Pacific Grove’s Ketcham’s Barn, on 17th Street and Laurel Avenue, stands out amongst seafoam blue, buttercup yellow and rich red Victorians and beach bungalows. It’s plain, built of unpainted wide planks of weathered redwood. What it lacks in color it makes up for in its gardens, where a wishing well establishes the center of a courtyard of roses, native grasses and bushes.
The current tenant of the 130-yearold barn is the Pacific Grove Heritage Society. They’re best known for awarding the green plaques marking the historic authenticity of buildings in Pacific Grove. Ketcham’s Barn is the Society’s headquarters, rented from the city for $1 per month. They helped restore the building, which was built in 1891 and funded by H.C. Ketcham to store animals. Ironically, Ketcham himself never saw the barn. “As far as we know he never stepped foot in it, was never in Pacific Grove,” says Society historian Rick Steres.
Before the pandemic, the barn was a meeting place and a museum. Since closing its doors to visitors, it’s more like the city’s attic. The Society is in the middle of rearranging. Clothing from a bygone era is packed in acid-free boxes. They’re storing pianos and an organ, period furniture and vanities, porcelain dolls, replicas of buildings and black-and-white photos. “We want this to be the place people can learn about Pacific Grove,” Society secretary Jean Anton says. “We’re in the process of sorting everything out and making it more cohesive.”
The Society’s role as guardians of the barn and the city’s history increased during the pandemic, when the city wanted to get rid of documents the Society regularly references. “The city didn’t want them so we acquired them,” Heritage Society Vice President Mark Travaille says.
“During Covid, the city shut down those services. They handed them over, so now they’re here. Yay!” says Steres, an ace document-digger for the group.
Public records are crucial to begin to understand a building’s story: what was it used for, who occupied it and when.
Storing the records isn’t just a benefit to members, but the public in general. The group wants to make the documents easily available to the public. An uninsulated barn isn’t the ideal place to store fragile documents, but they are working on it. “We’re in the process of scanning everything and putting everything online,” Anton says.
Then they can begin to construct not just the stories of specific buildings, but the history of neighborhoods overall. “Once you determine the parcel, you can tell how many permits were pulled, or how many complaints your neighbors wrote about you, all kinds of crazy stuff,” Travaille says.