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Friday, October 21, 2016

Cannery Row: Hovden Food Products Corporation

Knut Hovden [Italians
of the Monterey Peninsula
]
One of the oldest, largest, well-known, and best-preserved canneries along Monterey's Cannery Row is and remains the Hovden Food Products Corporation. Knut Hovden was an educated Norwegian fisherman who held a degree in fisheries engineering and, alongside Frank E. Booth, was the first to mechanise the canning process in Monterey from 1904. He and Booth were also the first to hire Sicilian fishermen and bring them to Monterey, and it was one of those new hires, Pietro Ferrante, who introduced the Lampara net, which made catching sardines a highly profitable business. By 1917, this net was being used by almost all the fishing boats in the area. Hovden worked with Booth for many years but decided to break away from his partner in 1916, purchasing from Booth the property of Cannery Row's first cannery, the H.R. Robbins cannery, in order to start his own venture.

Hovden Cannery during its hayday, c. 1930s. [Fine Art America]
Portola Brand Sardines can label.
Construction on Hovden's new cannery began in 1916 at the northern end of Ocean View Avenue at its intersection with David Avenue. The original structure at the site survived and thrived through the end of World War I but then largely burned down in 1921, marking the first significant cannery fire on Cannery Row. Hovden experienced a second fire on October 6, 1924, that levelled his new and innovative reduction plant, setting a trend for such fires. But Hovden moved on, erecting the largest canning factory in Monterey. Hovden began specialising in stylised canned sardines, setting him apart from his more average rivals. His canned goods became known as "America's finest sea foods". The company's most famous brands were Portola, Prefet, Hovden, Best Ever, Cresta Blanca, and Cordova. His three story monster of a factory employed over 400 workers in its final years, many of them women. Hovden was also the first on the Row to erect a reduction plant, wherein he aggregated fish byproducts into fishmeal that could be used as fertilizer and livestock feed. Hovden further processed fish oil, which he used in soap, paint, salad dressing, and shortening.

Hovden Cannery freight platform, c. 1975. Spur has already been removed. [Monterey County Photo Archives]
Women working in the Hovden Cannery, c. 1940s.
[Monterey Water Front Cannery Row Tours]
Like most of the canneries that flanked the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch tracks, Hovden had its own railroad spur, installed no later than August 1926 when it first appears on Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. It was a northward exiting spur, which makes it slightly unique among those in the area as boxcars would have to be backed into this relatively short spur rather than allowed to roll to a stop by passing Pacific Grove-bound trains. The spur terminated just before David Avenue beside the Hovden warehouse, and a freight platform ran behind both the warehouse and the can storage room. Unusually for Cannery Row photographs, this freight platform survives in photographs, such as the c. 1975 photo above. It shows the backs of the warehouse and can storage building sitting side-by-side with a mostly covered (and deteriorating platform. The spur has already been removed in this photograph, but the end of the spur can still be recognized by a ramp at the far right end. The tracks remain in place at the time this photograph was taken, suggesting the spur was removed after 1962 but before 1975. The tracks themselves were cut back to Seaside in 1978.
Hovden Cannery boilers, sitting abandoned, c. 1975.  [Monterey County Photo Archives]
Hovden Cannery, main entrance, c. 1975. [Monterey County Photo Archives]
The crash of the sardine industry after World War II impacted this cannery less than others. Hovden had diversified with his reduction plant, and he had also spread out to can non-sardine fish species during World War II. This allowed his company to ride the tide for a while. Hovden himself retired in 1951 and Stanford University's adjacent Hopkins Marine Station purchased the cannery in 1967. They allowed the Wilbur-Ellis Company of San Francisco to continue running the facility under the name Portola Packing Company, but Wilbur-Ellis closed the factory down in February 1973, the last of the canneries to close on the Row. For the next four years, Stanford would use the vacant building for storage, allowing the structures to decay until a fire burned the large warehouse across the street and ruined the attached conveyor in 1977. Much of the facility was demolished over the subsequent three years, leaving only part of the canning room and the large boilers with accompanying smokestacks intact.

Hovden Cannery and warehouse after the last fire, July 12, 1977. [Pat Hathaway]
Demolition of the Hovden Cannery, 1980. [Pat Hathaway]
Opening day of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, October 20, 1984.
[Pat Hathaway]
Fortunately for visitors interested in the Hovden Cannery, much of it has been rebuilt, at least externally. In 1978, the organization that would become the Monterey Bay Aquarium purchased the entire property from Stanford University and began converting it into an aquarium and animal rescue center. The warehouse and other structures burned and demolished over the previous decade were rebuilt to resemble externally the original structures. The boilers and smokestack remain in place at their original locations, while the original canning room can be viewed behind the ticketing station with some images and history of the original facility. The only structure that was never rebuilt in any form was the can storage room, which is now the employee parking lot. The Monterey Bay Aquarium opened on October 20, 1984, after two years of construction, and remains today one of the foremost attractions on California's Central Coast.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
886 Cannery Row
36.618˚N, 121.892˚ W

The Hovden Cannery is almost every day of the year as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, although admission is required to view the historical plaques, artifacts, and boilers found within the surviving warehouse structure.

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. University of Washington Press, 2009.
  • Library of Congress. Historic photographs and plans for the Hovden Cannery.
  • Ventimiglia, Mike. Images of America: Monterey Fire Department. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.

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