Cannery Row Foundation Celebrates Frank Wright Day

Image of Frank Wright at Doc Ricketts lab on Cannery Row

The Cannery Row Foundation in Monterey, California will honor Frank Wright, a friend of Ed Ricketts and a member of the group that purchased the legendary “Doc” Ricketts lab, with a day devoted to lab tours open by reservation on October 22. Wright, a retired businessman in Carmel, California, was one of seven people who pooled their resources to buy the property—immortalized in John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row—from the private owner who purchased it after Ricketts was killed in a train accident nearby. Two members of the original group died recently, making Frank Wright, age 97, the sole survivor and witness to a major event in Cannery Row chronology. Having a chance to meet Wright and tour Doc Ricketts’s lab—now owned by the city of Monterey, California—is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for fans of Cannery Row, the novel and the place, and Doc Ricketts, Steinbeck’s friend and hero. According to Cannery Row Foundation President Michael Hemp, tours will begin each hour starting at 9:00 a.m. and are limited to groups of 15. Email tours@canneryrow.org stating your preferred tour time (9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, or 4:00) and the number of persons in your party. A donation of $15 per person is requested by the foundation, a nonprofit educational organization devoted to the preservation of Cannery Row history.

Photo of Frank Wright at Cannery Row lab by Kelli Uldall courtesy Carmel Magazine.

East of Eden: A Pilgrimage in Pictures to John Steinbeck’s Salinas, California

Image of John Steinbeck marker in Salinas, California

East of Eden, the autobiographical novel John Steinbeck described as his “marathon book,” portrayed Salinas, California at the turn of the 20th century as a small place with big problems. Steinbeck characterized the culture of the town where he was born in 1902 even more critically in “Always Something to Do in Salinas,” an essay he wrote for Holiday Magazine three years after completing East of Eden. His description of Salinas sins and shortcomings in “L’Affaire Lettuceburg” was so negative that he recalled the manuscript and prevented its publication. Eventually Salinas forgave the injury, naming the town library in Steinbeck’s honor and building a center devoted to his life and work on Main Street. But main street Salinas, California fell on hard times after John Steinbeck left, the victim of suburban sprawl and competition from Monterey, Carmel, Pebble Beach, and Pacific Grove, where Steinbeck preferred to live and write. With this in mind, I made a pilgrimage with my camera to record changes in Salinas since East of Eden and to discover how Steinbeck is remembered today, almost 50 years after his death.

Image of John Steinbeck mural in Salinas, California

John Steinbeck’s Salinas, California Starts on Main Street

I started at the National Steinbeck Center, built 18 years ago at One Main Street to house the John Steinbeck archive, attract visitors, and educate residents about the town’s most famous son. Inside, I relived scenes from East of Eden and other works through video clips, stage sets, and documents about Steinbeck’s boyhood in Salinas. Guided by Steinbeck’s words—and by murals, plaques, and signs memorializing his life—I set out to explore the links to the past provided by buildings that survive from Steinbeck’s era.

Guided by Steinbeck’s words—and by murals, plaques, and signs memorializing his life—I set out to explore the links to the past provided by buildings that survive from Steinbeck’s era.

Seen from the center’s front steps, Steinbeck’s craggy visage dominates the mural on the building across Central Avenue where the grocer and butcher patronized by his mother did business 100 years ago. Looking down Main Street, I saw Mount Toro, the backdrop for The Pastures of Heaven, the stories about trouble in paradise written by Steinbeck 20 years before East of Eden. Mentally uprooting trees and planters and replacing sleek SUVs with boxy black Fords, I tried to imagine Main Street as it appeared to Steinbeck when he was writing his stories. The effort was complicated by a pair of modern structures built to bring people back to town: the Maya Cinema multiplex and the world headquarters of Taylor Farms, edifices that face one another, literally and symbolically, across the Main Street divide.

