- By June Morrall
Farmer Dante Dianda was a
rugged individualist. The "Artichoke King" wasn't happy
about the Ocean Shore Railroad's plans to bring picnickers on the
train from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay at the turn of the
century. Nor was he happy about the railroad's grandiose plan of
turning the Coastside into a Coney Island West with hotels,
bathhouses, and resorts ringing the beautiful bay. The main
showplace was to be in El Granada, where Dante Dianda grew fields
of artichokes. So when the railroad started pouring cement
sidewalks where his artichokes had once flourished, he did what
any reasonable Coastside farmer would have done at the time. He
started plowing up the cement sidewalks until the authorities
ordered him to stop.
Today the sidewalks are
here to stay, but Coastside farmers haven't changed. They still
grow a variety of vegetables and flowers on land originally
inhabited by the Costanoan Indians. Some Indians were food
gatherers who used the Coastside as temporary living quarters.
When the Spanish came and pushed out the Indians, the land was
parcelled out as huge ranchos, where horses and cattle were raised
and festive rodeos lifted spirits. There were so many
Spanish-speaking people that when the first Americans arrived
after the Gold Rush, they dubbed Half Moon Bay "Spanishtown."
James Johnston numbered among the first Americans, and the house
he built on a knoll still stands at the southern edge of Half Moon
Bay. Along with Johnston, loggers, whalers, and farmers arrived to
make a living in this isolated place, surrounded by mountains and
cut off from the rest of the world.
There was a stagecoach
that came west over Hwy. 92 and into Half Moon Bay to deliver both
the mail and passengers who stayed at the Occidental Hotel. The
more adventurous continued south over Stage Coach Road to the San
Gregorio House or to the Swanson House in the resort town of
Pescadero. A day in Pescadero wouldn't be perfect without visiting
famous Pebble Beach and walking away with a box of colorful,
But a dispute hung a cloud
over the town when the Pebble Beach War erupted. All the residents
of the farming community became embroiled in the battle with a
rich and ruthless landowner named Loren Coburn who bought Pebble
Beach and tried to charge locals an entrance fee. This was unheard
of, as the locals considered Pebble Beach their birthright. They
fought Coburn in the courts for years, giving reams of testimony.
Finally the town prevailed!
Further south at Año
Nuevo, the Steele family kept busy running Cascade Dairy. Guests
who visited the ranch would hear about the remarkable two-ton
cheese they had produced, this after many settlers had ridiculed
their plan to set up a dairy in that location.
But until the turn of the
century, it seemed as if the Coastside might forever be cut off
from the rest of the world. Only two roads led into the place,
both of them narrow and winding. Then the Ocean Shore Railroad
announced plans for a train which would run between San Francisco
and Santa Cruz. Overnight, beach towns which once had been a part
of the great ranchos sprouted up beside attractive train stations
-- Montara, Moss Beach, El Granada, Princeton-by-the-Sea, and
Miramar. Some of the train stations, today disguised as private
homes and businesses, are still standing.
The train ride was
exciting, at one point rolling across Devil's Slide above the
roaring Pacific Ocean. Roadhouses were built to accommodate the
throngs of picnickers, and sales people awaited them with great
deals on seaside lots. But alas, it was not to be. The train
tracks were never built farther south than Tunitas Creek.
Geographical obstacles sapped funds, but the biggest financial
blow occurred during the 1906 earthquake, when thousands of
dollars in equipment plummeted over Devil's Slide and into the
The railroad disappeared
from the landscape in the early 1920's, but in its place,
roadhouses, rum runners, bootleggers, and red-haired maidens
appeared to take advantage of Prohibition. The isolated beaches
made it an ideal location to unload illegal booze, and the
coastside thrived with its newly found illicit business. Today,
many of the 1920's era roadhouses are still standing, bringing
back memories of a bygone era. And much more of the coastside's
colorful history survives in its people, businesses, and buildings
only to be rediscovered.