-timers for reasons best left unsaid: and of course there’s Dixie, Dandy, Pete, Shorty, Pomp, Nellie, and Anna – the names given to the rowboats by N.R. Sprague at Lover’s Point in 1892.

Note: Adam W. Weiland is the Director of Historic Research for the Pacific Grove Heritage Society as well as manager of Data Processing for PRO-LOG Corporation in Monterey. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Adam now lives in Pacific Grove with his wife Burna and daughters Lori and Nancy.