The Casanova-Oak Knoll neighborhood, basically two distinct neighborhoods made up of Casanova and Oak Knoll, was annexed to the City of Monterey in February of 1949. Prior to annexation, it was a rural mix of farms, ranches, and small subdivisions. Until the late 30’s and into the 40’s, it was mainly oak-studded open space.
The first actual recorded subdivision covered an area bounded by what is now Fremont Street to the Airport and the eastern city limit line to Ramona Street. Known as the first Addition to Del Monte Grove, it was subdivided in 1892. It consisted of several large parcels owned by a few families.
One of the first families to establish residence in the area was Martin Girotti. In 1918, Martin Girotti purchased the property now occupied by Monte Mart in Del Rey Oaks and the now vacant Cypress Bowl property in order to raise hogs. In 1921, he built the family home which still remains at 645 Casanova and is the oldest known remaining home in the area.
Another early family to arrive in the neighborhood was John McKay. In 1923, he bought five acres along what is now Ramona Avenue, from Tom Work, who owned most of the Oak Knoll area, and built the family home on the corner of Fremont and Ramona. When Fremont Street was widened in 1942 McKay moved the family house to its pre- sent location at 625 Ramona. Although the house is still standing, it was sold in 1975, and is no longer in the McKay family.
From 1923 to 1930, there were only a few lots along Casanova. The Berry Brothers feed barn was located on the present Safeway property and was later replaced by Tanaka’s Nursery in the forties. The Heckt family property was next to Berry Brothers, with vacant land between it and the Bob Summers property which now houses the Lewis Apartments and Villa Casanova Apartments. Mr. Summers raised horses and cattle on this property. Further up Casanova, at what is now the Mahara Condos, was the Wolf chicken farm where chickens and turkeys were raised until 1936. On the other side of Casanova at what is now the Town House Apartments was the Layton property. The Laytons moved to the area in 1933, and in the early 40’s remodeled several chicken houses on their property. These chicken houses were rented to people during the war to help ease the housing shortage. The property was sold in the early 60’s and the first apartment complex was constructed in the area. To the rear of the apartments is a large stand of Eucalyptus trees which were planted by Mrs. Layton. Viola, Layton Wood, one of the daughters still resides on a portion of the property.
The first residential subdivision in the neighborhood came in 1940, when what are now Bush, Fern, Ivy & Lilac Streets, were developed. Oak Knoll Subdivision #1 was named for the majestic stands of Oak trees that covered the hillside. Shortly thereafter, in 1946, Oak Knoll #2 was started along Euclid Avenue. And in 1947, Oak Knoll #3 from Fremont to Airport began. Many of the original buyers still live in the neighborhood.
Other than Berry Bros. Feed, no other commercial busi-nesses existed along Fremont Street until Mabel Schogal opened Mabel’s Cafe at the corner of Airport Road and Fremont in 1940. Across Airport Road, on what is now the Brick House (presently Eddie’s) property, Granite construction operated a construction yard from 1941-1944. With the establishment of subdivisions in the area, many new busi-nesses began to spring up along Fremont Street. Some of these were: The Skyway Market; Tanaka’s Nursery; a motor court at Airport and Fremont; The Oaks Restaurant; The Blue Ox; Cerritos; The Bamboo Gardens; McKinny’s Bar-B-Que; Sprindrift; Park Drive-In Theater; and Toy Town, all of which are gone.
Prior to 1936, the only entertainment in the area was the polo matches and horse races held at the Polo Grounds (presently the Navy Golf Course). These polo matches at-tracted international competition, bringing teams from as far away as Mexico and South America, and attracted large crowds from around the Peninsula. Horse racing was held, and horses and owners, traveling from Santa Anita to Tanforan, would stop here for a week of racing. Paramutual betting, with two dollar tickets was then permitted. A portion of the race track still exists along the southern portion of the Fairgrounds. In 1936, the Fairgrounds was moved from Jack’s Park in downtown Monterey to its present location and brought another form of entertainment to the area.
In 1951, the U.S. Navy began flying out of the airport and took over operation of the northside of the runway. Small trainer aircraft were brought in for pilots attending the Naval Postgraduate School. The Navy operated out of the three hangers still existing on the property, with the Navy tower handling all air navigation. The Navy closed down op-erations in the late 1960’s, and the Airport District took over full operation of the field. The lower portion of the Navy base now houses the Navy Fleet Numerical which began op-erations in 1972, since then in the last few years the National Weather Service has added a division on this property.
In 1951, the 5th subdivision was added to the neighborhood, Casanova Suddivision, which encompasses Melway Circle, was built on land that was previously a Japanese garden. This land was purchased by Martin Girotti in 1946 and fifteen homes were built in a circle off of Casanova Street. One of Mr. Girotti’s sons, Mel, who was born in a house across from the family property, still lives in the neighbor-hood on Melway Circle. This subdivision was followed in 1955 by Casanova Oaks, consisting of upper Casanova Avenue and Ralston Drive. At the same time, the Portuguese Hall was started at the top of Casanova Avenue.
Playing a large part in the original development of this park was the former Oak Knoll Casanova Neighborhood Association which remained active through the late fifties and early sixties until it disbanded. In October of 1982, the current Casanova-Oak Knoll Neighborhood Association was started and still remains active today, playing an important part in the development of this Neighborhood Plan.
- City of Monterey Staff
- Richard Ruccello
- Gary Carlsen
- Loren Bell
- Mel Girotti
- Viola Layton Woods
- Anne Rotter
- Adeline McKay Matthews