Saturday, February 28, 2009

Back to Monterey

When I was still a sweet young thing, I enlisted in the Air Force and went to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, to learn Russian. I won't tell you why the Air Force was teaching me Russian - you can figure that one out.

In many ways, the ten months I spent in Monterey were intense. I had never been to California before; everything about it was a source of wonder for me:
  • The food was different - peanut butter and sprouts on a bagel? Artichokes on a pizza? Since I've always been a picky eater, it was amazing that I tried these and liked them!

  • The land was different - stepping out of the barracks in the morning, I could look down the hill to see Monterey Bay or over at the snow-covered peak of a neighboring mountain (hill?).

  • The weather was different - every afternoon a fog rolled over the hilltop from Pacific Grove (which is why we called it the PG Monster). We could set our watches by its appearance.

My classmates and I spent six hours a day, Monday through Friday, learning Russian and the rest of the time running around Monterey. We went to movies at the Dream Theater, where there was a variety of seats to choose from - recliners, regular movie seats, tables and chairs - how novel!!! (This is where I saw the first Star Wars movie in 1977.) We spent time on Cannery Row exploring all the cool shops that offered tourists crystals and unique crafty stuff. We visited the Coast Guard pier and marveled over the gazillions of barking sea lions on the rocks. (This is probably where I saw my first live starfishes.) We ate Saturday lunches at the Viennese Pastry Shop on Alvarado Street and walked to Campagno's for yummy sandwiches to eat on the monument to Commodore Sloat. (Yes, we actually climbed up on the monument - the view of the bay was magnificent!) And sometimes, we'd hitch a ride with a fellow student over to Asilomar or Carmel. Such a life! For years after leaving Monterey, I ached to go back. I dreamed at night of Big Sur and Monterey's Fisherman's Wharf.

I have returned to Monterey a couple of times. Last Sunday, upon flying in to San Francisco for a two-day Magnet workshop, I rented a car and drove down - through a subtropical storm (the mist in the redwoods was both beautiful and eerie) - to visit my old haunts.

Of course, neither of us (Monterey and I) is the same as we were in 1977. A beautiful aquarium now sits at the end of Cannery Row, and several hotels have moved in to block the view of the bay in some spots. The Viennese Pastry Shop is gone and the Dream Theater is now a store. And the Presidio of Monterey is now off limits to non-military folks. Since I'm no longer military, I was turned back at each of the gates I tried. Sniff sniff.

Some things have stayed the same, however. Compagno's is still open at the corner of Prescott and Taylor, even though it does look pretty run down. The Pacific still pounds Asilomar, fascinating tourists and locals alike as they hunt for interesting stuff left in the rocks by the retreating waves. The sea lions still lounge on the rocks by the Coast Guard pier between meals.

This one smiled with his eyes closed, just like my kitty Sam. Then he posed for me...

...while his buddy scratched his butt with his hind leg/flipper/whatever you call it.

The Monterey Canning Company is still filled with touristy shops at the corner of Prescott and Cannery Row.

Now, being older, I could afford a car to drive up the Prescott Street hill. Back in 1977, walking back up the steep incline to post from Cannery Row would just about kill me.

Over in Pacific Grove, I saw the Monterey sea lions' cousins lazing away out in the water...

...and enjoyed the view of Monterey from the path by the water in Pacific Grove.

Here's looking west from the path. The skies and light were yucky, but at least it wasn't pouring rain!!!

So after spending a couple hours driving around, I'd had my Monterey fix for the decade. I drove back to San Francisco along the coastal road. The area north of Santa Cruz is much more rural and wonderful than the stretch further south; I snatched quick glimpses of the waves crashing on the rocks down below and was reminded yet again what makes California so special to me (besides Monterey and the food and the cities' cultural diversity and Arnie, of course). The natural environment is just spectacular! And on this dreary, drizzly day, I was especially thankful that someone - the state government, whoever - had had the foresight to protect this particular bit of fabulous landscape from development, so that people like me could enjoy it.

After this, the workshop was anti-climactic. I did get a chuckle out of the young security guard at the San Francisco airport calling me "young lady", however. Perhaps I haven't changed that much after all... :)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

On Foot in San Diego: Old Police Headquarters

I headed down to the Old Police Headquarters sale today hoping I would be able to get a look inside. Built in 1938 and located on prime waterfront land at the San Diego Harbor, this huge site has been vacant since 1986 and surrounded by high rises, cruise ships, and Seaport Village. Since it was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999 it couldn't just be torn down. Thank God for that.

It is a beautiful Spanish revival building with courtyard and lots of space. It looked more like Moorish-Craftsman to me, but what do I know about architecture? The city is permitting the site to be renovated into retail shops and boutiques, keeping the historic architecture in place.

I couldn't get inside the building as I'd hoped, but I could get a glimpse through the arched doorways that had already been cut in for the future design. I was able to stand on tiptoes and look into the old court house, naturally drawn to the door propped against the wall.

Outside were cell doors, toilets, sinks and, believe it or not, they were selling. One guy bought 13 metal bunks to make a fence, others were going to use the lidless toilets for garden planters. I thought a cell door would make a useful tomato trellis but how the heck to get it back to my house?

