Friday, September 25, 2020

Railroads: Love Creek Railroad

Logging activity in the Santa Cruz Mountains was on the rise in the 1880s. Redwood mills from south of Felton to north of Boulder Creek and along many of the San Lorenzo River's feeder creeks rapidly expanded following the construction of the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Transportation Company's v-flume that ran down the valley. It alongside its subsidiary Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad brought millions of board feet of lumber to market via the Railroad and Powder Works Wharves at the Santa Cruz Main Beach. James Pieronett Pierce, a Santa Clara entrepreneur and speculator, wanted in on the local action and approached the task from several angles. Already the founder and president of the Bank of Santa Clara, Pierce used his wealth to embed himself within Santa Cruz County community and industries. He purchased the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad line in 1877 as well as the Santa Cruz Opera House. He became a director in both the railroad and flume projects. But more importantly to Santa Cruz history, he bought the land of Harry Love midway between Felton and Boulder Creek in order to harvest thousands of acres of redwood timber.

A waterfall below a narrow wooden bridge on Love Creek, c. 1900.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]
Captain Harry Love, 1860s.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries –
colorized using DeOldify]
The California Ranger Harry Love was famous for having tracked down and killed the outlaw Joaquín Murrieta Carrillo on July 25, 1853. In the late 1850s and 1860s, Love lived on a ranch three miles north of Felton along a creek later named after him. At some point in the mid-1860s, Love fell on hard times and sold portions of his ranch to several individuals, including a Captain Staple, who grew Christmas trees on a section and otherwise worked for George Treat's sawmill south of Felton, and Charley Brown, who ran a mid-sized lumber mill somewhere along Love Creek. James Pierce bought Staple's property around 1876. The original tract encompassed the entire west bank of the Love Creek basin, which at the time was estimated to contain between thirty and fifty million board feet of redwood timber. Across from the confluence of Love Creek and the San Lorenzo River, Pierce built his baronial summer residence on a slight rise from where he could view the entire surrounding valley. This property would later evolve into Hotel Rowardennan in the 1890s, but in the meantime, Pierce grew hay for the livestock used in his logging operations.

In 1877, Pierce bought the Enterprise Mill on Love Creek from John Mill, presumably a relative of Harry's. Two years later, he incorporated the Pacific Manufacturing Company. By 1881, he had bought out a former business partner, H. W. McKoy, and took control of his mill as well and shipped this new machinery up the San Lorenzo River. At the confluence of Love Creek and the river, he erected a mid-sized lumber mill, which grew quickly as Pierce added more machinery and expanded the size of the affiliated settlement, initially known as Pacific Mills. During the next few years, he joined many other lumber firms in using the flume that passed through the village to transport lumber to market. When the Felton & Pescadero Railroad snaked through the area in mid-1884 to replace the flume, Pierce jumped at the opportunity to expand his reach up Marshall and Love Creeks, areas which had only lightly been harvested thus far.

County survey map showing parcels for sale in Ben Lomond with all of the Southern Pacific and Pacific Manufacturing Company's trackage in town, September 1887. [Santa Cruz County Records]
From the time that the new railroad passed through his mill town, Pierce planned to install private narrow-gauge railroad tracks to his timber tracts. Other local lumber firms had already done so including the Santa Clara Mill & Lumber Company, the Union Mill, and the F. A. Hihn Company, so its feasibility had already been proven. A September 1887 survey of the town of Ben Lomond shows tracks heading up Hubbard Gulch (then called Paterson Gulch) to the west, another track across the San Lorenzo River beside the vehicular bridge to the south, and a third track up Love Creek to the north, in addition to the mainline track and many spurs that ran through the village. The route up Hubbard Gulch crossed the San Lorenzo River to the west in roughly the same location as the Highway 9 bridge today. It then turned up Hubbard Gulch Road and continued for an unknown length. Pierce hoped that it would eventually run for three miles until reaching the logging community at Pine Flat at the top of Ben Lomond, but this never appears to have happened and the track probably did not extend more than a quarter mile up modern-day Hubbard Gulch Road. The southern track was certainly the shortest and probably catered to Pierce's personal residence just across the river.

The Pacific Manufacturing Company planing mill in Santa Clara, 1898.
[Alice Iola Hare Collection, Santa Clara City Library – colorized using DeOldify]
The third and longest track was installed along Love Creek and this route is much better documented both on maps and in newspapers. From the available evidence, it was in operation from December 1887 until at least 1893. The line's only known track joined the mill company's internal mainline near the junction of Fillmore Avenue and Mill Street in Ben Lomond and then proceeded north, crossing the Southern Pacific Railroad's Felton Branch east of Main Street and continuing until merging with modern-day Love Creek Road at Central Avenue. Beyond Sunnyside Avenue, the crudely-built narrow-gauge railroad entered the redwood wilderness of the Love Creek basin. From this point, there is a good description of the route given in the Surf in 1889:
The cream of the day's enjoyment was a trip on this pocket edition of a railway up the picturesque Love creek canyon to the logging camp. Seated in comfortable chairs upon the flat car, steaming along through the mild spring air, stopping to pick up a few ferns, or remove a fallen branch from the track, crossing Love creek thirteen times in a mile and a half and watching the mountains as they rose height beyond height, this was certainly an ideal way of penetrating the everlasting hills. The "man at the wheel," like the mate of the Nancy Bell, was captain and crew and all, and evidently made a pet of his tiny engine.

A glimpse into the canyon where the great body of timber begins enables one to feebly realize the vastness of Mr. Pierce's four thousand acre tract of timber, which extends nearly to the town of Boulder, and which will be tributary to the mill at Ben Lomond.

The train mentioned in this description was a small locomotive and six flatcars that Pierce purchased in early 1888 for use on his private lines. No photographs of the rolling stock have been found and even the style of the locomotive is unknown.

