Friday, October 11, 2019

People: Fair, Flood, Davis, and Silent

Like in much of the United States in the 1870s, the Gilded Age hit California hard. Although the Gold Rush had officially ended twenty-five years earlier, the bonanza from the Comstock Lode and inspired entrepreneurs continued to invest in California infrastructure with dreams that far outpaced reality. Several of these investors were involved in the South Pacific Coast Railroad project, including James Graham Fair, James Cair Flood, Alfred Edwin Davis, and Charles G. Silent.

Alfred Davis of the South Pacific Coast Railroad, Lloyd Trevis of Wells Fargo, and a banker named Schroeder at the Great Court of the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco, c. 1876. Stereograph by Carleton Watkins. [Public domain]
"Slipper Jim" Fair was an Irish-born immigrant who came to Illinois in 1843 to become a farmer. But county life was not for him so he relocated to California in 1850 to hunt for gold. After several years prospecting and working as a mine superintendent, he got a job as superintendent of the Hale & Norcross Mine in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1867. It was here that Fair met a San Francisco saloon owner named James Flood.

A relatively young James Fair, c. 1870s. [Public domain]
Unlike Fair, Flood was born and raised on Staten Island, New York, although his parents were both Irish. But just like Fair, he tired of his life in the East and sailed for California in 1849. After several years prospecting with some success, Flood opened up a saloon in San Francisco in 1857 but soon sold the operation to become a stockbroker. The increasing potential of the Comstock mines in Virginia City caused Flood to switch his interests to mine investments, prompting him to enter into a partnership with Fair. Together, with William S. O'Brien and John William Mackay, Fair and Flood took over the Consolidated Virginia Mining Company in 1871. Two years later, one of the richest mixed gold and silver veins ever discovered was found within their mines and the four men became the wealthiest people on the West Coast.

James Flood at his height of power, c. 1880s. [Public domain]
By 1876, Fair and Flood had so much money that they didn't know what to do with it. But one thing they both understood was that the Central Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads, under the control of the Big Four, had a vice grip on Bay Area commerce. As Flood became interested in banking and further investments, Fair began to look at the East Bay and and saw its potential for real estate investments. Meanwhile, the defunct Santa Clara Valley Railroad had begun a railroad line between Santa Clara and Dumbarton Point in the early 1870s near the proposed site of Newark, and Fair saw its potential as a part of something bigger.

Portrait of Fair in the 1890s. Photograph by Charles Lainer. [Public domain]

However, Fair would have gotten nowhere without the encouragement of Alfred Davis. "Hog" Davis, as he was rudely called by many of his critics, was a New Jersey-born Forty Niner who quickly decided that panning for gold was not his thing. Settling in the Santa Clara Valley, Davis became a farmer and visionary. As Fair became more interested in developing the lower East Bay, he and Davis became acquainted and Davis revealed to him his grand plans for a railroad line that would rival Southern Pacific. Fair, with all of his millions sitting in banks, was sold. He in turn convinced Flood of the potential of the scheme, who came on as a silent partner and effectively owned half of the company.

Trevis, Schroeder, and Davis on the balcony at the Palace Hotel, c. 1876.
Stereograph by Carleton Watkins. [Public domain]
The South Pacific Coast Railroad was incorporated in 1876 as a successor to the earlier Santa Clara Valley Railroad. However, its goal was both small and grand. In the short term, Davis and Fair planned to build a narrow-gauge railroad route between Alameda Point north of Oakland to Santa Cruz. One of Davis's ambitions in the project was to establish a new city midway between Oakland and San José named Newark, after his hometown in New Jersey. In the longer term, the two men hoped to expand the line into the San Joaquin Valley and south, where it would meet up with the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad, thereby forming the first and only narrow-gauge transcontinental railroad line.

Davis overlooking the balcony at the Palace Hotel, c. 1876. Stereograph by Carleton Watkins. [Public domain]
Davis became the public face of the company as president and treasurer while Fair and Flood faded more into the background. This was intentional. Davis was by far the better negotiator and the more congenial of the three, and he also had lived in the Bay Area for over twenty-five years whereas Fair and Flood were more recent and transient residents. As the railroad headed south, it was left to Davis to find a way through the Santa Cruz Mountains. And similarly, it was he who had to negotiate with the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad in order to annex their operation to the larger South Pacific Coast machine. His sparing partner in this task was Charles Silent.

Portrait of Charles Silent, 1916. [Public domain]
Silent was a German-born immigrant, younger than the other three men in this elite group, who arrived in California in 1856. Throughout the 1860s, Silent trained as a lawyer and educator, and achieved both goals in 1868 and 1872 respectively. It was while he worked for the San José legal firm of Moore, Laine & Silent that he became interested in the local railroad industries. As early as 1873, Silent was found in Santa Cruz County informally surveying and negotiating a proposed flume from King's Creek to the California Powder Works, from where a railroad line would run to the Monterey Bay. Unsurprisingly, Silent then became president of the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company and the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad the next year.

Paralleling Davis, Silent was a very hands-on manager and visited Santa Cruz regularly to ensure that his two projects were operating at peak efficiency. Railroad engineer Fowler Pope mentions him frequently in his journal in mostly positive terms while demonstrating how often Silent visited the railroad to ensure its ongoing success. Silent often assisted with the railroad operations or ran errands for the engine crews. When he wasn't in Santa Cruz, he was continuing his other profession as an attorney. And it is in this capacity that Silent first met the board of directors of the South Pacific Coast Railroad. By September 1876, Silent's firm represented the railroad company, linking Silent and the railroad financially.

Davis from a print publication,
c. 1880s. [Public domain]
It seems certain that Silent was involved in the early negotiations for the South Pacific Coast Railroad to acquire the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. Davis had already finished his survey of the route by early 1877 and concluded that leasing the short-line railroad would be the cheapest option. Around this time, Silent founded the Felton & San Lorenzo Valley Railroad as a potential rival to the South Pacific Coast, although it was undoubtedly just a bluff to increase the value of the existing line. Throughout 1877, Silent oversaw the upgrading of the trackage to higher-quality steel with gentler curves. This was likely to support an eventual buyout by the South Pacific Coast. While negotiations were still ongoing, however, Silent was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Arizona in February 1878. His sudden departure may have been a primary reason for the delay in the signing of the lease agreement with the South Pacific Coast in early 1879 through the assistance of Silent's former partners in San José. Under this agreement, Davis became the new president of the railroad and, over the next few years, became president of all of the subsidiary railroads that were built or operated by the South Pacific Coast in Oakland, the San Lorenzo Valley, and the Almaden Valley.

The success of the South Pacific Coast Railroad was significant but short-lived. The primary route was completed in 1880 while subsequent branches were built over the next seven years. The ferry service between Alameda Point and San Francisco proved very popular through these years, while picnic and summery excursions to the Santa Cruz Beach and Big Trees were a treat for Bay Area residents. By 1887, the South Pacific Coast had proven the value and potential of a narrow-gauge railroad network, but the planned expansion to the south and a meetup with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad never materialized. Frederick Delger, an Oakland business owner, owned the right-of-way for Telegraph Avenue, which proved to be a vital road that was needed in order to continue the railroad into the Central Valley. Delger refused to sell or lease the land, and the planned transcontinental line died an inglorious death.