Image of John Steinbeck house in Salinas, California

Life Along John Steinbeck’s Central Avenue Then and Now

From One Main Street I retraced the steps of Adam Trask, who in East of Eden “turned off Main Street and walked up Central Avenue to number 130, the high white house of Ernest Steinbeck.” Today the Central Avenue home where John Steinbeck was born is number 132, and the white exterior of Steinbeck’s era has been replaced by cream, blue, and tan tones highlighting the Queen Anne-style frills and furbelows. Inside, high ceilings, dark polished wood, and Victorian decor greet lunch patrons at the Steinbeck House restaurant, operated by the nonprofit organization that purchased the home after it passed through stages of ownership and decay following the death of Steinbeck’s father in 1935.

Today the Central Avenue home where John Steinbeck was born is number 132, and the white exterior of Steinbeck’s era has been replaced by cream, blue, and tan tones highlighting the Queen Anne-style frills and furbelows.

A Steinbeck House volunteer greeted me in the room where the writer was born; the maternal bed, a finely crafted period piece, can be seen in the gift shop downstairs. I dined next to the fireplace where Olive Steinbeck, a schoolteacher, nourished John and his three sisters on a diet of classical music and great books that fed the imagination of the budding author, who observed life on Central Avenue from the gable window of his bedroom. “I used to sit in that little room upstairs,” he recalled, “and write little stories.” Parts of The Red Pony and Tortilla Flat were written while Steinbeck tended his mother at home before her death in 1934. “The house in Salinas is pretty haunted now,” he confided to a friend. “I see things walking at night that it is not good to see.”

Olive Steinbeck, a schoolteacher, nourished John and his three sisters on a diet of classical music and great books that fed the imagination of the budding author, who observed life on Central Avenue from the gable window of his bedroom.

A block away, Steinbeck spent happy hours playing with the Wagner brothers, whose mother Edith, an aspiring writer in whom Steinbeck confided his own ambition, provided material for  Steinbeck’s story “How Edith McGillicuddy Met R. L. S.” One brother was involved in the throwing of a roast beef through the glass door of city hall, an act attributed to Steinbeck, who recalled that “[Max] worked so hard and I got all the credit.” Steinbeck and the Wagner boys eventually made their way to Hollywood, where Jack helped with script writing for the film adaptation of Steinbeck’s short novel The Pearl. Max, an actor, played bit parts in movie versions of The Grapes of Wrath and The Red Pony. Jack recruited Steinbeck to help with screenwriting for the 1945 motion picture A Medal for Benny. Max also participated.

Image of Roosevelt School in Salinas, California

In Trouble as a Boy and as a Man in Salinas, California

At 120 Capitol Street, not far from Central Avenue, Roosevelt Elementary School replaced the grammar school that John Steinbeck and the Wagner brothers attended. The school is depicted somberly in East of Eden (“the windows were baleful; and the doors did not smile”) and in the journal Steinbeck kept while writing the novel (“I remember how grey and doleful Monday morning was. . . . What was to come next I knew, the dark corridors of the school”). Steinbeck’s ambivalent feelings about schooldays in Salinas failed to improve with time. Once he was famous, he objected to the idea of naming a school in his honor: “If the city of my birth should wish to perpetuate my name clearly but harmlessly, let it name a bowling alley after me or a dog track or even a medium price, low-church brothel – but a school – !”

Steinbeck’s ambivalent feelings about schooldays in Salinas failed to improve with time.

Courthouse bas-relief in Salinas, CaliforniaUnlike his pals up the street, John Steinbeck’s parents respected the social and political order of Salinas, the seat of Monterey County. Steinbeck’s father served as county treasurer, and law-abiding pioneer faces stare down from the walls of the town’s Art Moderne courthouse today. Like bas-relief marble panels and bronze door embellishments that celebrate the agricultural workers immortalized in Steinbeck’s fiction, they are the work of Joe Mora, a WPA artist. Steinbeck gathered material for East of Eden at the Art Moderne newspaper building across the street; he played basketball and attended his senior prom at the nearby Troop C Armory building, “where men over fifty . . . snapped orders at one another and wrangled eternally about who should be officers.”

