Monterey's Custom House – Monterey, California - Atlas Obscura

Monterey's Custom House

The oldest U.S. Government building in California, and it's State Historic Landmark #1. 


In 1821, New Spain (now Mexico) won independence from Spain in the Mexican War of Independence.

For the next 25 years the settlement of Monterey was part of the Mexican territory called Alta California. The port of Monterey was opened to foreign trade under Mexican rule, and it attracted traders from many different countries including England, Russia, the United States (on the other side of the continent) and countries in South America.

The Custom House was built by the Mexican government in the 1820s to collect taxes on imported goods. Sugar, rice, coffee, tools, traps and many other kinds of merchandise came into Monterey in this way, and Monterey’s exports (chiefly furs and other raw materials) passed through the building as well on their way to foreign buyers.

On July 7, 1846, during the Mexican-American War, Commodore John Drake Sloat raised the American flag at the Custom House and claimed Alta California as part of the United States. In doing so he captured over 600,000 square miles of territory; land which was later to become not only California but also parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Now under American authority, the Custom House continued to serve the same function that it had performed for Mexico, and with the expansion of Monterey it remained a busy place.  No doubt Joseph Boston, whose store Casa del Oro is located only a few steps away, came here often to get first pick of the incoming merchandise.

Today the building appears as it would have looked on a typical day in the 1840s. Visitors can see sacks of beans and rice, and tables full of tools, lanterns and housewares awaiting their turn to be inspected and taxed by the customs officers.

Know Before You Go

Park in one of the city garages or the city parking lot nearby and walk across Custom House Plaza. The Custom House is directly across from the entrance to Fisherman's Wharf.

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