Monterey lost another piece of its history yesterday. The old Southern Pacific freight depot was turned into a pile of splinters, courtesy of the Monterey City Council.
The SP freight depot, which was built in 1915, was the last piece of evidence that Monterey once had a thriving freight railroad system, which enabled the development of local industry. It stood immediately east of the entrance to the Muncipal wharf, near the corner of Figeuroa and Del Monte. It was a long, yellow building on a raised platform. On the street side trucks would unload goods on the dock. On the other side, they would be loaded into boxcars. Or vice versa.
The Monterey City Council had its mind made up several years ago. When the city acquired this plot of land, known as the Catellus property (Catellus being the real estate division of SP), the council's first instinct was to tear everything down to open up views and make a park. A nice enough idea, but there is already ample shoreline parkland in the neighborhood. The Catellus property is unique in that it has two tenants with recreation oriented businesses: Adventures By The Sea and Monterey Bay Kayaks. After lengthy debate the council reluctantly decided they could stay. For now, anyway.
Sparing these businesses effectively negated any view benefits that would be achieved by tearing down the freight depot, because Adventures By The Sea still blocks the view. Yet that continued to be the rationale for demolishing the freight depot.
But first the council's plan still had to be run past the city's Historic Preservation and Planning Commissions. Both of these agencies, after much research and public hearings, recommended that the freight depot be preserved.
The City Council formally thanked these agencies for their work, then ignored it. They argued that there was no practical use for the building, and that it was ugly.
But history was not always pretty. Look at Cannery Row. The freight depot was every bit as significant as the warehouses on Cannery Row, which we have gone to great lengths to preserve. The freight depot gave the Catellus property a historical context and character. As for the alleged fault of being ugly, the buildings that remain are hardly architectural jewels, one being a plain concrete box, the other corrugated metal, and they have no historic significance whatsoever. As for potential uses, it would have been ideal, with minor modification, as a new passenger depot when (not if, for it is inevitible) passenger trains return to Monterey, as is currently being planned.
Monterey takes pride in its privately owned, and state owned historic buildings, yet when it comes to preserving one on city property, a different standard seems to apply.