County survey map of Love Creek properties and the Love Creek Railroad, c 1887.
[Santa Cruz County Records]
The actual length of Pierce's trackage in the area of Ben Lomond is inconsistently reported by newspapers of the time. The article above implies that the Love Creek track was at least a mile and a half and the article elsewhere states that Pierce owned a total of 2.5 miles of trackage in the area. The figures for the tracks in town amount to just short of one mile of additional track, so that may be the maximum extent for the rest of the area. However, logging companies often installed and uninstalled track as needed and it is possible that as much as seven miles of track ran up Love Creek at one point, and more frequently three miles is given for the length of this route. The latter seems more likely since the Love Creek basin in total is only four miles in length. The evidence for where precisely the route went beyond Smith Creek is unclear, although it did continue further along Love Creek for at least a short distance. The logging camp mentioned by the reporter was almost certainly at the confluence of Love and Fritch Creeks, which was the last flat area before continuing up increasingly steep grades.

A waterfall on Love Creek, c 1900. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
When precisely the Love Creek Railroad shut down is unknown. Partners Duffey and Simmons began running a mill two miles up Love Creek in October 1890, however, and continued to run the mill on behalf of Pierce until it was destroyed in a boiler explosion in May 1891. Duffey alone rebuilt and shut down for the season in December. It seems likely that this mill continued to use the Love Creek Railroad to get its lumber to Ben Lomond since a December 1892 newspaper report stated that the old locomotive had jumped the track at the southernmost crossing over Love Creek, spilling its lumber into the creek bed. This means that the railroad was still in operation a year later. Following the derailment, horses were used to haul the machinery back onto the grade and the railroad resumed service. 

There are no further mentions of the railroad after December 1892 and it likely was removed before or after the summer 1893 season. By this point, Pierce had incorporated the Ben Lomond Land & Lumber Company in order to consolidate his twin goals of selling his property to interested developers and cutting his remaining timber. The mill in Ben Lomond was also gone and most of the trackage in the town had been consolidated. Whether Pierce even owned the Love Creek Railroad route by 1893 is unclear, but it certainly did not last much beyond that time. In May 1893, the Bank of Santa Clara failed, leaving Pierce short on funds. It was likely this that led to the dissolution of his company and the sale of the remaining land he owned in the region, the remainder of which were sold following his death in 1897. Today, traces of the railroad are occasionally found on the west bank of Love Creek near Smith and Fritch Creeks, where significant bridges were once located. But nothing much remains and that which does is found by chance, usually on private property.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Pepper, George. Personal correspondence.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1885–1892.
  • Santa Cruz Surf, 1885–1892.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Curiosities: The Sea Beach Hotel

At the turn of the twentieth century, every seaside town on the Pacific Coast had a Victorian-style palatial hotel to lure tourists to the beach. Monterey had the Hotel Del Monte. San Diego had the Hotel del Coronado. Capitola had the Hotel Capitola. And Santa Cruz had the Sea Beach Hotel. For nearly forty years, the hotel grew from a small structure on Main Street on the Santa Cruz Main Beach into one of the most renowned resorts on the Central Coast. Celebrities and politicians from across the country came to stay in the hotel while they visited the nearby bathhouses and played on the beach. But the hotel began not as a palace but as just another hostelry in an industrialized area that had struggled for two decades to attract residents or tourists.

One of many colorized postcards showing the Sea Beach Hotel in all its glory, 1911. [HipPostcard]
The Santa Cruz Main Beach in the mid-1870s was at its industrial height. The Santa Cruz Railroad had tracks running down the beach while the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad ran its own trains out onto a pair of piers at the ends of Pacific Avenue and Main Street. Steamships and tall ships from San Francisco and elsewhere stopped in daily at the piers, and wagonloads of lumber, leather, lime, and gunpowder were hauled up and over Beach Hill for transfer onto the waiting ships. The Powder Works Wharf at the end of Main Street was the older of the piers and only received railroad tracks in 1877. For several years, the California Powder Works carted powder from its warehouse near the top of the hill on 2nd Street to the pier, but the arrival of the railroad reduced the pier and warehouse's usefulness. By about 1880, the brick-lined warehouse was abandoned.

The Ocean View House (the large white building) on Main Street above the Powder Works Wharf
as viewed from a color lithograph of the Santa Cruz waterfront, c 1877.
Two blocks away, at the bottom of Cliff Street, the Leibbrandt Brothers and others had opened bath houses that attracted visitors from around the world. But most visitors spent the summers in tents set up across from the bath houses or otherwise in hotels downtown or across the San Lorenzo River. The few lodges near the beach were intended for more industrious persons, such as sailors, manual laborers, and other workers involved in shipping. Midway up Main Street, William Hardy had run a saloon since 1849, but the building sat vacant for several years. Samuel A. Hall saw an opportunity and made a bold gamble.

The Ocean View House towering over Beach Hill, c 1880.
[Harold van Gorder, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Hall was originally a boatbuilder but he spent much of the 1860s and early 1870s developing Soquel and Capitola alongside Frederick A. Hihn. Why his focus shifted to Santa Cruz is unknown, but he clearly sensed a shift occurring that would ultimately move the center of industry to the Railroad Wharf on Pacific Avenue. He hoped to fill a much-needed niche. Midway up Main Street on the west side of the road, Hall opened a two-story hotel and restaurant on May 22, 1875 which he named the Ocean View House after a racetrack located on the West Side of Santa Cruz. Built by William Liddell, it was an unassuming, white-washed rectangular structure with windows lining the side facing the ocean. The first proprietors hired to run the hotel were P. Gardner and Charles Cummings, but Cummings left the partnership after only two months.

