The Spindrift Inn was built on the former site of another stylish establishment located on McAbee Beach, the Ocean View Hotel. The three story stucco structure, built and operated by a Chinese investor and Monterey restaurateur, Maen Chang Wu, opened in 1927 complete with an ornately carved and shingled Asian style roof. Colorful tiles and long awnings decorated the front of the hotel, its street-front entrance shared with a Chop Suey parlor and an American style café. The storefronts along the lower level of the hotel were home to an assortment of businesses, including offices for the cannery workers' union and for the fish inspectors of the California Department of Fish and Game.
Large signs of the era were painted on each end of the building, prominently proclaiming daily lunches at $0.25 and extolling the comforts and fare within. The hotel dining room, in an elegant Asian décor of dark woods and Chinese murals, featured an oceanfront "marine grill" banquet room for private parties. The exotic design and construction of the Ocean View Hotel clearly reflected the Chinese ownership while its location, on the crest of McAbee Beach which was once the home of Monterey's second Chinese community, celebrated Cannery Row's Asian origins.The first major Chinese settlement on Monterey Bay was located on the Pacific Grove-Monterey city line, where the Monterey Bay Aquarium, The American Tin Cannery, and the Hopkins Marine Station are now located. In the early 1850s whole families who had arrived from southern China on sailing junks established a thriving fishing enterprise at what came to be known as "China Point."
The fishing village's crude structures were built on the shoreline, many directly on the rocks, close to the water which supplied their livelihood. The settlement prospered by harvesting fish, abalone, sea urchin, kelp, squid and anything else which could be open-air dried and shipped back to China. The ability of the Chinese to use a wide variety of marine life gave them a broad menu, as well as prevented any one species from bring over fished.
When the railroad connected to Monterey in 1880, it opened up markets for fresh fish to the Chinese, but it also quickly brought in competition from the increasing number of European fishermen drawn to the area. The intensifying competition for fishing eventually moved the Chinese out to the water of Carmel Bay, as Monterey continued to grow as a prosperous fishing port.
In 1906, and against a backdrop of racial prejudice and restrictive laws against Chinese Californians, a fire swept through the village at China Point, effectively ending their influence in Monterey's fishing industry. In the search for a viable alternative site to reconstruct their settlement, the remaining Chinese families eventually signed a long-term lease with Scotsman, John B McAbee, and established a new but smaller Chinatown on the beach that has come to bear McAbee's name and putting them slightly closer to town and on the street known then as Ocean View Avenue.The lovely, little golden sand beach had experienced activity of a completely different nature decades prior to the new Chinatown. In the late 1880s, Portuguese whaling crews used McAbee Beach, then un-named, to launch their boats in pursuit of whales migrating across the Monterey Bay. When harpooned, the injured whale would take the longboat on a harrowing "Nantucket sleigh ride" until it expired, at which point the crew would row the carcass back to the beach - the site of a "try-works" - where the whales were flensed and their blubber rendered into oil.
The whaling era eventually passed, and was replaced by John McAbee's tent-cottage and boat rental business. When the Chinese leased the beach, building their new and smaller Chinatown, they replaced the short-lived recreational use of the shoreline and made way for what would become a bustling, industrialized street.
The new Chinese settlement on McAbee beach engaged in general commerce with the community, as well as establishing the Monterey Fish and Cannery Company, which processed the fish heads and offal [organs and entrails] "waste" from the other canneries into fertilizer. But by the mid-1920s, the Chinese families began to disperse, moving their homes to a more permanent Chinese district in downtown Monterey, and their business farther down the Row.
This provided the optimistic entrepreneur Maen Change Wu and his family the opportunity to build a stylish hotel on the scenic, and now empty beach. The three-story, dragon-roofed Ocean View Hotel was initially so popular that an annex, the Venice Apartments, was built across the street in 1929.
The overpowering industrial direction of the street, however, created conditions that bore dire consequences for the once proud little hotel. The fashionable trade to which the Ocean View Hotel had opened its doors quickly ceased its patronage of the Chinese jewel on McAbee Beach as it was visited by a fate never foreseen by its creators.
Into the decade of the rapid industrialization of the thirties, and compounded further by the Great Depression, the Ocean View's clients came to consist largely of working class guests, roomers, visitors with business in the Canneries , and - unavoidably - practitioners of the world's oldest profession. In fact, the hotel's annex across the street, the Venice Apartments, became the location of the most infamous brothels of the day, although unmentioned in Steinbeck's nostalgic recollection of the street.
The venerable little hotel above McAbee Beach bore silent witness to the passage of Cannery Row, from its infancy, to its rise as the heart of the "Sardine Capitol of the World", to its abrupt demise. When the entire Sardine industry fell, the hotel remained through the grey, ghostlike pall that shrouded the area, watching as the once powerful industrial area was left abandoned and disintegrating for years.Fate eventually called upon the old hotel, when, in 1983, it became one of the most important sites of Cannery Row's rediscovery and renaissance. Perhaps more important than any other establishment in Cannery Row's early reawakening was the unassuming restaurant that open in the early 50s in the aging hotel.
Neil de Vaughn repurposed the formerly elegant dinning room of the Ocean View, and his restaurant's popular success proved that people would come to the blighted former canning district for a good meal, even amongst the strange, ghost like ruins of the once powerful center of industry. The café quickly became popular with locals, and drew and increasing number of Monterey visitors curious about John Steinbeck's legendary "Cannery Row."
Today, across the street from the luxurious elegance of the Spindrift Inn, the original dragon-style roof of the Venice Apartments is one of Cannery Row's few reminders of the important influence and contributions of its early Chinese investors and inhabitants.
From the vantage point of the Spindrift Inn the history of the Row is exposed through its artifacts; the forgotten concrete holding tanks on McAbee Beach, once used to hold sardines and offal waiting to be rendered into fertilizer; the rusty pipes and pilings, sometimes submerged, sometimes exposed in the gentle surf; the once abandoned canneries and warehouses remodeled into shops and restaurants; and the classic ‘cross-over's bridging over Cannery Row, once instrumental in connecting the warehouses to their front line canneries on the edge of the ocean.
The history and romantic nostalgia of Cannery Row fill every view from the award-winning Spindrift Inn. When, in 1985, the Spindrift Inn opened, it replaced the ambitious Ocean View Hotel with a successor worthy of its location and its past.
Architect Paul Davis explained that "the design for the Spindrift Inn was to create the intimate style of a small, fine, turn of the century hotel that patrons of that era would have sought on Monterey's scenic coastline. The compact scale and elegant design of the Spindrift Inn evokes a nostalgic element of intimacy and romantic luxury for today's guests of the Cannery Row renascence."