Prunedale is a census-designated place in Monterey County, California, United States. Prunedale is located 8 miles (13 km) north of Salinas, at an elevation of 92 feet (28 m). The population was 7600 residents at the time of the 2000 census. But the sign now reads 10,897 as of 2008. Plum trees were grown in Prunedale in the early days of its founding but the trees died soon after due to poor irrigation and fertilizer. Some locals on occasion call the area “Prunetucky.” The origin of this term references the often unkind but sometimes true stereotypical characteristics of the populace, which had a large population of Dust Bowl migrants from the Rural Midwestern and Southern United States (“Okies,” et al.).
One of the area’s earliest settlers was Charles Langley, a Watsonville banker, who also operated the Prunedale post office. The Prunedale post office opened in 1894, closed in 1908, and re-opened in 1953. He helped establish the Watsonville post office mail service in Prunedale. Langley Canyon Road in Prunedale is named after the Langley family. It was around the time of Prunedale’s founding that the plum orchard failed due to a lack of irrigation and fertilizer, yet the name Prunedale was retained. The unincorporated area maintains a rural feel in most areas.
A major development in the area’s history occurred when U.S. Route 101 was rerouted through Prunedale between 1931 and 1932. Highway 101 had previously routed directly from Salinas to San Juan Bautista. That old route is now known as San Juan Grade Road. In 1946, Highway 101 was widened to 4 lanes. Highway 101 through Prunedale remains one of the few areas on the 101 highway outside of San Francisco where there is cross traffic on the highway. As Prunedale has grown, increased traffic congestion made Route 101 through Prunedale a Traffic Safety Corridor and a double traffic fine zone in the late 1990’s and early 00’s, with reduced speed limits to 55. Detailed plans to build a 101 bypass of Prunedale did not develop. After Caltrans purchased the land for the bypass, it was resolved to improve the highway through Prunedale by adding a San Miguel Canyon overpass, improving the Highway 101 and Highway 156 interchange, making more turn and merge lanes, and making several other improvements on the roadway. These improvements were completed in the early 2000s. In the last few years, with a decline in traffic fatalities, the speed limit was increased to 60 miles per hour via state traffic formulas.
One of the original businesses to inhabit Prunedale was Glenn’s. In the 1980s, the Prunedale Shopping Center was built, and the Prunedale Senior Citizen’s Center was built with grant funds secured by then Monterey County Supervisor Marc Del Piero. Meals for seniors and public assistance programs continue to be operated from that facility. In the 1990s, the Prunetree Shopping Center opened for business. This name for a commercial institution is unusual because there is in fact no such thing as a prune tree. Plums grow on trees, of course, but prunes are simply plums that have been dried after falling or being harvested from the tree.
Prunedale is located at 36°46′33″N 121°40′11″W / 36.77583°N 121.66972°W / 36.77583; -121.66972.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 46.2 square miles (119.6 km²), of which, 46.1 square miles (119.5 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.11%) is water. Langley Creek flows by highway 101 through Prunedale.
As of the census of 2000, there were 16,432 people, 5,440 households, and 4,292 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 356.3 people per square mile (137.6/km²). There were 5,591 housing units at an average density of 121.2/sq mi (46.8/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 76.97% White, 1.27% African American, 1.03% Native American, 3.60% Asian, 0.17% Pacific Islander, 11.65% from other races, and 5.30% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 23.01% of the population.
There were 5,440 households out of which 34.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 66.1% were married couples living together, 8.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 21.1% were non-families. 15.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.01 and the average family size was 3.33.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 26.2% under the age of 18, 7.7% from 18 to 24, 27.4% from 25 to 44, 28.7% from 45 to 64, and 10.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 102.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101.4 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $62,963, and the median income for a family was $69,341. Males had a median income of $48,863 versus $34,542 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $24,318. About 6.0% of families and 7.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.6% of those under age 18 and 6.0% of those age 65 or over. Most of Prunedale’s residents live in single family detached homes with individual or shared wells and leach fields.
In the hills above Prunedale is one of the few known colonies of Yadon’s piperia, an endangered species of wild orchid. Royal Oaks Park and Manzanita Park offer nearby recreation. Much of Prunedale’s land is oak reserve to protect the California’s native trees.