PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (Oct. 28, 2021) – After a 595-day closure due to Covid, the Presidio of Monterey Museum will reopen on weekends starting Oct. 30.
Located in the Lower Presidio Historic Park, the museum is adjacent to the Presidio of Monterey military installation, but since it is off post, visitors do not need military identification to visit. The City of Monterey runs the museum, an illustration of the close relationship between the city and PoM.
Jordan Leininger, artifacts specialist with the City of Monterey, said the free museum shows visitors the military history of Monterey from the indigenous peoples of the area to the modern-day PoM and Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.
The museum also contains exhibits regarding the Spanish and Mexican eras, the establishment of PoM in 1902, various Army units who have trained here throughout the years and more, Leininger said.
Not only can Soldiers compare their present-day uniforms to those of the past, but members of the PoM community will find connections between some of the exhibits and building and street names on post, Leininger said.
For example, after a lightning strike started an oil tank fire in Monterey in 1924, two Soldiers, Pvt. George Bolio of Headquarters Troop, 11th Cavalry Regiment, and Pvt. Eustace Watkins of Battery E, 76th Field Artillery Regiment, died battling the blaze.
Those familiar with the area will recognize the names from the Pvt. Bolio Road and Gate—a stone’s throw from the museum—and Watkins Gate Road in the former Fort Ord. The museum includes an exhibit about the fire, which burned for three days.
“Just by coming in here you get to see, ‘Now I recognize that name—now I know where that name comes from,’ because on base it might be a building or a street or something like that,” Leininger said. “It’s really neat to make those connections.”
In addition, the museum includes drawings of what a Spanish soldier would have worn in California in the 1770s, Leininger said. The Spanish colonized Monterey in 1770 and proceeded to build a “presidio,” or military installation, and mission by the estuary near the beach.
“It’s really interesting to see where they wore a more layered leather tunic, which was more protection from arrows and things,” Leininger said. “It wouldn’t do anything for bullets, but in California at this time there were no adversaries with firearms.”
Visitors can also view the sword Monterey city officials use each year to cut the city’s birthday cake during La Merienda (the Spanish word for picnic), Leininger said. The Spanish established the city June 3, 1770, so the city celebrates it each year around that time. The sword belonged to Col. Roger Stanley Fitch, who became the commander of PoM in 1928 and a Monterey civic leader after he retired in 1930.
Cameron Binkley, command historian for DLIFLC, said he recommends visiting the museum because it tells the story of the Army in Monterey and how the post relates to the Spanish and Mexican eras that came before it.
Also, “It can help current DLI students explain to their parents a little bit about what Army life is, or at least was, like and provides a good venue for language teachers who want to practice military and historical terms with their classes,” Binkley said.
For members of the general public, it provides a good introduction to the background of the Presidio, which is enriching for both personal and professional growth, Binkley said. Its small size and accessibility also make visits easy.
Another reason Binkley said he appreciates the museum is because of the docents who can expand on the information in exhibits and answer questions.
Leininger said the museum’s docents are indeed knowledgeable.
“This museum does not encompass all the history that has happened in this area or concerning the Presidio, so that’s one of the great things about having our docents here,” Leininger said. “They’re able to tell you the stories that we don’t have in the museum.”
For now the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, Leininger said, but officials hope to increase the number of hours in the future. The museum requires that visitors wear masks inside regardless of vaccination status, and has disposable masks available.
“We’re just really happy to be opening again because it’s been so long,” Leininger said. “That feeling of normalcy is nice, even though it’s not fully normal yet, but we’re getting there.”
To learn more about the museum and the history of Monterey, visit https://monterey.org/city_facilities/museums/discover_museums/presidio_of_monterey_museum.php. To learn more about the history of PoM, visit https://home.army.mil/monterey/index.php/about/history.