Friday, September 30, 2016

Cannery Row: Monterey Canning Company

A.M. Allan, his wife Florence Macrae, his son Bobby,
and an unidentified man, 1926. [Hudson & Wood]
Mid-way down Monterey's Cannery Row sits one of the oldest surviving canneries, built during the height of World War I by Alexander MacMillan Allan, a Pennsylvania-born son of Scotland. Allan was originally a mining engineer who ventured to the Monterey Bay to restart the abandoned Carmel Land & Coal Company in 1897. The next year, he founded the Point Lobos Abalone Company and began hiring Japanese fishermen to fish and dive for abalone to serve at nearby restaurants. He quickly became popular among the Japanese community and employed many of them when he founded in 1917 the Monterey Canning Company, an expansive complex that spanned Ocean View Avenue. Unique among the Cannery Row factories, both of the Monterey Canning Company's main structures included faux espadana street-front façades, a style that reflected a late entry in the contemporaneous Mission Revival movement.

Monterey Canning Company reduction plant with A.M. Allan and George Harper in front, 1918. [Thomas, Japanese]

Allan died in April 1930 and operations at the Monterey Canning Company were taken over by George Harper, a longtime employee of the cannery who originated in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland. He moved to the Monterey Bay area in 1886 where he initially ran a ranch and moonlighted as a banker. He became interested in sardine canning, however, and quickly began packaging his own unique blend of fish in sauce from homegrown tomatoes when he took over the company. When Harper retired, probably in the 1940s, Allen's son-in-law, Magnus Robert Flause, another Shetland Islander, took over operations and ran it into the 1950s when the company was finally forced to shut down due to low fish yields.

View from the roof of the Monterey Canning Company warehouse, looking east across Prescott Avenue, c. 1930s.
Note the railroad crossing sign visible at right beside the road. [Thomas & Copeland]
For over a decade after the company was founded, the cannery appears to have only been composed of the large reduction plant that sat beside and over the Monterey Bay. The lot across from it remained vacant during this time, suggesting the cannery owned the land and was retaining it for future use. During the 1930s under the management of Harper, the large warehouse was added across the road and it was connected to the reduction plant by a second-story enclosed conveyor. This warehouse was strategically placed beside the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch tracks, allowing it easy and direct access to the railroad. The railroad installed in the 1930s a relatively-long, southward-exiting spur behind the cannery that also catered to the canneries to the west, eventually terminating at Irving Avenue. This spur remained in place into the 1960s, although the date that it was ultimately removed is not known. It was certainly removed no later than 1978 when the branch line was cut back to Seaside.

A fire on February 24, 1978, burns the 60-year-old reduction plant of the Monterey Canning Company. [Monterey Herald]
The cannery survived until February 1978, when a fire swept through the former reduction plant and levelled it to the ground. The warehouse and conveyor corridor endured the fire with only minor damage. Due to its unique façade and its important placement along Cannery Row, the main cannery building was rebuilt and now largely appears as it did prior to the fire, although it is an entirely new structure. The warehouse and conveyor remain the original 1930s structures, somewhat modified over the years to facilitate the change from cannery to commercial business space.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
723-725 Cannery Row
36.616˚N, 121.901˚W

The Monterey Canning Company warehouse and conveyor, 2013.
The original Monterey Canning Company warehouse still sits at the corner of Cannery Row and Prescott Avenue with the Monterey Peninsula Recreation Trail running behind it. Today it hosts numerous commercial shops and restaurants. It is a large, two-story, red-painted, corrugated steel enclosed structure which still retains a bright "Monterey Canning Company" name on its Mission Revival false front. Although there are numerous exit doors beside the former right-of-way, there appears to be no trace of the former loading platform that once sat behind the warehouse. However, that portion of the trail is especially wide when compared to other parts along the route, owing to the presence of the former parallel spur. The enclosed conveyor over the road survives and now may be used by shoppers as an overpass which accesses the rebuilt reduction plant on the ocean side, a complex that houses an abundance of businesses as well as the "Spirit of Monterey" Wax Museum.

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.
  • Hudson, Monica, and Suzanne Wood. Images of America: Point Lobos. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  • Thomas, Tim. The Abalone King of Monterey: "Pop" Ernest Doelter, Pioneering Japanese Fishermen, and the Culinary Classic that Saved an Industry. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.
  • Thomas, Tim, and Dennis Copeland. Images of America: Monterey's Waterfront. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.

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