"A Dream Come True"
by Gordon Paul Smith
'The dream of a major maritime museum to serve as the repository of artifacts and colorful lore of Monterey's illustrious maritime heritage was first fashioned some 75 years ago by Amelie Elkinton, renowned curator of the Monterey Custom House at the time and one of the principal founders of Monterey History and Art Association.
Thirty-five years later, the dream was reawakened when Robert Stanton, notable local architect and then President of the Association, reported in 1966 to then Monterey Mayor Minnie Coyle on a joint City-Association plan:
"It will certainly be a fine accomplishment, if a Monterey maritime museum sited in a beautiful waterfront park is completed in time for the City's 200th birthday celebration in 1970."
More than a subtle hint indeed, for Mr. Stanton was aware that his friend, Allen Knight, also a former President of the Association and the eccentric, prodigious collector of marine artifacts, wished to have those artifacts serve as the nucleus of a maritime museum in Monterey.
That wish came to the earliest stage of fruition in 1970 when Allen Knight's widow, Adele, entrusted the extensive collection to the Association. The following year, retired Rear Admiral Earl E. Stone, former Superintendent of the Naval Postgraduate School and the fledgling museum's first Director, found a location on Calle Principal in Monterey to temporarily house the collection until a new site on the waterfront could be found and a permanent facility constructed.
The small museum remained in cramped quarters on Calle Principal for the next two decades.
During the 1980's, however, under the guiding spirit of Association President Douglas Despard and the determined leadership of President Carol Todd, hope was renewed. Assured that a new museum facility was essential to the future of the Association, the Board gave the green light to move forward. Monterey History and Art Association, the City of Monterey and State of California formed a partnership to build the facility; a site on the Monterey waterfront was secured and architectural drawings com-pleted. A daunting capital fund-raising campaign was begun, which would eventu¬ally total $6,500,000, an incredible challenge for the Association whose annual budget was less than $200,000 at the time. Goals, plans and processes were put in place for the capital campaign. Most importantly, "can-do" members of the MHAA Membership volunteered their help "to get the job done." Strengthened by a collective never-give-up attitude, member pursuit of the new museum was relentless. MHAA broke ground on the new project July 15, 1991. By October 31, 1992, the Association's newly constructed 17,000+ square feet Monterey Maritime Museum and History Center opened its doors and welcomed a gala throng waiting to enter.
It was a joyous day and a time of special remembrance and gratitude. The dream come true of Amelie Elkinton, Robert Stanton, Allen Knight, Admiral Earl Stone, Douglas Despard, Carol Todd and so very many others (particularly the Association's superb Executive Director James Wright and volunteer extraordinaire Richard McFarland) all of whose hopes were finally delivered. But, none more so than those of Mrs. Robert Stanton — Virginia Young Stanton — known as "The First Lady of the Monterey Peninsula" and readily identified by her sparkling personality, graciousness, boundless energy, enthusiasm and generosity. Clearly, much of the ultimate success of the new Maritime Museum and History Center is attributed to Virginia Stanton's strong cultural beliefs, incredible energy, faith in others and enormous generosity (nearly $2 million personal total contribution to the creation of this new Monterey Maritime Museum and History Center — the overall building being named by the Association Board as "The Stanton Center" in the Stantons' honor). Adjacent to the Custom House Plaza on Monterey's waterfront, the building is a striking modern adaptation of other Monterey colonial historic facilities in the area. It contains priceless artifacts - Allen Knight's own collection having been increased substantially over the years by other collections — and related interpretive and interactive exhibits not only of the Monterey area's illustrious past but of other colorful historic events as well. The Museum also includes an extensive maritime research library, a widely acclaimed ship photograph collection, numerous valuable scrimshaws and many other precious historic items. The building also has an attractive 90-seat theater-auditorium and serves as the headquarters of its owners, the Monterey History and Art Association.
Installed within the Museum, rising from the ground floor two stories high, is the spectacular original Fresnel first-order lens (the largest of all lens) made in France in the 1880s and shipped around Cape Horn and installed in 1889 in the lighthouse at Pt. Sur. The U.S. Coast Guard then entrusted this wondrous light, which was replaced at Pt. Sur over 30 years ago by an electrically operated lens, to the Association in perpetuity. It is in pristine condition, again mounted on its original revolving mechanism and incorporated as a permanent major exhibit in the Museum. As the lens slowly revolves, the beautiful rainbow colors reflecting from its hundreds of amazing prisms gently dance in a subdued way around the walls of the Museum. Quite a magical sight! One of a kind in such an exhibit setting.