Official portrait of Fair during his time in Washington, DC, c. 1880s. Photograph by Brady-Handy.
[Library of Congress]
Flood later in life, c. 1880s.
[Public domain]
However, the real reason it was short-lived was not because the scheme failed, but because the investors had lost interest in the project. At the end of 1880, Fair was elected to the United States Senate representing Nevada, where he spent six years doing little other than advocating to retain the silver standard. Meanwhile, Flood founded the Nevada Bank in order to fight the Bank of California for control of Western banking. Both men also began heavily investing in real estate at a time when the Homestead Act was giving away land for free to eligible settlers. Flood's bubble burst in early 1887 when he failed to corner the global wheat market, although through strategic stock manipulation, he was able to keep a significant fortune. Nonetheless, he had tired of the Bay Area and demanded the returns on his investment from Fair, eventually suing his former partner for misrepresenting the financial potential of the South Pacific Coast Railroad. Meanwhile, Fair was jaded from his six year Senate term and had used his final year in office to open up negotiations with his long-time rival, the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Silent's beautiful Rancho Los Alisas in Glendora, c. 1910s. [Paul Spitzzeri]
In May 1887, Fair bought out Flood and consolidated the various companies under his control into the South Pacific Coast Railway, which he promptly sold to Southern Pacific in July. Davis remained president of all of the companies and the combined company until Southern Pacific took control. At this point, the three men parted ways. Fair remained at his home in San Francisco until his new home was finished in 1890. He died in 1894 leaving $40 million dollars to his two daughters (a son had been disinherited). Flood moved to Heidelberg, Germany and died there in 1889, leaving behind two children and a large fortune. Davis retired to San Francisco and lived there for twenty more years, losing his house in the fires following the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. He moved into his daughter's home and died on January 6, 1907. Lastly, Silent left Arizona in 1883 and moved to Los Angeles, where he became involved in the beautification of local parks. He died on December 14, 1918 in Glendora.

The Flood Mansion (right) next to the Huntington Mansion and the Crocker Mansion in San Francisco, 1902. The Crocker and Huntington mansions burned down in the 1906 Earthquake. The Fairmont Hotel is located to the right of the Flood Mansion (of camera). [Joseph Greco]
The legacy of all four men lives on in various ways. Silent's primary impact on the present is the railroad route that still operates between Felton and Santa Cruz along San Lorenzo Gorge. Had it not been for his sometimes heavy-handed oversight, that operation may have had the same fate as so many similar schemes. His son died in 1907 and Silent founded the Chester Place subdivision, one of the first gated communities in Los Angeles, in his memory. Similarly, Davis directed all of the company's day-to-day operations, including surveying and building the routes, and portions of these routes still operate today in various ways, from tourist railroads and horsecar lines to formal Union Pacific Railroad operations. Fair's legacy, besides his railroad, is the Fairmont Hotel in downtown San Francisco, built in his memory by his daughters Theresa and Virginia, and his 1890 home, which is now run as the Queen Anne Hotel, also in San Francisco. He is also the namesake of several Fair Avenues found throughout the Bay Area and in Santa Cruz. Flood's home, the James C. Flood Mansion on Nob Hill, is a National Historic Landmark and remains one of the most prominent buildings in San Francisco. It was the first brownstone building west of the Mississippi and was the only mansion to almost completely survive the 1906 earthquake and fires. His son also had the Flood Building erected in his honor, and it remains a commercial building in San Francisco that continues to be owned by the Flood family.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, October 4, 2019

Railroads: Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad

Sometimes it is necessary to outsource a project to save time and money. And while this may not be the most popular truth, it certainly was the case on November 9, 1874, when the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad was incorporated by a group of Santa Clara County elites. In all fairness, locals had their chance...several times, in fact. Projects to build a railroad route within Santa Cruz County had been feted for over fifteen years by that time and Frederick A. Hihn's San Lorenzo Railroad had actually gone so far as to grade much of the route between Santa Cruz and Felton before a court order forced the project to halt before it installed a single rail. With Hihn's project dead in January 1874, some other source of financing was required to fund a project that could transport the millions of board feet of redwood timber from the San Lorenzo Valley to points outside the county had to be found.

The end of a Santa Cruz & Felton train showing the first-class passenger car with two men on the car and two more men and a dog posing beside it, c. 1877. Photo by F. A. Cook. [Pacific Narrow-Gauge]
The initial solution was not a railroad. In August 1874, the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Lumber Company was founded to link the city of Santa Cruz with the rich, old-growth timber tracts located over sixteen miles up the San Lorenzo River. The plan was simple enough: a V-flume would run from a lumber mill located near the confluence of Boulder Creek, Bear Creek, and the San Lorenzo River—the modern-day town of Boulder Creek—and water from various feeder creeks along the way would refresh the flume as it made its way to Santa Cruz. But as surveyors mapped the intended route and assessed potential difficulties, they realized that the final seven miles would have to snake down the steep San Lorenzo Gorge without the benefit of additional water sources. This proved entirely untenable since the county as a whole lacked rain through the summer months and flumes notoriously leaked like a sieve.

The flume-railroad interchange in Felton, with downtown visible at top-right, c. 1876.
[California State Library]
To overcome this challenge, the company decided to found the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad in November as a replacement for the last seven miles. Its major backers included Edmund J. Cox, John S. Carter, Charles Silent, and Cornelius G. Harrison, among others. Fortunately, the town of Felton had recently been established at precisely the place where the lumber would have to be unloaded from the flume and stacked onto flatcars. The town sat on a relatively high, flat meadow to the west of the river and the company set up its yards just south of town. Meanwhile, in Santa Cruz, a new pier was planned at the Santa Cruz Main Beach, which would be accessed through a deep cut made through the northwest side of Beach Hill, forever isolating Blackburn Terrace from the rest of the hill. At the pier, steamships could pick up lumber for delivery to San Francisco, Southern California, and beyond.

A man and his dog sitting beside a trestle bridge along the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's line in San Lorenzo Gorge, c. 1878. [UC Santa Cruz]
Construction of the railroad started in the winter of 1874 and progressed rapidly. Avoiding the mistakes of the failed San Lorenzo Valley Railroad, the company negotiated a right-of-way through the Davis & Cowell property. But to satisfy their demands, the route the railroad took was much higher on the hillside than the previous railroad had planned, meaning that fewer bridges were required but the route had a much steeper grade with sharper turns. Both plans had called for a tunnel at the Hogsback—a solid granite promontory that rises above the west bank of the river three miles north of Santa Cruz—but the higher elevation of the route also meant that a 0.4-mile-long trestle was required to bring the track from the top of the grade into Santa Cruz.

Men standing around at the end of the Railroad Wharf with the second-class passenger car at right and a horsecar in the distance, c. 1875. [Harold von Gorder – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
As construction continued, the erection of the pier began in April 1875, by which time two miles of the flume were already built. The Railroad Wharf, as it was called locally, was completed on June 15. Crews working for the Pacific Bridge Company were involved with the pier construction and building the eleven bridges required by the railroad and the entirety of the flume construction. Appropriate for the time, Chinese workers were involved in grading and track-laying and possibly some of the flume erection. The rails used for the narrow-gauge track were light-weight, low-grade iron, popular with small lumber operations but not especially qualified for heavy freight trains running hard on steep grades.

