800 Ocean View Avenue in Monterey, California is a legendary location. It’s also known as Cannery Row. In his novel of the same name, John Steinbeck famously wrote that Cannery Row “is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”
800 Ocean View Avenue had a lot to do with Cannery Row, both as a place and a novel, for it was the address of Pacific Biological Laboratories run by zen master and marine biologist Edward Flanders Ricketts, commonly known to many as “Doc.”
Ed Ricketts was not only “Doc” in Steinbeck’s novel, but he also appeared as Jim Casy in The Grapes of Wrath, the houseboy, Lee, in East of Eden, and as a character in several other Steinbeck novels. He was Steinbeck’s best friend, alter ego, and philosophical mentor.
He, Steinbeck and first wife, Carol, famous mythologist Joseph Campbell, their friends Ritchie and Tal Lovejoy, Bruce and Jean Ariss, Henry Miller, and others were part of the first Lab group that dates back to the 1920s.
Cannery Row was then beginning to transform itself from a small fishing village to the world’s largest sardine canning operation on its way to its present renaissance with the Monterey Bay Aquarium which is right across the street from the Lab.
That first Cannery Row group was succeeded by another after the death of Ricketts in a car vs. train accident near the Lab in 1948. That second group started when Harlan Watkins invited Eldon Dedini, Gus Arriola, Hank Ketcham, Ed Larsh, and others to come to the Lab in 1951 to listen to jazz. They met every Wednesday for six years.
This group turned Doc’s lab into a sort of men’s club, preserving the Lab just as it had begun, a place for intelligent people to meet, to party, to brainstorm, to listen to music, to commune with their muses, to love their lives as part of a community.
There were about 20 “owners” of this men’s club that sold the Lab to the City of Monterey in the early 1990s. Cartoonists Ketcham and Arriola were among these owners, along with Dr. Ted Stotler, Dedini, Frank Wright, and Ariss.
For those interested in learning more about cannery row as a place and Doc’s lab, try reading Doc’s Lab Myth & Legends of Cannery Row by Larsh, one of 1,000 numbered copies published in 1995 by PBL Press and also A History of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row by Tom Mangelsdorf published by Western Tanager Press in 1986.
And oh, by the way, Steinbeck’s book is pretty good, too.