Friday, October 13, 2023

Curiosities: The Beach Street Cafe

What is the oldest commercial building on Beach Street in Santa Cruz? Is it the Casino and Neptune's Kingdom—the former Plunge Natatorium? Is it the Carousel or Giant Dipper? Or is it something people see everyday but barely spare a glance at? While several private residences dating to the 1870s and earlier survive across Beach Hill, the structures along the waterfront are relatively new, dating only to the early 1900s. The Casino and Natatorium buildings date to 1907, replacing the earlier Neptune's Casino and Plunge buildings that burned down in 1906. In fact, this fire destroyed most of the oldest commercial buildings on the waterfront, including the Dolphin Bath House, which had been converted into the Tent City Restaurant, and several other associated structures. Only some tents and cottages, as well as the Plunge's powerhouse survived. However, one other building was only partially damaged in the inferno and quickly returned to service: the restaurant today known as the Beach Street Café.

Dabelich's Grill with the Casino to the left and the Sea Beach Hotel in the distance, ca 1910. [Margaret Koch Collection, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]

This little restaurant at 399 Beach Street was erected from March to May 1904 by Ralph Selleck Miller, who had previously co-owned the Miller–Leibbrandt Plunge until Fred Swanton's Santa Cruz Tent and Cottage City Corporation bought it in 1903 to convert it into the Neptune Plunge. Miller bought the land from Frederick Hihn, who owned everything between Main Street and Cliff Street between First Street and the waterfront. A private home, which appears in a few early photographs of the waterfront, once sat at the intersection but Miller had it torn down for his new building. This narrow structure was two stories tall, with three rooms downstairs and four upstairs. Prior to opening, the walls were whitewashed and the roof was painted green. The restaurant was built for around $2,500. At the time it opened, the café was the only independent restaurant on the waterfront, with all other eateries owned by either a hotel or Swanton's company. Miller owned a substantial stake in the amusement center and his café was an expression of faith in the project.

Neptune Casino and Plunge with the Miller Building just to the left of the Casino beside a building labeled "Restaurant," ca 1905. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections]

Throughout all of its history to the present, the little café at the corner of Cliff and Beach Street has made cameo appearances in thousands of photographs of the Casino and Boardwalk. Though rarely the subject of photographs, it is an ever-present reminder of the enduring legacy of this restaurant. Miller himself had little do with the building once it was erected. As a member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, he delegated daily management of the café to a Mr. Fletcher of Capitola. From March 1904, he ran the business as a temperance café, though his primary food option appears to have been French fries. Advertisements in the Sentinel ran every day through the summer of 1904 promoting Fletcher's fresh crisps, sold across from the Neptune Casino. Later business owners mostly avoided daily advertisements as unnecessary since the majority of the shop's traffic came during the summer months from tourists.

Advertisement for Dabelich's Grill from the Surf, June 15, 1905.

In January 1905, management of the café was transferred to George Dabelich, former proprietor of the Pacific Restaurant on Pacific Avenue across from the Pacific Ocean House. He immediately set to work converting the fries shop into a small short-order restaurant. One of the downstairs rooms was converted into a kitchen, while another became a private dining room, with the largest room converted into a public dining room with tables and counter seating and painted entirely in green. The upstairs rooms were converted into private dining rooms with views of the Monterey Bay. Miller took this opportunity to add a cement-lined cellar underneath the building. He also installed a cement walkway around it, possibly the first concrete sidewalk on the beach. The Dabelich's Grill and Bar Room opened to much more fanfare than Fletcher's café on April 3, with seventy-five meals served by Dabelich himself, since he hadn't hired a chef yet.

The Tent Casino, erected following the fire that destroyed the Neptune Casino, with Dabelich's Grill in the center background, summer 1906.