Closeup of the Santa Cruz stopped for a photograph over the Coon Gulch bridge with the first-class passenger car behind it, c. 1877. Photo by F. A. Cook. [Pacific Narrow-Gauge]
The company's rolling stock was light and cheap. Flatcars for lumber and boxcars for lime barrels were all built at the Carter Bros. workshop in Sausalito or locally at one of the iron foundries using Carter designs. The Carters also built the company's only two passenger cars, one a first-class carriage with glass windows and a decorated interior, the other a second-class carriage without glass and with a more austere look. The company's motive power, the twin Santa Cruz and the Felton, were H.K. Porter 0-6-0 steam locomotives. The first engine arrived at Pajaro on July 5, 1875, after which it assisted with the construction work. The Felton arrived in 1876.

The St. Charles Hotel in Santa Cruz, which served as the unofficial passenger station for the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad, c. 1875. Photo by Romanzo E. Wood. [California State Library]
The route formally opened on October 9 and was celebrated with an all-day gala, with passengers invited to take a ride in flatcars along the route to Big Trees Landing (today near Cotillion Gardens south of Felton). Freight operations commenced shortly afterwards and the first revenue shipment from the Railroad Wharf—30,000 board feet of lumber bound for Oakland—was sent on November 4. For the next five years, operations continued in a rather routine pattern, with lumber shipments made throughout summer and fall, the route virtually shut down through winter, and the cutting season running from late winter through spring. Although the line never officially offered passenger service, it was nonetheless a feature from the very beginning, with passengers riding on flatcars until the two passenger cars were purchased in 1876 and 1877. The de facto station in Santa Cruz was the St. Charles Hotel at the junction of River Street and Pacific Avenue, while a warehouse in Felton served as the northern terminus.

Downtown Santa Cruz during an event, c. 1875. Note the railroad tracks down the center of Pacific Avenue.
Photo by R. E. Wood. [CSU Chico]
Several problems confronted the railroad from its earliest days. Even before the route was completed, Santa Cruz residents complained of the railroad running down Pacific Avenue to the Railroad Wharf. The noisy and smokey iron horse with its consist of construction cars simply made downtown less appealing and too industrial. A city ordinance was therefore passed making it illegal to run locomotives through town. To correct for this, the company was forced to use horses to pull the heavy flatcars to the Railroad Wharf from a makeshift freight yard beside Mission Hill, where San Lorenzo Lumber is located today. Meanwhile, the company simultaneously began construction of a tunnel under Mission Hill that would bypass downtown altogether and run trains down the lesser-used Chestnut Street three blocks away. While all of this was occurring, the company was also forced to establish, due to a different city ordinance, the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad Company, a horsecar line that ran down the Pacific Avenue track between River Street and the Santa Cruz Main Beach. In 1877, the company sold the business to one of its financiers, James P. Pierce.

The southern end of Pacific Avenue, c. 1875, showing the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's tracks turning toward
the west toward the Railroad Wharf. A horsecar is walking away from the camera in the distance.
Photo by R. E. Wood. [CSU Chico]
The re-routing in Santa Cruz did not alleviate more serious structural problems along San Lorenzo Gorge. Only months after the route had been completed, in January 1876, large sections of the trackage in the gorge washed out partially or completely from torrential rains. This was revealed to be a recurring problem and one that the railroad's sometimes rival, the Santa Cruz Railroad, also faced along the coast. Every spring, as the mill near Boulder Creek returned to operation, the first loads of lumber were sent to repair the damaged right-of-way. It cut into profits and efficiency, but it also prompted the railroad to gradually upgrade the quality and integrity of its route, helping ensure its long-term survival.

A South Pacific Coast Railroad locomotive parked over the Shady Gulch bridge overlooking the California Powder Works, c. 1885. [California State Library]
At its peak, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad shipped hundreds of thousands of board feet of lumber per year to the Railroad Wharf in Santa Cruz. In addition, it shipped thousands of barrels of lime from the Holmes and IXL lime-works in Felton, gunpowder from the California Powder Works, and mercantile products, mail and parcels, foodstuffs, and miscellany. The company management also had aspirations: in November 1876, a new parent company was incorporated entitled the Felton & San Lorenzo Company, which intended to extend the railroad route along the path of the flume to the headwaters of Boulder Creek with additional branches up Bear Creek and to the San Lorenzo River's headwaters. It was a bold plan, but required far more money than the small company could gather.

A Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad train threading its way through the perilous San Lorenzo Gorge, c. 1878.
[University of California, Santa Cruz]
Unlike the Santa Cruz Railroad, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad survived the late 1870s, but not entirely intact. Financial mismanagement and low returns meant that the railroad was only barely surviving, and its future prospects were grim, with low lumber yields and insurmountable bottlenecks. Financial investment was required and soon to pull the company out of its doldrums. Fortunately, just such a potential savior had emerged in the Bay Area.

A section of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's line integrated into a color advertisement for the South Pacific Coast Railroad, c. 1880. [Bancroft Library]
The South Pacific Coast Railroad incorporated in May 1876 with plans to connect Alameda near Oakland with Santa Cruz. Several local investors, including Alfred E. "Hog" Davis, rolling-stock engineer Thomas Carter, and former Santa Cruz & Felton Superintendent A. Williams, joined the new railroad company. As grading crews entered the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1877, it became clear that the cheapest option for the firm was to simply purchase the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad and incorporate it into the final route. After heavy wrangling, where Santa Cruz & Felton management threatened to construct its own route to San José and the South Pacific Coast countered with a plan to build a better route down the San Lorenzo Gorge, the former agreed to being leased to the latter in 1879.

The massive, snaking composite bridge built by the South Pacific Coast Railroad over the San Lorenzo River south of Big Trees, c. 1880. Photo by C. W. J. Johnson. [Pacific Narrow Gauge]
At a point called Felton Junction, just south of Big Trees, a bridge was built over the San Lorenzo River that linked the old railroad route to the new when it was completed on September 6, 1879. Although it was another eight months before the line through the mountains was opened to through traffic, the Santa Cruz & Felton had lost most of its identity by this point. Throughout the winter and spring of 1880, the tracks were replaced, curves reduced, and a tunnel built to bypass an especially sharp curve a half mile south of Felton Junction. When regular freight traffic resumed using the route in May, it had become a core part of the South Pacific Coast line. Granted, it would always be a unique part of the line. Its grades, especially from the Hogsback to downtown Santa Cruz, were still exceptionally steep, and a few curves were still sharper than the preferred degrees, but it was undeniably part of something bigger.

