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Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Hovden Cannery Complex
c. 1916; 1921 rebuilt; 1984 renovation, EHDD. At terminus of Cannery Row and David Ave.
  • (Photograph by Chris Favero, CC BY-SA 2.0)
  • (Photograph by Allie Caulfield, CC BY 2.0)
  • (Photograph by Timothy J, CC BY 2.0)
  • (Photograph by Jim G., CC BY 2.0)
  • (Photograph by Lisa Suender, CC BY 2.0)

Serving as the anchor at the northern terminus of Cannery Row, the Monterey Bay Aquarium was built atop Knut Hovden’s cannery complex. Established in 1916, Hovden’s Cannery was one of the most important sardine-packing businesses on the row, immortalized in Steinbeck’s two novels as the “Morden Cannery.” Hovden, a Norwegian émigré and fisheries engineer, had come to Monterey in 1905 on the invitation of Frank Booth, one of the city’s first cannery owners. Together, they developed a mechanized process for canning sardines and encouraged the local fishermen’s use of lampara nets for catching pilchards. At the height of World War I, when the canning industry in Monterey first peaked, Hovden founded the Hovden Food Products Corporation, known for its fine pilchards. By the 1940s, the company employed over 400 workers, many of whom were women. Hovden retired in 1951, but the company continued to operate through the lean years, finally closing in 1973. It was the last of the sardine canning operations on the row to close, but it sold tinned squid rather than pilchards in its last decade.

The Hovden complex was large, comprising several buildings on the bay side of Cannery Row. Portions of it were destroyed by a fire in 1921 and subsequently rebuilt. After the complex was shuttered in 1973, it sat derelict and abandoned until the assemblage was largely destroyed by fire in 1977. The fire razed the cannery and the overcrossing became structurally unsound and had to be demolished; the warehouse was gutted. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, designed by the San Francisco–based architectural firm EHDD, was built atop the cannery’s foundations in 1984, while the shell of the warehouse on David Avenue was later renovated and incorporated as an additional wing.

Cantilevered over the sea, the aquarium’s primary wing incorporates the Hovden Cannery’s original administration building, seawall, and pump house. The boilers were left in situ, and are interpreted as the most essential equipment within any cannery, as the steam power they produced aided the cooking, sterilizing, and drying of fish as well as the cleaning of cans and equipment. The building’s three smokestacks are also original to the cannery complex.

The 130,000-square-foot structure replicates the original cannery’s form and roofline as well as its shape, size, footprint, and materials. The three-story, concrete bulk is punctuated by multi-lite industrial windows on all levels; the orientation of the fenestration is horizontal on the first two floors and vertical on the third floor. The interior holds over 100 galleries that feature massive acrylic-enclosed tanks; a giant kelp forest in a 335,000-gallon, three-story-tall tank; and a million-gallon shark tank. In 1996, the firm designed the 95,000-square-foot, million-gallon Outer Bay Wing, and returned in 2004 to renovate the lobby and design the 200-foot clear-span skybridge that connects the Ocean’s Edge and Outer Bay wings. Recently, in 2014, EHDD renovated the cafe and the sea otter exhibit. The firm was given an AIA National Honor Award in recognition for the aquarium’s design in 1988.


Architectural Resources Group. “Final Cannery Row Cultural Resources Survey Report Document.” Prepared for the City of Monterey, California, 2001.

Writing Credits

Heather N. McMahon
Emily Bills



  • 1916

    Design and construction
  • 1921

    Portions rebuilt
  • 1984

    Renovation and adaptive reuse

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Heather N. McMahon, "Monterey Bay Aquarium", [Monterey, California], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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