Mendocino, California: Background information when reading Watch Over Me

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Watch Over Me

by Nina LaCour

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour X
Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2022, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Mendocino, California

This article relates to Watch Over Me

Print Review

Mendocino featuring houses overlooking the oceanEven amidst ghosts; a loving, family-centered farm; and the courageous Mila trying to face horrible memories from her past, Nina LaCour's description of Mendocino, California in Watch Over Me stands out when Mila gets her chance to go there as part of a farmer's market:

Mendocino greeted us with its tiny business district, its weathered fences and pristine bed-and-breakfasts, its narrow streets and wildflowers and bluffs overlooking crashing waves.

After Mila's first time working at the farmer's market, flush with her day's pay, she explores the downtown area, which boasts cafés, a toy store, a chocolate shop and a bookshop. As a California resident who mainly knows the northern part of the state as a tourist, these descriptions feel familiar. They bring to mind the rolling deep green hills of Cambria, the Steinbeck House in Salinas, and the extensive Casa de Fruta roadside fruit stand along the Pacheco Pass Highway in Hollister. I was inspired to learn more about the community and its history.

In 1851, Jerome Ford, acting on behalf of his boss, the entrepreneur named Henry Meiggs, came to the land that is now Mendocino seeking the wreck of the merchant ship Frolic, hoping to salvage its cargo. However, the region's native population, the Pomo Indians, had already stripped the wreck of everything of value.

Ford was also a lumberman, and he noticed the redwood forests that stretched throughout the area. The trees would be perfect to support the Gold Rush economy well in progress, and Ford returned to San Francisco to inform Meiggs about the profitable discovery. Meiggs liked the possibilities, and purchased a sawmill to be delivered by ship. Ford, meanwhile, made his way back to Mendocino, driving cattle up the coast and arriving in June of 1852. He staked out the land and set up the mill near the Big River. It yielded a billion board-feet of lumber over 50 years, nearly all of it used to build San Francisco, and then rebuild it after the massive earthquake and fire in 1906.

Early on, Mendocino was called Meiggsville, after Henry Meiggs, but it became Big River Township, or just Big River. It was later renamed after the nearby Cape of Mendocino (which was named for a Spanish viceroy who sent explorers to the New World in the 16th century).

The original settlers of Mendocino were of many types, including New Englanders (well-preserved homes in Mendocino recall the architecture of cottages and Victorian homes in Maine), immigrants from China, and Portuguese from the Azores. The Taoist Temple of Kwan Tai, one of the oldest Chinese houses of worship in California, was erected in the middle of Mendocino in 1854.

In 1950, one hundred years after it was founded, Mendocino became a big draw for artists, who started the Mendocino Art Center and triggered the revitalization of the community, overcoming the economic decline that started with the Great Depression. In 1971, residents got Mendocino on the National Register of Historic Places, and it's the only town on the California coast designated a historical landmark.

Many movies, such as The Karate Kid Part III; Same Time, Next Year; and The Majestic have filmed in and around Mendocino, but the television show Murder She Wrote has been the town's greatest benefactor. Nine episodes were filmed there, and exterior shots were used throughout the series. A shot of the Blair House, a Victorian bed-and-breakfast, was used as main character Jessica Fletcher's home. Over 150 residents were chosen for background parts during the filming, and a few were given speaking roles. Fans of the series made Mendocino a tourist destination, bringing with them a sizable boost in revenue. Pretty good progress from lumber mill beginnings.

Mendocino, California, courtesy of Tripadvisor

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Rory L. Aronsky

This "beyond the book article" relates to Watch Over Me. It originally ran in October 2020 and has been updated for the January 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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