Thursday, November 8, 2018


An important part of my efforts to preserve the heritage of the Southern Pacific Railroad is participation in the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society (SPH&TS).  I regularly attend the SPH&TS Annual Conventions.  This year that event was held in Monterey, CA. South of the San Francisco Bay Area, I have family and personal connections to Monterey, making this year's event a priority.  

Convention organizers put together a great slate of presentations on the railroad history and operation on to the Monterey peninsula.  Those operations also included the development of a resort hotel, the Del Monte, which became a destination for the rich and famous.  The rise and fall of rail service to the peninsula was described in detail.  Important to this service was the Del Monte passenger train, the longest-serving named train on the SP.  It provided comfortable travel to the resort long before the automobile and served right up to the beginning of Amtrak.  

SPH&TS Convention attendees await the next presentation.

A special extra fare event was organized for Sunday, following the convention with a brunch and guided tour of the Del Monte Hotel.  The Del Monte Hotel was taken over by the US Navy in 1943 for wartime pilot training.  After the war, the Navy held on to it, eventually purchasing it outright in 1947 to serve as the site for the US Navy PostGraduate School (USNPG). The "PG School" has a good reputation inside and outside the military, conferring both Masters and Doctoral degrees.  I had professional dealings with the school during my NASA career.

Our guide for the tour was John Sanders, retired Public Affairs Officer for the USNPG School.  He gathered and organized the history of the Del Monte property during his paid career and continues to expound upon it in retirement.  The Navy has done a great job preserving the history of the property and continues to use the central hotel buildings as guest quarters for visiting military.

Main entry to the historic Del Monte Hotel.  Currently named Hermann Hall.  The main entry was built in 1926 in Spanish Revival style after a fire destroyed its predecessor.  Hotel wings on the sides (the east wing is visible on the right) remained from its 1887 predecessor, saved by explosive demolition of connecting arcades while the main building burnt.  

As noted with the entry photo, the Del Monte Hotel suffered a couple of major fires, reemerging each time.  After the second major fire, the remaining Swiss-Gothic hotel wings were covered in stucco to better match the new central structure built in Spanish Revival style which was quite popular in the 1920s.  

The Del Monte served as a major destination for the rich and famous. Heads of State, including US Presidents up through Teddy Roosevelt stayed there.  What began as "Crocker's Folly," rapidly became THE destination on the California Coast.  The hotel had been a project for CP-SP co-founder Charlie Crocker.  It was owned by the Pacific Improvement Company, a creation of "The Big Four."  Even in its post-1926 form, preserved by the US Navy, the hotel provides a window into the Gilded Age.

Main Lobby of the Del Monte Hotel.

The Arizona Garden--established and renewed after the 1887 fire by Charlie Crocker. Garden materials were gathered from the Sonoran Desert and brought to the Del Monte to form this exotic garden on the California Coast.  

Sunday Brunch for our tour group in the La Novia room, just of the main ballroom at the Del Monte.

La Novia room back-bar.  The cabinetry is set into a load-bearing wall.  This is just one example of the many pieces of fine art decorating the hotel.

The Del Monte tour was a fitting capstone to a great convention. It provided a window into the past, when train travel often ended at exotic destinations.  

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