The Douglas House on Beach Hill after the Powder Works Wharf was removed, c 1883.
[Harold van Gorder, Santa Cruz MAH]
Success came quickly for the Ocean View House, despite its surroundings. By June, the proprietors had decided upon building a large dance hall beside the hotel. This was a single-story structure situated perpendicular to the main building on the west side, which functioned otherwise as a restaurant. A  kitchen was located further to the west, where it could be supplied from Drift Way, which functioned as a service road for the hotel. It is clear from an advertisement posted in September 1875 that the hotel's year-round clientele was tourists arriving by steamship. It read: "Its close proximity to the steamer landing saves its guests the necessity of standing for hours in the morning, shivering in the fog, waiting the approach of steamers. Unlike those stopping at up-town hotels, they can sleep if they desire until vessels touch the wharf, and have ample time to rise, dress and get aboard." By this point, the City Railroad horsecar line had also began operating on the Santa Cruz Railroad's tracks, which meant service to the Lower Plaza was quick and easy. The hotel was further expanded and a third story added in May 1877, allowing the hotel to support twenty-two guest rooms, while expanded service by the Pacific Avenue Streetcar Company brought more horsecar traffic to the beach.

Governor R. W. Waterman outside the Sea Beach Hotel, 1886. [Bancroft Library – Colorized using DeOldify]
Change came quickly for the hotel. In 1882, it was sold to A. H. Douglas who replaced all the furniture and renovated the interior. When it reopened in April 1883, it was renamed the Douglas House. Douglas  benefited from the removal of the Powder Works Wharf in 1882 in that his hotel now fronted an unimpeded view of the Monterey Bay. Although Gardner had led the expansion of the hotel, Douglas began the process of turning it into a destination. He started with simple amenities such as a bar and billiard tables. He also increased accessibility to horsecars and the beach by installing steps down Main Street.

The Douglas House in its final year under that name, 1886. [Bancroft Library – Colorized using DeOldify]
Douglas repainted the hotel and made extensive improvements each year prior to opening for the summer season. In 1884, he added tents, chairs and tables to the space outside the hotel and began displaying his art within the foyer. The next year, he added his artworks to other rooms of the hotel and installed a wide porch on the ocean side for more comfortable view of the bay. This same year, the Powder Works finished converting its lands at the waterfront by installing a plank walkway between the Douglas House and the Neptune Baths, which extended the original boardwalk between Pacific Avenue and Main Street. In 1886, the first floor bar was converted into a parlor with large windows that looked out over the bay, with the bar moved to the other side of the building. Japanese lanterns were hung outside the veranda following a recent trend. He also commissioned the construction of a platform for trains and horsecars on Beach Street, the first such structure in the area.

1888 Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Sea Beach Hotel in its last year
prior to its major renovation. [Library of Congress]
Perhaps realizing the marketing mistake of naming his business after himself, Douglas rebranded the hostelry the Sea Beach House in June 1883, but the name didn't stick. He eventually sold the business to D. K. Abeel in March 1887, who took over on May 15. John T. Sullivan was promptly hired as manager of the hostelry and it was he who permanently renamed the building the Sea Beach Hotel on April 1. Abeel and Sullivan looked to more substantially expand the hotel within the next few years and, in anticipation of that, Abeel purchased the former Powder Works lot at the corner of 2nd and Main Streets, initially to be used as a playground. Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Sullivan thoroughly repainted and re-wallpapered the hotel. But other changes also began under his tenure. New chimneys were installed, much of the furniture was replaced, the buildings were recarpeted, and Mrs. Sullivan planted an extensive garden on the slope in front of the hotel.
Advertisement by John Sullivan for the Sea Beach Hotel, c 1890.
Over the next two years, several substantial changes were made to the Sea Beach Hotel that converted it from a plain 'dry-goods box' style building, as the Santa Cruz Surf described it, to the elegant Victorian palace it was later known as. The idea for this expansion came in the 1887 season when the rooms were packed to capacity all summer long. The new construction was designed and overseen by famed architect G. W. Page and built in the style of the Hotel del Coronado. The old Douglas House was shifted to the back of the property, closer to 2nd Street, along with the kitchen and dining room. In their place was added a massive three-story wing with attic that stretched nearly to Beach Street. It featured dormer windows and steeply-sloped roofs, and the older buildings were modified to match this style, as well. This new wing was not just for guest rooms, it included a reading room, a ladies' parlor, and a large rotunda containing a club room that overlooked the ocean and the bath houses. Still, guest rooms were an important component and the new hotel featured 170 of them. Many of the guest rooms included en suite restroom facilities, fireplaces, telephones, and parlors. On the ocean side, a wide veranda swept around the eastern side of the building, allowing space for seating. The renovated hotel reopened the week of May 25, 1890.

A view of the gardens and Monterey Bay from the front of the Sea Beach Hotel, c 1900.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
An important feature of the new hotel and one favored by Mrs. Sullivan was the gardens and landscape on the southeast side of the property along Beach Street and Main Street. Rudolph Ulrich, a local who had achieved fame at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, was hired to arrange the gardens of the hotel using clippings from his own gardens. Over 40 varieties of roses were planted including three local variants: the Sea Beach Beauty, the Pride of Santa Cruz, and the Loma Prieta. Seeds from these plants became popular souvenirs. The gardens were primarily composed of flowers and shrubs as to not block the view of the ocean.

Advertisement for the Sea Beach Hotel, May 17, 1895. [Santa Cruz Surf]
The restaurant was also expanded in size and scope with chefs from the Hotel del Monte and Chicago's Palmer House brought in. The dining hall looked out over the bay while the kitchen was recessed into Beach Hill with a short tramway running to nearby storage rooms for the quick delivery of supplies. During special events, nine-course meals were prepared. Behind the hotel, an elegant dance hall was built with a sprawling staircase descending from the lobby upstairs. The George W. Parkman orchestra was employed in 1895 to play popular songs while dance lessons were given during the day in preparation for the night's festivities.

Colorized postcard of the Sea Beach Hotel with a streetcar out front, c 1905. [Fine Art America]
The hotel quickly became the primary destination for all forms of celebrities, from Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt, to capitalists like William Randolph Hearst and Andrew Carnegie, and other important peoples such as John Muir and Luther Burbank. The hotel became the focus of color postcards, which were just coming into vogue at the time, and it remains one of the best photographed pre-1900 structures in Santa Cruz County, with well over fifty known images and likely many more.

