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Friday, September 23, 2016

Cannery Row: San Carlos Canning Company & E.B. Gross Cannery


The Associated Oil fire, September 14, 1924.
[Monterey Fire Department]
At the southeastern end of Cannery Row, two intimately-linke canneries occupied the site that is now the San Carlos Beach Park. The earliest operation at the site was Edward B. Gross's sardine cannery, which opened in 1919 near the end of modern-day Reeside Avenue. Missing out on the World War I boom, his packing plant burned to the ground in September 1924 when an oil tank on the nearby Associated Oil Pier was struck by lightning and the ensuing fire spread to the surrounding buildings at its base. Over 55,000 gallons of crude oil and 600,000 gallons of gasoline burned in the fire, as well as kerosene tanks, and it required the Monterey Fire Department's engine to pump water for 72 hours straight to extinguish the inferno which had literally set the bay aflame. When all was said-and-done, two canneries, five homes, and six fishing boats were burned, as well as the Associated Oil pier. Two soldiers died fighting this fire. Gross quickly rebuilt his reduction plant and maintained the cannery until 1943 when he sold it to the Peninsula Packing Company. Very little is known of this later company except it was one of two owned by the company and was initially owned by G.M. Dollar and then later by G.H. Leutzinger. It continued to run until 1956, outlasting many of the other canneries on the Row.

Close-up of the San Carlos and E.B. Gross Canneries at the end of Cannery Row, October 25, 1934. [Pat Hathaway]
Immediately next door to the south, one of the largest sardine plants on Cannery Row opened up in 1927 under the name San Carlos Canning Company, named after the nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. The company was founded in 1926 by local Sicilian fishermen Pietro Ferrante, Orazio Enea, and other members of the community who were tired of working for other canneries, and, despite opening on the cusp of the Great Depression, the massive facility proved both profitable and enduring throughout the Depression years. In a short time, the company became known for three sardine brands: Velera, Don Carlos, and Dixieland. However, Ferrante left the company in 1931 and sold his half to Angelo Lucido, who soon added to his holdings a tuna cannery in Port Hueneme near Oxnard. By the point, the fisherman cooperative that had originally formed the basis of the enterprise was dead and the company was entirely corporatized with Lucido owning lands under the San Carlos name throughout the state. Bombs and death threats against Lucido were not uncommon during the Depression years. Orazio Enea was later able to establish his own Aeneas Sardine Products Company from lands purchased from Lucido in 1944, but by then the damage to the fishing industry was already done. Although the San Carlos Canning Company continued to thrive during World War II, the massive depletion of sardines from the Monterey Bay led to the facility's inevitable closure in the late 1940s. Lucido briefly tried manually shipping sardines to Monterey from other fisheries in the state between 1946-7, but the endeavor failed to be profitable.

During its years of operation, the San Carlos cannery and the E.B. Gross cannery maintained a joint warehouse across the road beside the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch tracks. This warehouse was linked to the reduction plants of the Gross and San Carlos canneries via a single elevated conveyor that ran across Ocean View Boulevard. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the warehouse, the railroad installed a short dedicated spur which exited to the west and terminated immediately before Reeside Avenue. This spur remained in place into the 1960s and was likely only removed when the route itself was cut back and dismantled in 1978.

The National Automotive Fibers fire at the former San Carlos Cannery, November 22, 1956. [Mike Ventimiglia]
For the decade after the San Carlos Cannery closed, the primary tenant of the old building was the National Automotive Fibers Company, which employed around 230 people at the facility. The old warehouse caught fire on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1956, which destroyed not only the San Carlos buildings but also the Gross cannery and the nearby California Frozen Fish Company, which had been built in 1945 on the site of another victim of the 1924 Associated Oil fire. It was the largest fire in Cannery Row's history – 250 firefighters and local volunteers helped fight the blaze and the smoke was easily visible across the bay in Santa Cruz. At the time that it burned down, the San Carlos complex was the largest former cannery on the Row and was still in very good condition. Cutting their losses, none of the businesses rebuilt and the property quickly fell into ruin. The City of Monterey finally purchased the properties, cleaned up the beach area, and turned it into a public beach park in 1997.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
The ruins at San Carlos Beach Park, 2015. [Wandergazer]
214 Cannery Row
36.610˚N, 121.900˚W

The site of the San Carlos Cannery is now San Carlos Beach Park, a municipal beach open to the public. The park was opened in 1997 on the site of the old cannery and ruins of the original cannery complex survive throughout the area, with some curated via interpretative signs. The Monterey Bay Coastal Trail marks the site of the railroad right-of-way, with the site of the San Carlos Cannery's spur located just south of Reeside Avenue on the ocean side of the trail.

Citations & Credits:

  • Architectural Resources Group and Architects, Planners & Conservators, Inc. "San Carlos Park". Primary Record. State of California – The Resources Agency. Department of Parks and Recreation. In Final Cannery Row Cultural Resources Survey Report Document, Monterey, CA, 2001.
  • Chiang, Connie Y. Shaping the Shoreline: Fisheries and Tourism on the Monterey Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008.
  • Walton, John. "Cannery Row: Class, Community, and History". In Reworking Class. Edited by John R. Hall, 243-286. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.
  • Ventimiglia, Mike. Images of America: Monterey Fire Department. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.

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