Monterey History and Art Association's Historic Buildings
Saved from the Wreckers' Ball
In its early years, the Association and its members provided an essential leadership role in local preservation efforts. Working with other civic organizations, the City of Monterey and the State Department of Parks, MHAA helped to rescue and restore many of the significant buildings of California that reflected our past and are now the brightest jewels in Monterey's crown.
In 1959, the Association learned that the Casa Serrano Adobe, 412 Pacific Street, one of the oldest homes in Monterey that remained from the Mexican Period, was scheduled for demolition and to be replaced by a parking lot. Casa Serrano also had the distinction of being one of Monterey's early schools after Thomas Larkin sold the proper¬ty in 1846 to Florencio Serrano, a schoolteacher, who later succeeded Walter Colton as Alcalde of Monterey.
The Serrano family's ownership continued until 1959 when the property was sold to the City of Monterey. With the cooperation of the City, the Association raised $21,524 to purchase the building. MHAA also provided funding for its extensive rehabilitation.
Currently, historic Casa Serrano is used by the Association Board of Directors for its monthly meetings. It is also open periodically to the public and available, by appointment, for special events, weddings and private receptions. The wooden addition on the southern end is rented for compatible business uses to help offset the cost of upkeep.
Fremont Headquarters is a two-story adobe of the Mexican Period, located at 539 Hartnell Street. Built prior to 1847, the diminutive structure was the second historic building purchased by the Association. In 1961, the adobe was slated for demolition in order to enlarge the adjacent Post Office. With support from the City and the cooper¬ation of the Federal Government and the Monterey Foundation, Association President Allen Griffin announced in September 1961 that the $9,500 purchase price had been met and the rescue operation completed.
The name Fremont Headquarters is historically a misnomer, since there is no evidence that Fremont used the building. However, it remains one of the most charming adobes in Monterey and is currently leased for compatible business purposes.
A later acquisition, the Francis Doud House, located at 177 Van Buren Street, is probably one of the best remaining examples of local wooden house construction of the Early American Period. Francis Doud, a veteran of the Mexican War, participated in the physical arrangements for the California Constitutional Convention in Monterey and served as "Doorkeeper" and "Messenger" for the Convention. He built his home overlooking Monterey Bay in the 1850s. The home remained in the Doud family until 1969, when the Monterey Urban Renewal Agency negotiated the purchase of the property from the Doud Estate. The agency then sold the house and property to MHAA for $2 per square foot. The size of the lot enabled the Association to place the old St. James Church on the property adjacent to the Doud House. It was an exciting and challenging time for the Association, which involved also raising substantial funds from the community to refurbish the build¬ings and garden.
The Historic Garden League, which occupies the corner bedroom of the house at present, uses that space for its office and garden library. The League maintains the beautiful gardens at both the Doud and Perry-Downer Carriage Houses. The Doud House also provides needed archival storage for the adjacent Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Library. The remaining portion is leased for appropriate commercial purposes.
The Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Library, formerly the St. James Episcopal Church, was acquired by the Association from the Urban Renewal Agency for $1.00 in 1969 and it was moved from its former location on Pacific Street to its present location at 155 Van Buren Street, adjacent to the Doud House. The Library's outstanding collection of Californiana and local history is the subject of a separate article.
The Stanton Center, a major history and cultural institution on the Custom House Plaza, was the Association's most challenging and ambitious project. Home to the Monterey Maritime Museum and History Center, and named after philanthropist Virginia Stanton, the Center opened its doors to the public following a community celebration on Saturday, October 31, 1992.
The dramatic story of how the Center came to fruition under the leadership of President and Chairman of the Board, Gordon Paul Smith, is recounted in a separate article The Association's most recent acquisition, historic Perry-Downer House, was initiated in August 1997 when the MHAA received a gift of almost half the value of the property in the form of a charitable remainder trust from the Webster Downer family.
The original Perry House was built in the late 1870's by Manuel Perry. At a later date, the one-story house was substantially remodeled. The first floor was raised to create a second story and a new first floor was added underneath. This work was done about 1910, and made the house a fine vernacular expression of the Queen Anne style.
In the mid 1960s, plans were proposed to raze the by-then vacant property and use the site for a modern apartment house. Maggie Downer, who has been at the forefront of the Association's preservation efforts for more than 40 years, arranged to purchase the property and lovingly rehabilitate it.
In keeping with the wishes of the Downer family, the house is now home to the Association's historic costume collection. With the restoration and remodel of the Carriage House kitchen by the Monterey Peninsula Committee of the Colonial Dames of America, and creation of the Carriage House Garden by the Historic Garden League, the property has become an ideal setting for special events, private parties and weddings. This cooperative effort is a splendid example of what like-minded civic organizations can accomplish when working toward a common goal. The Perry-Downer House now provides the final link in the "Corridor of History" that follows the path from the Mayo Hayes O'Donnell Library and Doud House to the First Theater and Casa del Oro into the Custom House Plaza cluster of historic buildings.
The proper stewardship of the Monterey History and Art Association's historic properties in accordance with its bylaws will continue to be a welcome and rewarding challenge for the Association's membership.
from the Monterey History and Art Association 75th Anniversary book