Friday, October 14, 2016

Cannery Row: San Xaxier Fish Packing Company

Directly in the middle of Cannery Row and acting as the axis at which point the road and Southern Pacific Railroad right-of-way took a hard turn to the northwest once sat the San Xavier Fish Packing Company. The company was founded by Frank E. Raiter, a Swiss immigrant who spent many years in the wine industry before moving to Monterey and becoming a fish packer in 1917. His first business seems to have been a small cannery located between Ocean View Avenue and the railroad tracks at the bottom of the northern half of Cannery Row built in 1923. Between 1926 and 1932, Raiter expanded his operations immensely and found the San Xavier Cannery. The San Xavier company did not only pack sardines, as some other local packing houses did, but it also canned tuna and albacore and produced fish meal and oil products. The company's most famous fish brands included Sierra, Triple A, San Xavier, Salaroc, and Silver Beauty.

A multiethnic blend of workers check the sardines at the San Xavier Cannery, c1930s.
[Images of America: Monterey's Waterfront]
Connected to the cannery via a second-story enclosed conveyor that crossed the road, the original Raiter cannery was converted into San Xavier's freight and export warehouse. This structure was a two-story, wood-frame structure erected atop a concrete slab, the latter of which remains in place today. The walls were also covered in corrugated steel sidings, matching the appearance of many of the other canneries on the road. The presence of an abandoned railroad tanker car parked beside the warehouse suggests that this cannery did have railroad service via a spur, but Sanborn maps from 1926 show no such track and the track has already been removed by 1962. Regardless of the presence of a spur, the company was certainly a patron of the railroad via shipments exported from their warehouse which had sat immediately beside the Monterey Branch right-of-way. If no spur or siding was present, loading was directly via the main track.

Stohan's Art Gallery and the former San Xavier Cannery reduction plant. [Scot Hampton]
In 1939, Raiter expanded his business to packing fruit and vegetables in the Salinas Valley. He expanded to the north in 1941 and added a small reduction plant to his complex. In 1944, he also purchased additional property to the south from Angelo Lucido who had purchased the demolished mansion and estate of Hugh Tevis, who had been built a palatial complex between Reeside and Drake Streets in 1901. By this point in time, it seems Lucido was interested in purchasing the San Xavier Fish Packing Company outright, although when that transaction occurred is not known to this author. In 1952, the cannery was featured heavily in the Marilyn Monroe film Clash By Night, which makes this one of the best recorded canneries along Cannery Row. Check out thirteen minutes of the film here.

San Xavier Cannery burning down after a suspicious fire was set nearby, October 1967.
[Images of America: Monterey Fire Department]
Enclosed conveyor collapsing into the road, 1967. [Monterey Herald]
Lucido and his company ran the San Xavier Cannery until 1962, at which point the various structures took on lives of their own. The cannery itself burned to the ground on October 10, 1967, leaving the ruins that are still visible there today. The large warehouse appears to have been abandoned beside the railroad tracks, slowly deteriorating until the City of Monterey demolished it in 1997 due to safety concerns and to make room for a condominium complex that was planned but later halted due to public concerns. The reduction plant briefly became a kelp-processing facility after 1967 and continued in that capacity until 1975, when it became Stohan's Art Gallery. The building has stood vacant since 1997 and is currently gated off from the public.

The San Xavier Cannery the day after the fire, October 1967. [Images of America: Monterey Fire Department]
Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
435, 480, 484 Cannery Row
36.613˚N, 121.898˚ W

In many ways, the San Xavier Cannery ruins are unique among those on Cannery Row because they are entirely visible and partially accessible to the public. The former warehouse is an annex parking lot raised on all sides by the former foundations of the structure. In fact, a steel fish oil storage tank still sits rusting at the back of the lot. There is also a half-buried railroad tanker car that had originally been used to store fuel oil for the cannery. Across the street, between the abandoned Stohan's Gallery and the Chart House restaurant, the ruins of the San Xavier Cannery can be viewed through a chain-linked fence. This is also arguably the most extensive ruin on Cannery Row, with the remains of a fish ladder and the walls all clear from the road.

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.
  • Thomas, Tim, and Dennis Copeland. Images of America: Monterey's Waterfront. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2006.
  • Ventimiglia, Mike. Images of America: Monterey Fire Department. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.

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