Friday, December 30, 2016

Cannery Row: Monterey Fish Products

Promotional brochure cover, c. 1930.
[Monterey Historical Association]
The history of the Monterey Fish Products Company is two-tiered. Begun as a standard sardine-fishing operation in 1915 by Frank Lucido, little is know about the early history of the company at its site on Cannery Row. However, everything changed in 1938 when Lucido partnered with experimental fisherman Max Schaefer and investor Houghton M. Roberts. They had the rather presumptuous notion that a reduction plant could be successful on its own, without the need for an attached packing plant or refinery. Schaefer had been experimenting with reduction techniques since 1927 out of a small facility in Seaside, turning out increasingly high-quality fertilizer and animal food. In early 1938, Schaefer's Seaside plant burned down and he proposed a merger with Lucido which would involve a total conversion of the former Monterey Fish Products cannery into a reduction plant. The property was located between the Sea Pride Packing Company and Ed "Doc" Rocket's original lab (later the Del Vista Packing Company). Monterey Fish Products became the first reduction-only plant on the Row, and Schaefer proved the viability of such an operation, prompting many other local companies to expand to reflect the prospective profits in reduction.

For the first five years of its operation, the Monterey Fish Products reduction plant shipped all of its goods out via truck and had no warehouse facilities. But increased demand prompted by World War II encouraged them to expand, and they did so buy leveling Flora Woods' infamous bordello across the street. Operated from 1923 to 1941 as the Lone Star Cafe, the house of ill repute became famous in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday novels. War demands finally forced Woods out of business in 1941, and she died penniless in 1948. Monterey Fish Products likely purchased the property soon after Woods abandoned it, and by 1945 at latest a full modern cannery warehouse was built atop the former structure.

A man standing near the Monterey Fish Products warehouse (back right), c. 1950. [OnCell Tour]
The new warehouse was a square, blocky structure that lacked any of the art deco details of its 1930s neighbors. Industrial in design, the two-story building had high ceilings and was made largely of concrete rather than wood or corrugated steel. Unlike most other local warehouses, this one did not feature an elevated conveyor because it was built at an angle from the reduction plant. Instead, it had a long pipe that may have been used to transfer certain types of fish meal or fertilizer. The building did feature a large loading window on the front and back of the building to assist in loading and unloading material from the second floor. Access to the Southern Pacific Railroad's Monterey Branch was provided from the rear of the building via a southward-exiting spur that ran parallel to the branch line tracks and terminated just beside the warehouse. The spur's primary patron was the adjacent Del Mar Canning Company. The spur was extant as late as 1962 and was likely removed in the early 1970s.

Monterey Fish Products outlasted many of its rivals, but its small size likely contributed to its quick decline in the early 1950s. By 1953, the company closed and the warehouse was abandoned. Later in the decade, an auto body repair and spray painting show opened within the warehouse, making it one of the first former cannery structures to be repurposed for retail use. The reduction plant itself was sold to a rug cleaner after sitting vacant for a number of years. It may have burned down along with the Sea Pride Packing cannery in November 1980. If not, it was likely demolished in the mid-1990s during the Monterey Bay Aquarium's massive upgrade project of its south wing.

Street Address, Geo-Coordinates & Current Status:
799, 802 Cannery Row
36.614˚N, 121.899˚ W

Today, the former warehouse survives and is now home to Mackerel Jack's Trading Company, with office space reserved upstairs. The reduction plant itself, however, has been demolished and its site is now occupied by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Outer Bay exhibit.

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. The Abalone King of Monterey: "Pop" Ernest Doelter, Pioneering Japanese Fisherman and the Culinary Classic that Saved an Industry. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2014.

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