The Santa Cruz outside the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's machine shop and depot in Santa Cruz, c. 1877.
[California State Railroad Museum]
The corporate independence of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad lived on for another seven years, but the reality was that the railroad had ceased to exist as a separate entity. The only physical structures the company owned were a warehouse in Felton and a machine shop in Santa Cruz near Neary Lagoon. The shop was replaced with a large facility while the warehouse remained but was leased to one of the local lime companies—probably IXL—for storage. The Santa Cruz, meanwhile, was sold, while the Felton assisted in the construction of the Felton & Pescadero Railroad beginning in late 1883. Afterwards, it too was sold to the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, along with most of the flatcars. The first class passenger car probably became the temporary end-of-track station for the Felton & Pescadero Railroad and was installed at Lorenzo until the permanent Boulder Creek station was installed further down the track in 1885. Finally, on May 23, 1887, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad was consolidated into the newly-formed South Pacific Coast Railway Company, which was promptly leased to the Southern Pacific Railroad Company on July 1.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • MacGregor, Bruce. The Birth of California Narrow-Gauge. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Curiosities: Holy City

Every religion must have its Mecca, Jerusalem, or Rome, and the ambitious cult leader William Edward Riker chose an isolated hillside above Los Gatos Creek along the highway to Santa Cruz to establish his utopian center called Holy City in 1919.

An especially decorated commercial building in Holy City, c. 1930s. Not the barber pole at left and a radio speaker at right. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
William E. Riker and his fourth wife, Lucille,
c. 1940s. [Find A Grave]
Riker was a late-comer to the utopian movement and was certainly not someone many would consider a good candidate for cult leader. Born in Oakdale in 1873, Riker became a street hawker in San Francisco until he realized that he had a skill in proselytizing. He claimed several years later that a revelation in the hills above San José in 1906 had inspired his religious beliefs, at which point he took on the mantle of "The Comforter." He turned to recruiting financially-struggling, partially-educated, middle-aged midwesterners who had found their way to California as his disciples. And the scheme worked. By 1915, he had convinced a small group of his religious qualities and they moved into 674 Hayes Street in San Francisco. Three years later, he founded, alongside Irvin Fisher and Anna Schramm, Perfect Christian Divine Way, Inc., as the face of his new religious enterprise. Almost immediately, things got weird.

In one of the group's earliest scandals in 1921, a member named Frieda Schwartz was deprived of her eight children, who were taken to be raised by the cult, and her husband, who was married off to two different women. She filed a complaint to the government, which charged Riker with grand larceny, conspiracy against public morals, and child endangerment. In the end, four children were seized by the court but were later returned to their parents and all the charges were dropped. Riker was a known bigamist even before the group was founded, but discovered that blind religious devotion meant he could coerce sex from all of his female disciples. In 1920, he was found to have seven married women living at his home in San Francisco—all without their husbands.

Downtown Holy City, 1930s. [San Francisco Gate]
Wishing to leave the city and have better control over his converts, Riker gathered funds from his disciples and purchased 142 acres of land above Los Gatos Creek near Moody Gulch beginning in 1919. Despite creating a religion based on celibacy, temperance, white supremacy, and racism, he knew that these features would not sell the cult to the public, so he instead built a false front: a town that revelled in vice. The initial buildings in the town were common features of any road-side settlement of the time, including a service station, ice cream parlor, restaurant, dance hall, and some commercial businesses. Like any good town, Holy City also acquired a post office in 1927, in effect resurrecting the former office that was in the town of Patchen. He also went all out, building a tiny airport in order to draw in more people. But these didn't sell the town, they just established it.

Streetscene, Holy City, showing the service station, January 1929. [Oakland Tribune]
Riker wanted to create a tourist trap, and he succeeded in excess. His soda fountain offered alcoholic carbonated beverages—quite unusual for the time. It also featured peep show stereoscopic machines, which directly contradicted his doctrines on celibacy and separation of the sexes but certainly underlined his belief in the inherent subservience of women under men. Meanwhile, to draw in families, his community supported a small zoo and featured nine large Santa Claus statues along the road. It also had an observatory with a telescope where people could view the moon at night. However, other features of the town emphasized just how bizarre the community really was.

Large placards lining the road into Holy City, c. 1930s. [San Francisco Gate]
Riker ran a print shop from the town that, rather than publishing books, focused almost exclusively on pamphlets, brochures, propaganda newsletters, and large placards. The pamphlets and brochures unsurprisingly advertised the merits of joining the religious community while also attacking the government and other religions. But the town was known more for its placards, which were installed along the road to and through the town and extolled the merits of the Perfect Christian Divine Way. The majority of them, though, were anti-government, vehemently sexist, or blatantly white supremacist, with some even showing distasteful depictions of the vehement rhetoric. Riker also ran the second licensed radio station in California beginning in 1929, inappropriately given the letters KFQU, which became notorious for drifting from its assigned frequency, ultimately resulting in it being shut down in April 1931 for irregularities.

Downtown Holy City showing the Glenwood Highway, January 26, 1929. [San Francisco Gate]
From its inception, Holy City was built to capitalize on the state highway that passed through the middle of the town, The Santa Cruz Highway, rebranded the Glenwood Highway in 1920, was the main thoroughfare and only paved road between San José and Santa Cruz through the mountains. The small town used the road to advertise itself and attract potential disciples. But for the residents of Holy City and its surroundings, there was another option until February 1940: the railroad. Running up Los Gatos Creek about a half-mile below the town, the Southern Pacific Railroad maintained the old branch line through the mountains and had one stop that could cater to residents of the area. Aldercroft Station had been established about fifteen years earlier at the confluence of Hendrys Creek into Los Gatos Creek. While it was about two miles away from Holy City, it was the closest stop to the state highway, so transportation from the stop to the town would have been relatively easy. Two other stops, Eva and Call of the Wild, were about the same distance but were more remote, with no paved roads nearby, so they were probably not used by residents except within the immediate vicinity of the stops.

View of the observatory and the defunct radio station in Holy City, July 9, 1953. [San Francisco Gate]
Holy City never thrived as a religious community. Only around thirty people ascribed to Riker's beliefs, although another 250 people lived in the surrounding area and frequented the town regularly. His insistence on celibacy—or abortion when a member was found pregnant—ensured that the cult would only live for so long. Riker became increasingly delusional throughout the 1930s, as well, insisting that he could cure cancer, heart disease, and several other common ailments. He was often found walking Holy City with his dog, shouting at tourists and challenging them to theological arguments. He eventually entered politics in 1938, running for governor of California under the Progressive Party. He ran three more times until finally giving up after the 1950 primaries. By that point, Riker had lost all his credibility, if he ever had any, and his town and cult were dead.

More billboards lining the road, with some extolling less tolerant traits, c. 1920s.
As a white supremacist, Riker did not condemn the Nazi Party and, indeed, subscribed to some of their periodicals, which he used to reinforce his own doctrines. In 1942, soon after Germany declared war on the United States, Riker openly declared himself in favor of the Axis Powers and wrote to Hitler directly. Riker was arrested and tried for treason, but was acquitted. By this point, the railroad through the mountains had shut down and the opening of Highway 17 in 1940 had bypassed Holy City. Most of the remaining cult members moved away at this time, since the end of the Great Depression and start of the war meant that jobs were once again in abundance. Deprived of its vital source of tourist traffic and its strange cultish allure, the town declined rapidly. Hoping to restore the community, Riker sold the property to a minor Hollywood producer, Maurice Kline, in 1956, but this just led to legal battles that led to the deincorporation of Holy City in 1959 and its abandonment by the remaining Perfect Christian Divine Way board the following year. Most of what was left of Holy City burned down, possibly by the hand of Riker, or was bulldozed over the following decade. Riker converted to Catholicism in 1966 and died three years later.

