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California’s Last Dry Town
The coastal city prided itself on its prohibition against alcohol. The town was originally founded as a religious retreat for Methodists wishing to become closer to God by living and worshiping in the beautiful forest He created.
At the Howard Street Methodist Episcopal Church in San Francisco on June 1, 1875, a group of people held the first meeting of the Pacific Grove Retreat Association.
Among the most important concerns of the group was the sale of intoxicants. The blue laws, often referred to as the “Rules of the Founding Fathers”, dealt with a number of quite diverse subjects.
They included things such as the behavior that would be allowed on the grounds, the delivery of luggage on Sundays, staying outside past 10:30 pm, smoking on platforms or near public buildings, cursing, and walking around dressed only in a bathing suit.
The provisions regarding alcohol were particularly strict.
Even those buying property had to agree to a provision in the lease that prohibited the sale of alcohol on the property. This clause also prohibited gambling on such property.
The city became known as the “Chautauqua-by-the-Sea”, a community of culture and learning. The first camp meeting of the Pacific Coast branch of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle was held in 1879.
The event was formed after the training camp of the Methodist Sunday school teachers established in 1874 at Lake Chautauqua, NY Pacific Grove built Chautauqua Hall in 1881, which became known as the Old Chapel or Assembly Hall.
Speakers are said to have come from all over the world to lecture in what has become a well-known cultural center in the west. At the end of each season, the city held its “Feast of Lanterns”, which meant the closing of each Chautauqua until the next Sum-Wed.
In November 1879, after the summer campers had returned home, Robert Louis Steven son wandered into the deserted campsites: “I have never been in any place so dreamy. Indeed, it was not so much a deserted town as a scene. on the stage during daylight, and with no one on the boards.”
It wasn’t until 1927 that Pacific Grove Retreat decided to become a legitimate town.
Residents of Pacific Grove soon learned that the city’s strict control over the sale of alcohol was hurting them economically.
Tourists were welcome visitors to the Monterey Bay area, and their dollars were important, even to Pacific Grove.
But many of the tourists, unable to relax with a glass of wine at dinner, simply drove to neighboring towns outside the dry area, such as Monterey, Watsonville or Santa Cruz for dinner.
Soon, the tourists began to stay in hotels in cities that allowed the sale of alcohol, alleviating the necessity of driving back to Pacific Grove after dinner.
It did not take the city fathers of Pacific Grove long to realize that they were losing money to surrounding communities due to the prohibition of alcohol. Residents began holding meetings to discuss the need to legalize alcohol.
Strong campaigns emerged to abolish the “no alcohol” law. Traders felt that they were at a great disadvantage with their neighboring communities, especially Monterey, which was their main competitor.
The Monterey Herald reported, “There are no saloons, liquor stores, nor cocktail lounges in Pacific Grove and never can be. The original ordinances provided for a town whose lips would never touch liquor.”
Leading the fight to keep Pacific Grove dry was Mrs. Elmarie Dyke, who moved to Pacific Grove with her family in 1909.
Mrs. Dyke graduated from Pacific Grove high school, and later became a school teacher in the city schools. She also reinstated and produced the Lantern Festival from 1963 to 1980.
Her strong determination was not enough to keep alcohol out of Pacific Grove.
Pacific Grove Mayor Bob Quinn noted at one meeting that Pacific Grove residents did not drink less than their neighbors. There were just as many liquor bottles in the trash in Pacific Grove, but the people just couldn’t buy it there.
Finally, in 1968, the City of Pacific Grove decided to vote on whether the laws prohibiting alcohol should be repealed. The measure passed easily by a vote of 3383 to 2269.
Even today the consumption of alcohol in public places in Pacific Grove is limited to sit-down restaurants where food is served.
Liquor can be purchased, however, at a limited number of closely monitored package stores.
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