The Sea Beach Hotel soon after its upgrade, with a horsecar at the bottom of Main Street, c 1892.
[Pat Hathaway]
Sullivan jointly served as the manager of the Pacific Ocean House for a few years in the 1890s but relinquished his duties there to John R. Chace in mid-1894. It was a sign of changing times. On December 1, 1895, Chace purchased Sullivan's stake in the Sea Beach Hotel and took over its management. This was likely done under the gaze of Frederick Hihn, who was close friends and business partners with Chace and saw the potential in a hotel monopoly since Chace retained the proprietorship of the Pacific Ocean House as well.

Early photograph of the Sea Beach Hotel following its major upgrade, c 1895.
[Covello & Covello – Colorized using DeOldify]
Chace wasted little time before upgrading the Sea Beach Hotel again. In early 1896, he added a new stairway from Beach Street to the club rooms of the hotel and completely renovated the hotel's two dining rooms. On Main Street, he enlarged the hotel's office and foyer and expanded electricity to the attic and other places. To protect against fire, fire hydrants were placed throughout the complex and fire escapes installed for the upper stories. And to replace the artwork that Sullivan took with him when he left, Chace bought new art via a contact who worked at the Santa Cruz Surf. Otherwise, life at the Sea Beach under Chace's management continued much the same, with a busy summer and frequent dances and balls held all season long, although Chace lacked the energy of Sullivan.

The Santa Cruz waterfront with the Sea Beach Hotel in the center, c 1895.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
Success eluded Chace in the end and he was forced to sell his stake in the hotel at the end of 1896, culminating in January 1897 with a large sale of the hotel's furniture, which Abeel bought back. Abeel then turned around and leased the furniture back to John Sullivan, who had bought it originally, and Sullivan was promptly hired again as manager for the 1897 season. Sullivan changed the game by incorporating the Sea Beach Hotel Company on March 8 alongside his wife, two daughters, and J. Terry Brooks. To mark the change in management, Sullivan decided to give the hotel a bold new paint job, possibly the now-iconic whitewash that it was known for in later years.

The Sea Beach Hotel from the beach, showing the original plank boardwalk along the railroad tracks, c 1895.
[Covello & Covello – Colorized using DeOldify]
Tragedy struck the Sullivan family in late May, however, when one of John's daughters died of an illness and it appears he temporarily passed management of the hotel over to a mysterious man named Bat Queenan. By late June, Sullivan too was ill and appears to have not been involved in day-to-day operations. Although he began to recover in August, Sullivan forfeited his position to Abeel in October and the next month, Abeel hired James B. Peakes as the proprietor for 1898. Peakes had run the Kittridge House on Beach Hill for several years followed by several hotels in San Francisco, San José, Sacramento, Stockton, and elsewhere. Peakes was not a heavy promoter and did not take out advertisements or make substantial renovations to the hotel. In fact, he closed the hotel from mid-October 1898 to mid-February 1899 and again from mid-September 1899 to early April 1900, although he resigned his position before the hotel reopened that year.

The St. James Hotel at the bottom of the Railroad Wharf with the Sea Beach Hotel to the east, 1890s.
[Sourisseau Academy – Colorized using DeOldify]
Abeel then turned to John S. Matheson as proprietor and the pair installed gas lighting throughout the hotel complex in the short window that they had before the summer season began. Matheson resumed the practice of taking out daily newspaper advertisements in July. He advertised that the hotel could accommodate 400 guests and provided modern conveniences and improved sanitation. He also advertised its private telegraph office, perfect table service, and first-class orchestra. Matheson did not close down in the winter as Peakes had done and indeed hosted several gala events during the off season. Still, by 1901 the hotel was appearing somewhat shabby, with one newspaper article stating "it is not old fashioned enough to be antique, and not modern enough to meet the requirements of would-be guests." After public discourse throughout the 1901 seasons, Abeel and Matheson had had enough and Abeel sold the hotel to James J. C. Leonard with the assistance and advice of Fred Wilder Swanton on August 30, 1901.

Streetcar running down Beach Street in front of the Sea Beach Hotel, c 1905.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
Swanton, who soon founded the Santa Cruz Beach and Tent City Corporation, and Leonard ran the popular Hotel St. George and Pacific Ocean House and continued to do so for the remainder of the 1901 season alongside their new acquisition. Under their management, the ballroom was enlarged even further into a banquet hall and an even larger ballroom was built at the back of the hotel on 2nd Street. The dining room was divided into guest rooms and a new dining room carved out of the old hotel building at back. Electricity was installed throughout the hotel alongside elevators. By 1902, tennis and golf links were also advertised, although it is unclear where these were located. Further major improvements were planned for early 1903, though it seems Swanton was no longer involved by this point.

The most famous and heavily replicated photograph of the Sea Beach Hotel, c 1903. [Randolph Brandt]
It was at this time that the most famous photograph of the Sea Beach Hotel was captured. It shows a Santa Cruz Electric Railroad streetcar parked beside a Santa Cruz, Capitola, and Watsonville Railway streetcar parked on opposite tracks near the end of Main Street with the hotel towering overhead and a family relaxing on the beach. The photograph was colorized at least five different times and was sold as a postcard by many different companies from about 1905 to 1915. It was used on souvenir dishes, as backdrops for portrait studios, and on the covers of music books. Fortunately, although the precise date of this photograph is unknown, it had to have been between late 1902 when the latter tramway finished its tracks at the beach and early 1904 when the Union Traction Company consolidated both streetcar lines. Yet the the photographer and the subject matter of the photo remains a mystery.

A colorized postcard of the above photograph, c 1900.
An alternative colorization of the above postcard with the children in the foreground cropped out, c 1900.
One investigator argues convincingly that the man in the photograph is in fact Theodore Roosevelt with four of his children and his wife, Edith, enjoying the beach during their visit to Santa Cruz in May 1903. As further evidence, Roosevelt loved terriers and sure enough, a man at the right is playing with a terrier. This theory would explain the excess of men in suits standing above and it is further given credence by the fact that this photograph actually only shows two-thirds of the original image. The panoramic version includes ten more men plus a fifth child and this added part can be seen below. Here it is clear that some of the men are Santa Cruz Police officers and the others may be Secret Service members. While it cannot be confirmed with certainty that this is Roosevelt, it does seem plausible that the president stopped for a photoshoot at the beach, possibly on his way to San José after giving his speech at the depot and visiting Big Trees.

