Friday, July 31, 2015

Del Monte

The Hotel Del Monte, like so many other large resort complexes built in California in the 1870s and 1880s, was the product of the Big Four. Charles Crocker erected the hotel in 1880 on 20,000 acres of railroad land just to the southeast of the Monterey pier. It was designed from its first day as a railroad stop and the Southern Pacific Railroad erected that stop nearby with carriage service running to the hotel for each and every train. Indeed, it was via the railroad that most guests came to the hotel and it was via railroad advertising such as Sunset Magazine that people knew about the hotel. The main building of the hotel was a luxurious structure built by SP-architect Arthur Brown, Sr., and done in the Tudor-style with a tall tower and Alpine entry building. Its gardens and grounds reached all the way to Carmel, 8.5 miles away, and included a golf course that would later become Pebble Beach, a race track, a polo field, and a scenic seventeen-mile road through it all. The original structure, shown in the stereoscopic photograph below, burned down in 1887.

The original Hotel Del Monte in Tudor-style, c. 1885.
The second hotel opened in 1889 and replicated the style of the first. It was this rendition that became the most well known. To accompany the new structure, a large bath house was built at the beach, and other facilities were expanded as well. In 1906, the San Francisco Earthquake damaged parts of the hotel, killing two people, but repairs were made and the hotel soon reopened. The hotel became world-renowned, with its own dedicated scheduled train, the Del Monte Express (originally the Del Monte Limited), cruising into the property daily. A small food distributor in Oakland was hired to make special products just for the hotel, a company that would one day be named Del Monte Foods.

An advertisement for the 2nd Hotel Del Monte, c. 1890. (Brancroft Library)
The Southern Pacific sold the hotel and its vast properties in 1919 to Samuel Finley Brown Morse, who ran it as a private hotel. Morse immediately began erection of a new Roman-style freshwater pool near the hotel and added eight other structures to the property. Disaster struck the hotel again in 1924 when it burned to the ground. Many of the detached structures survived and the hotel itself reopened two years later with architects Lewis P. Hobart and Clarence A. Tantau designing the new structure. The architects chose not to return to the Tudor style of before but adopt the Spanish-revival style that was popular at the time. This is the version of the hotel that still stands today.

Del Monte Station, April 1940. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Details of the original track-side station are scarce, but the new structure built for the 1926 hotel exists in photographs. The station was located on the north side of Del Monte Avenue across the road from the hotel grounds. It was composed entirely of an open-air passenger shelter with elaborate Spanish arches all around it and a terra cotta tile roof. A double-track passed beside the station on the north side and the 1913 USGS map shows at least one spur and two additional sidings beside the station. Two more short spurs broke off just to the west of the station, with on heading into the hotel grounds for a short distance. By at least the 1920s, the station was within the yard limits for Monterey Station, which was slightly to the west, but it does not seem to have been within those limits in 1913. Over time, the number of sidings and spurs was reduced until only one siding remained, as is barely visible in the photograph below. The Del Monte Express became just the plain-old "Del Monte" in 1927 and once the navy took over the hotel in 1941, the special train hardly even catered to the hotel anymore, despite its name. The navy did not need the stop in the same manner the hotel did and, although it remained on timetables until the reduction of the line to Seaside in 1978, few passengers seemed to use the station and it was reduced to a flag-stop in the mid-1950s, a sorry fate for a station that helped finance and justify the entire Monterey Branch for so long.

A Del Monte excursion train parked beside the depot in 1949. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
The United States Navy leased the hotel at the start of World War II and it would never again be used as a public hotel. In 1947, the government purchased it outright, including most of the surrounding lands, and established the United States Naval Academy's postgraduate academy there in 1951. The main hotel structure was renamed Hermann Hall and all of the other buildings have either been converted into houses or offices or been demolished.

Official Railroad Information:
The second Hotel Del Monte, c. 1920. (Bancroft Library)
Del Monte appeared on Southern Pacific documents from 1880 onwards. It was located 124.9 miles from San Francisco via Castroville, Gilroy, and San José, and was 5.1 miles from the Lake Majella end-of-track. The station never had a platform and was, therefore, usually designated as a low-class freight station, although freight cars do appear to have stopped there at times, perhaps for catering or construction purposes. By the late 1920s, the station was included within the yard limits of Monterey and was recorded as having 119 carlengths (5,950 feet) of trackage, although this undoubtedly included trackage located elsewhere along the yard. A note in a 1930 station book states that the station included a private siding owned by S. Ruthven, but no further details on this are presently known. The station remained on timetables until the branch was shortened in 1978, but regular passenger service to Del Monte ended in April 1971 when the Del Monte train ran for the last time.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
The third Hotel Del Monte, as seen today as
Hermann Hall at the Naval Postgraduate Academy.
36.600˚N, 121.874˚W

The site of Del Monte Station is a parking lot located across Del Monte Avenue from the eastern end of Cunningham Road along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail. Interestingly, the footprint of the station shelter remains behind with the original floor still present. There does not appear to be any plaque describing what the foundation was for, however. The siding tracks are also still present, directly across from the station foundation and paralleling the paved trail (which is built atop the mainline track). They continue for a short distance to the east before disappearing under the trail and a longer distance to the west. Access to the hotel itself is available through the Naval Postgraduate Institute and may be restricted. Many of the former hotel structures are used today for military purposes. Check if you are interested in touring Hermann Hall or any other former hotel facilities.

Citations & Credits:


  1. Very informative article Derek! I was fortunate enough to be on board the final Del Monte on
    April 30, 1971. A few passengers that night asked the conductor to stop the Del Monte at Del
    Monte station, long established as only a flag stop. I was standing right next to the conductor
    when he pulled on a cord to signal the engineer to stop the train and it pulled to a gentle stop
    here. Someone asked him when Del Monte station was last a regular stop and he said it had
    always been a flag stop which was not correct. The conductor was understandably very
    unhappy to see the train discontinued as it had many regular patrons who relied on it.

    What is not well known is that there was a through sleeping car from Los Angeles to Del Monte
    and on to Pacific Grove for many years prior to World War II. The Coaster, which years later
    became the Starlight, pulled the car between Watsonville Junction or Castroville and Los Angeles and was coupled on to a local train other than the Del Monte for the run out on
    the Monterey branch. This was specifically run for the elite in Los Angeles and Hollywood
    who wanted to stay at the luxurious Hotel Del Monte.

  2. The 1949 photo of the #4321: with the use of Pacific Grove being discouraged, I wonder if this is simply an outbound train. I don't believe Monterey had a way to turn locomotives, so with headlight on the tender (and some other gadget down low for sound warnings?), trains may have exited by backing. I wonder how far in this mode? The Ord loop? Some wye?


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