Monday, August 5, 2013

Museum Visit: Presidio of Monterey

The Presidio of Monterey Museum
Corporal Ewing Road in Lower Presidio Historic Park
Monterey, California

The Presidio Museum is a small building located in the
Lower Presidio Historic Park in Monterey, California.
Some of our most interesting history trips materialize on the fly, and for some reason that seems to happen quite often in California. For example, a few years ago Sheila and I were headed out for a day hike in Pinnacles National Park when a rain drop hit the windshield (Californians DO NOT go hiking in the rain, unlike our Seattle-selves). So we just steered right over to Salinas to see the Steinbeck Center, which turned out to be one of my favorite museum experiences of all time. But I's how we wound up at the Presidio:

A couple of weeks ago, Sheila and I are headed over to Monterey to ride our bikes on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. This "Monterey Bay bike path" runs about 18 miles from Castroville through Seaside and old Monterey right past Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row up to Pacific Grove. Anyway...we unload the bikes and we've got a flat with no spare tube or patch kit. As I almost never say (out loud), when disaster strikes go find a museum. Instead of biking we decided to spend the day walking around Monterey, which included a stop at the Presidio of Monterey Museum.

During our visit the museum was staffed by a very
well-informed docent.
The Presidio of Monterey started out as a Spanish military installation established by Captain Gaspar de Portola in 1770, the same year that Father Junipero Serra founded the nearby Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo. The mission and military presence in Monterey Bay was, according to Portola's orders, "to occupy and defend the port from the atrocities of the Russians, who were about to invade us." Makes sense. But as I'm sure you know, the Russians did not exploit their position in California. Not did the Spanish fully occupy California either. The port, the fort, and the rest of the Golden State came into U.S. possession in 1846 during the war with Mexico. Since then, the Presidio has been an American military installation to some degree or another. Most important to me is that the Presidio of Monterey was home to the 11th Cavalry Regiment from 1919 until 1940. As a veteran of the Blackhorse Regiment, you feel kind of drawn to the place. Today, the Presidio is home to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) or, as everyone in the Army called it, "the army language school."

Unfortunately, the museum has only a few artifacts, but
has well prepared waysides and photo displays.
The Presidio is a small post, surrounded by the city of Monterey. But the post museum is easy to drive to. The Defense Department gave a portion of the installation to Monterey, which has dubbed it "Lower Historic Park" and there is no gate guards or security to pass to reach the museum. I highly recommend driving up to the museum though. Although you can see it from Fisherman's Wharf, traffic and lack of sidewalks makes it really not feasible to walk or bike there from the marina area. The museum is a small building, and unfortunately they do not hold a great many artifacts. Also, if you are a fan of museum bookstores, there really isn't one here. So I would suggest you read up on the history of the Presidio before you come. If you don't want to invest in some pre-visit reading, not to worry. The volunteer docent on duty during our visit was quite knowledgeable and very eager to share that knowledge with everyone who stopped by. There were two things that I enjoyed most about the Presidio of Monterey Museum. First was that the museum had acquired some copies of old Signal Corps film footage and had set up small theater station to watch it. My favorite video of course was the film of cavalry recruits in the 1930s learning how to ride and care for their horses. The second thing was simply the location. If you walk across from the small museum parking area toward the bay, you'll see a monument to Father Serra. From the location of that monument you'll be able to see why that position was originally chosen as a location for a fort. One has a commanding view of Monterey Bay.

The location of the Spanish Fort would have had command
over the entire Monterey Bay.
Although the museum visit probably only took about 30-45 minutes, by an odd coincidence, we were there at the same time, and we had the opportunity to meet the current Command Sergeant Major of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, CSM Stephen J. Travers. He was on vacation with his family (on their way back down to Fort Irwin, the current home of the 11th ACR), when they decided to stop and see the former home of the 11th Cavalry, just like us. Did I tell you that this place has a certain draw? CSM Travers was a very personable and impressive individual and I enjoyed meeting and talking with him briefly. He graciously invited us to visit the Fort Irwin and 11th Armored Cavalry Museum at the National Training Center (NTC), which I fully intend to do one day soon.

Recommended Reading
I'm going to hazard a guess that the Presidio of Monterey does not get as much visitor traffic as they would like. Heck, even the Monterey County Convention and Visitors website fails to mention the POM museum from their "Historic Attractions" page! I admit that it is a small museum that doesn't take much time to walk through, but it is an enjoyable visit. Additionally, with no maneuver units based at Presidio and Fort Ord now closed and turned into a park, a visit to the Presidio of Monterey Museum will show you how important the Army was to the development of the central California coast. You won't regret adding the museum to your Monterey itinerary.

1 comment:

Frank Wilson said...

Nice write up...thank you for sharing it.