A second photograph from the same scene as above showing police officers and men in suits along with another man holding an umbrella beside a young child, c 1900.
The opening of the Neptune Casino, Neptune Plunge, and Tent City by Swanton in 1904 led to a massive increase in patronage for the hotel, which benefited from its successful neighbors. K. D. Zandt was hired as manager and began running hops each weekend in the summer to attract customers away from the Tent City, but it was all friendly competition with many of the higher income guests staying at the hotel while lower income households spent the summer in the tent cottages across from the new buildings. A depiction of this grand vision can be seen in the postcard below. While many considered the hotel a part of the new complex, Frederick Hihn hoped for a newer, modern hotel to sit between Westbrook and Cliff Streets, bridging the two but also supplanting the Sea Beach. Zandt and Leonard, however, had their own plans to expand and purchased another property across Main and 2nd Streets from the hotel in July 1904, converting the property into a laundry, stable, and carriage shed.

Color lithographic postcard showing the Sea Beach Hotel beside the Neptune Casino and Plunge, the Tent City, the Electric Pier and diving platform, early Boardwalk rides, beach bath houses, and the San Lorenzo River with its pavilion, c 1904.
Leonard and Zandt found great success in the 1904 and 1905 summer seasons, opening early in the season and running through September. They attracted theatre celebrities, famous authors and reporters, and even hosted political conventions. Streetcars stopped at the base of the hotel on Beach Street daily, and special excursion trains stopped periodically as well. It became a venue for weddings, with its beautiful gardens frequently the backdrop for photographs, and it attracted all sorts of mystics, religious leaders, and psychics. In many ways, the hotel and Santa Cruz became one-in-the-same to visitors.

The Neptune Casino with the Sea Beach Hotel in the distance, 1904. Photo by I. W. Taber. [WorthPoint]
There was every reason to believe that 1906 was going to be as successful as the previous two years for Leonard and Zandt. The hotel opened in early March and quickly filled up with guests and events. But then a double assault by nature and bad luck struck. On April 18, the San Francisco Earthquake ripped through Santa Cruz and left a substantial mark on the hotel. All but one of its chimneys were destroyed, sending bricks through roofs, gables, and porches alike. The Surf reported that "the plastering on the first story, lobby, dining rooms, parlors, etc., has either fallen or is so badly cracked that it will have to be replaced." Fortunately, the structure itself survived and Leonard wasted no time in hiring repairmen and supplies to fix the building. But disaster tourism sells and people from around the country flocked to Santa Cruz by May and June. The hotel was well on its way to recovery when it was hit by a second disaster on June 22. The still new Neptune Casino and Plunge—the tourist magnet only a block away—burned to the ground leaving only the skating rink, tent city, and a large salt-water basin standing. Yet the people still came in record numbers to visit the beach and enjoy the hotel's amenities and entertainments.

Colorized postcard of the Sea Beach Hotel beside the second Casino, 1908.
In the aftermath of the Casino fire, Swanton got to planning and quickly started to rebuild once the summer season ended. Into this flurry of discourse came a strong rumor that the Sea Beach Hotel would be moved to the Tent City lot and a new hotel erected in its place. However, this idea came to nothing and by 1907, a new Cottage City sat beside an even grander Casino and Plunge designed by William Henry Weeks in a Mission revival style. That year proved to be well-attended but unremarkable for the Sea Beach Hotel. At the end in December, the Council of Education held a large conference there, justifying Leonard and Zandt's decision to remain open until the beginning of January.

Cars parked outside the Main Street entrance to the Sea Beach Hotel with the new Casino in the distance, 1908.
[Sourisseau Academy]
The final years of the Sea Beach Hotel are less recorded in newspapers, with focus split between the various venues of an ever-growing tourist trade. Nonetheless, the Sea Beach Hotel did not sit idle. Its now 130 guest rooms—some had been repurposed over the years—were outfitted with telephones in April 1908 and a private phone exchange was located in the complex run by two operators. A few retail stores also opened in the hotel, including a small market, a barber shop, and a medical clinic. The year 1909 was even less remarkable but the Evening News reported that the hotel had another successful season when it closed in September. As in previous years, the hotel remained available in the off season for special events and as a dining and dance venue.

The new Casino as viewed from the gardens of the Sea Beach Hotel, c 1910.
1910  heralded more of the same, with regular and new conventions, conferences, and political meetings hosted alongside weddings, galas, and reunions. The hotel had evolved from a destination in itself to a venue at the beach where the excitement and focus were directed elsewhere. It reflected a changing time with tourists shifting from summer-long vacations to weekend and week-long getaways. From all accounts, the Sea Beach neither suffered nor thrived during its twilight years.  What it didn't do, however, was change. Most of the major improvements were done by 1905 and only smaller changes happened thereafter.

The Sea Beach Hotel with the Railroad Wharf in the background, c 1910.
[Covello & Covello – Colorized using DeOldify]
After several years of threats that a new hotel would open in the large lot to the east of the Sea Beach Hotel, one finally did arise on the lot of the Cottage City across from the Casino. The Casa del Rey,  the last major project overseen by Swanton, opened its doors on May 1, 1911. A rivalry immediately began between the two hotels, although the details are lacking. As a former business partner of Swanton, Leonard could only have felt personally betrayed. Yet rather than improving the Sea Beach Hotel, Leonard focused his efforts on improvements to the St. George Hotel. Despite the rivalry, the Sea Beach still did good business for the year and attracted many of its usual customers. The hotel even stayed open through the winter to make up for the closed St. George while it underwent renovations.

