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Presidio of Monterey

The military has played a role in the history of the Monterey Peninsula since 1770 when a small expedition led by captain Gaspar de Portola, officially took possession for Spain of what is now central California. In compliance with his orders "to erect a fort to occupy and defend the port (of Monterey) from the atrocities of the Russians, who were about to invade", his men immediately began construction of the Presidio.

Portola's actions were spurred by the Spanish fear that other nations - particularly Russia - had designs on her New World empire. Spain moved to occupy that portion of the western American coast which she had previously neglected. The port of Monterey, which had been visited and charted a century and a half before by the Spanish explorer, Sebastian Vizcaino, was ripe for colonization and military fortification.

Monterey became one of five presidios, or forts, built by Spain in what is now the western United States. Others were founded in San Diego, in 1769; San Francisco, in 1776; Santa Barbara, in 1782; and Tubae, Arizona in 1784.

The fortunes of the Presidio at Monterey rose and fell with the times: it has been moved, abandoned and reactivated time and time again. At least three times it has been submerged by the tide of history, only to appear years later with a new face, a new master, and a new mission - first under the Spanish, than the Mexicans, and ultimately the Americans.

American control of the area began in 1846 during the war with Mexico when Commodore John D. Sloat, commander of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Squadron, landed unopposed a small force in Monterey and claimed the territory and the Presidio for the United States. He left a small garrison of Marines who moved the location of the fort and began improving defenses to better protect the town and the harbor. The presidio was renamed Fort Mervine in honor of Captain William Mervine, who commanded one of the ships in Sloat's squadron.

The original Presidio consisted of a square of adobe buildings located in the vicinity of what is now downtown Monterey. The fort's original mission, the Royal Presidio Chapel, has remained in constant use since it was founded in 1770 by Father Junipero Serra who arrived with Portola's party. The only direct relationship between the original site and the present Presidio was an earthwork at the latter location which was armed with cannons on a hill overlooking Monterey's harbor.

The end of the Mexican War and the discovery of gold in California effectively put an end to any military presence in Monterey. In May 1848 the news of the gold discovery reached Monterey and many companies deserted for the gold fields. In 1865, at the closing months of the Civil War the old fort on the hill was returned to temporary life by the arrival of six officers and 156 enlisted men, but was abandoned in 1866.

In 1902, an Infantry Regiment arrived at Monterey whose mission was to construct a post to house an infantry regiment and a squadron of cavalry. Troops moved into the new wooden barracks, officially named Ord Barracks, in June 1903. However, in order to perpetuate the name of the old Spanish military installation that Portola had established 134 years earlier, the War Department redesignated the post as the Presidio of Monterey.

A school of musketry was located at the Presidio from 1904 to 1911, and a school for cooks and bakers from 1914 to 1917. In 1917, the Army purchased an additional 15,809 acres across the bay as a maneuver area. This new acquisition eventually was designated as Camp Ord in 1939 and became Fort Ord in 1940.

Between 1919 and 1940, the Presidio housed principally cavalry and field artillery units. However, the outbreak of World War II ended the days of horse cavalry, and troops left Monterey. In June 1946, the school was designated as the Army Language School and later renamed the Defense Language Institute in 1963. The Presidio of Monterey became the Defense Language Institute, West Coast Branch - the Presidio of Monterey, however, kept its name.

In 1974 the DLI headquarters moved to the Presidio of Monterey. In 1976 the Defense Language Institute, West Coast Branch became the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center, the Defense Department's primary center for foreign language instruction.

For much of its history, DLIFLC was a tenant activity on the Presidio of Monterey. The Presidio itself was a subinstallation of the nearby Fort Ord. On October 1, 1994 this situation changed when Fort Ord closed and the Presidio of Monterey became a separate installation again.

The Fort Ord complex (Presidio of Monterey Annex) and the Presidio of Monterey are located on the Monterey Peninsula, about 90 miles south of San Francisco. Called the central coast, it is one of the most frequented tourist areas in California. The area consists of several communities - Carmel, Pebble Beach, Monterey, Seaside, Pacific Grove and Marina. Among the many attractions are the 17 Mile Drive, numerous golf courses, the Monterey Aquarium, Cannery Row, the mission at Carmel, Big Sur, Pfieffer National Park, Point Lobos State Park, many beaches, Fisherman's Wharf, deep sea fishing, and many unique shops. There are conference centers, major hotel and motel chains, bed and breakfast inns and more than 200 restaurants.

Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived on the Monterey Peninsula for a short time, was so impressed by its breathtaking beauty, that he used it as the setting for his novel "Treasure Island". Hundreds of writers and artists have since captured the Peninsula's charm in print and on canvas. The Peninsula been well- endowed by nature and history. Few spots anywhere can match its year round moderate climate and its rugged coastline. Few places are so rich with Spanish-Mexican-American history and tradition. Grace, color and warmth emanate from every sun-baked adobe wall. Millions of tourists flock here for the extraordinary scenery, Carmel's quaint shops, Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the adobes of old Monterey and the seafood. Vacationers come to hike the Big Sur country, to see the rare Monterey cypress, the endangered sea otter and the wildlife that make the Peninsula and the surrounding waters home. The moderate climate attracts both tourists and a large retired population, including more than 40,000 military retirees. Temperatures are never extreme. The temperature rarely drops below 53 or rises above 75 degrees during the day. Rainfall is concentrated from November to April. In late spring and summer afternoons, fog rolls in from the Pacific Ocean and keeps the evenings cool.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:53:09 ZULU