Steinbeck’s father served as county treasurer, and law-abiding pioneer faces stare down from the walls of the town’s Art Deco-style courthouse today.

Image of John Steinbeck Library in Salinas, CaliforniaLike Main Street viewed from the National Steinbeck Center, Lincoln Avenue in downtown Salinas is dominated by an imposing image of John Steinbeck, this in the form of the life-size statue installed outside the public library that now bears Steinbeck’s name. Inside the modest brick building I browsed the wealth of Steinbeck books, articles, and clippings accumulated over decades by scholars, friends, and fans. Steinbeck wasn’t always popular with librarians or readers, however. According to Dennis Murphy, the son of a Steinbeck friend and neighbor, angry locals burned copies of The Grapes of Wrath at the corner of San Luis and Main Street. The venue for their act of rage was the Carnegie Library, since torn down, where according to Steinbeck, an unsympathetic librarian “remarked that it was lucky my parents were dead so that they did not have to suffer this shame.”

Image of Art-Moderne newspaper building in Salinas, California

Edifices in East of Eden and The Winter of Our Discontent

Some Main Street storefronts are now covered by stucco facades. The surface of one, a six-story bank at the corner of East Alisal and Main Street, is faced with Art Deco terracotta tiles; others hold memories that were painful to John Steinbeck and his family. Ernest Steinbeck’s fledgling feed store at 332 Main Street failed when cars replaced horses. “Poor Dad couldn’t run a store,” Steinbeck wrote in his journal—“he didn’t know how.” Steinbeck fictionalized the failure of his father’s store in The Winter of our Discontent, the semi-autobiographical novel he set in Sag Harbor, New York, a small town that feels like early 20th century Salinas when you read the book now.

Steinbeck fictionalized the failure of his father’s store in the semi-autobiographical novel he set in Sag Harbor, New York, a small town that feels like early 20th century Salinas when you read the book now.

At the Cherry Bean Coffee Shop, a thriving concern occupying part of the site where Ernst Steinbeck opened his store, I dallied over a “Steinbeck brew” and listened to regulars discuss issues of the day, just as Steinbeck did at the main street Sag Harbor coffee shop when he was writing The Winter of Our Discontent. As noted in “L’Affaire Lettuceburg,” Salinas was less democratic in Steinbeck’s time, with “cattle people” at the top of the social stratification he satirized in “Always Something to Do in Salinas.” “Sugar people joined Cattle People in looking down their noses” at lettuce-growers, he recalled in 1955. “These Lettuce People had Carrot People to look down on and these in turn felt odd about associating with Cauliflower People.” Today, complaints heard at the Coffee Bean Shop on Main Street in Salinas revolve around “Silicon People,” commuters with high-paying tech jobs who are inflating home prices.

Salinas was less democratic in Steinbeck’s time, with “cattle people” at the top of the social stratification he satirized in “Always Something to Do in Salinas.”

Image of Muller's Funeral Chapel sign in Salinas, CaliforniaMuller’s Funeral Chapel, another East of Eden landmark, is commemorated with a plaque dedicated to H.V. Muller at 315 Main Street, where John Steinbeck’s mother was prepared for burial in 1934. Today a beauty parlor occupies the space at 242 Main Street where Bell’s Candy Store stood back in 1917, when Steinbeck was a teenager and  “the rage was celery tonic.” According to the proprietor at the time, “John was a good boy, but you had to keep your eye on him around the candy!” Across Main Street from Bell’s, Of Mice and Men played at the Exotic Fox Californian Theater when the movie—the first ever made from a book by Steinbeck—opened in 1939.

Today a beauty parlor occupies the space at 242 Main Street where Bell’s Candy Store stood back in 1917, when Steinbeck was a teenager and  “the rage was celery tonic.”

