Title: Photos reveal Seaside's rich history
Author: Dave Nordstrand
Publisher: Valley Views
I enjoyed seeing backward again this week, and all that without spinning my head around.
This time it was glimpses, guided by aged black-and-white photos, into Seaside's past.
Seaside, of course, sits gracefully along the bay next to Monterey. It enjoys the magic of wispy fogs and haunting sunsets, orange-red in their furnace-like intensity. Incorporated in 1954, it has a rich ethnic-racial history.
I sometimes drive down to Seaside early Saturday mornings. I stand on the beach and watch the surf curling and, in the stillness beyond that, a pod of dolphins leisurely feeding.
Then, lungs, mind and spirit fully refreshed by brisk sea air, I head for a favorite breakfast stopover.
Which brings me to the newest edition to Arcadia Publishing's ever-expanding "Images of America" series. The familiar books with their sepia-toned soft covers take a town such as Salinas or Seaside and present the reader with text and rare historical photographs.
They provide a sort of historical depth perception, which helps a person better appreciate the present by delving into the past.
The series has already covered Carmel-by-the-Sea, Big Sur, Fort Ord, Salinas in its earlier days, the Salinas Valley and Pacific Grove.
The latest "Images of America" - its official on-sale date is Monday - features Seaside.
It all started with 'Doc'
An opening portrait, for example, portrays Seaside founder, Dr. John "Doc" Roberts, 24 years old at the moment the shutter snapped.
Roberts stood square-jawed and smooth-shaven, save for his judiciously waxed and combed handlebar moustache.
In 1887, he'd come west from New York City and had settled in with relatives in Pacific Grove.
He and an uncle bought 160 acres in the Seaside area from the David Jacks Corp. They then divided the land into 1,000 lots for sale as vacation properties.
That according to the text by Carol Lynn McKibben, who teaches history at Stanford University and who directs the Seaside History Project, which also contributed to the effort.
Another photo shows the original Seaside Post Office, a dollhouse-sized structure that Roberts established.
Because of its nearness to Fort Ord, Seaside always had close ties to the base. Many soldiers, during or after their time of service, settled in Seaside.
In 1948, after President Harry Truman desegregated the military, the fort quickly transformed into an integrated training facility.
"Both black and nonblack servicemen and their families who settled Seaside from 1948 had positive experiences with integration, which they carried with them when they settled in Seaside," the text says.
Like I say, I have other books in this series.
One of my favorite shots is in "Early Salinas." It shows a bar called "The Stream." No date available, but it looks like late 19th century. Beneath the bar's brass foot rail runs a swift stream of water, "that probably served as a spittoon," the text says.
My "Salinas Valley" volume shows vintage photos south to Bradley. One is a 1912 shot picturing the interior of Whitey's Ice Cream Parlor in Gonzales.
Frank "Beans" Matasci, Oswald "Whitey" Wilford and Mercy Motta stand behind thecounter. Matasci was the druggist. Wilford "operated a cigar factory and ran a pool parlor."
In these books, the pictures of the past do most of the talking, and the past is always worth listening to.
Title: A new book on an unusually diverse, and accepting, community.
Author: Walter Ryce
Publisher: Monterey County Weekly
"Seaside is the most important city in the region," says Stanford historian and director of the Seaside History Project, Dr. Carol Lynn McKibben, "in terms of how it fits into the literature of urban America and California history: minority-majority, mixed race, de-industrialization, military. It's a microcosm of American life in the 20th century. No other city on the Monterey Peninsula can boast that."
Other local cities have enjoyed a cohesive historical accounting: The Steinbeck Center and the Salinas Stories History Project; the Monterey Maritime and History Museum and the California Room of the Monterey Public Library for Monterey; countless books on Carmel, Big Sur and Pebble. The Seaside City Council was looking for someone to compile the historical record for their fair city and McKibben made a strong case, citing her own local residency, academic credentials, an award-winning book on Sicilian women in Cannery Row and a personal fidelity to the story.
"I fell in love with Seaside," she says. And she remembers why.
"When I went through [photo] collections; when I talked to people like Ewalker James, Mel Mason, Pearl Carrey, Ralph Rubio and Helen Rucker, everybody was passionate about their city… In minority-majority cities, people tend to move up the ladder and leave. Not here. It made me want to do justice to this."
Because historical records were insufficient to tell the complete story, McKibben relied on oral accounts, starting with town hall-style meetings with locals and an interlinked web of community folks including activists and government officials. She heard stories of labor, civil rights, military life, desegregation, Fort Ord's closure and more. A "living history," as she calls it.
Photographs were important, she says, because they shatter myths that affect perceptions. For instance, photos of racially mixed groups of children cavorting on the beach in 1925 or in Little League photos in the 1950s dispels the "black town" myth (though systemic segregation persisted in housing).
The resulting "Images of America" series book, Seaside (Arcadia Publishing), starts with settlement in the late 1800s and runs to the 2000s. It's a sweeping, nostalgic tale told in black-and-white photos and detailed captions.
It's an uncommon story. She cites the L.A. community of Monterey Park, where Asians are the majority and live alongside whites and Latinos: "There was huge conflict between racial groups there," she says. "They lacked Seaside's communal sensibility. Seaside's population was military. Everybody spoke the same language, understood the culture, how to live in mixed neighborhoods."
When Seaside's closest neighbor, Fort Ord, had their population instantly integrated by Harry Truman's executive order 9381 in 1948, black and minority soldiers and their families, once off-base, fought for the same equality that they garnered on-base. And they were effective.
"What's fascinating and important are that the changes that came about - desegregation, opportunities in jobs and government - happened because citizens were active: they got involved, ran for office, made change themselves… throughout Seaside's history."
The story is eminently readable and McKibben has taken a major step in stamping it in the record. Seaside has seemingly become a mission for her, which she's pursued with academic rigot, but at her well-attended and entertaining lectures she radiates a personal passion for its story.
"I like happy endings," she says.