Friday, August 14, 2015

Custom House

Just 0.2 miles to the northwest of Monterey Depot, comfortably sitting at the foot of Old Fisherman's Wharf, a flag-stop by the name of Custom House took residence. The station first appeared in late 1889 immediately beside the Old Customhouse along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch extension to Lake Majella. The track originally terminated at roughly the location of Custom House, only extending to the Pacific Grove area in August 1889. In an effort to promote this new trackage, the railroad listed it under a separate header called the "Pacific Grove Extension", although the idea did not last for more than a few years. Custom House, along with Cypress Park, may have been stations added specifically to improve the footprint of the extension in timetables. While there was extensive passenger service to the stop in the first full year of operation (1890), by 1891 no passenger service was listed at the stop and it probably was abandoned within a few years.Oliver Collection. J. K. Oliver, photographer. Credit: Monterey Public Library, California History Room
Custom House station site in 1897 showing four people waiting for the train.
(Photo by J.K. Oliver / Monterey Public Library)
Another view of Custom House during the failed 1897 constitutional convention. (Photo by Charles C. Pierce)

The Old Customhouse immediately beside the Pacific Grove Extension track, c. 1900.
The importance of the stop aside, the customhouse itself was one of the most important places in California's history. The so-named structure was built by the Mexican government in 1827 beside the Port of Monterey and just below the presidio. It was a Spanish colonial adobe structure with two square two-story turrets at the ends of a long single-story hall. Balconies at the ends and alongside the ocean-side of the building gave wide views of the port and the Monterey Bay. For 19 years, the customhouse served as the primary import station for Alta California, where customs duties were collected by foreign ships trading on Mexican soil. Thomas O. Larkin expanded and improved the structure in 1841 to a state that roughly corresponds to its look in the photograph above, replacing adobe walls with wood paneling. The site's most famous event occurred on 7 July 1846, when Commodore John Drake Sloat lowered the Mexican flag and replaced it with the United States' stars-and-stripes, thereby declaring California a territory of the United States of America. Since Monterey was the capital of the Mexican state at that time, the customhouse represented one of its primary governmental centers.

The customhouse c. 1890 with Captain Thomas G. Lambert and his wife, the residents of the building
from 1868 to the mid-1890s. (Aztec Club)
The customhouse in 1902, with streetcar tracks in the foreground.
The U.S. government took possession of the building and continued to use it until 1868. For the next 25 years it became a private residence until becoming abandoned in the early 1890s. The structure began to deteriorate but the appearance of the adjacent railroad tracks in 1889 may have prompted the structure's reevaluation. Indeed, naming the Fisherman's Wharf stop after the structure alone may have been an act of recognition that this building was important. What the stop was used for, if anything, remains a mystery. Whether it was primarily a freight stop for the wharf and its patrons, or a stop to access the downtown area, it never became popular. The stop disappeared by 1898. However, the structure attracted the interest of locals who wished to improve the waterfront and restore historical structures.

Southern Pacific special X2581 running beside the Old Customhouse on 22 July 1951. (Wilbur C. Whittaker)
Abandoned and increasingly dilapidated, the customhouse underwent a long-overdue restoration by the the Native Sons of the Golden West at the turn of the century. In 1901, the state commissioned a broad restoration project to reclaim deteriorating historic structures across California. The restoration of the Old Customhouse, as arguably the most important such structure in the state, was completed in 1917. In 1929, it became the first California State Historical Landmark, although it did not receive a plaque until 1 June 1932. In 1930, the State Division of Beaches and Parks took over the property and opened it to the public. The structure still stands immediately beside the former railroad right-of-way, a part of the Monterey State Historic Park established in 1970 (the building itself became a national landmark in 1960). When open, the customhouse is the home to the park's museum and administrative office.

Official Railroad Information:
From late 1889 to roughly 1895 the stop was located between Monterey and Hoffman Avenue, approximately 126 miles from San Francisco via Castoville, Pajaro, Gilroy, and San José. Passenger service to the station disappeared in 1891, after which the stop probably went into permanent disuse.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
The Old Customhouse today. (Ezio Armando/Flickr)
36.603˚N, 121.893˚W

The site of Custom House is located on the oceanside of the Old Customhouse along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, which marks the path of the old railroad right-of-way. The station site itself was probably immediately at the base of Fisherman's Wharf, on the northern edge of the customhouse. Since there was probably never any structures associated with the stop, nothing remains of the stop to be seen today.

Citations & Credits:

1 comment:

  1. The J.K.Oliver photo looks to be later than 1897 - the size of the tree, removal of the wall, there are more overhead wires, the flagpole (although it seems to be retouched), the tracks have been upgraded, the streets are more defined and the shrubs have been removed.

    The Monterey and Pacific Grove Street Railway was still horse-drawn for a few years into the new century.


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