Monterey County California Genealogy and History

Monterey County: Biographies


Any proper review of the interesting career of Harry Ashland Greene, retired stock broker of San Francisco, now living at Monterey, where he has made his home for many years, will be found delightfully interwoven with details of events of outstanding importance in the history of California. Mr. Greene, who is now tranquilly passing the "twilight time" of an honorable life, happy in retrospection of a period of progress in which he has been an active and influential factor, is a native son of California and his dearest interests center here. It was thirty-four years and more ago that Mr. Greene, with a comfortable competence, retired from the turmoil of the city and made his home at Monterey. He caused to be erected here a commodious and attractive dwelling house for his use and that of his family on Lighthouse avenue and has since resided there, very comfortably and very pleasantly situated. Since that time he has been a witness of the amazing development of the city of his choice and adoption from a quaint sleeping town by the sea-a hamlet of insignificant proportions and commercial unimportance-to its present dimensions, and it is not too much to say that in this development he has been one of the prime personal factors.

Perhaps no man in California is better qualified to say concerning this proud state that: "All this development mine eyes have witnessed; of this development I have been a part since its beginning." A fine personal distinction indeed. Mr. Greene is the second son of that distinguished family that gave to San Francisco the first white child born there. He came on the scene not long afterward and thus his eyes indeed have been witnesses to all that may be regarded as the real proper development of this great state so far as relates to its social, cultural, commercial and industrial growth. In retrospect seventy-three years does not seem a long period of time- merely the span of a man's life, according to tradition. But when it is considered what has been done in California during seventy years the ordinary sense of time values becomes confused. Other peoples have spent centuries in accomplishing less. Mr. Greene was here when proper social conditions first came to be established. He has remained here, with the just pride of the true native son, and thus knows at first hand and by personal participation just how this wonderful feat of making a state was performed. To the student of biography there must ever be something particularly appealing in a review of his career, no matter how inadequate or howsoever illy drawn. No volume of history relating to this section of the state could be made complete without at least a brief review of his life and career. As was recently said, in this very connection: "The interest which attaches to life and the recital of passing events in the lives of the early settlers and of the native born of California, under changing conditions, heightens rather than diminshes with the rolling on of the years and will ever be of interest to those of later generations whose only knowledge of such history is derived second-hand, and the time is not distant when the last of the brave band of California pioneers will have crossed over the Great Divide." It is for the information and instruction of future generations therefore that this brief review of the life of Harry Ashland Greene is directed. It occupies an essential part of the definite history of the state and particularly of that section of the state of which he has for so long been a vital part.

Harry Ashland Greene was born at San Francisco, January 12, 1852. The house in which he was born (in Ashland place) was brought in sections overseas from China and was set up as a home for the family of his father, the Hon. William Greene, whose place in history as one of the upbuilders of New Orleans and of San Francisco is definitely fixed. In passing, it is interesting to note that the receipts for the transportation of this building material from far away China are now in the possession of Mr. Greene, who treasures them as priceless souvenirs of San Francisco's "day of small things." The Hon. William Greene, who was extensively engaged in the merchant marine trade, married Anne Elizabeth Fisk, daughter of Francis Melbourne Fisk, one of the leading citizens of New Orleans and with his bride came to San Francisco to establish his home at the port which then seemed to give so much true promise of becoming one of the great ports of the world. In addition to his maritime interests he also took an active hand in the general investment market in the then "booming" town and eventually became possessed of large holdings in San Francisco realty, investments which turned out quite profitably. When civil government was set up in the town he was elected a member of the first board of aldermen and by that body was elected president of the board, in which official capacity he exerted a potent influence in the establishment of orderly conditions of life and living in the new town. His name is perpetuated in the city by the name given to one of its chief thoroughfares, Greene street, but the practical development work he helped to set on foot will stand as an even more enduring monument to his memory, a memory that ever will be kept green, not only in San Francisco but throughout the state generally. Of the five children born to William and Anne Elizabeth (Fisk) Greene, the subject of this biographical review was the second in order of birth. The first born, Clay M. Greene, well known playwright and long a resident of New York city, was the first white boy born within the limits of the city of San Francisco.

Reared at San Francisco, Harry Ashland Greene was given by his thoughtful and cultured parents every advantage in the way of schooling that then could be secured there under private tutors, supplementing this by attendance at the then hopeful Santa Clara College and the San Francisco City College and then went East for a finishing course in the old Military Institute at Poughkeepsie, New York, following this by an European tour in 1870 and then, upon his return to San Francisco, took a concluding course in commercial forms in the old Pacific Business College. For awhile thereafter Mr. Greene was engaged in mining ventures in Placer county. Indeed, it was not until in 1880 that he entered upon what came to be a very successful business career in San Francisco, where he became connected with the operations of a grain and commission company, known as Greene & Company. Not long afterward, in association with his brother, Clay M. Greene, he formed the stock brokerage firm of Greene & Company and after his brother's retirement from that firm continued the business alone, quite successfully, until failing health in 1890 warned him to get ou: or' the city and to seek relief from the strain of business exactions. During the period of his business activities in the city Mr. Greene had been attracted to the charms of the Monterey and had spent much of his time on summer vacations in that beautiful section. Upon his retirement he moved to Monterey, as above set out, and has since been living there, an active factor in the promotion of all movements having to do with the advancement of the city's interests in all good ways.