Daily advertisements for Dabelich's began to appear in the Surf from mid-June 1905 and ran until November 15. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the grill would close, but the bar would remain open and begin selling cigars and cigarettes. On the morning of June 22, 1906, the great Casino fire burned down most of the structures at the waterfront. Dabelich's Grill suffered serious damage in the inferno, but remained standing. He reported to the Santa Cruz Evening News that he estimated his loss of stock and furniture to be $1,990. Apparently, only two walls and some internal walls of the second floor survived the fires, but the building was partially protected by the fact that a fire hydrant was just outside the building so firefighters were constantly on hand to put out flames. Much of Dabelich's products survived the fire, either because they were stored in the cellar or were removed from the building. Dabelich opened a pop-up shop beside his fire-damaged building the next day. Meanwhile, Ralph Miller immediately set to work rebuilding the restaurant.

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, with the St. Francis Grill to the left of the Casino, late 1920s [UC Santa Cruz]

The restored building reopened in mid-July, once more under Dabelich's oversight. Very little is said of the business for the next few years and it may have operated more as a bar than a restaurant as it had before the fire. On May 1, 1909, George H. Collin, a former San Francisco bar owner, took over management of what was then known as the Cliff Saloon. He may have renamed it the Cliff Tavern, but records are unclear. He ran the bar for five summers and then transferred management back to Miller, who was partnered with Mary Spellman at the time. Details are very scarce regarding the restaurant from 1913 to 1921. Next door, where Boardwalk Bowl's courtyard is today, Peter Pappas erected a restaurant, which opened on June 17, 1916. Due to the widening of Beach Street, Miller and Pappas were both forced to move their structures back from the road in late 1919. Miller ran his saloon for another year but, in April 1921, leased his old café to Pappas, who merged the two establishments to create the St. Francis Grill.

The newly upgraded Cocoanut Grove with the St. Francis across the street, ca 1960s. [UC Santa Cruz]

Pappas had been running concessions at the Boardwalk with his brother, Constantine, since 1910. Over twelve years he had amassed a small fortune and made the best of it in April 1922 when he purchased from Agnes Hihn Younger the entire block between Beach Street and First Street, and from Cliff Street to Westbrook, minus the Breakers Hotel and Miller's small café, the latter of which they leased. The combined restaurant and bar was upgraded that same month, doubling the size of the dining room and adding a larger kitchen and cellar.

Advertisement for the St. Francis Grill, published in the Evening News, February 2, 1931.

St. Francis operated for forty years, only closing its doors at the end of the 1961 summer season. Ralph Miller died on August 29, 1950, and at some point afterwards his heirs sold the café to the Pappas family. For an unknown reason, Peter Pappas demolished his original 1916 restaurant around 1955, shifting all focus to the older two-story Miller Building. For decades its site remained a vacant lot until the Seaside Company converted it into a courtyard for Boardwalk Bowl. Management of the St. Francis Grill passed to Peter's children in November 1957, when Tony, Mary, and Ethel Pappas took over and renamed the restaurant the St. Francis Cocktail Lounge.

Demolition of the Casa del Rey overbridge, with the St. Francis Grill to the left, early 1950s [UC Santa Cruz]

The Pappas sold the property to a collective named Shorebreakers on May 14, 1962. One of the Shorebreakers, Sumner Treanor, a former Chicago Bears player, ran the St. Francis Lounge with his wife, Jo, who played piano and sang each night during the first months that they ran the bar. However, advertisements suddenly stopped on January 8, 1963, and Shorebreakers went out of business at the end of 1965. In May 1964, the collective leased the building to Jim Trillo, who opened Opus de Jazz, a record store and music venue. Despite his bold ideas about operating year-round and trying something new, he could not pay his bills. He declared bankruptcy in September 1965, but probably closed his business before the end of 1964. Basil J. D'Anna took over management of the building in April 1965, presumably as a lessee of Shorebreakers, although they purchased the property at some later point. D'Anna, riffing off his nickname 'Monk,' named the restaurant Monk's Lounge.

Sentinel advertisements for the Treanors' St. Francis Lounge (August 3, 1962), Opus de Jazz (August 20, 1864), and Monk's Lounge (February 11, 1966).

