For Architectural Digest, by Carson Griffith.
When HBO’s Big Little Lies — a miniseries based on the same-titled best-seller by author Liane Moriarty — debuted in February, it had all the makings of an instant favorite: a star-studded cast (including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Zoe Kravitz) and salacious small-town drama. Add to that the stunning scenery of Monterey Bay, California, and it’s no wonder that, according to Deadline Hollywood, the show’s first episode attracted 2.1 million viewers. Here, a look at some of the most notable occupants of the seaside town, how a quiet artists’ haven became an affluent suburb, and some bizarre facts Monterey locals might even be surprised to discover themselves.
The oldest standing public building in California is Monterey's Custom House, built in 1827. It's one of the state's big tourist attractions (especially for history buffs), as it's the site where Commodore John Drake Sloat claimed California for the United States.
Since the 19th century, the coastal town has attracted writers and artists (from Jack London to Beverly Cleary) seeking a quiet creative retreat. Because of this, Monterey was the site of California's first theater, public library, and printing press — which printed The Californian, the state's first newspaper. Over time, these developments also increased the area's economy and affluence.
Built in Monterey in 1880, the Hotel Del Monte was the first real resort complex in the United States. During World War II, it closed to the public and leased itself to the Navy. But prior to that, it was one of the most luxurious hotels in America, hosting the wealthiest and most influential people in the country, including Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and Doris Day. The hotel became such an important part of the culture of Monterey that the town built a train station solely for bringing visitors to the resort. The building stopped functioning as a hotel in 1942, and it is now a postgraduate school.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of the most famous golf courses in America, originated as the Del Monte's park reservation for hunting and other outdoor activities. With wide-open views of Carmel Bay, the 98-year-old course opens to the Pacific Ocean on the south side of the Monterey Peninsula. The numerous championships and tournaments the course hosts (as well as the course itself) attract golfers from all over the world, and have raised the profile of the area throughout the past century.
Salvador Dali and wife Gala retreated to the United States during World War II in 1940 and split their time between New York and Monterey. The couple spent more than seven years there, residing primarily at the Del Monte Lodge (now the Lodge at Pebble Beach), relishing the presence of the like-minded creatives Dali found in the community: He spent his time painting, judging high school art contests, and throwing parties with guest lists that included Walt Disney, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Andy Warhol. In 2016, the Museum of Monterey was renamed Dali17 Museum, and 580 of the painter's etchings, lithographs, and sculptures were donated by Pebble Beach real estate mogul Dmitry Piterman.
Castroville, a tiny community of fewer than 7,000 located in Monterey County, is known as the Artichoke Capital of the World. In 1947, a beautiful blond named Norma Jean was crowned Castroville's very first Artichoke Queen. She later went on to became Marilyn Monroe.
The Monterey Jazz Festival, which started in 1958, runs every September and is the longest continuously running jazz festival in the world. It attracts more than 40,000 people annually.
Out of all its former residents, author John Steinbeck might be the pride and joy of Monterey. The Of Mice and Men author was born in Salinas, the largest municipality of Monterey County, and spent the majority of his life in the area. Many of his works, including The Pastures of Heaven and Tortilla Flat, were based in Monterey. The city of Monterey even renamed Ocean View Avenue to Cannery Row in 1958, in honor of Steinbeck's then-popular novel based on the local stretch of road. Although Steinbeck died in New York in 1968, according to his wishes, he was buried in his family's gravesite in Salinas.
Clint Eastwood's political career started and ended on the Monterey Peninsula. He served as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, the tiny beach city of less than 4,000, from 1986–1988. He certainly didn't do it for the money, as the gig only paid $200 a month, but there was one bonus: When he won an overwhelming 72 percent of the vote, even former president Ronald Reagan called to congratulate him.
Monterey County is an animal-friendly area: In many cities in the region, those found "molesting" butterflies (i.e., touching them) or setting a mousetrap without a hunting license will be fined $500.
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