Literary giant and hometown hero John Steinbeck, who died on this day in 1968, so loved Salinas, Calif., that the oceanside town played a major role in his books.
“East of Eden,” “Of Mice and Men,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Red Pony” and “Tortilla Flat,” can all be traced back to the Salinas area and the people who populated the mostly rural town and the surrounding Salinas Valley at the beginning of the 20th century.
In a letter to his friend George Albee, Steinbeck wrote that he “would like to write the story of this whole valley, of all the little towns and all the farms and all the ranches in the wilder hills. I can see how I would like to do it so that it would be the valley of the world.”
For Steinbeck, that valley centered on his boyhood home. The turreted Queen Anne-style Victorian house was built in 1897, purchased by the Steinbecks in 1900, and still stands today at 132 Central St. in Salinas.
Steinbeck was born there, in a room to the left of the entranceway.
His storytelling prowess was as well. Steinbeck first honed his craft by telling tales of ghosts to neighborhood youngsters.
When Steinbeck’s parents died in the 1930s, the house was sold to another family, then was given to the Hartnell College Newman Foundation. Student members of the Newman Club renovated the house and used it as a student residence and meeting hall for about a decade.
The Steinbeck house was eventually purchased by The Valley Guild, a group of women with a passion for gourmet cooking and local produce. They opened it as a restaurant in 1974, honoring Steinbeck, on the 72nd anniversary of his birth.
Designated as a literary landmark in 1995, the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. The home even made a coveted appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, when she filmed an episode on its front lawn in 2003 as part of Oprah’s Book Club.
On This Day, previously:
• Dec. 19: The stunning mansion of 'the most hated man in America,' born in 1849
• Nov. 25: The only house that JFK and Jackie ever built
• Nov. 14: On Monet's 173rd birthday, we visit his Giverny home in pictures
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