The Sea Beach Hotel fire as photographed in the morning of June 12, 1912. As can be seen, the front wing caught fire first and it slowly spread to the rest of the complex. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
The two hotels faced off against each other across a largely vacant lot for less than a year before disaster at last struck once more, this time for good. At 3:30 in the morning on June 12, 1912, the Sea Beach Hotel caught fire in one of the rooms of the southern tower. The specific cause of the fire was never discovered and the first person to notice it was a fisherman in a boat offshore since the hotel had not yet opened for the season. Over the next four hours, the fire methodically moved through the building until finally reaching the back wall of the old Douglas House, which remained standing as a final monument to the structure. Only the detached ballroom built by Swanton and the laundry survived mostly unscathed. It was truly the end of an era. Leonard had $40,000 in insurance on the property, but the hotel was valued at $90,000.

A highly doctored postcard of the Sea Beach Hotel fire on June 12, 1912, adapting the 1903 photograph but adding people strolling on the beach and a decided lack of concern for the burning hotel.
From its humble beginnings almost forty years earlier, the Sea Beach Hotel had grown with the city and the beach resorts and adapted each time. Its end only a year after the opening of the Casa del Rey seems in retrospect to be appropriate—a Victorian palace had little place in a Modernist world. Salvaged artworks eventually found their way into the De Young Museum but the hotel itself was not replaced and for many decades only small structures of incomparable quality took its place on the shore of the Monterey Bay.

Geo-Coordinates:
36.9644N, 122.0235W
515 Second Street, Santa Cruz

The final iteration of the Sea Beach Hotel was truly a monstrous structure that spanned the entirety of the section of land from Beach Street to Second Street and from Main Street to Drift Way. The heart of the old Douglas House was near 2nd Street while the rotunda of the Sea Beach sat ominously over the beach just east of Ideal Bar & Grill. The only remnant of the structure that survives is the hotel's south and east retaining walls, which run between the lower Beach Street entrance of the Casablanca Inn and the upper building, with the part visible to the public running up Main Street behind the Sawasdee By The Sea restaurant.

Citations & Credits: 
  • Beal, Richard A. and Chandra Moira. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Early Years—Never a Dull Moment. Pacific Group, 2003.
  • Gibson, Ross Eric. "Sea Beach Hotel and Its Gardens were Equal Landmarks." Santa Cruz Public Libraries—Local History Collection.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News.
  • Santa Cruz Surf.
  • Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel and Sentinel.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Maps: Downtown Santa Cruz

The 1.9 miles of trackage between the eastern portal of the Mission Hill tunnel and the bridge over the San Lorenzo River saw much change of the decades. The first track through this area was probably set in early 1875 by the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad and since that time the section has undergone five distinct phases in development, each demonstrating its own unique characteristics.

A Southern Pacific excursion train on Chestnut Street with the remnants of the second track recently paved over at left, c 1950s. Photography by L. L. Bonney. [Jim Vail – Colorized using DeOldify]
The first phase was the brief period from 1876 to 1883 when the city hosted two narrow-gauge railroads and all of its horsecar lines were owned by or derived from those two lines. The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad maintained a track initially down Pacific Avenue and, following the completion of its tunnel under Mission Hill in 1876, later down Chestnut Street. Its former Pacific Avenue track was subsequently spun-off as the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad, a horsecar line that ran up Mission Street on one side and ultimately to the San Lorenzo River at the beach on the other. The Santa Cruz & Felton was also responsible for building the Railroad Wharf—it's southern terminus—and a connection to the adjacent Powder Works Wharf, which was soon afterwards demolished in 1882. The railroad supported a small selection of customers north of Beach Hill including the Centennial Flour Mills and Olive & Foster, but otherwise was mostly focused on delivering lumber and lime products from Felton. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad took over the line in 1880, it added a new passenger depot outside the portal of the tunnel and expanded the freight yard beside Neary Lagoon to add more sidings for Grover & Company and later lumber customers. Little else changed for the company until 1893.

A short South Pacific Coast Railway train outside the Santa Cruz Union Depot, late 1890s.
[Harold van Gorder Collection, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – Colorized using DeOldify]
The division between the first two phases was really more represented by the other railroad in town, the Santa Cruz Railroad. Completed in 1876, the system began as a narrow-gauge route and operated its own City Railroad horsecar line using its existing trackage between Cherry Street and the bathhouses at the beach. It likely had at least one crossover with the Santa Cruz & Felton near Cherry Street, where the two tracks began their parallel route down Chestnut Street, but there appears to have been little cooperation between the two lines. Focused more on customers further to the east, the Santa Cruz Railroad had no freight customers in the Lower Plaza of Santa Cruz. Fiscal and natural disasters in 1881 led to the railroad's sale to Southern Pacific, which promptly ended the City Railroad and standard-gauged the route to Watsonville.

Map showing Santa Cruz city trackage, including horsecar lines, c 1892. [Derek R. Whaley]
This prompted the second phase, which lasted 1883 until 1892, where rival gauge track crisscrossed downtown. The South Pacific Coast, which was leased to Southern Pacific in 1887, maintained a narrow-gauge alongside the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad, the East Santa Cruz Horse Railroad, and the Santa Cruz, Garfield Park & Capitola Railroad, while the Santa Cruz Branch of the Southern Pacific had a standard gauge. Two separate passenger depots for the railroads faced each other across Cherry Street and rolling stock could not properly interchange between the tracks, leading to transfers of cargo and the Railroad Wharf becoming dual-gauge. Meanwhile, no standard-gauge traffic could go north of Mission Hill while no narrow-gauge traffic could head east.

The Santa Cruz Union Depot after the tracks were standardized, 1910s.
[M. Jongeneel Collection, Santa Cruz MAH – Colorized using DeOldify]
The opening of the Santa Cruz Union Depot in 1893 inaugurated the third and least known phase. Most of the trackage between the Mission Hill tunnel and the Railroad Wharf were dual-gauged and the old depots opposite Cherry Street both closed and were replaced with a new combined depot at the end of Washington Street beside the old Santa Cruz & Felton freight yard. A few new freight customers moved in including the Santa Cruz Lumber Company, formed from a merger of several other companies, the Loma Prieta Lumber Company, and the Union Ice Company. Meanwhile, the trackage was simplified somewhat with the main track migrating from the Beach Hill cut to the Neary Lagoon outlet.

