Located at the shoreline on historic Cannery Row in Monterey, California, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has attracted more than 47 million visitors and has won national awards for its exhibits, architecture, and cultural, educational, and economic impact.
Historically a thriving fishing port with a huge cannery operation, Monterey was made famous by John Steinbeck’s bestselling books. By the 1950s, however, overfishing had collapsed the city’s primary financial strength. Impetus had grown by the early 1970s for tourism as a way to revive the region.
In 1977, David and Lucile Packard sought a new project to fund through their foundation. Their daughters, both marine biologists, learned about Monterey Bay evangelists Steve Webster’s and Chuck Baxter’s idea to establish an aquarium to share the bay’s new abundance after it was ecologically restored. Together, they presented the idea to the Packard Foundation. Foundation staff members asked SRI’s economic development experts whether it would be economically feasible, how many people might come, and where exactly it should be located.
SRI’s in-depth analysis indicated that the aquarium could be self-supporting after six years of losses and would host 345,000 visitors in the first year and more than half a million per year by 1990. The proposed location was the former Hovden Cannery site.
With this information, the foundation moved forward. When the doors opened in 1984, the aquarium was a bigger hit than expected: more than two million people visited that year, and every year since.*