• The Naval Postgraduate School: For 100 years, a shrine to excellence

    Because it’s housed in a historic hotel, spirits of former guests linger to celebrate

    By Jon Roland Guthrie

    Barbara Unger, a public information employee volunteering for service as a Memorial Day tour leader, saved the very best for … well, dead last. 

    That’s when the guide mentioned that in addition to several decades “as the finest resort hotel in the world” plus a half-century housing first the United States Preflight Training Center and then the Naval Postgraduate School, NPS had one little piece of history that should not be left unentombed.

    This venerable structure, formerly the Del Monte Hotel, serves as home to several ghosts.

    “Three of these haunts are most popular,” Unger said.  “These three are named in descriptive terms.  There’s the fireman, the spirit of a person who lost his life battling one of the two conflagrations that swept the facility.  There’s Gentleman in Gray.  And Woman in White.”

    Allegedly, the Gentleman in Gray and the Woman in white are investing eternity searching for each other, without success … yet!  There may be more chapters of their story still to come.  And there are other spirits hanging around … lots of them!

    Dwight Filley Davis, founder of the renown Davis Cup tennis tournament, is certain to be among the ghosts.  It is said that the idea for the tournament came while Davis watched two male contestants playing a hard-fought match at the Del Monte Hotel.  Davis donated the elegant cup, still played for today, in 1900.  The Davis Cup is now administered by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), which also runs the women’s equivalent, the Fed Cup.

    Surely the spirit of actress Carole Lombard scurries about now and then, seeking the pool-currently sand-filled as a conservation measure-where she was caught skinny dipping.  The news is good, Carole.  The navy plans to dump the sand and re-generate the pool exactly how it was during your era.

    Presidential poltergeists are surely not excluded.  Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt both visited the something-less-than-egalitarian Del Monte.  Both commented on the beauty of the Seventeen Mile Drive, which started beneath the Del Monte’s flag and wended its way to the Lone Cypress in (then) Pebbles Beach Park, denoted as the half-way point.

    The Seventeen Mile Drive had been the brain-child of hotel founder Charles Crocker, a railroad magnate.  Seeking the means for increasing the number of guests registering for a stay at his hotel, as his spirit still does, Crocker created the drive that today begins at Pacific Grove and winds through Pebble Beach.  Back then, the drive was improved by the ingenious Sam Morse.  The pair have been viewed strolling the Arizona Garden-created by German landscape artist Ralph Ulrich in 1881-laying plans to create a world-class sports center featuring horse racing, tennis, swimming, diving, yachting, deep-sea fishing, polo, and-of course!-golf.

    The Del Monte resort once comprised the hotel and an additional 20,000 acres including the 7,000 acres which was a wilderness park called Pebble Beach.  Today’s Naval Postgraduate School is housed on a campus comprising just a few more than 600 acres.

    Name any name easily recognized between 1880 and 1942-Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Gene Tunney, Marlene Dietrich, Harold Flood, Charles Lindbergh, Mary Pickford, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Jascha Heifetz, Zane Grey-and the chances are good that you have just named a ghoul who stops back at the Del Monte once in a while, just to check things out.  Among them is the 29 years old Violet Maya Neill, a lovely Pacific Grove socialite who died at the Del Monte in 1909, a victim of consumption (tuberculosis).  Ms. Neill, after whispering in this author’s ear, was previously written about in the Cedar Street Times. (Cedar Street Times, February 27, 2009.  Vol 1, Issue 23.)

    The principal Del Monte Hotel building was renamed Herrmann Hall in honor of the Rear Admiral who organized the school’s move from Annapolis to Monterey.

    During the 1940s, Adolph Hitler and Japanese Emperor Hirohito changed the nature of the Del Monte Hotel significantly.  President Franklin Roosevelt asked American hotel owners to assist in the war effort by letting the military use their lodgings.  Samuel Morse, by then owner of the Del Monte, became overheated with patriotic fever and agreed.  Civilian guests departed the old hotel and troops marched in.  The elegant facility dropped its perfumed drawers, pulled on skivvies, and turned itself into a pre-flight training facility.  The school’s military football team, which was allowed to compete with civilian schools, became a terror of the Pacific coast.

    During the war, the values of sound educations were not to be overlooked.  Fleet Admiral Ernest King, after much discussion, nodded agreement.  The admiral decided that a graduate school should be attached to what was the equivalent of a navy university (Annapolis Naval Academy).  The first class of graduate students convened with an enrollment of ten, but not for long was their headcount so limited.  Naval officers piled in and were soon joined by officers from other military forces and foreign countries.  Soon, the graduate school was ordered to leave town and move across the coast to the old Hotel Del Monte in Monterey.  Under command of Rear Admiral Ernest Herrmann, trucks were overloaded with all the materiel-books, desks, chairs, typing machines, primitive computers, pencils, paper, pots, pans-composing the graduate school.  Together, the trucks started eastward.  One observer described the long line of canvas-covered vehicles as resembling another westward migration … in Conestogas.

    Today, the Naval Postgraduate School is considered one of the world’s premier graduate institutions.  Students from around the world vie for admission.  Only a small percentage of those who do apply make it; no more than 2,000 new students are enrolled each year.  Some of the more tenacious apply several times before finally being admitted.  Those who do make it share a common benefit.  No matter their major-there are more than 70 programs to choose among-each can count on this school being a shrine to a superb education.

    Of particular interest is the illustrated “timeline” that graces the outside corridor of Root Hall.  A walking journey along the timeline takes you step-by-step through 100 years of the Naval Postgraduate School’s history.  This timeline’s walk may be the world’s most lengthy.  Plans are in the works to find out by applying for inclusion in the Guinness World Book of Records.

    One thing is certain.  The former Del Monte Hotel, now the Naval Postgraduate School, has a lengthy heritage of people, programs, pride … and poltergeists!

    posted to Cedar Street Times on May 28, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News, Features


    You must be logged in to post a comment.