Image of Monterey Bank Building in Salinas, CaliforniaGenerations of agricultural wealth in Salinas, California built banks at the four corners of Gavilan and Main streets and held strong views about John Steinbeck. Reporting on local reaction to The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck wrote: “The vilification of me out here from the large landowners and bankers is pretty bad.” Today the four banks are gone and food and antiques are sold in temples where money was once dispensed in an attitude of quiet reverence captured by Steinbeck in East of Eden. Cal withdraws 15 crisp new thousand-dollar bills, and Kate deposits her whorehouse earnings, in the Monterey County Bank building at 201 Main Street. The vaulting structure, recently restored, may also have been the inspiration for the cathedral-like bank that Ethan Hawley decides to rob in The Winter of Our Discontent. Forty years after Steinbeck’s last novel, it served as the location for Bandits, a movie starring Bruce Willis.

Image of Hamilton family gravesite in Salinas, California

Main Street South to John Steinbeck’s Final Destination

Returning to my car, I left Main Street and turned onto Market (formerly Castroville) Street, the setting for several scenes in East of Eden. “Two blocks down the Southern Pacific tracks cut diagonally,”  Steinbeck recalls in the novel: “Over across the tracks down by Chinatown there’s a row of whorehouses.” Driving to the Garden of Memories Memorial Park west of town, I found the simple bronze plaque marking Steinbeck’s final resting place, the end point of my pilgrimage to Salinas, California. Nearby, major players in Steinbeck’s life and fiction—including his wife Elaine, his grandfather Sam Hamilton, and the aunts and uncles celebrated in East of Eden—cohabit peacefully in “that dear little town” where the imagination and conscience of John Steinbeck were kindled a century ago.

This is an updated version of an article published in the Fall 2001 issue of Steinbeck Studies. Our thanks to Carol Robles for correcting several factual errors introduced in the editing process. The Garden of Memories, located southeast of downtown Salinas, contains more than one Hamilton family plot. The headstone shown here is not the one marking the site of John Steinbeck’s ashes. The burning of The Grapes of Wrath in Salinas is attested in various sources, including an interview with the writer Dennis Murphy, the grandson of the Salinas physician who treated Steinbeck as a boy. The Murphy interview is one of a number available to Steinbeck scholars and students in the National Steinbeck Center archive.—Ed.

Lindsay Hatton Revisits Cannery Row in New Novel

Cover image of Monterey Bay with author Lindsay Hatton

The main action of Monterey Bay, Lindsay Hatton’s debut novel, takes place in 1940, a big year for John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, and Monterey’s Cannery Row, where Hatton’s story is set. Waves churned up by the publication of The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 were swamping Steinbeck, who made his escape to the Sea of Cortez in the spring of 1940 with his friend Ed Ricketts, the marine biologist mythologized by Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row. Hatton—who spent summers working at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on modern-day Cannery Row—leverages John Steinbeck’s predicament and Ed Ricketts’s reputation as a lover of women not his wife in her tale of an anti-ingenue’s coming of age among flawed men in an era less sexually prohibitive than our own. Other writers who have fictionalized events involving John Steinbeck, such as Steve Hauk, draw their characters exclusively from real life. Hatton—a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts—mixes fantasy and reality to create Margot Fiske, a 15-year-old with chops and attitude who takes up with Ed Ricketts and clashes with John Steinbeck. Steinbeck employed a similar technique in his writing after Sea of Cortez (1941), notably Cannery Row and East of Eden. Readers didn’t seem to mind then, and they probably won’t now. Read a full review to learn more about Lindsay Hatton and Monterey Bay.

