As California Historic Landmark #1, the oldest government building in California, the Custom House depicts the Mexican (1822-1846) and early American (1846-1847) periods of California history.
In 1846, Commodore Sloat landed on this site, proclaimed the annexation of California by the United States, and hoisted the Stars ‘n Stripes. This peaceful takeover was ratified two years later by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, which ended the US.-Mexican War, ceding half of Mexico’s territory to the United States of America.
Though visited by Spanish navigators as early as 1602, Alta California was only actively colonized by Spain for a fifty-year period (1769-1821) during which time the various missions, presidios and pueblos were established. The Spanish monarchy discouraged trade whereas the newly independent Mexican republic encouraged it. As Mexico’s capital of both Alta and Baja California, Monterey became the requisite port of entry for the entire region.
Historically, the shoreline was literally on the Custom House doorstep (The apron of land between the Custom House and the Harbor, created in 1898 to extend the Southern Pacific Railway, has become the popular Recreation Trail). Cargo would be displayed on deck or along the beach for review by the customs agent, who might levy a duty of up to 100 percent. The local populace celebrated the arrival of these “floating general stores” because they brought necessities as well as luxuries to a remote region lacking local manufacture.
The northern part of the Custom House dates to 1827, with subsequent additions made over time.
In the late-1990s electrical modifications were made to the Custom House Plaza that required excavation of the garden thus providing the opportunity for comprehensive replanting with an outstanding collection of succulents, cacti and accent plants. The building and grounds, part of the Monterey State Historic Park, are managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.