The Lara-Soto Adobe’s early history bears an atmosphere of mystery. While legal records show that the property was first granted to Dona Feliciana Lara in 1849 (one of the few lots granted directly to a woman), legend says that the huge Monterey cypress in the front yard was planted as a seedling over the grave of a child who died in infancy in a house that stood there in the 1830s. The property disappeared from the tax rolls in the 1860s, but it reappears in the 1890s, occupied by Manuel Soto and his Indian wife, Felicidad.
In any case, the adobe was still registered to Dona Lara until 1905 when her estate sold it for back-taxes. Josephine Blanch, an artist, purchased the adobe in 1919, restored it, and lived there until October, 1944, when she sold it to John Steinbeck.
Steinbeck, his second wife, Gwyn, and their infant son, Thom, lived there for just one eventful year. In January, 1945, his novel Cannery Row was published; in April, the Steinbecks left for Mexico, where Emilio Fernandez was filming The Pearl, never to return. Still, Steinbeck loved it, calling it “a house I have wanted since I was a little kid.”
After Steinbeck sold the house, it was used as a doctor’s office before being given to the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The building was extensively remodeled by MIIS in 1987, maintaining the original style of the façade.