Pacific Biological Laboratories

Pacific Biological Lab TourLogo_Pacific_Biological_LaboratoriesPacific Biological Lab Tour - SIGN UP FOR A TOUR
Take a journey through Monterey’s storied past with a tour of Pacific Biological Laboratories (PBL). The Lab is located at 800 Cannery Row, just a block from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Lab Docents share the big story of this unassuming building. Once a small family dwelling, it played a pivotal role in the life and work of marine biologist Ed Ricketts, his friendship and collaboration with author John Steinbeck, their circle of friends, and the "PBL Members" who bought the Lab in the mid-1950s and founded the Monterey Jazz Festival. Tours of the Lab are free of charge and last one hour. Advance reservations are required. Donations to help sustain the service are welcome.

PBL club gathering 1959-003_620pxInterpretation of the history of the Pacific Biological Laboratories may be suitable for children 10 years of age or older. The City of Monterey is committed to safe public attendance in its facilities. Protective face coverings are required for all, regardless of vaccination status, except for persons under two years old, and persons with a medical condition that prevents wearing a mask.
Photos on right: TOP: Tours today; BOTTOM: PBL gathering in 1959
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About the PBL 

Pacific Biological Laboratories (PBL) 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.

HPF-8020 3-11-45 PBL-2Chronology

  • 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 Tides. Friends 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, Yock 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

About Ed Ricketts

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.

169 EFRw Humboldt SquidEd 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.

"His mind had no horizons. He was interested in everything." John Steinbeck, About Ed Ricketts

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.