6 California Firsts You Can Find in Monterey
Monterey, like many of the cities in California, has a lot of history many people overlook. From its original days as a port city in Mexico to being the backdrop of one of HBO’s biggest shows, we here at the Monterey Bay Food Tours wanted to share a couple of California firsts that Monterey gets to claim. Even better, we take you through a few of them on our Old Monterey Food Tour, so if you’re hungry and want to learn some history, come check some of these out with us!
The Joseph Boston Store — one of our favorite partners on our Old Monterey Food Tour — houses the first safe ever kept in California. Anyone familiar with California’s history will know about the Gold Rush that put us on the map between 1848-1855 in the first place. The store, nick-named “Casa del Oro,” or “house of gold,” allowed the gold miners to store their gold and valuable goods inside of the safe, where it has remained ever since.
Nowadays, the store features local artisan products, but there are brochures inside the building that detail more of the history. While you’re here, you’re able to take a peek inside to see what it looks like for yourself! If you’re with us on the tour, you can enjoy the store and many other memorable artifacts as you taste some local products from the likes of Happy Girl Kitchen and Monterey’s Tasty Olive Bar.
Before this building was used as an actual theatre, it was nothing more than a tavern and lodge for local sailors and travelers. Jack Swan, who built the building in 1847, added a stage and bench areas in 1850 after U.S. Army officers from the New York Volunteers produced plays as a means of making money. Back then, ticket prices for the plays ran at $5 a pop, and on the opening night, the theatre raked in $500 in revenue.
Although deterioration inside the building itself has forced the theatre to close to the public, the exterior can still be viewed on the corner of Pacific and Scott Streets. Don’t worry, if you join us on our Old Monterey Food Tour, we’ll take you by it so you can get a good peek on our way to the next of California’s firsts — the brick house.
First Brick House
When California was still under Mexico’s rule, many of the buildings were adobe — some of which you can still see in the downtown area. 1847, however, started what’s known as the “American period,” when the transition into California becoming a U.S. state began. A man named Gallant Dickinson brought the idea of brick houses into the area to provide a little more longevity to the lifespan of buildings. The idea spawned from Europe, most notably much of Imperial Rome, which had been constructed from clay blocks that had been fired into the bricks used as the building’s foundations.
Today, viewers (especially those who come on our Old Monterey Food Tour) can see what’s leftover of Dickinson’s home, which he had begun during the Gold Rush and abandoned by the time it was over. He never finished it himself, but parts of the building — including the kitchen that was later a restaurant called Mama Garcia’s kitchen — were completed and have now been restored.
Another first of California Monterey gets to boast is the first public library. Although you can visit the library and much of the original artifacts on Pacific Street, the building itself is not the original location. The original adobe building, built by the Mexican owners in 1840, is located in one of the Middlebury Institute buildings on Pacific Street. Back then, the building was known as El Cuartel, and its original purpose was to be used as soldier barracks. In 1850, the Monterey Library Association persuaded the citizens to sell the property for $32, and one of the original shareholders from that group was none other than Joseph Boston himself.
The library building as it stands now has all of California’s history (including the library’s) in a separate room. You’ll have to check in with a librarian at the front desk and sign in and get escorted there, and nothing can be taken out of or checked out from that room, but it’s well worth taking a gander just to see how far this little city has come.
First Tobacco Shop
Hellam’s Tobacco Shop — which can also be found under our Private Tours and Custom Events Partners — hails not only as California’s first tobacco shop, but also as the oldest business in Monterey. Here, customers can still enjoy fine cigars. If you’re not much of a smoker, however, don’t fret! They also offer up a great selection of different wines, some of which you can sample in the wine bar, and the shop is fun to check out either way.
A recent renovation has added a separate cigar lounge, and shoppers can also purchase a variety of scotches, small-batch bourbons, beers, gins, and other spirits to take home. If you’re intimidated by it, don’t be — have us show you how best to enjoy it!
Back when California was split into Alta (the northern part) and Baja (the southern part), Spain named Monterey as the first capital in 1776. Later still, when Mexico gained their independence from Spain in 1822, it was again named the capital of the Mexican territory, and soon after, California pledged its loyalty to the Mexican government.
Originally, Monterey was chosen as the U.S. capital of California. However, after Monterey hosted California’s constitutional convention in 1849 and California was admitted as a State of the United States, the capital was moved to San Jose.
Bonus: First Newspaper in California
California’s first newspaper, The Californian, was also developed here in Monterey. It was established by Walter Colton (of the Colton Hall fame) and Robert Semple in 1846, and was also printed from the same building used as California’s first library. You can view digitalized copies of the original newspaper articles on the Monterey Library website.