Excursion train on the Davenport leg of the wye at Santa Cruz, July 21, 1951. Photograph by Wilbur C. Whittaker.
[Jim Vail – Colorized using DeOldify]
During this time, standard-gauge tracks to Davenport via both the Coast Line Railroad—a Southern Pacific subsidiary—and the Ocean Shore Railroad led to the expansion of the maintenance and turning yard to facilitate the addition of a wye and switchback from the Lower Plaza to the marine terrace to the west. A spur was also added at the beach for the Cowell Lime & Cement Company, ostensibly to serve the company but obviously to block the Ocean Shore's ability to build a pier into the Monterey Bay.

Map showing Santa Cruz city trackage, including streetcar lines, c 1920. [Derek R. Whaley]
When the route reopened in 1909, all of the trackage in Santa Cruz was standard gauge and the entire freight yard around the Union Depot was reorganized, prompting the fourth and longest phase of trackage within the city. From 1904 to 1926, the Union Traction Company held a monopoly on the local streetcar services, standard-gauging, simplifying, and electrifying all of its lines. When the company finally replaced its streetcars with buses, it pulled all of its municipal trackage. Meanwhile, from 1909 to 2003, the layout of the freight yard only changed a little, despite many customers coming and going over the decades and the depot itself closing in 1973.

A double-headed excursion train on Chestnut Street with the remnants of the second track recently paved over at left, April 25, 1948. Photograph by Wilbur C. Whittaker. [Jim Vail – Colorized using DeOldify]
A few substantial changes occurred, though, including the closure of the Ocean Shore Railway in 1920 followed by its track abandonment three years later, the removal of tracks from the Municipal Wharf in 1931, and the demolition of the turntable and engine house in 1942. The end of scheduled passenger service to Watsonville in 1938 and to San José in 1940, followed later by the end of the Suntan Special in 1959 and all special excursion trains in 1965, also marked an important turning point for the city. Slowly, structures began to disappear, largely due to fire, but the tracks remained down Chestnut Street, there was still siding space for sand hoppers at the depot, and the iconic wye is a fixture even today.

An excursion train turning onto Beach Street, June 25, 1939. Photograph by Wilbur C. Whittaker.
[Jim Vail – Colorized using DeOldify]
The fifth phase of Santa Cruz trackage history began approximately in 1985 when the Santa Cruz Big Trees and Pacific Railway began running tourists between Felton and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. By this point, only a few freight customers remained at the Santa Cruz yard and most other than the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company only used the trackage sporadically. A more formal start to this final period came in 2003, seven years after Union Pacific took over the line, when the municipal trackage was completely removed with the exception of the three main tracks to Davenport, Felton, and Watsonville and a single short spur. Freight and the Big Trees train continued to pass through the area but no longer stopped there for any reason except allowing trains to pass.

The Routes Today:
The primary arteries of the routes through the city still exist and can largely be followed legally. The track begins near the junction of Chestnut Street and Green Street just west of downtown and continues down Chestnut Street for nearly a mile. Along the way, a few century-old wigwags still can be found and they continue to operate when a train runs down the street. The dual tracks down Chestnut Street have long since been removed and replaced with a single track down the middle. After crossing Laurel Street to the south, the old freight yard area is entered and can be followed along either of its branches.

A view down Chestnut Street today, 2020. [Google Streetview]
Nothing substantial remains except the spur and three ends of the wye, although a few foundation blocks and a maintenance area still occupy the former site of the turntable. While there is no trespassing allowed within the yard, a new trail will soon open allowing people to parallel the tracks. The tracks continue under West Cliff Drive to the San Lorenzo River, and this entire area is paralleled with pedestrian footpaths. No remnant of the wharf spur remains. Similarly, the former Ocean Shore right-of-way above the marine terrace to the west has also been built up and is no longer discernible nor should exploration in this area be attempted. All evidence of the former Union Traction Company trackage has long since disappeared.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, September 4, 2020

Curiosities: Austrian Gulch

The settlement of Wright's Station was one of the most remote in Santa Clara County, but more distant still was a tiny hamlet at the confluence of Austrian Gulch into Los Gatos Creek colloquially named Germantown. This little village of German and Austrian refugees from the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 never throve and barely survived for almost seventy years.

A band of German musicians outside a home in Austrian Gulch, 1896.
 [History Los Gatos – Colorized using DeOldify]
War has an interesting effect on societies. While some people benefit greatly, others suffer unduly, even if their side wins. Such was the case of the immigrants who fled the war-torn regions of Austria and Germany for California in the early 1870s. John Utschig lead the group of around a dozen families—no more than 100 people total—to the Santa Clara Valley where they accepted homesteads in the region around the headwaters of Los Gatos Creek below the Sierra Azul range. The families soon planted grapes on the hills, as well as other fruits, and erected a large community winery in the center of the community upon a 1,000-acre tract of undeveloped land. The early potential, if not success, of the hamlet attracted many more immigrants including Italians and Swiss, who all established homesteads on the hills of Mt. Thayer and Loma Prieta.

Sharkey the dog in Austrian Gulch, 1896.  [History Los Gatos – Colorized using DeOldify]
Access to the settlement was tricky since the Los Gatos Creek basin was very narrow and the hills steep in the area north of Wright's Station. Nonetheless, a winding track was carved out beginning at the original Wrights settlement on the east bank of Los Gatos Creek heading south. No railroad tracks were ever built to Austrian Gulch, although a spur did continue for a short distance beside the road. Residents of the settlement had to take a horse or wagon the 1.25 miles to the north and catch a passing train at the station. Many of the early freight suppliers at Wrights came from Austrian Gulch, hauling their fruits and barrels of wine down to the station to be collected for shipment to the Santa Clara Valley markets. 

