Presidio of Monterey, California

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"The Presidio of Monterrey". Volume II, plate V from: "A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World" by Captain George Vancouver
Civil Affairs Staging Area (CASA) officers receive Chinese language instruction at the Presidio of Monterey in the Spring of 1945.
Senior Army / Navy Civil Affairs Staging Area officers at the Presidio of Monterey in the Spring of 1945.
Monterey in 1968. Presidio of Monterey in the right of the photo.
Presidio of Monterey in 2005.

The Presidio of Monterey, located in Monterey, California, is an active US Army installation with historic ties to the Spanish colonial era. Currently it is the home of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLI-FLC). Also this is the last and only Presidio in California to have an active military installation.


Spanish fort[edit]

The Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno visited, named and charted Monterey Bay (especially the southern end) in 1602. In his official report, Vizcaíno recommended the natural harbor he found as an appropriate site for a seaport, military fortification and colonization. It would be over 150 years, until news of Pacific Coast moves by Spain's European rivals brought the remote area back to the attention of the leaders of New Spain. / In 1768, Visitador General José de Gálvez the Viceroyalty of New Spain received the following orders: "Occupy and fortify San Diego and Monterey for God and the King of Spain." The following year, a small expedition led by captain Gaspar de Portolá and Father Junípero Serra traveled by land to Monterey (see Timeline of the Portolà expedition). On a second visit, in 1770, Portolá officially took possession of the port of Monterey, in what is now central California, and established El Presidio Real de San Carlos de Monterrey (the Royal Presidio of Saint Charles of Monterey), while Serra founded Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, with the original location occupying the present day (remaining) chapel Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo. Portolá's actions were spurred by the Spanish fear that other nations – particularly Russia — had designs on its New World empire. Spain moved to occupy that portion of the North American west coast on the Pacific Ocean which it had only seen and claimed from maritime explorations previously.

Monterey became one of a series of presidios, or "royal forts," built by Spain in what is now the western United States. In 1783, it had a company of 56 men. Other California-based installations were founded in San Diego (El Presidio Real de San Diego) in 1769, in San Francisco (El Presidio Real de San Francisco ) in 1776, and in Santa Barbara (El Presidio Real de Santa Bárbara) in 1782.[1]

On 20 November 1818 Argentine privateer Hipólito Bouchard, known thereafter as "California's only pirate", raided the installation. Its population took refuge in the Presidio's Rancho del Rey San Pedro (King's Farm), in the vicinity of Salinas.[2] The fortunes of the Presidio at Monterey rose and fell with the times: it has been moved, abandoned and reactivated time and time again. The only surviving building from the original compound is the Royal Presidio Chapel. 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, then the Mexicans, and ultimately the Americans.

United States fort[edit]

United States control of the area began in 1846 during the Mexican-American War 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 fort up to its current location on the hill overlooking the harbor, combining in one location the previously separated functions of military headquarters and fortress. The Presidio was renamed Fort Mervine in honor of Captain William Mervine, who commanded one of the ships in Sloat's squadron.[3]

The original Presidio comprised 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 its founding in 1770 by Junípero Serra, who arrived with Portola's party. On a hill overlooking the Monterey harbor is an earthwork - the only lingering connection between the original and present sites of the Presidio. That earthwork was part of the Spanish-built artillery battery defending the harbor.[4]

The 1846 US occupation of Monterey put an end to any Mexican military presence at the Presidio. In 1865, in the closing months of the American Civil War, the fort was returned to temporary life by the arrival of six officers and 156 enlisted men, but was abandoned again in 1866.[5]

In 1902, an Infantry Regiment arrived at Monterey with the mission 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. It was named for former American Civil War general, Edward Ord. However, in order to perpetuate the name of the old Spanish military installation that Portolà had established 134 years earlier, the War Department redesignated the post as the Presidio of Monterey. The barracks and training facilities for enlisted men, along with General Ord's name, were moved a short way up the coast to Fort Ord in 1940.

Presidio of Monterey[edit]

A school of musketry was located at the Presidio from 1907 to 1913, and a school for cooks and bakers from 1914 to 1917. In 1917, the Army purchased an additional 15,809 acres (64 km²) 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 those troops left Monterey. The Presidio, subsequently, served as reception center and temporary headquarters of the III Corps until it was deactivated in late 1944.

Civil Affairs Staging Area[edit]

The Presidio of Monterey was reactivated, under considerable difficulty, in January 1945 to accommodate the Civil Affairs Staging Area (CASA).[6] The Civil Affairs Staging Area was a brigade sized Army / Navy formation created by a joint chiefs of staff directive for military government theater planning, training and provision of military government personnel to liberated areas of the Far East. CASA provided comprehensive training and planning in civil affairs administration to officers coming from six schools of military government established at various universities throughout the country.

Defense Language Institute[edit]

Defense Language Institute copy.png

Main article: Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center In 1946, the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) was moved to the Presidio of Monterey and was renamed the Army Language School (ALS). In June 1963, the Army Language School was renamed the Defense Language Institute (DLI). In 1976, the Defense Language Institute became the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLI-FLC), the Defense Department's primary center for foreign language instruction. The center constitutes the principal activity at the Presidio. The Presidio serves all branches of the Department of Defense as well as select other government agencies.

Closure of Fort Ord[edit]

From 1946 onward, the Presidio itself was a sub-installation of the nearby Fort Ord. On 1 October 1994, this situation changed when Fort Ord closed and the Presidio of Monterey became a separate installation again, with the continued military areas of Fort Ord becoming known as the Presidio Annex.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For the Revillagigedo Census of 1790 listing the inhabitants of Monterey and the other presidios and pueblos, see The Census of 1790, California, California Spanish Genealogy. Retrieved on 2008-08-04. Compiled from William Marvin Mason.The Census of 1790: A Demographic History of California. (Menlo Park: Ballena Press, 1998). 75–105. ISBN 978-0-87919-137-5.
  2. ^ J. D. Conway, Monterey: Presidio, Pueblo, and Port, Arcadia Publishing, Charlston, SC, 2003, p.49
  3. ^ "History of the Presidio". Official website of Presidio of Monterey. US Army. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  4. ^ "History of the Presidio". Official website of Presidio of Monterey. US Army. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  5. ^ "History of the Presidio". Official website of Presidio of Monterey. US Army. Retrieved May 4, 2015. 
  6. ^ War Department Special Staff 1946, "History of the Civil Affairs Holding and Staging Area", Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, p.11 [1]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 36°36′14″N 121°54′42″W / 36.6040°N 121.9117°W / 36.6040; -121.9117