Most of the history came from talking with those in the lot. This Mexican-American woman was thirteen in 1945 when her 22 year old brother died as an inmate-set conflagration swept through the jail and killed 5 prisoners. Grief from losing her older brother ("he was in trouble a lot") was still there and I sensed she had come to share her memory of her brother with others. She showed anyone who would look the original newspaper articles and a picture of her brother that was pinned to her sweater. Headlines above the article reported German action in World War II.

A retired police officer who worked at the facility knew all the history of the Headquarters. (When they're not giving you a ticket, police officers are actually nice guys.) The jail, he said, had a capacity of 300 men and women, but at times they had 600. This was the total jail population in 1986. Today, just twenty some years later, San Diego has seven jails and 5000 inmates. Not much to brag about. But he was bragging about how the cooks would throw steaks on the grill for the officers, and they even had a barber shop inside.

Next stop, I'm not sure yet, but I'm kind of getting into this San Diego history thing.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Foot in San Diego: Villa Montezuma

After leaving the Marston house, I headed down to Sherman Heights to find Villa Montezuma, another historic place the San Diego Historical Society had to close in 2006 due to lack of funds. I wanted at least to check out the outside-- and what an outside!

I hadn't looked up much of the history ahead of time, so all I knew was the house was built in 1887 some distance from the booming "new town" of San Diego and that it was an ornate Victorian House.

Every window was a piece of art.

Beautiful patterns...

Spires and quirky things on the roof.

Even for Victorian, this house was a little over the top. Not only that, there was a strangely Russian flavor.

Check out this Russian church...

and our San Diego house.

Stepping over the "No Trepassing" sign I looked in through the window. Wow, an ornate wooden stair case. I was cursing various things, like the money spent on the Iraq conflict and Sarah Palin’s wardrobe instead of on our amazing Villa Montezuma, and wishing I could go inside.

I settled for coming home to read about the house and its flamboyant original owner, Jesse Shephard. His story is as complicated as the house, but in short he was a pianist, operatic singer and writer who spent his early years entertaining in salons in Europe and, guess what, Russia. When he passed into San Diego to play in some missions, two rich San Diego brothers built this house for Jesse and his "companion/secretary" of forty years, Lawrence Tonner. The dusty, frontier atmosphere of San Diego didn't come up to the level of European and Russian salons and royalty. Jesse and Lawrence left after two years, about the time the real estate market was declining. Declining real estate is something we can all relate to out here now. Well, it's happened before, dramatically so in the late 1880's.

San Diego population in 1880 was 2,600, in 1885 about 5,000 and by 1887 an amazing explosion of 40,000. Wonder why? Well, it seems the the Santa Fe Transcontinental Railroad was finished in 1887, ending in San Diego. Travel from east to west coast was now about a week. There was a land rush to San Diego with property sometimes turning over two to three times in a day. Our guy, Marston, made some good money in real estate and Wyatt Earp -- in his mid-thirties and always the gambler -- came out in 1886, likely part of the land fever. He was here for four years, speculated in real estate, opened a saloon and was sheriff for a while.

Unfortunately, in a short time, the Santa Fe railroad decided to reroute the railroad to Los Angeles and San Diego became just a spur line. By 1890 the population had dropped to 16,159. Earp was one of the defectors in 1890, moving on to San Francisco.

George, we're glad you stayed.

This weekend I'm going to check out the Old Police Headquarters. Seems like they're having a liquidation sale of cell doors, sinks and toilets. I'll be looking for the Spanish Colonial architecture before the Headquarters are razed for a shopping center. Can you believe it?

P.S. We're appending this comment to the body of the post so you're sure to see that Zorro (FOVM) is on the way and deserves our support! "Pat and Kathie, I enjoy your blog! Did you know that the Friends of the Villa Montezuma, Inc., have been around since 1974 and incorporated in 2006 to better help the Villa? We've done amazing things the past three years, and we hope to have all the funds needed to fix the Villa foundation and chimneys this year in order for us to reopen and hopefully operate the museum. See for more info. We do walking tours of the Sherman Heights Historic District. We'd love for you to be our guest to learn more about Jesse's neighborhood of downtown San Diego. If you're interested, send us an e-mail at Louise Torio, Chair, FOVM"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Foot in San Diego: Marston House

Remember the guy, George Marston, that built our beautiful Spanish mission style museum on Presidio Hill in 1929. The same guy built the Marston House in 1905 as his personal residence.

I was one of many San Diegans trying to see the house before it was closed to the public last weekend for lack of funds. I wasn't able to get into the house. Even so, I walked around the grounds and got the feel of this architectural style -- Arts and Crafts, designed by Irving Gill and his associate William Hebbard. Seems that while the house was being built in 1905 in an English cottage style -- if you can consider 8500 square feet a cottage -- Mr. Gill made a trip back to Rhode Island to supervise some other projects and on the way back stopped by Chicago where Prairie style houses were being built. By the time he came back to San Diego the Marston house was half built. He changed what he could of the second story to take away some of the Tudor look and, voila!, a nice simple craftsman design, "form follows function", indeed one of the best preserved orginal craftsmen in southern California.