Various outbuildings that still survive around Holy City, 2015. [Mobile Ranger]

The cathedral grove behind the Holy City
post office which is thought to have been
the religious center of Riker's cult.
Pboto by Michael Maloney.
[San Francisco Gate]
When developers purchased Holy City in 1968, it was mostly populated with vagabond hippies and plans to convert the town into a campground never materialised. The location fell into decay for four decades until Grubb & Ellis purchased it in 2006. But the firm went bankrupt in 2012 and struggled to make any progress with the town, lowering its price several times to no avail. It was finally purchased in 2016 by Robert and Trish Duggan on behalf of the Church of Scientology, but its fate has yet to be determined.

The only substantial structures remaining in Holy City from Riker's time are his large Victorian home, which is now a private home, and the old post office, which has served as the Holy City Art Glass shop for many years but is now closed. One other feature from Riker's era, a stone fence wrapping around a redwood cathedral grove, allegedly served as the religious center of the cult, although details are scarce. Access to the town is via the Madrone Drive (southbound) or Redwood Estates Road (northbound) exits on Highway 17. Follow either road to the west to Oneda Court, which becomes Holy City Road. The old town site is where Holy City Road meets Old Santa Cruz Highway.

Citation & Credits:

Friday, September 20, 2019

People: The Martin Family

The railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains was not engineered and surveyed by chance or by convenience. It was a deliberate action decided by the board of the South Pacific Coast Railroad in cooperation with three influential landowners in Santa Cruz County: William P. Dougherty, Frederick A. Hihn, and Charles C. Martin. Dougherty, owner of the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, operated a large redwood mill along Zayante Creek and needed the railroad to veer into his property in order to profitably export his lumber. Hihn, who owned much of Rancho Soquel, wanted the railroad to go directly through his property to Capitola on the Monterey Bay, but he was willing to compromise and agreed to let the route pass through the upper part of Soquel Creek, where he could access at least some of his timber. Martin's substantial land was located in a valley between the Soquel Creek headwaters and the Zayante Creek basin, making him an unlikely but fortuitous beneficiary of the negotiations made by his neighbors.

Charles C. Martin tending a herd of angora goats in Glenwood, c 1900. [Margaret Koch]
Charles C. Martin, c 1890s.
[Margaret Koch]
Born in Nova Scotia around 1830, Charles Christopher Martin moved to Eastport, Maine when he was two years old and grew up surrounded by the sea. Thus, it should come as no surprise that he shipped out at the age of seventeen for a voyage around the continents for San Francisco. Traveling around Cape Horn, Martin arrived in San Francisco (then called Yerba Buena) in 1848 and jumped ship. It is unknown precisely what he was doing for the years immediately following his arrival in California, although he may have cut timber on Bodega Bay or even tried his hand at searching for gold in the Sierra foothills. He eventually made his way to Lexington, above Los Gatos, and worked as a teamster, during which time he purchased a herd of hogs that he drove to the Gold Country and made a pretty profit. He returned to the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1851 and stayed.

Martin purchased a small valley at the top of the ridge adjoining Hihn's Rancho Soquel, John M. Bean's Bean Hollow, and land owned by Charles McKiernan on the summit. Mountain Charley, as McKiernan was known, maintained the crude remnant of the Franciscan Trail as a stage road through his property, but a portion of it also went through Martin's land, so they two agreed to work together to improve the route and make it more endurable for the long ride over the mountains. McKiernan ran it as a toll road and managed the station at the summit, while Martin installed his own toll gate at the bottom of the road. Martin also setup a small stable and stage coach station where tired horses could be swapped with fresh ones. It was his first business of many in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Meanwhile, Martin was settling into his new life in the mountains. He built a rough-hewn cabin along the road and soon found a need for it when the Carver family of Maine passed through the remote valley in 1857. After their surprise at finding a fellow Mainer in the mountains, the families became close friends and Hannah Carver married Martin in 1859. Life on the mountains was hard in the 1850s and 1860s. Grizzly bears still roamed freely and often ate pigs and other livestock with little consequence.  It was one such encounter with a bear that relieved Mountain Charlie of one of his eyes. Martin, though brave, was not so reckless and simply accepted the losses.

The Glenwood Hotel at its maximum extent, c 1900. The smaller structure to the right is the Martin family home.
Martin's valley did not become a town all at once. Until the mid-1860s, nearby Bean Hollow served more as the local watering hole, although it was little more. But the tollroad, the stage stop, and Martin's charisma slowly shifted focus to his property. Martin perhaps foresaw this development and built a larger, more accommodating home lower in the valley directly alongside the road, where he and Hannah raised their children: William, Herbert Jason, Edwin Scott, Sarah, and Margaret May. Martin remained active in the local lumber scene and had stints in many of the local mills. The family also briefly relocated to the Russian River, where they picked up two Native Americans given the names "Indian Charley" and "Indian Mary." These two returned with the Martins to their little hamlet in the mountains and helped raise the three children.

Martin perhaps grew bored in the mountains because he began to make investments in businesses in downtown Santa Cruz in 1866. He ran the San Lorenzo Livery Stable for several years and also ran, with Aaron A. Goodwin, the Goodwin & Martin Stable, which was next to the Santa Cruz House downtown. But these may have been more cunning plans than they first appeared. He used the stables to advertise the merits of his growing village and encouraged people to hire horses and carriages to visit the area for picnics, fishing, parties, hunting, and bathing in Bean Creek. The scheme seemed to work, too, since Martin returned to the area permanently in the early 1870s to reap what he had sown.

Martin's winery, which sat on the bank of Bean Creek west of Glenwood Station, c 1979. [Jeff Escott]
In 1873, Martin opened a general store near his home and began calling the settlement Martinsville. But a Scottish friend complained about the name and suggested instead Glenwood. Martin accepted the change and the valley has been named Glenwood ever since. As the popularity of the town grew, Martin began branching out in his industries. He planted grapes on the hills and opened a winery. Not far away, the Glenwood Magnetic Springs opened as the first commercial accommodation in the area, although Martin quickly gradually began acting as a hosteller, first by erecting vacation cabins and tents, and later by building the Glenwood Hotel on the meadow overlooking the town. Another meadow between the tollroad and Bean Creek was clearcut, fenced, and manicured into Glenwood Grove to cater to picnickers and bathers. Martin, meanwhile, joined politics briefly as a member of the City of Santa Cruz's Common Council in 1876. This likely gave him the added leverage to negotiate with the railroad.