Monk's ran as the Brown Bag Deli during the day in the summers and as a nightclub in the evenings. Upstairs, one of Santa Cruz's first gay bars ran from 1971 to 1972 as The 141 Club, though it was not widely advertised due to public perceptions about homosexuality at the time. Monk's proved a popular musical venue for a decade, riding out the Hippy era before shutting its doors in 1976. The café passed through several hands after this, with Michael Williams, Louis Russo, and David Leefeldt taking it over in July 1976, followed in April 1979 by Barbara and Paul Tucker, who then leased it to Carlo Boyd and Donald Wallingford in April 1981. The Tuckers sold the property to Michael Hendel in February 1983, who sold it in October 1984 to Willie and Dollie Case, who continue to own the business today. The Cases have decorated much of the restaurant with Maxfield Parrish magazine covers and artwork, while also retaining artifacts from the café's earlier iterations. The couple also owns the Wharf House in Capitola.

Advertisement for the Beach Street Café, published in the Sentinel, August 11, 1994.

From 1979, the restaurant at the corner of Beach and Cliff Streets has operated under the name Beach Street Café (or briefly Beach Street Deli). While it has certainly changed hands many times, the restaurant/bar/grill/saloon/deli/café has remained open almost continuously since it first opened its doors over a century ago. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk may have some of the oldest buildings on the Santa Cruz waterfront, but this little restaurant has survived fires, earthquakes, and floods to become the oldest commercial building of them all.

The Beach Street Café at 399 Beach Street, ca 2015. [Victor Pan]

Citations & Credits:

  • Various articles from the Santa Cruz Surf, Evening News, and Sentinel. 1903-2005.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Car Stops: Arana Gulch and the Catholic Cemetery

The eastern limits of the municipal area of Santa Cruz—once comprising the City of Santa Cruz and the Township of Branciforte—have long been set at Arana Gulch, a depression formed by Arana Creek, which has its source far up Hidden Valley Road. The County Road—now Soquel Avenue—snakes through the gulch, splitting at its midpoint to head toward Soquel or Capitola. On the east side of the gulch is Old Holy Cross Cemetery, which was established in 1873 as an overflow cemetery for Catholic residents of the county. Most of the people buried at the old Santa Cruz Mission cemetery were reinterred here in 1885 when the Holy Cross Church was built. All of these facts contributed to the idea that any street railroad system on the East Side of the San Lorenzo River should extend to at least Arana Gulch.

An East Santa Cruz Street Railroad horsecar running along Atlantic Avenue with a view north across Wood's Lagoon and up Arana Gulch, ca 1892. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

The gulch was named after José Arana, who was originally granted Rancho Potrero y Rincón de San Pedro Regaldo by California Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado on August 15, 1842. This 92-acre land grant sat north and northeast of Mission Santa Cruz on the mission's former pastureland. Arana moved to the west side of his namesake gulch around the time that California became a state in 1850. He lived there until his death on March 1, 1868. East of Arana Creek was Rancho Arroyo del Rodeo, originally owned by the family of José Antonio Rodriguez but sold to John Daubenbiss and John Hames in 1845. Prior to Arana's relocation to the area, the depression had been known as Rodriguez Gulch by English-speaking settlers and retained that name into the 1850s.

An East Santa Cruz Street Railroad horsecar on Soquel Avenue near Cayuga Street, ca 1893. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

By the late 1880s, the population density of Santa Cruz had grown such that easier means of transportation were required for people who needed to commute daily from the outskirts. While horse-driven street railroads had reached the West Side by the late 1870s, the East Side only had a brief service from 1876 to early 1881 when the City Railroad, running on the Santa Cruz Railroad's tracks, operated to Railroad (Seabright) Avenue. Following a nearly decade-long lapse in service, William Ely, a well-respected East Side community member, petitioned the Santa Cruz Common Council on November 4, 1889 to extend a horsecar line along Soquel Avenue to the western ledge above Arana Gulch. The council approved the franchise on December 3 and the East Santa Cruz Street Railroad was incorporated a week later.