Nancy Hauk, Popular Pacific Grove Visual Artist, Mourned

Image of Nancy Hauk, Pacific Grove visual artist

Nancy Hauk, the popular Pacific Grove, California visual artist for whom the Pacific Grove Library’s art gallery is named, died on July 22 after a long illness. With her husband Steve Hauk, the author of short stories based on true events from the life of John Steinbeck, she owned and operated Hauk Fine Arts, the art gallery located near Holman’s department store, a Pacific Grove landmark celebrated in John Steinbeck’s fiction. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and graduated with a degree in art history from Connecticut College before moving to Pacific Grove with her husband in the 1960s. Her watercolors—painted at home in California and on trips to France—were featured last year in a well-attended exhibition at the Pacific Grove Library, where John Steinbeck’s wife Carol is thought to have worked when the couple lived in Pacific Grove in the 1930s. Hauk Fine Arts specializes in the work of California artists from John Steinbeck’s era and is located near other local landmarks familiar to Steinbeck fans. These include the Steinbeck family cottage on 11th Street and the former home of Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts, where the Hauks lived until Nancy moved to The Cottages, the Carmel assisted-living apartments where she died peacefully, surrounded by her husband with daughters Amy and Anne and mourned by friends and fans everywhere.

John Steinbeck in Los Gatos: The Progressive Politics Behind The Grapes of Wrath

Image of Charles Erskine Scott Wood

Charles Erskine Scott Wood

Recently an enterprising Italian high school teacher named Enzo Sardarello blogged about John Steinbeck’s Los Gatos neighbor Charles Erskine Scott Wood, a Whitmanesque author and painter and an energetic advocate for progressive politics during the era leading up to the writing of The Grapes of Wrath. Before studying law in the East, Wood served as an infantry officer in the Nez Perce Indian war of 1877; as a defense attorney in Oregon and guru of progressive politics in Los Gatos he opposed U.S. imperialism, advocated for Indian rights, and espoused birth control, free thinking, and free love. Between 1925 and 1944, his powerful personality and Los Gatos home attracted a host of artists, writers, and celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, Ansel Adams, and John Steinbeck. Sardarello’s post about this chapter in Steinbeck’s life is a reminder that international interest in The Grapes of Wrath—written in Los Gatos during the time Steinbeck knew Wood—continues today, and that Steinbeck had more congenial neighbors in Los Gatos when he lived there than Ruth Comfort Mitchell, the Republican novelist whose reactionary response to The Grapes of Wrath is the subject of a summer exhibit at the Los Gatos history museum.

John Steinbeck House in Salinas, California Receives Award from Trip Advisor Site

Image of Steinbeck House photo by David Laws

Photo of Steinbeck House by David Laws

John Steinbeck won literary honors during his lifetime, including a Nobel Prize. Now the house where he was born and reared in Salinas, California has received a high accolade from TripAdvisor.com, one of the hospitality industry’s most heavily used consumer websites. People who visited the Steinbeck House restaurant and gift shop during the past 12 months rated their experience as “excellent” or “very good” frequently enough to earn Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence for the thriving Salinas venue. John Steinbeck, who could be critical of business in his writing, would be gratified. Education and enjoyment, not money, motivated members of the Valley Guild to buy the Steinbeck home, restore it, and operate an intimate restaurant, staffed by a professional chef and volunteers servers, where answers to questions about Steinbeck come with the meal. Toni Bernardi, president of the nonprofit organization, explains: “We appreciate our guests and we all strive to honor the memory of John Steinbeck’s life and work.” Today honoring John Steinbeck turns out to be a good way to pay the bills—and garner praise from the hospitality industry—in Salinas, California.

Los Gatos History Museum Replays Republican Party’s Fight with John Steinbeck Over The Grapes of Wrath