A passenger train at Glenwood across from the post office on a snowy winter's day, c 1930s. [Jeff Escott]
The South Pacific Coast Railroad had incorporated in 1876 with the intention of building a narrow-gauge railroad line between San José and Santa Cruz through the Santa Cruz Mountains, thereby bypassing the route taken by Southern Pacific and the Santa Cruz Railroad, which wrapped down to the Pajaro Valley and then up the coast. As the company sent survey crews into the mountains in 1877, they found several potential routes. At first considered one of the less likely, the route that meandered up Los Gatos Creek to Soquel Creek, Bean Creek, and finally Zayante Creek was chosen more because of potential profit than anything else. This route would touch upon three major timber areas, including the San Lorenzo Valley, and Martin was just happy to be at the middle and highest point of this route. Martin also had the land to spare, which the railroad needed in these early years of lighter-weight locomotives. As the railroad route neared completion in 1879, Glenwood finally made its jump from hamlet into a fully-fledged town. Construction crews built a work camp outside the Glenwood-Laurel tunnel portal and site foremen stayed in cottages beside Martin's house. At the same time, visitors began turning up to watch progress while also enjoying themselves in the beautiful scenery of the mountains.

The original Glenwood School, 1902, three years before it was destroyed in a fire. In this photo, veterans of the Spanish-American War are presenting the school with an American flag. [Margaret Koch]
As with any town, two essential elements were still required, and both appeared over the next few years. On August 23, 1880, the Glenwood Post Office was opened within Martin's general store and Martin was designated postmaster. The title remained in his family for three generations before the office finally closed on April 30, 1954, with Martin's granddaughter Margaret Koch as the last postmistress. In 1886, the town's schoolhouse opened at the junction of Glenwood Drive and Mountain Charley Road. This burned down in 1905 and a new school was built overlooking the valley north of town in 1920. The school closed in 1951 and its students were amalgamated into the Scotts Valley school district.

Advertisements for various local resorts, with the Glenwood store at left, c 1900. [Jeff Escott]
Throughout the 1880s, Glenwood was a freight town at night and a picnic stop in the day. The South Pacific Coast Railroad used the extensive yard in town to shuttle lumber flatcars to the top of the ridge and then assemble them into trains for the long haul to the yards and planing mill in Santa Clara. During the day, excursion and commuter trains passed through regularly, divesting themselves of passengers who would either remain in the valley or catch wagons to Glenwood Magnetic Springs, Villa Fontenay, Glenwood Hotel, or Summer Home. Martin benefited from all of this through ticket sales, coach and wagon rentals, road tolls, mercantile sales, postage fees, and renting rooms. Despite the influx of businesses within the valley, Glenwood was undeniably Charles Martin's town.

The Glenwood Hotel horseless carriage, designed by William Martin prior to the arrival of the Model T. William is driving the vehicle with a full load of passengers from Glenwood Station to the Glenwood Hotel, c 1905. [Margaret Koch]
The Martins kept an eclectic staff on their property, many of whom they considered family and treated as such. In addition to Indian Charley and Indian Mary, the family had a Chinese cook, a housekeeper named Phyllis Bertorelli Patten, a caretaker nicknamed Uncle Monk, and a Native American boy Hannah Martin had rescued from being killed by his tribe named Tom Martin.

Colorized postcard showing Glenwood Highway near the summit, 1920s.
Charles Martin was a pragmatic man and, as with the railroad survey crews, knew that a paved road would eventually be built through the mountains once the automobile became an essential commodity. He paid for a survey of a route in the early 1910s that went directly through his town, and the state accepted this plan in 1916, when construction of the Glenwood Highway began. In 1919, Martin placed his hands and name in the fresh concrete near his home, marking the road as his own. This was still visible when the lower portion of the road was paved over with asphalt in 1972 (the upper portion remains the original concrete road today). The completion of this road ensured that Glenwood remained on the map for many more years. Martin had a service station installed and the railroad upgraded the old station in town to match the times.

It was probably fortunate that Charles Martin died when he did. His town's future seemed secure, with the route of the main highway passing directly through it and his family in firm ownership of many of the town's utilities and services. Hannah Martin had died in April 25, 1917, but Charles held on for another three years, passing away on December 30, 1920.

An old building that once served as a brewery and dance hall for Martin's Glenwood Hotel, c 1979. [Jeff Escott]
Margaret Koch, from her obituary in the
Santa Cruz Sentinel, Jan. 21, 2011.
The Glenwood Hotel closed in 1924 due to aging infrastructure and a decline in people wishing to spend long vacations in the mountains. After the stock market crash in 1929, it became home to a State Emergency Relief Administration work crew responsible for upgrading the bridges in the area. Other nearby resorts began closing around the same time while many local residents moved to nearby cities. Ten years later, his store and service station closed down as the state highway was realigned through an alternative route through the mountains. Glenwood Highway, though an engineering marvel, was too narrow and unable to keep up with the summer and commuter traffic demands placed upon it. The abandonment of the railroad route—which officially occurred in November 1940—was preceded in 1933 with the closure of the station, although passengers could still flag passing trains or detrain at Glenwood. The school and the post office were the last to close, officially sounding the death of Glenwood as a town.

The Martin family dominated the area around Glenwood for over a hundred years as pioneers, entrepreneurs, and hostellers. They were a frequent presence in Santa Cruz and remained so into the 1990s through Margaret Koch, Martin's granddaughter and a local historian and reporter for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. And the history of Santa Cruz County itself would have been very different without Martin's vision and drive to make the most of his little valley in the mountains. He had a magnetism that drew people toward him, which allowed him to direct both a railroad company and the state roads board to run important thoroughfares directly through his town.

The Glenwood general store watering trough, with the outlined word "GENERAL" still visible, c 1979. [Jeff Escott]
Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald T. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2002.
  • Koch, Margaret R. "Glenwood: Charlie Martin's Town." Santa Cruz County History Journal 1 (1994), 107-112.
  • Koch, Margaret R. Santa Cruz County: Parade of the Past. Santa Cruz, CA: Valley Publishers, 1973.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.
  • Young, John V. Ghost Towns of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Western Tanager Press, 1984.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Curiosities: The Sun Tan Special

Passenger rail service in Santa Cruz County was nothing new in the 1920s. The Santa Cruz Railroad had first connected the county to Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division via a coastal route in 1876, and the South Pacific Coast Railroad effectively did the same via a route through the mountains in 1880. The two routes proved popular with tourists for different reasons. Both had Santa Cruz—and specifically the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk—as their ultimate destination, but whereas the coastal route had the beautiful Monterey Bay as part of its backdrop and catered to beach-goers, the mountain route was oriented more to the rugged outdoors-people and picnickers.

A Sun Tan Special at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, preparing to head off for the mountains after picking up passengers, June 11, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
In 1927, two years before the stock market crash that would trigger the Great Depression, railroad patronage was still relatively high despite the increase in automobile ownership. At the time, Santa Cruz County had a robust passenger rail system via two competing routes, both controlled by Southern Pacific. Yet the railroad company had an idea to make some extra money on the side.

The inaugural Miss California Bathing Beauty Contest participants at the Santa Cruz Main Beach wearing the form-fitting swimsuit styles of the period, 1924. Fay Lanphier, Miss Oakland (front-center), later became Miss America in 1925.
[Santa Cruz Life]
The summer months were always a popular vacation time with children home from school and the weather warm enough to swim in the often frigid Monterey Bay. By the 1920s, the prudish swimming costumes of the 1910s had finally given way to simpler swimsuits that allowed flexibility and movement, and women for the first time could feel comfortable wading or swimming without the need of a bath cart or floor-length wool swimming dress. The Santa Cruz Main Beach had been a popular swimming spot since the 1860s but the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, composed of the Casino, the Plunge, the Casa del Rey Hotel, the recently-opened Giant Dipper roller coaster, and several other rides and attractions, increased its popularity and drew crowds from throughout the Bay Area. But the Glenwood Highway—the main thoroughfare to Santa Cruz from San José—was crowded on sunny summer days, and the weekend commuter trains were insufficient to keep up with passenger traffic.

