The city of Monterey explores a new phase for Pacific Biological Laboratories.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
Most tourists probably pay little attention to the ramshackle two-story building sandwiched between The Clement Monterey and Sea Studios on Cannery Row. But interpretive panels along the street and a freshly re-created sign on the building reveal this to be Pacific Biological Laboratories – better known as Ed Ricketts’ former lab and home, made legendary in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.
The Pacific Biological Laboratory club sold the building to the city of Monterey in 1993 but retains access to it until an agreement between the club and the city ends in December 2015.
“The challenge is to tell the two stories,” says Dennis Copeland, the city’s museum and archives manager. “We want to tell the Ed Ricketts/John Steinbeck story, and we want to tell the Pacific Biological Laboratory club story.”
Specimen tanks and a shark-liver-oil-reduction vat speak to the scientific work of Ricketts, a bohemian marine biologist who bought the property in 1928. He had it re-built in 1937, after a fire destroyed the original structure.
But the artifacts inside reflect the building’s secondary legacy as a creative sanctuary for male writers, visual artists and musicians. Within a decade of Ricketts’ 1948 death, a group of men bought the lab and repurposed it as a private club. The modest space is credited as the birthplace of the Monterey Jazz Festival, which just celebrated its 55th year.
The city has worked to preserve the building with a seismic retrofit, a new roof, weatherizations and pest exterminations. But official rules limit the number of people inside to no more than 20 at a time, Copeland says.
Cultural and educational groups can arrange tours through the city, but only the three remaining PBL club members have open access to the lab – and only until the agreement’s 2015 expiration.
Copeland says he’s heard from several groups offering support in the lab’s next phase. One proposal came earlier this month from Monterey resident Jeff Condit, who envisioned a public-private partnership with an as-yet-unformed nonprofit that could spearhead fundraising and programming. Initial ideas included community events in front of the lab and an interpretive center in its basement.
But Condit, an administrative analyst for the city, says he scrapped the idea because of the Weekly’s inquiries into his proposal, which he emailed to Copeland in early September. “It’s over,” he says.
Copeland’s take is slightly different: “They’ve withdrawn it for the time being so they can work on the details.”
Another potential partner is a group of professionals known as “The Cavalry,” who meet at the lab on the first Friday of every month. Frank Wright, a 93-year-old founder of the PBL club, says he sponsors The Cavalry and would be happy to pass the torch to them. (He says membership is restricted to men.) Copeland confirms the group has expressed interest.
Cannery Row Foundation board member Ted Balestreri says he hopes the city will keep accommodating public tours. “It’s probably the last real historic building down here of any significance,” he says. “This is one that lives and breathes and has a certain cachet that’s hard to duplicate. It has a beautiful funkiness.”
Educational groups can call Monterey Museums and Cultural Arts at 646-5648 to arrange a lab tour. Cannery Row Foundation is also planning public tours on Oct. 13; visit www.canneryrow.org for info.