los-gatos-history-museum

Image of Ruth Comfort Mitchell

Ruth Comfort Mitchell

Sometimes fences don’t make good neighbors. Take, for example, the town of Los Gatos, California, where John Steinbeck lived while writing The Grapes of Wrath. Ruth Comfort Mitchell, a California Republican Party stalwart and longtime Los Gatos resident, made speeches against Steinbeck and rebutted his book with her own novel, Of Human Kindness, a whitewash of California agricultural practices in 1940. The wife of a Republican Party official who served in the state senate, Mitchell was a conservative advocate and author with a following, but she wrote her novel in a hurry, and her defense of Republican Party business values failed to win hearts and minds outside California. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt rode to Steinbeck’s defense, The Grapes of Wrath became a bestseller, and Mitchell’s book was largely forgotten—until now. NUMU, the art and history museum in downtown Los Gatos, recently revived the partisan war of words waged by Mitchell against Steinbeck 75 years ago in an exhibit of books, photos, and documents organized by Amy Long, curator of history. “Mitchell vs. Steinbeck” runs through October 13. Visit the NUMU website  for hours of operation and directions to the Los Gatos Civic Center, located on Main Street across from Los Gatos High School, a 1925 landmark familiar to Steinbeck and his un-neighborly antagonist.

John Steinbeck Returns to American Literature Lineup (And to San Francisco)

Image of early editions of American writers

Following an absence of four years, John Steinbeck will return to the annual program of the American Literature Association when the organization holds its May 26-29, 2016 conference in San Francisco, the city where Steinbeck spent time as a Stanford student and struggling writer. A coalition of academic societies devoted to American writers from the 18th century to the present, the American Literature Association—like Steinbeck—began in California. It was founded in San Diego, the site of the most recent conference that featured Steinbeck, and its membership includes societies devoted to American writers—Raymond Carver, Percival Everett, Robinson Jeffers, Jack Kerouac, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, Frank Norris, William Saroyan, Wallace Stegner, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Thornton Wilder—with a California connection. “Steinbeck in Salinas and Abroad,” the subject of the May 26 panel organized by the International Society of Steinbeck Scholars, will focus on historical, ethnic, and ethical aspects of Steinbeck’s life and writing. Register at the American Literature Association conference website.

$4.8 Million Gift to John Steinbeck Center Reported By San Jose Mercury News

Image of the Martha Heasley Cox Center for John Steinbeck Studies

The April 20, 2016 San Jose Mercury News reports a record-breaking gift to San Jose State University by Martha Heasley Cox, a retired English professor with a love for John Steinbeck. In 1955—the year East of Eden became a movie—Cox arrived in San Jose from Arkansas with a new PhD to work at San Jose State, where she taught courses and organized conferences devoted to Steinbeck, wrote best-selling college textbooks, and invested the proceeds to support her passion for Steinbeck and her university. Her collection of books by and about Steinbeck became the core of the school’s Steinbeck Studies Center, the oldest academic enterprise devoted to the author in America, and she provided start-up funding for the organization, which was named in her honor. According to the San Jose Mercury News story, $3.1 million of Cox’s posthumous gift will fund the center’s Steinbeck Fellows program for young writers, and $1 million will augment the endowment of a lecture series, also bearing her name, that brings major authors—including Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and Andre Dubus III—to the San Jose State University campus each year. The balance of Cox’s bequest will support an online database of Steinbeck materials. As noted by the Mercury News, her gift is the largest made by a faculty member in the school’s history.

Santa Clara, California Drops The Ball on John Steinbeck And Dorothea Lange

Composite image of John Steinbeck's portrait and Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother"

John Steinbeck knew Dorothea Lange, the iconic Depression-Era photographer who documented the plight of itinerant farm workers like Steinbeck’s Joads, and Lange’s images illustrated the cover of Their Blood Is Strong, the collection of columns Steinbeck wrote about migrants in the run-up to The Grapes of Wrath. Eighty years later, Lange and Steinbeck have come together again in an unlikely place—the art collection on display at Levi’s Stadium, the $1 billion facility built recently in Santa Clara, California for the San Francisco 49ers football team. The irony of exhibiting Steinbeck’s portrait and Lange’s “Migrant Mothers” on the walls of a publicly subsidized sports palace seems lost upon the team’s owners and Santa Clara’s mayor, who resigned on February 9, hours after the 2016 Super Bowl was played at Levi’s Stadium.