Sun Tan Special heading across Los Gatos Creek just south of Los Gatos on its way to Santa Cruz, 1937.
[Wilbur C. Whittaker]
On Fourth of July weekend, 1927, Southern Pacific district passenger agent George B. Hanson ran a special excursion train between San José and Santa Cruz via the direct route through the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was intended to be a one-off special express train, with stops at Big Trees (Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park), Santa Cruz, and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Because of the holiday, most of Southern Pacific's locomotives and passenger cars were sitting idle, so appropriating them for a special was easy enough to do. In the end, the excursion trains outdid Southern Pacific's wildest imagination and were a massive success. Two more trains ran over the first summer on September 5 (Labor Day) and September 9 (Admission Day). In 1928, service was expanded to begin on Memorial Day—May 30—and run every two weeks plus holidays until Admission Day. The year 1929 inaugurated weekly Sunday service. Lacking any formal name, the newspapers and advertisements at the time simply called these trains "Popular Excursions."

A Sun Tan Special passing Capitola Station, July 4, 1940. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
It took three years for these seasonal excursion trains to get the official green light from Southern Pacific management. In October 1930, the route was finally christened the Sun Tan Special and it became Santa Cruz County's only official named excursion service. The name was a reference to several things: its destination was the beach; people went to the beach for a tan and needed suntan lotion; the fact that the train initially ran on Sundays (although in later years it often ran on Saturdays, as well); and the name harkened to the Sunset Route, one of Southern Pacific Railroad's most popular transcontinental excursions.

A Sun Tan Special passing by Aptos Station, May 28, 1939. [Wilbur C. Whittaker]
Beginning in 1931, the Sun Tan Special ran every weekend and holiday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, charging only $1.00 for a round trip from San José. An increase of special excursion trains throughout that summer season led to Southern Pacific expanding the route all the way to San Francisco in 1932. Three to four trains per day ran between the two stations and were packed full of beachgoers. The time it took to travel between San Francisco and Santa Cruz was almost precisely three hours each way. A second Sun Tan Special with its origin in Oakland joined the established route in 1934, and this allowed the original train to run via the Mayfield Cut-off, avoiding San José entirely and cutting off time from the run. Up to seven trains ran each direction in summer months in the mid- to late-1930s, all of them being led by two locomotives to overcome the steep and twisting terrain of the Santa Cruz Mountains and specifically San Lorenzo Gorge. At least one train also ran each operating day along the coast to Watsonville Junction to drop passengers off at Seabright, Capitola, and Aptos.

A Sun Tan Special heading back over the San Lorenzo River after picking up tourists at the Boardwalk, c. 1950.
Photo by Fred Stoes. [Jim Vail]
The damage sustained to the route through the Santa Cruz Mountains in the winter storm of late February 1940 led to the abandonment of that trackage in November. It did not, however, stop the Sun Tan Specials from coming to the Boardwalk. Beginning on April 28, 1940, the Sun Tan Special took a more circuitous route south of San José through Gilroy and Pajaro Gap and then along the Santa Cruz Branch to Casino Station. The net difference in time was only about thirty minutes despite the significantly longer route. This was due to the more level terrain and gentler curves, which allowed the trains to go faster. Many Sun Tans continued north to Big Trees to give tourists a taste of the earlier route and a place to picnic under the redwoods. One casualty of the change was that the Oakland Sun Tans were cancelled, although a regular passenger train was rescheduled to be able to meet the southbound Sun Tans (to return home, passengers detrained at San Francisco and took a train across the newly-opened Bay Bridge to Oakland).

A row of Sun Tan Special locomotives sitting beneath the watertower at Santa Cruz Station, July 31, 1949.
[Wilbur C. Whittaker]
The first year that the Sun Tan Special ran along the Santa Cruz Branch generated record profits, further proving to Southern Pacific that they did not need the route through the mountains. This year and 1941 benefited from a public still recovering from the Great Depression and an economy gearing up for the country's inevitable entry into World War II. Indeed, the special excursios ran right through Labor Day and only stopped on September 21 that year. However, when war finally did break out at the end of the year, it meant a temporary cessation to all non-vital railroad traffic along the coast. The Sun Tan Special was put on hold for the duration of the war and tourism in Santa Cruz County screeched to a halt as gasoline and food were rationed and coastal lighting dimmed.

The iconic photograph of the first Sun Tan Special after World War II arriving at the Boardwalk, July 4, 1947.
Photo by Fred Stoes. [Jim Vail]
For six long years, Santa Cruz County lacked any passenger service, and ongoing military control of the railroad network meant that even after the war, special excursion trains could not return to service. But on July 4, 1947, the Sun Tan Special came back to Santa Cruz at last. And these trains were long—often more than twenty cars—carrying hundreds of passengers to the beach. At Watsonville Junction (Pajaro), the train would lose its high-efficiency locomotive and be replaced with two nimble consolidation engines that could handle the hills and curves of the Santa Cruz Coast.

Bands on the Entrance 2 stairs welcoming the arrival of a Sun Tan Special, 1941. [Santa Cruz Seaside Company]
Life on the Sun Tan Special was an exciting affair. Despite the three-hour slog to Santa Cruz from San Francisco, people were excited. Everyone was dressed for the beach and some people had brought anything more than their swimsuits and towels. Food carts were rolled up and down the train for the entire run, offering candy, coffee, and healthier snacks. Most trains ran a beauty contest en route to determine who would reign as the Beauty Queen of the train. All Sun Tans also featured an open-ended observation car at the end. Upon arrival at Casino Station, the Cocoanut Grove band played several Big Band songs, welcoming passengers to the Santa Cruz Main Beach. The return journey, though equal in length and time, usually was quieter, with many of the passengers sleeping off the salt air or relaxing with views of the mountains and ocean.

An advertising pamphlet, c. 1949, showing the schedule and some of the features of the Sun Tan Special. [Jim Vail]
On its original route, the Sun Tans left San Francisco at 7:55am and arrived at Casino Station around 10:30. The train departed at 4:50pm and arrived back in San Francisco at 8:25. After 1940, the first train left San Francisco at 8:17am and arrived at Casino at 11:40. It departed Casino at 5:20pm and returned to San Francisco at 8:50. The train made several stops along its route from San Francisco, picking up or dropping off passengers at Burlingame, Palo Alto, Fruitvale, San José, Watsonville Junction, and Capitola.

