Pacific Biological Laboratories (Ed Ricketts’ Lab)

Pacific Biological Laboratories was owned and operated by marine biologist and pioneering ecologist Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts (1897-1948), the best friend and collaborator of writer John Steinbeck.

Ricketts provided the model for the several “Doc” characters in Steinbeck’s fiction, including the novel Cannery Row. The Lab was where much of Ricketts' and Steinbeck’s literary and philosophical vision germinated and grew. Following Ricketts’ death in 1948, the Lab became the meeting place for a group called the Pacific Biological Laboratory (PBL), named in honor of Ricketts’ Lab. In 1957, the PBL members invited jazz promoter Jimmy Lyons to one of their meetings, which resulted in the idea for a new international venue for jazz—the Monterey Jazz Festival. In 1993, the PBL group transferred the Lab to the City of Monterey to insure the preservation and interpretation of this unique literary, scientific and cultural resource.

The City of Monterey schedules free public tours of Pacific Biological Laboratories during the year. The City also provides special opportunities for educational and cultural groups interested in the Lab’s history to visit the Lab.  For information on the next tours or to receive information on group visits, please call (831) 646-5648 or email rygg@monterey.org.

 

 

Location and Hours
 
Location:

The Pacific Biological Laboratories is located at 800 Cannery Row. Upcoming tours are posted on the home page
Hours: Scheduled public tours and group visits by reservation only.
Phone: (831) 646-5648
Fax: (831) 646-3917
Mail: Museums and Cultural Arts Division
City of Monterey
570 Pacific Street
Monterey, CA  93940
Email: Pacific Biological Lab
Chronology

Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts was born on May 14, 1897 in Chicago.

In 1923, Ricketts came to California with his Chicago roommate, A.E. Galigher, and opened Pacific Biological Laboratories. 

Ricketts moved the PBL to 740 Ocean View Avenue in Monterey in 1928. The original structure was a single-story house. The building was lifted and the Lab constructed below. 

In 1930, Ricketts met John Steinbeck. 

Ricketts started living at the Lab in 1936.

On November 25, 1936, a fire started in the adjacent Del Mar Cannery. The fired completely destroyed the lab, and Ricketts lost his marine ecology and literary library and family heirlooms. Thankfully Stanford University already had the manuscript of Between Pacific TidesFriends and family helped to replace much of Ricketts library and record collection. The Lab looked different before the fire. The stairs went in the opposite direction, the door was in middle of building, and the walls were stucco.

In 1939 a Deed of Trust was signed between PBL and John and Carol Steinbeck for a loan of $6000, with payment of principal deferred until September 1941. Money from the loan was used to pay off a previous loan and to help finance the Sea of Cortez trip. 

The Del Monte Express train struck Ricketts' car on May 8, 1948. He died of his injuries on May 11.  

In 1948, Won Yee, owner of the Wing Chong Co. across the street, owned the Lab building.

In 1956, after renting the building for a meeting place, Harlan Watkins, a literature teacher at Monterey High School, bought the building. Watkins lived in the Lab for a while, then used it for a gathering place of friends and guests, which evolved into the PBL club.

In 1957, Jimmy Lyons was invited, and the idea of the Monterey Jazz Festival was created at the club. 

After 1958, the building became the property of the PBL Club members 

Ocean View Avenue was renamed Cannery Row in 1958

In 1993, the Lab was transferred to the City of Monterey

"His mind had no horizons. He was interested in everything."

John Steinbeck, "About Ed Ricketts"

Ed Ricketts

(May 14, 1897 – May 11, 1948), born Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts in Chicago, was a marine biologist, an early promoter of ecology, a philosophical writer, and owner-operator of Pacific Biological Laboratories, a marine biological supply company on Cannery Row.

Ricketts wrote the classic study of intertidal communities, Between Pacific Tides (1939) with his friend Jack Calvin, and was John Steinbeck’s best friend until Ricketts’ death in a train accident at Drake Avenue in 1948. Ricketts also collaborated with Steinbeck on Sea of Cortez, later renamed The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951), an account of their biological collecting expedition to the Gulf of California. The Log from the Sea of Cortez is considered one of the great literary travel exploration books.

Ed Ricketts provided Steinbeck with the model—along with Steinbeck’s own vivid imagination—for the fictional character of “Doc,” operator of Western Biological Laboratory, located across the street from Lee Chong’s grocery (based on the real Wing Chong Co.) and a house of prostitution in Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row (1945) and its sequel, Sweet Thursday. Ricketts also formed the basis for other “Doctor” characters in Steinbeck’s fiction.

The real Ricketts was an early proponent of ecology and an avid student of literature, philosophy, and poetry. Along with Fish and Game scientist Frances Clark, Ricketts predicted the collapse of the Monterey Bay sardine industry. Ricketts started the Lab on Cannery Row (then named Ocean View Avenue) in 1928. Although the building burned in 1936, he returned to the rebuilt Lab to pursue his biological supply business and research. The Lab served as his home and became a forum for writers and artists.