Another of the Museum's most significant continuing efforts is its heritage education programs for the public, with special attention to to elementary and secondary school children, thousands of whom come annually to the Museum for these structured visits.
With the Maritime Museum and History Center — "The Stanton Center" — , the Monterey History and Art Association is forever grateful to the 1,100 individuals and businesses, 28 foundations, City of Monterey and the State of California, all of whom contributed to the challenging $6,500,000 capital campaign (not including the $500,000+ value of the site owned by the City of Monterey and leased to the Association at $1 per year) for developing, building and endowing this major cultural facility.
The Association is particularly thankful for all those individuals through the 1980s and early 1990s who responded so readily, enthusiastically and freely of their time and effort to visualizing, planning, developing and completing this achievement in the public interest. As a result of that spirited volunteer effort —a selfless labor of love — capital campaign expenses were held to under $50,000, or remarkably less than one percent of the Center's total $6,500,000 funding target!
Today, as we recall those generous gifts of financial and volunteer support essential to realiza-tion of Monterey History and Art Association's dreams and hopes of years gone by, it strikes us that they do represent a fair trade when measured in terms of their return — that is, the preservation and public presentation of historic cultures and dramas that preceded us all, so very much of which emerged upon these scenic and sheltered shores by courageous exploring mariners in ancient vessels from far distant places, followed by so many others over the years arriving here after arduous journeys by sea and land simply seeking a more promising life.
Heritage — yes, the past now belongs to us, and the future is ours as well. That's what Maritime Museum and History Center is all about, for within its walls we can watch history come alive as we ponder on the effect it has on our own present lives and of own passage into the future. The future will remember us not only for the creation of this remarkable historical Center, but for our perseverance in maintaining its physical and operational well-being.'
Allen Knight's fascination with the sea began in early childhood. Growing up in Carmel and San Francisco, he heard stories about his grandfather who sailed around Cape Horn bound for the California gold fields. When he was seventeen, Knight signed on as an able-bodied seaman aboard the ship FALLS OF CLYDE. Although his adventure lasted only three months, it sparked his interest in everything nautical and inspired him for the rest of his life. By 1960, Knight had a collection of maritime artifacts that included 9,000 photographs, 250 logbooks, scores of ship regis-ters going back to 1839, and 30 ship models.
In 1939 he completed construction of a separate structure adjacent to his home in Carmel to house his collection. It was made of Carmel River stone and pieces of old shipwrecks. He called his private museum the "ship." Knight's wife and three children became involved in his fascination with sea life, and daughter Lanie Fremier remembers labeling and cataloguing the vast collection.
Allen Knight was a businessman, a musician, a civic leader and Mayor of Carmel, a sailor, and an outstanding collector. What a legacy he left us!
Robert Stanton was a well known architect and civic leader. He designed several major public buildings in Monterey County, including the King City Performing Arts Center and the Monterey county government and court complex in Salinas. He received his degree from UC Berkeley, where he met his wife, Virginia. He died in 1983.
Virginia Stanton moved to the Monterey Peninsula with her husband Robert in 1924, raised three children and lived here the rest of her life. From 1949-1964 Virginia Stanton was "Party Editor" for House Beautiful magazine. She achieved local and national recognition for her gardens, warm and witty entertaining style and generosity of spirit. Virginia Stanton died in 1994, at age 91.
Admiral Earl Stone's illustrious 44-year career with the US Navy included the US Naval Academy, class of 1918, Superintendent of the Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, assignment as first Commander of the battleship USS Wisconsin and duty aboard the USS California during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon retirement, the Admiral took on a new assignment — Director of the Allen Knight Maritime Museum. For the next 18 years, Admiral Stone volunteered 5 days a week to operate the Museum, then on Calle Principle. He continued to build the Museum's collection first started by Allen Knight so many years before.
from the Monterey History and Art Association 75th Anniversary book