It is now used as a lodge room for the Monterey Chapter of the Native
Sons of the Golden West and is usually closed to visitors. We had the
good fortune to find it open and in charge of a very interesting Native
Son, an old-time resident of the town, whose personal experience dated
back to the time of the American occupation. He showed us the various
relics collected by the organization, among them the base of the old
flag-pole, the trunk of a tree blazed by Kit Carson, and two chairs made
from the oak under which Viscaino and Serra are said to have landed. He
also told us many incidents in the early history of Monterey and I shall
never forget his comment on the result of the work of the missions.
"Ah, they were grand old fellows, those Spanish priests; they ridded California of the Indians and a good job it was-if you don't think so, look at Mexico, where they still exist. Civilization and the white man's diseases were the Spaniard's gifts to the Indian and they finally wiped him out of existence."
Certainly an unique if not very cheerful or appreciative view of the work of the Franciscan fathers.
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There is a broad plaza before the custom-house and from this the principal streets of the town begin and each seems distinctive of a particular phase of Monterey. Modern improvements have followed Alvarado, while Main is bordered with adobes-some old and tumble-down but nevertheless very picturesque with their tile roofs, white walls, and little gardens bright with roses and geraniums. On this street is the house occupied by Thomas Larkin, the last American consul, who was much involved in the intrigue preceding the American conquest. To the rear of this house is a little rose-embowered, one-room cottage which was occupied by two young lieutenants, Sherman and Halleck, whose names were afterwards to become so famous in the Civil War.
And this is not the only romantic memory of Sherman still existing in Monterey. Over an arched gateway a sign, "The Sherman Rose," attracted our attention. We made bold to enter and knocked at the door of the solid old stone house inside the enclosure. A little old woman, good-looking in spite of her years, answered our call, but soon made it clear that she spoke no English. She pointed to the ancient rose-vine, several inches in diameter, which scattered its huge fragrant yellow blooms in reckless profusion over the trellis above our heads and we understood that this was the rose which legend declares Sherman and a lovely young senorita of Old Monterey planted as a pledge of mutual affection. But we did not know at the time that the old lady who so kindly showed us about the house and gardens and gave us little bouquets of geraniums and rosebuds is reputed in Monterey to be the identical senorita of the story. I think there must be some mythical elements in this supposition, for the lady hardly looked the years made necessary by the fact that Sherman was in Monterey nearly seventy years ago. The legend is that Sherman, when stationed in Monterey, was enamored of Senorita Bonifacio, the most beautiful young woman of the town. In the midst of his romance the young lieutenant was ordered to the east and when he called on his inamorata to acquaint her with the mournful news he wore a Cloth-of-Gold rose in his coat. His sweetheart took the rose, saying,
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"Together we will plant this rose and if it lives and flourishes I shall know that your love is true."
He replied, "When it blooms I will come back and claim you."
But whether the story is true or not, it had not the usual ending, for the young officer never returned to redeem his pledge.
Not far from the Larkin house is the long, low, colonnaded home of Alvarado, the last Spanish governor, and near it stands Colton Hall, famous as the meeting-place of the constitutional convention which assembled within its walls on the day that California was admitted to the Union. Its handsome Grecian facade, with a portico supported by two tall white columns, reminds one of some of the stately Colonial homes of the Southern States. It now serves the very useful though somewhat plebeian purpose of the tax collector's office. Some day we hope it may be converted into a museum to house the historic relics of Monterey. It took its name from Walter Colton, the chaplain of the convention and first American alcade or mayor of the town. A diary which he kept during the three years of his office records many stirring incidents of Old California.
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Another structure nearing the century mark, built in 1832, is the Washington Hotel, though that was not its original name, and near it is the ramshackle old adobe known by common consent as the Robert Louis Stevenson house. For the well-beloved author was for four months of 1879 a resident of the town at a time when his health and fortunes seemed at their lowest ebb. Even then he was the leading spirit of a little coterie of Bohemians-artists and litterateurs-among them Charles Warner Stoddard, Jules Tavernier, and William Keith, who often met for dinner in the restaurant kept by Jules Simonneau. To the last named, Stevenson gives credit for saving his life by careful nursing during a severe illness which he suffered shortly after coming to Monterey. Simonneau was a rough, full-bearded old frontiersman, but he conceived an attachment for Stevenson which lasted to the day of his death, and never, even under stress of direst need, would he part with the letters or autographed books which the author had sent him. Neither would he permit the publication of any portion of the correspondence-"letters from one gentleman to another," as it was his whim to refer to them. After his death, which occurred a few years ago, his daughter sold the collection to a San Francisco gentleman and it is to be hoped that the letters will ultimately find their way into print, revealing as they do a very intimate and lovable side of Stevenson's character.
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The house was in a sad state of disrepair, the first floor being occupied by a sign-painter's shop at the time of our visit. An erect old fellow, who looked as if his chief failing might be a too free indulgence in one of California's chief products, came out to greet us as we paused before the house, and pointed out the room the great writer occupied during his stay in Monterey. It must have been hard indeed for this prince of optimists to "travel hopefully" under the conditions that surrounded him those few months of his life-exiled, penniless, and ill, domiciled in such rude and comfortless quarters, he must have been as near despair as at any time in his career, yet out of it all came some of his best work.
Our informant refused a fee in a lordly manner.
"I'm a retired officer of the United States Navy, a classmate of Bob Evans, and I was on the Minnesota during the fight with the Merrimac," he declared, and left us with a formal military salute.
Our picture, the work of a Monterey artist, shows the harsh outlines and bare surroundings of the old house accentuated by a flood of California sunshine.
There are many other interesting and picturesque old buildings about the town, among them several that claim the distinction of being the first-or last-of their kind in the state. A tumble-down frame structure is declared to have been the first wooden house in California, built in 1849 of lumber brought from Australia. Talk of "carrying coals to Newcastle," what is that to bringing lumber ten thousand miles to the home of the redwood! The first brick house and the first adobe are also to be seen in the town and the first theatre-where Jenny Lind sang in 1861-still stands.
As one views the historic buildings of Monterey, the painful thought is forced upon him that nearly all are in a deplorable state of dilapidation and that many will have disappeared in a few years unless steps are taken to restore and preserve them. Neither Monterey nor the State of California can afford to lose these memorials of the romantic days of old and it is to be hoped that an enlightened movement to protect them, as well as the missions, may soon be inaugurated by the state.
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The one ancient building in Monterey which bears its years very lightly is the fine old church of San Carlos. This is often confused with the mission, but the fact is that it was the parish, or presidio church, as it was called in Spanish days, and was really built as a place of worship for the soldiers, who were at considerable distance from the mission proper at Carmel. There were often bickerings between the Indians and soldiers and the monks judged it best to give the latter a separate chapel. The church was built some time later than the mission-the exact date is not clear-and was enlarged and restored about sixty years ago. The material is light brown stone quarried in the vicinity and the roof is of modern tiles. The pavement in front of the church is made of curious octagonal blocks which we took for artificial stone, but which are really the vertebrae of a whale-reminding us that at one time whale-fishing expeditions often went out from Monterey.