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Monterey Peninsula: Monterey Bay Aquarium an idea ahead of its time

Posted by Peter Jaret on March 01, 2011

Road Journals Blog—Building an aquarium along Cannery Row was an inspired idea. All you have to do to recognize that is take a gander at the lines of people waiting to get into the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

But like many inspired ideas, this one took a long time to become a reality.

The aquarium opened in October 1984 after almost a decade of planning, but the idea of putting an aquarium here at all goes back almost a century. In 1914, Frank Booth, who built the first cannery here and is credited with creating Cannery Row, went before the Monterey City Council to propose an aquarium, which he estimated would cost $10,000.

The idea never went anywhere. (Booth would be remembered, in a way, when the contractor hired by the aquarium to build its massive outer bay wing, completed in 1995, was also named Frank Booth.)

More than a decade later, in 1925, Knut Hovden—who built the Hovden Cannery on the site that is now the Monterey Bay Aquarium—sponsored a bond issue to create an aquarium at the Pacific Grove Museum, just up the coast.

"The reason for having an aquarium . . . is because of the immense abundance of marine life and fish that are to be found in the Monterey Bay,” he wrote. “The availability of clean, clear salt water at all times in the year would enable this museum to exhibit the natural resources of the bay in their original settings more exactly than in any other aquarium on the coast or anywhere else."

Again, the plan languished.

Another proposal surfaced in 1944, this time to locate an aquarium at Point Lobos State Reserve.

Happily, thanks to the generosity of David and Lucile Packard and the commitment of a team of marine biologists, the idea of an aquarium eventually a reality. (The price tag, a bit higher than Booth estimated, came to about $55 million.)

More than just exhibiting the wonders of the “immense abundance of marine life and fish,” the aquarium has become the centerpiece of efforts to preserve and protect these natural resources.

And the new structure has proved Hovden correct: 2,000 gallons of Monterey Bay seawater is pumped into aquarium tanks every minute, around the clock, helping sustain the more than 550 species housed therein.

As 1.8 million people per year will attest, it was a pretty good idea, after all.

Peter Jaret wrote about Monterey, Carmel, and Pebble Beach for in February, 2011.

Photography by Peter Jaret (Cannery Row); Ardo191/Creative Commons (Monterey Bay Aquarium); Fred Hsu/Creative Commons (sunfish)

This blog post was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

  • sunfish at Monterey Bay Aquarium picture
    Photo caption
    Sunfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • Monterey Bay Aquarium entrance picture
    Photo caption
    Monterey Bay Aquarium entrance.
  • Cannery Row from the water in late afternoon picture
    Photo caption
    Cannery Row from the water.