East Santa Cruz Street Railroad No. 4 on Soquel Avenue, ca 1895. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Ely was quick to build the line to Cayuga Street and it officially opened on May Day 1890. But rather than extending the line to Arana Gulch, as promised and contractually obligated to do, Ely wanted to redirect the line down Cayuga to Seabright Beach. At a tense meeting with the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors on May 10, Ely was given permission to build this new branch line, so long as he completed the track to Arana Gulch first. He was given a month to resume building the track the requisite 4,000 feet to its agreed terminus.

The track to Arana Gulch and the Catholic Cemetery was finally completed on April 17, 1891. Although it was completed with no fanfare, the Santa Cruz Surf noted that it brought the streetcar line one step closer to Soquel and Capitola. It also noted that the fact that the streetcar line ended at the cemetery meant people could more easily visit their deceased friends and relatives. Why it was actually important is unclear—it may have been done to ensure East Siders that they were not forgotten. While the streetcar tracks were being installed down the County Road, the Board of Supervisors used the construction as an opportunity to fill, regrade, and otherwise improve the main road to Soquel. In 1894, plans were announced to extend either the Arana Gulch or Seabright branches to Capitola, but the economic conditions of the time put this project on hold. 

East Santa Cruz Street Railroad listed for sale, Santa Cruz Surf, October 22, 1901.

By the end of the century, it was clear that the future of the line was in electrification or abandonment. Fred Swanton, former owner of the Big Creek Electric Company, already controlled the city's other railroad, the Santa Cruz Electric Railway, and bought a controlling stake in the East Santa Cruz Railroad in the late 1890s. In May 1902, he received permission from the Board of Supervisors to extend the Arana Gulch Branch to Soquel and Capitola, but a better opportunity presented itself. The owners of the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway Company, which planned to build an electric streetcar line between the named places, offered to buy the aging horse-railway. Swanton and Ely agreed to the sale in August 1902. Electrification of the line was approved by the Board of Supervisors on January 6, 1903, with a proviso that the Arana Gulch track be electrified no later than October 15. By the time the Union Traction Company consolidated all of its predecessors on September 2, 1904, the Arana Gulch Branch had been electrified for nearly a year.

A Union Traction Company electric streetcar near DeLaveaga Park, ca 1909. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Very little is actually said of the Arana Gulch and Catholic Cemetery stops. A notice in June 1895 stated that a turntable was to be installed at Arana Gulch, but it is unknown if this ever happened. In January 1902, a letter to the Sentinel reflected on a recent trip the writer took on the horsecar line to Arana Gulch and down Haynes Hill, presumably the name for the western slope of Arana Gulch. This is the only concrete evidence that the streetcar line actually descended into the gulch itself, though there is no evidence it climbed the eastern embankment. Service to Arana Gulch was repeatedly curtailed during years with tight budgets, with the branch being closed most of 1905. However, the line was not abandoned and surveyors working for the Ocean Shore Railway Company hoped to use the Arana Gulch Branch as its mainline between Santa Cruz and Watsonville.

Perhaps as a reflection of this newfound optimism, the tracks beyond Cayuga Street were replaced with heavier rail in June 1906 in anticipation of the line's extension to Soquel. At the same time, most of the network was upgraded to standard-gauge, which left the short Arana Gulch Branch in a difficult situation. Beginning June 28, horsecars once more plied the branch line from Cayuga to Park Way, not because the branch wasn't electric, but because the new standard-gauge system was not compatible with the older narrow-gauge electric cars. The 160-acre property of Adolph Hagemann, which on the western rim of the gulch, marked the terminus, suggesting that trackage into the gulch, if any ever existed, was abandoned no later than this point. Service to Arana Gulch was every half hour from 7:20 a.m. to 6:20 p.m., and the Evening Sentinel reported that the line was "doing a good business." On June 3, 1907, the Board of Supervisors approved the extension of the line to Soquel and Capitola and its electrification. However, that same day the Board of Supervisors permitted the construction of an entirely new branch line along Water Street and Morrissey Boulevard to DeLaveaga Park.