A family outside their home in Austrian Gulch, 1896.  [History Los Gatos – Colorized using DeOldify]
The failure of the settlement was due in large part to the inclement weather that far up in the mountains and to bad land management by the settlers. Whereas the Santa Cruz Mountains generally block coastal rain from falling on the eastern side of the range, Austrian Gulch is far enough up to catch much of this moisture, especially during the winter months. Usually, the overgrown hillsides counter any land movements and slow any fires, but the extensive planting of vineyards and orchards on the hills stripped them of their native growth, exposing them to the elements. To make matters more troublesome for the settlers, the local wine industry also came into a state of flux in the mid-1880s when the Sacred Heart Novitiate in Los Gatos and other wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains began increasing their production due to the completion of the South Pacific Coast Railroad route through the mountains.

A violinist with his wife outside their home in Austrian Gulch, 1896. [History Los Gatos – Colorized using DeOldify]
In the winter of 1889, a raging storm burst through the mountains and destroyed the dreams of dozens of immigrant families. Sheets of water fell upon the exposed hillsides of Austrian Gulch, tearing the earth apart and draining it down to the torrent that was Los Gatos Creek. The storm took orchards, vineyards, and homes alike, and it is assumed that several died in the onslaught. The community winery was completely destroyed and thousands of gallons of wine that were being prepared for shipment at Wrights spilled from their vats. Rumor says that Los Gatos Creek ran red as far as Campbell.

A small home in Austrian Gulch, 1900. [History Los Gatos – Colorized using DeOldify]
The still young Germantown attempted to recover, but the struggle proved exceedingly difficult and the financial cost was great. Some of the more optimistic families replanted their orchards and vineyards in the spring, but many families moved away, either to other places in California or back to Europe, where the recession of the 1870s had given way to a robust economy in the 1880s. Utschig, the community patriarch, relocated to nearby Wrights and later to San Francisco. Attempts to turn part of the area into a camping and hunting destination under the name Camp Deuprey failed to attract clientele. Repeated forest and bush fires along Austrian Gulch and the headwaters of Los Gatos Creek in the 1890s through until 1923 convinced the remaining residents to seek greener—or at least safer—pastures. The last residents left shortly after the Great Depression hit in 1929, abandoning their dream of a German settlement in the shadows of Loma Prieta and Mt. Umunhum.

The land that had comprised Germantown was purchased by Edward E. Cothran shortly afterwards. At some point in the early 1900s, Cothran was a San José attorney and had purchased 500 acres of land from Mercedes Demoro in the area between Wrights and Germantown. There he operated a small sawmill with his sons, Shelley and Ralph. Shortly after the collapse of Germantown, Cothran purchased some of the land of the former settlement in order to harvest additional lumber. This prompted a series of lawsuits with the San José Water Company, which had purchased most of the Los Gatos Creek watershed over the previous decade, including the area around Austrian Gulch. In 1933, Cothram cut some of his newly-acquired redwoods and was promptly sued by the water district for polluting Los Gatos Creek. But Cothran was a lawyer and was stubborn.

Edward Cothran fought the lawsuit throughout the remainder of his life and his sons continued the fight. In 1936, Shelley was out for a ride on the former county road when he encountered a deputy sheriff sent out by the water company. The two men fought briefly and the exchange went to court, where the deputy was found not guilty but cautioned against using excessive force. The next year, Ralph was confronted by another deputy while going to Wrights to collect his mail at the post office. When he went to get his gun and returned, he was arrested. It once again went to trial and Ralph was acquitted. He was then charged with attempted murder of said deputy, which he was also acquitted for but forced to spend five months in jail for failing to post a peace bond. Shortly afterwards, Shelley and Ralph were both threatened by the same deputy, forcing them to seek a warrant for the deputy's arrest.

By this point, it was clear that the water district was doing everything in its ability to drive the Cothrans off their land and make use of the road to their property—which had been built as a public road using public funds—impossible. The Cothrans became the local spokespeople for residents upset about the water company's heavy-handedness. When the water company closed Wrights Station Road in 1949, Shelley took the matter up with the Board of Supervisors, but they demurred. The people protested that there was only one way out of the Austrian Gulch region—a roundabout route to Summit Road—and that even a minor forest fire could trap them all there.

Lake Elsman from Cathermola Road, 2019. [Wes' Travels to California Lakes]
The inundation of Los Gatos Creek at the base of Austrian Gulch in 1950 made the matter even more pressing. Austrian Dam, an earthen embankment-style dam, was erected just to the north of the gulch and immediately flooded the valley below the Cothran family's properties. It is unclear if any homes had to be moved or vacated prior to the inundation, but the valley appears to have been largely empty at this time. The road to the Cothran house, however, did get shifted slightly up the eastern bank of the creek to wind around the dam. The reservoir, owned by the San José Water Company, holds 6,200 acre feet of water and is 140 feet deep in places. When at full capacity, it provides up to 12% of the water for the San José Water Company. The reservoir was given the name Lake Elsman after the water company's president, Ralph Elsman, who served in the office from 1937 until 1968 and also as the president of the California Water Service Company.

A large forest fire in 1961 underlined the imminent threat to the local residents caused by the lack of proper roads in the area. Nonetheless, the Supervisors declined to take any action, so in early March 1973, Shelley Cothran sued the Board of Supervisors, the Department of Public Works, and the San José Water Company for a combined total of $1.5 million, citing that the three organizations had sought to confiscate his land. On March 19, Cothran returned to his home to find it in flames and the fire marshal agreed that the origins of the fire were very suspicious. By the end of 1973, Shelley's neighbors had helped him rebuild his cabin with locally-sourced wood and he remained there until 1981. While he never won the case for his property, he also never lost it. And not long after his death, Wrights Station Road was, in fact, reopened for local use.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
37.1307N, 121.9262W

The site of Germantown is now largely submerged beneath Lake Elsman far up Los Gatos Creek, although several of the former homestead sites likely sat above the lake but their locations are lost. Almost nobody lives in the region and access is restricted exclusively to residents and San José Water Company staff. Cathermola Road, which for much of its length was the old Austrian Gulch access route, is not for public use and trespassers will be ticketed and their cars towed if caught. No evidence of the former settlement is known to have survived.

Citations & Credits: