Secret Places
Touring the Monterey Peninsula
Neil Wiley

Sandy Lydon, professor emeritus at Cabrillo College, calls himself the “history dude.” He is a dude in the best sense of the word. Sandy makes history come alive through enthusiastic storytelling, on-site tours, and in-depth, hands-on research of historic people, issues, and events.

Recently, Sandy took us on a tour of Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Pebble Beach. While we traveled to many tourist spots, our trip was enhanced by seeing these places in a historic context. We discovered a rich history of intrepid explorers and fishermen, powerful priests and railroad men, wealthy capitalists and poor Chinese abalone hunters.

An elegant school
Our first stop was at the Naval Postgraduate School. This was once the site of the luxurious Hotel Del Monte, built in 1880 by Charles Crocker. (This was also the year Father Casanova began charging for entrance to Carmel Mission.) Although the hotel was burned to the ground in 1887, and again in 1924, it was reborn each time as a more splendid resort. In fact, after Del Monte Properties Company developed a “sports empire” where guests could enjoy golf, polo, tennis, swimming, yachting, and deep-sea fishing, it was known as “the most elegant seaside resort in the world.”

This elegance has been preserved in the main building of the Naval Postgraduate School, now known as Herrmann Hall. I heard gasps as our group entered a main hall that featured two-story white columns, a wood-inlaid ceiling, massive chandeliers, rows of balconies with wrought-iron railings, giant paintings, and huge potted plants.

Even more impressive was the 10,000-square-foot Barbara McNitt Ballroom, suitable for standing receptions of 900 people. The oversized carved double doors open to reveal an era when Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Carole Lombard danced here. An inlaid mosaic-tiled fountain dominates one wall. Floor-to-ceiling arched windows reflect Moorish influences. A Spanish colonial sculpted ceiling, wrought-iron chandeliers, and matching wall sconces add striking details. French doors open to large verandas overlooking European-style rose gardens.

Although Herrmann Hall reflects this elegant history, the Naval Postgraduate School is more than a museum. Congressman Sam Farr says, “Here is where you find cutting-edge technological research, advanced training in civil-military dynamics, the best and only master’s degree for government officials in Homeland Security operations, and official real-time training exercises in peacekeeping and stabilization and reconstruction activities.”
Here is the secret part. You can’t simply walk into this facility. The Naval Postgraduate School is a military installation. Security requires pre-screening and a NPS sponsor. Tours and private functions are available through the Public Affairs Office (831-656-1068). Our history tour was sponsored by John Sanders, special collections manager, Naval Postgraduate School (831-656-3346).

The forgotten people
Our next stop was at the Hopkins Marine Station, just past the Monterey Aquarium. Although we didn’t see much except for a beautiful view of the aquarium and a few whale bones, Sandy shared stories and pictures of the Chinese camp at this location. It was here that Chinese lived, fished, and dried their squid until driven out by Pacific Grove development.

The 17-mile drive
After a picnic at the charming Lovers Point where we were forced to share our lunch with gulls and ground squirrels, we continued on to the 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach. (Entry fee is $9.25.)

A few quick facts. This drive around the peninsula and through the Del Monte Forest was cut and graded by Chinese laborers in 1881. In 1884, entry was limited to those who had the permission of the owners. In 1895, bicycles were banned from the drive. (Now bicycles are OK, but motorcycles are not.) In 1901, the speed limit on the drive was 12 miles per hour.

In 1908, the PI Company began subdividing Del Monte Forest for wealthy home buyers. Chinese leaseholders and squatters were forced to leave. One of those people was Jung San Choy. At China Point, we saw the site of his fishing shack as we listened to his history and saw his picture.

Although nature has made this a uniquely beautiful meeting of land and water, the 17-mile drive is one of those rare places where man has improved on nature. It shows that big money can actually protect the environment. If you are into golf, this is heaven, with Poppy Hills, Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill, and Pebble Beach. The Pebble Beach Golf Club claims to be the greatest public golf course in America. I guess this justifies the $450 greens fee.

But you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the lovely beach at Stillwater Cove. Watch for the guest entrance south of the Pebble Beach Lodge. You can drive down to a parking area reserved for beach access. Small signs guide your walk down to Stillwater Cove wharf and ramp to the beach. Thank you, Costal Commission, for requiring public access to this sweet, little beach.

And thanks to Sandy Lydon for showing us some secrets of the Monterey Peninsula.