I couldn't get to the inside of the house, but I could look into the inside story of the man. These people are always amazing.

In 1870, at age 19, George came to California from Wisconsin with his father and took a job at the Horton Hotel. Among his job duties was dusting off guests as they arrived at the front door. Kind of gives you an idea of what San Diego was like before all our vegetation was planted to keep the desert in place. San Diego then had a population of 2300 people. Hard to imagine, that's just a little larger than my entire undergraduate college.

Within three years, George was secretary of the Chamber of Commerce and by age 28 he had his own dry goods store which grew into a department store. He would have had the Marston Department Store downtown about the same time in the 1880's when Wyatt Earp was our sheriff and running a gambling saloon where Horton Plaza now stands. Needless to say, George made a nice fortune and used his money, talent and foresight to give us the beautiful Balboa Park next door to his house, Presidio Park, and contribute to establishing Torrey Pines State Park, all of which have helped keep San Diego beautiful.

He died in 1946, three years after I was born. Why am I not surprised he was still ice skating at age 96?

Read more about George here.

Next story, the Victorian Villa Montezuma.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Foot in San Diego: Presidio Hill

My eyes perked up reading the paper this week. Three important San Diego historical sites were closing to the public this weekend. Villa Montezuma, an 1887 Victorian home, had already closed in 2006 when the Historical Society couldn't afford the repairs. This weekend the Marston House, a 1906 Craftsman home, and the Serra Museum on Presidio Hill were closing - no money to maintain the sites so they are being handed over to the city who also has no money.

I set off to see all three on Saturday, and the rest of San Diego had the same idea. People were being turned away in droves from the Marston House which could be seen inside only with a guide. It was like the people had come out to mourn the loss of their history. I didn't get in. I had better luck at the Serra on Presidio Hill.

Southern California's first little European settlement was on Presidio Hill. The Kumayaay Indians had already been a lively society around the hill for going on 600 years.

Back in Kentucky, we would have called this hump a hillock, but it had the advantage for defense looking out over San Diego Bay for those darn English should they come spying around. The English and Russians had already been nosing around in northern California when the Spanish crown sent Father Junipero Serra to establish a settlement in San Diego. He climbed up Presidio Hill on 7/16/69 with a few soldiers, planted a cross and thus started the first mission in California. Yeah, 1769. Those 13 upstart colonies in the east, including South Carolina, were already warming up for a nice revolution.

The missionaries moved off the hill within a few years to a location upriver. I understand they grew tired of lugging water up the hill and some time later a defense fort, Fort Stockton, was built on the hill.

Not an insignificant little hill, but I'd bet my house 90% of San Diegans don't know exactly why it's significant.

The wooden mission and fort had been long gone and the hill just a bit of neglected scrub land in 1929 when a rich San Diegan, George Marston - yes, the same of the Marston House - acquired the land and built a beautiful mission style building at the top of the hill to house the Historical Society. Much of the hill was retained as a public park, but no longer with the native scrub of San Diego. A picture of the just-built building in 1929 shows it still surrounded by scrub. Mr. Marston hired landscapers to plant the hill European style, Well, it is still beautiful and what a view!

As I walked up to the museum, I could picture Zorro leaping off the red and green tiled roof onto his horse. What was his horse's name? Phantom? Readers, a must book is Isabel Allende's Zorro to read about the transformation of Diego de la Vega into Zorro.

The door sign, however, was sobering and a reminder that this is 2009.

As I asked the receptionist for both my senior discount and the half-price February Museum Month discount, making my ticket only $2.00, the irony of Mr. Marston's building this fabulous building in the year of the '29 crash and its closing in the 2009 depression wasn't lost on me.

While the building was architecturally stunning, the museum was a disappointment. Where was that 15th to 17th century Spanish furniture? There was a neat collection of 1929 pictures of San Diego like it was though. I particularly liked this one.

I could relate to this little girl, but not the smile on her face. I could recall a permanent at the beauty shop in 1949, when I was about the age of this little girl. It burned my scalp.

Next posting, the Marston House. Well, at least from the outside.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Where are Those Chariots of Fire When You Need Them?

Bravery comes in lots of forms, like taking on land developers or a 13 year old coxing old ladies. I have a particular fascination with courage. With awe, this weekend I watched a 12 year old face down the 58 degree water and storm ocean waves off Torrey Pines Beach in Del Mar, clad only in a bathing suit.

First, she admired the day and borrowed my camera to shoot the scenery.

She rolled up her jeans and splashed around.

She contemplated the waves for a bit...

Then, it was no holds barred, jeans discarded, into the ocean,

looking for that perfect body boarding wave. Br-r-r-r.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Energy to Burn???

I can imagine Kathie wanting to do something like this. (Don't even ask, Kath - you know I'm not into swimming!)

What I don't understand is why does Ms. Figge feel she needs to hop on the treadmill during her "respite" in Trinidad?