Several Sun Tan Special trains parked at Santa Cruz Station, awaiting the trip back to San José, 1950s.
[Gene O'Lague Jr.]
The 1950s were the hay-day of the Sun Tan Special. In 1956, annual passenger numbers reached an all-time record of 15,485 riders along any of the Sun Tan routes. Every year of the 1950s saw at least 10,000 passengers per year. But in 1957, ridership dropped for the first time since the service had begun in 1927. And it was a fairly drastic drop: 3,000 riders. As often happens in such situations, fingers were pointed with Southern Pacific claiming declining interest and members of the public claiming the railroad was neglecting the line. Both were probably true. By this time, the Sun Tan Special was the last regularly-scheduled summer excursion train operating in America. It was a nuisance to run and Southern Pacific may have been looking for ways to get out of their assumed obligations to Santa Cruz. By the mid-1950s, the Sun Tan Special schedule was beginning later in the season—in mid-June— and the trains were gradually becoming shorter with fewer trains running on summer weekends. However, the trains that did run were still packed, which probably led to a public presumption that the service was still doing just fine. Even the changeover to diesel locomotives in 1957, which ostensibly saved money since they did not require the level of attention as steam locomotives and could perform the entire journey with a single locomotive without the need to refuel, did not delay the inevitable end.

Mary Ann Arras of Boulder Creek advertising the Suntan Special, 1958. [Santa Cruz Seaside Company]
The last Sun Tan ran on Labor Day—September 7—1959. At the time, nobody, including Southern Pacific, knew that the special had made its last run. There was still the assumption that service would resume the next year until April 10, 1960, when the railroad company pronounced the Sun Tan Special's death. Southern Pacific claimed that it was a "money losing train," but passenger numbers alone prove that this was a patent lie. While numbers in 1959 were only 7,752—nearly half that of three years before—the railroad had almost entirely given up advertising the trains and was doing everything it could to undermine its potential success. Quite simply, the railroad no longer wanted to deal with running trains on weekends, maintaining the Santa Cruz Branch trackage to passenger quality levels, or organizing the consists that would be required to run the trains each week in the summer.

A rare photograph of a Sun Tan Special being led by a mixed consist of diesel and steam locomotives, c. 1958.
[Arthur Lloyd]
The dream of the Sun Tan lived on, though. On July 4, 1960, a chartered excursion train borrowed the name Sun Tan Special and ran to the Boardwalk and Big Trees, as had many official Sun Tans done for the past three decades. These chartered trains continued to run every year through 1964, while chartered Big Trees picnic trains ceased in 1965. At this point, Southern Pacific reclassified all trackage in Santa Cruz County for light freight use only. And since they were the exclusive common carrier and the track was all their property, nobody could do much to change this situation. For thirty-one years, no passenger train ran along the Santa Cruz Branch, although Roaring Camp Railroads did purchase the Felton Branch in 1985 and began running a private tourist train to the Boardwalk in 1987 under the name Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway. This service still operates seasonally.

Beach traffic at the Pacific Avenue-Beach Street intersection near the wharf, 1970s. [Ann Fuellenbach]
Between 1971 and 1995, the idea of restoring the Sun Tan Special was one of the primary motivations for proposals of rebuilding the former railroad route through the Santa Cruz Mountains and restoring passenger service along the Santa Cruz Branch. The idea came up constantly, despite heavy resistance from both Southern Pacific and vocal groups of Santa Cruz residents. Proposition 116, passed in 1990, encouraged funding for rail projects throughout California and made funds available for such purposes. But public resistance was still high and the wheels of bureaucracy turned slowly. Meanwhile, summer weekend traffic to Santa Cruz via Highway 17 and Highway 1 continued to increase to a point where people sometimes waited three to four hours to travel from the Bay Area to the Boardwalk.

The "Return of the Sun Tan Special" train at Aptos, May 18, 1996. [Aptos Museum]
When Southern Pacific and Union Pacific merged in 1996, it provided an unprecedented opportunity to restore passenger service along the line. Three demonstration trains were arranged that would each feature different options for passenger service along the Santa Cruz Branch. The first and most popular event was held on May 18, 1996 and involved a pair of Amtrak-Caltrain trains hauling 1,250 passengers to the Boardwalk from San José in an event entitled "Return of the Sun Tan Special." It stopped at Watsonville, Aptos, and Capitola on its way to the Boardwalk.

The Amtrak Flexliner passing the abandoned Watsonville Station, August 1996. [Sam Reeves]
In August, an Amtrak IC3 Flexliner running as the "Coastal Cruzer" transported an additional 1,000 fare-paying passengers between the two locations. The Flexliner was composed of six passenger cars and stopped at Aptos and Capitola on its way to the Boardwalk. At the Boardwalk, passengers were let off and three cars were detached while the rest of the train continued to Wilder Ranch.

The demonstration RegioSprinter in Campbell, December 20, 1996.
At the end of the year as a part of the First Night Santa Cruz annual event, a RegioSprinter running as the "First Night Trolley" was introduced. The trolley could seat seventy-four passengers per run and simply ran a ten-minute circuit from Chestnut Street to demonstrate the merits of the system. Santa Cruz County officials hoped to use the trolley to demonstrate a potential intra-county rail system for future commuter service. They estimated that roughly 2,000 people rode the trolley for the First Night event.

An Iowa Pacific train parked outside Neptune's Kingdom at the Boardwalk, 2012.
Despite the runaway success of the three demonstration trains, Union Pacific showed no interest in allowing regular passenger service—even seasonally—along its line to Santa Cruz and shut down future runs. This resistance eventually prompted the Santa Cruz Country Regional Transportation Commission to look into purchasing the line outright. This process began in 2001 and took over a decade to complete.

The St. Paul & Pacific Railroad's City of Watsonville hauling freight in Watsonville, August 16, 2018.
[Santa Cruz Sentinel]
In recent years, there has been increasing interest in reviving the sixty-year-defunct Sun Tan Special in some form. Iowa Pacific Holdings, running as the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway, played with the idea during their five years as a common carrier, but made no actual effort toward restoring any passenger service along the line. Progressive Rail, operating as the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, which took over common carrier duties in 2018, also has promised a return of the Sun Tan and has put more serious planning in such a proposal. Their goal is to establish summer weekend train service between San José's Diridon Station to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk via Watsonville Junction (Pajaro). To accomplish this, they would coordinate with the Transit Authority for Monterey County (TAMC), which could also use the revived service to send excursion trains to Monterey Station once the Monterey Branch is rehabilitated. One of the ongoing difficulties is the fact that Union Pacific, which owns the trackage between San José and Pajaro, has been reluctant to reinstate a passenger station at Watsonville Junction and it could also potentially conflict with the company's regular freight operations. Further opposition from within Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties and foot-dragging from all parties has seen these proposals never move beyond rhetoric. Only the future can tell whether the Sun Tan Special returns to bring tourists to the beaches of Santa Cruz again.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News and Santa Cruz Sentinel, various articles, 1927-1960.
  • Scott, Barry. Personal correspondence and Facebook group posts.
  • Stindt, Fred A. "Sun-Tan Special." Archival material. Watsonville, CA: Pajaro Valley Historical Association.
  • Whaley, Derek R. "The End of the Line: The Abandonment of Passenger Services in Santa Cruz County, California." Railroad History (Fall 2016), pp. 12-33.
  • Willenjohn, Chuck. "From San Jose to the Sea: SP's Suntan." Passenger Train Journal (April 1994), 26-31.
  • Whiting, Ted III. "Riding the Sun Tan Special." Blog post. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. May 17, 2018.