Monterey has Cannery Row, on a street once lined with sardine plants. San Francisco has a tourist spot called The Cannery, in a building where fruits and vegetables used to be processed.
So why can't Riverbank dream of creating the Cannery District on a 32-acre site where tomatoes once were canned?
That is the working name for a project that tentatively calls for about 500 homes, mostly high-density, plus shops, offices and other uses within walking distance. The site had a cannery under various names from 1922 to 2006.
I reported on this last month as part of the City Council's approval of the environmental impact report for the Riverbank Downtown Specific Plan.
It's an early step toward reviving the city's old core. Actual construction will depend on a rebound in the real estate market and on whether people like this alternative to car-dependent sprawl.
Those are questions for the future. What I'm curious about now is why developers have a thing for the word "cannery." They have taken a workaday image one central to the Modesto area's industrial past and present and affixed it to attractions for tourists from around the world.
I mentioned Cannery Row, a dining and shopping area that emerged in the 1970s (minus the stench from the sardine canneries that thrived there in the 1940s).
The Cannery in San Francisco is in a building erected near Fisherman's Wharf in 1907 by the California Fruit Packers Association. This outfit later became Del Monte Foods, which today operates a Modesto plant that is one of the last strongholds of the canned fruit industry.
The Cannery at Del Monte Square, as the San Francisco site is now known, has offered shops, restaurants and other attractions since 1966. The canning ceased in 1937.
Del Monte also owned a San Jose cannery built in 1893. Remarkably, it operated until 1999, long after the area had transformed from fruit orchards to Silicon Valley.
Today, the site is a high-density housing development called, you guessed it, Cannery Square at Monte Vista. The developer kept an old Del Monte water tower and conveyor belt in place.
Modesto has its own tribute to canning history the Tillie Lewis Business Park on Ninth Street, created a few years back and named for a cannery that closed in the 1970s. There, too, an old water tower remains, with a new tomato logo painted onto it.
Cannery images clearly appeal to people, even amid today's fresh produce craze. Perhaps they remind us of grandparents who always had peaches or sardines in their cupboards. Perhaps they speak from even deeper in the past, from a time when people had to preserve their own harvests if they were to survive.
Wow. A lot to think about on a Saturday morning.
I mentioned the former canneries to show that Riverbank is in good company as it seeks to redevelop itself while preserving the flavor of the past.
But we also should celebrate the fact that several canneries still operate in and near Stanislaus County. The tomato industry is especially strong, thanks to mechanized harvesting and our craving for salsa, pasta sauce and ketchup. Demand has not been so great for canned peaches, apricots and pears, but Modesto is still a key supplier for what market there is.
The canners keep reminding consumers that their crops are picked at the peak of ripeness, with little loss of nutrients. And the products are affordable and available all year.
Let's hope the marketing works and our canneries continue to employ a few thousand people every summer. That way, we won't have to settle for canned history.
Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
These websites have information about canneries and redevelopment:
Cannery Row, Monterey: www.canneryrow.com
The Cannery at Del Monte Square, San Francisco: www.delmontesquare.com
Cannery Square at Monte Vista, San Jose: www.historysanjose.org/cannerylife
Cannery District, Riverbank (proposed): www.riverbank.org/depts/developmentservices