MONTEREY, Calif. - UPDATE: On the north end of Cannery Row sits an aged hopper, reduction building and tanks. Shards of a century old sardine plant whose history runs deep.
"This piece of property actually, historically, is the most important piece of property on this street," said local fisheries historian Tim Thomas.
Before sardines were the hot commodity, salmon was king. Ninety percent of what was fished and caught in the Monterey bay was shipped to Europe, while sardines were sent back to the bay.
"What happened to the world in 1914? WWI,” said Thomas. “Because of all that Salmon going to Europe, all those sardines coming from Europe, and they just switched and began to heavily fish sardines along the west coast here."
The San Xavier Fish Reduction plant came onto the scene in the 1920's. A lucrative, heavy hitter that sold canned and reduced sardine parts, mostly used in chicken feed.
"The Monterey sardine, California sardine, was never a popular fish to eat,” said Thomas. “So the real money was actually in the byproducts."
But after the war ended, so did the business. The fisheries in the north Atlantic reopened.
"People stopped buying Monterey California sardines because they didn't like them,” said Thomas. “They could get the other ones and so there really wasn't any money. These guys were losing money in these canneries trying to sell canned sardines."
Eventually fisheries collapsed in the 1950's. A switch in preference, water temperature changes, environmental issues and overfishing were to blame. Some fisheries started mysteriously catching on fire and closing down, which is what happened to the San Xavier Plant.
"They were probably started by the people who own the buildings so they could collect the insurance cause they weren't doing anything with those buildings," said Thomas.
Thirty years after its closure the plant was used for different businesses. Now it's just an intriguing eyesore.
"Something like this attracts my attention,” said Louise Pajot-Phipps of Canada. “What was the factory and who was there and why did it get abandoned?”
To fill it with life again the City of Monterey approved the Ocean View Plaza Project back in 2004. Which would use about 80,000 square feet of the land to build 51 residential units, retail and restaurants.
"The San Xavier Fish reduction plant would really be a cornerstone for the whole project,” said Kimberly Cole, City of Monterey acting Community Development Director. “It's in the center of the project and the idea is that it would be a historical museum or a community interpretive center. A resource that is available for the public."
But in 2008, the economy tanked. Putting the property and plans for it in limbo.
"The original Cannery Row Marketplace LLC, I believe they went into bankruptcy," said Susan Craig, Central Coast District Manager for the California Coastal Commission.
Now who owns the property is in question. AquaLegacy Development LLC and 2012 Canrow Owner LLC both believe it belongs to them and are battling it out in court.
"We're really waiting for the property owner to come forth and be ready to proceed with the project," said Cole.
Jeff Gilles, a Lawyer representing Aqualegacy, issued the following statement to KION:
“In 2014, the parties agreed to a pay-off amount, and they further agreed that Medallion Servicing (the trustee under the Note) would provide sufficient documentation to enable a title company to issue title insurance. AquaLegacy, in the lawsuit, asserts that Medallion breached that agreement and failed to provide the required documentation - which in turn prevented AquaLegacy from paying off the loan. Instead, Medallion proceeded to foreclosure under the Note and Deed of Trust. Although the property was purportedly sold on November 14, 2014, to 2012 Canrow Owner, LLC (a company related to Medallion), that sale is void because, among other reasons, insufficient notice of the sale was provided under California law. The lawsuit seeks revocation of the foreclosure sale on these grounds as well.”
"The different LLC's that are contending that they own it, I've never dealt with anything quite like that before either,” said Craig. “So it's an unusual.”
Calls and emails to Canrow were not returned.
The California Coastal Commission approved a Coastal Development Permit for the project, but cannot issue it. They said they not only need to know who actually owns the building, but some outstanding conditions need to be met first involving the water supply and the design for the project.
"We want lateral access along the front of the building, along the water,” said Craig. “They had proposed access kind of down on the beach area. It's a really narrow little rocky beach.”
All parties involved said right now the only thing they can do is wait. Things are on hold until the dispute over the prime piece of real estate is settled and there's no telling how long that will take.
It’s an empty lot with dilapidated structures, debris, weeds and chunks of concrete. The San Xavier Fish Reduction plant shut down decades ago. While there is plan to turn it into a mixed use development, a series of unfortunate events including bankruptcies and legal challenges have ground those plans to a halt.
The eyesore has some tourists and locals wondering what’s up with the prime spot.
KION reporter Maya Holmes did some digging and has the latest on the holdup in a Special Report that airs Thursday at 6 p.m.