Image of Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California

The journalist Gabriel Thompson, a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, writes eloquently about the history of community organizing, and about today’s low-wage economy. An email he sent last week noted the jarring juxtaposition of Steinbeck and Lange with big-money sports on the walls of Levi’s Stadium, and it provided a link to the investigative piece he wrote for Slate about working as a food server during the Super Bowl. “The portrait hangs directly across from the office of the food service contractor that operates at Levi’s,” he said, adding that Lange’s “Migrant Mother” (originally titled “Pea Pickers”) is also on display. He included a link to a stadium PR story that makes this pitch for buying a box seat:

Gather 19 of your closest friends and rent a suite that gives you and your crew premium parking right next to the stadium, entry to Michael Mina’s Tailgate, upscale catering with an in-suite food and beverage credit, and access to the Trophy Club, where you’ll receive a complimentary glass of champagne and appetizers upon arrival. The suites are outfitted with comfy leather theater-style seats, Internet access and plenty of flat screen monitors to ensure you don’t miss any of the action. Prices vary by game but expect to shell out between $20,000 and $40,000 for the ultimate in VIP hospitality.

Image of Mission Santa Clara in Santa Clara, California

John Steinbeck, a critic of conspicuous consumption, celebrated common men and women in his writing. During college he worked for the Spreckels sugar company, which operated ranches in the rich agricultural area between King City and Santa Clara, California, south of San Francisco. Later, Santa Clara’s fragrant orchards gave way to development; today the city of 110,000 is home to tech giants including Intel, along with Santa Clara University, where a center for business ethics fronts a quiet entrance plaza anchored by the Mission Santa Clara church. Levi’s Stadium is across town, on land provided by the city not far from Intel and Mission College, a public institution. A local referendum to stop the San Francisco 49ers project failed, following a massive media and mail campaign and heavy lobbying by city leaders. According to news sources, controversy surrounding lost soccer fields—and suspicious side deals—continues to dog Santa Clara officials who went to bat for the project.

Image of Ma and Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath

Steinbeck would recognize the present problem with Santa Clara. He wasn’t much of a sports fan, or civic booster, and his father became treasurer of Monterey County after the incumbent embezzled public funds. Today, Santa Clara residents are scratching their heads over the sudden resignation of their mayor, a former code-enforcement officer—an act, according to San Jose Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold, that disqualifies the ex-mayor from further office, “including secretary of his homeowners’ association.” According to the paper, the three women on the seven-member Santa Clara city council are asking hard questions about Levi’s Stadium, and the Hispanic city manager is complaining about racial discrimination.

Photographic image of John Steinbeck at work

Steinbeck would also recognize the unintentional irony—and the awful syntax—in another assertion, pulled from the PR piece quoted earlier, about the costly amenities at Levi’s Stadium:

Being that this stadium is located in the most-cultured half of California, an emphasis on art is a given. Spread throughout the elite Citrix Owners Club, the Brocade Club, BNY Mellon Club East and West and SAP Tower of suites, this collection, curated by Sports and The Arts specifically for Levi’s Stadium, is comprised of over 200 pieces of original artwork and 500 photographs that celebrate the history of the San Francisco 49ers as well as California’s stunning landscape. You’ll find charcoal sketches of notable figures such as John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac as well as timeless psychedelics of the storied Fillmore made famous by Bill Graham. However, the portraits stadium-goers still pose next to the most are those of Joe Montana throwing to Jerry Rice and current quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the run.

Image of Mission Santa Clara sign in Santa Clara, California

When the city of Salinas wanted to name a school or library for John Steinbeck, he suggested choosing a bowling alley (or whorehouse) instead. For followers of the Levi’s Stadium story from Salinas and Monterey, there’s an upside to Santa Clara’s cluelessness about Steinbeck: Cannery Row may be tacky, and the National Steinbeck Center needs money, but neither place violates the spirit of John Steinbeck and Dorothea Lange like the San Francisco 49ers’ opulent new home in Santa Clara, California, where Steinbeck and Lange hang within view of noshing VIPs, high above ordinary football fans who can’t afford a five-figure seat.

Photo of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California by Michael Fiola (Reuters).