In the early days of his residence at Monterey, back in the '90s, Mr. Greene promoted the old Monterey-Fresno railroad scheme and sank a fortune in that unhappy enterprise. When electric railway service became recognized as a factor in interurban transportation he promoted the construction of trolley lines and was the managing director of the original Monterey and Pacific Grove interurban electric line, out of which eventually developed the present system of electric lines hereabout. For many years Mr. Greene was the secretary of the old Capitol Club, of which he was one of the organizers. In connection with the great midwinter fair held at San Francisco during the early '90s he served as the president of the Monterey commission in that behalf and in that relation did a remarkable work in advancing the fame and reputation of the Monterey country by the arrangement of attractive exhibits. When the California Jubilee exposition project was brought to a successful conclusion at Monterey in 1896 he was made the director general of that enterprise and his fine judgment and executive skill worked wonders in bringing about the very gratifying conditions under which that enterprise was conducted. "Lest we forget," it may be timely to recall that this jubilee exposition was held in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the surrender of the Mexican claim to California in 1846.

When the oil development period came on at Monterey Mr. Greene was one of the real directors of the situation which then presented itself and it was largely through his energetic efforts that the "Associated" plant came to be established at Monterey. In 1911, by reason of his enthusiastic and unabating efforts in behalf of the creation of a proper harbor at Monterey, Mr. Greene earned for himself the happy sobriquet of "Breakwater Harry," his efforts in behalf of harbor improvement being so strenuously carried on both in the state legislature and in the lobby of Congress at Washington that his friends and associates hit upon an appellation for him as suggestive of the enthusiasm with which he continually was advocating a measure so dear to his heart. Mr. Greene was one of the organizers of the Monterey Chamber of Commerce and for several years rendered effective service as chairman of the executive committee. It is to his efforts that credit is freely given for the municipalization of the wharf in 1914. In other movements that have had as their object the improvement of local conditions he also has been a prime factor and it is thus that his name ever will be enrolled high on the roster of those who have helped to make Monterey.

Perhaps one of the most widely known movements with which Mr. Greene has been connected and of which, indeed, he was the original promoter, is the celebrated "Tin Can Club," an organization which has acquired a nation wide status as a promoter of reforestation. It was Mr. Greene's notion that children easily could be encouraged to take a part in the general reforestation movement by taking care of seedlings in tin cans until they should have a sufficient growth for proper transplantation. Out of this idea grew the organization of the Monterey Tree Growing Club, of which Mr. Greene was elected president, and out of which proceeded extensions until tree planting clubs came to be organized in all parts of the country, a movement that has had a marked influence upon the general encouragement of reforestation throughout the United States. Mr. Greene's natural interest in matters of local historical interest prompted him as the moving spirit in the creation of a local museum at Monterey, accretions to which as the years have passed have secured for Monterey an exhibit of relics of pioneer times and of articles of interest to students of natural history that has proved a strong attraction not only to residents, but to the thousands of tourists that annually visit the Peninsula, also Pacific Grove Museum. A true lover of outdoor sports, Mr. Greene was one of the organizers in 1885-6 of the California State Roller Skating Polo League, was elected first president of that body and drew up the by-laws and rules by which the league was governed. For thirty years he has been an active member of the Olympic Club. If the claim ever is definitely established that in San Francisco was organized the first bicycle club in America, then Mr. Greene may definitely claim to be the senior bicycle-club captain in the country, for he was the captain of that historic club of bicycle enthusiasts that was organized at San Francisco in the middle '80s. He also was one of the original promoters of rink polo and as a fancy or "trick" roller skater won numerous championship prizes in the palmy days of that exhilarating sport. As a base ball player in his younger days he also found much sport and was a member of that famous old California team that made a tour of the Eastern states back in the '70s. For some years he was the manager of the old Mission League of baseball clubs and also for years was the vice president of the California State Fish, Game and Forest Protective League.

Mr. Greene has been twice married. In 1873 he was united in marriage to Miss Belle Little. To this union were born two children, William and Ursula. By a later marriage Mr. Greene was the father of two sons, one of whom died in childhood. The other son, Harry A. Greene, Jr., an alumnus of Stanford University, continues to make his home at Monterey. He was the original organizer of the Bank of Monterey. He also erected the Monterey Hotel which he still owns, was also promoter of the Monterey Electric Light Company, one of the first electric light plants in California.

Source: History of Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, California : cradle of California's history and romance : dating from the planting of the cross of Christendom upon the shores of Monterey Bay by Fr. Junipero Serra, and those intrepid adventurers who accompanied him, down to the present day. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1925, 890 pgs.