A woman waiting for a Union Traction Company streetcar at Morrissey Boulevard, December 1, 1918. [University of California, Santa Cruz]

This new line effectively rendered the Arana Gulch Branch redundant. When the DeLaveaga trackage reached the old Arana Gulch track on October 15, 1908, it seems certain that the two lines were linked and the old Cayuga to Morrissey trackage put out of service, though it was not abandoned at this time. The trackage from the new branch along Soquel Avenue to Park Way must have been upgraded to standard gauge at this time. Plans were still in place to eventually extend this trackage to Soquel, while another scheme intended to take the track up Park Way into DeLaveaga Park, where it could more easily reach Laveaga Heights at the top of the park. At the Park Way entrance, a large entry sign would be installed.

Sign welcoming people to the City of Santa Cruz on Soquel Avenue at Park Way, March 1931. [UC Santa Cruz]

For some reason, this Park Way route was never built despite the newspaper spending many words on it throughout 1910. The Morrissey track to DeLaveaga was electrified in late 1910, signalling the end of plans to create a grand entrance at Park Way. Meanwhile, Union Traction quietly abandoned its Cayuga Street to Morrissey track in October 1911 to allow it to be concreted for automobile traffic. When precisely service ended to the bottom of Park Way overlooking Arana Gulch is unknown, but it was likely around this same time. A decade after the stop was abandoned, a large sign was installed over the road at Park Way welcoming people to the City of Santa Cruz.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:

Arana Gulch: 36.981635, -121.998820 (speculative)
Catholic Cemetery: 36.983216, -121.994716 (speculative)

There are no known photographs of either stop's shelter, assuming any such structure was built. To make matters even more frustrating, the precise locations of the streetcar stops for Arana Gulch and the Catholic Cemetery remain uncertain. The Arana Gulch stop was somewhere in the vicinity of Park Way according to multiple sources. Since the County Road crossed Arana Creek in this section, it is plausible that the streetcar line did as well, in which case the stop for the Catholic Cemetery was likely the Capitola Road Extension, which was originally Capitola Road. However, if it did not climb to the top of the eastern hillside, then it probably stopped across from today's La Fonda Avenue, where there was a footpath to the cemetery. The cemetery itself closed in 1946 and fell into disrepair for half a century before volunteers restored it. The area immediately south of the stop sites is now Arana Gulch Open Space, which includes walking trails to Woods Lagoon and the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. 2nd edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. 2nd edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2005.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Curiosities: Railroad School and District

Santa Cruz County was still an isolated community in the late 1860s when the first suggestion of a railroad to San Francisco entered the columns of local newspapers. From 1863 to 1866, an increasing number of articles discussed the feasibility, practicability, financial costs, and benefits of such a connection. Debates raged over the best routes and whether Watsonville or Santa Cruz was a more important destination. In 1865, rival survey teams were plotting courses up the San Lorenzo River and along the Pajaro River, with both attempting to prove their route was the best option. Meanwhile, the Southern Pacific Railroad announced plans to extend its San Francisco & San Jose Railroad south to Gilroy, which would mean the Southern Pacific mainline would only be a short seventeen miles away from Watsonville. On January 9, 1868, the Santa Clara and Pajaro Valley Railroad Company was incorporated as a Southern Pacific subsidiary to fulfill this promise.

Railroad School, 1940s. [UC Santa Cruz – colorized using MyHeritage]

Everyone knew that a railroad would eventually connect Gilroy and Watsonville—the only questions left were when and how would it do it? Frederick A. Hihn, Charles Ford, Nathaniel W. Chittenden, Lucius Sanborn, and other prominent Pajaro Valley elite decided in mid-June 1867 that they would not leave the matter to chance. They incorporated the California Coast Railroad Company, with the stated goal of connecting the two points via the most practicable route. Only five months later, Southern Pacific strongly suggested that it would continue a branch line from Gilroy to Watsonville and the Salinas Valley as soon as it completed the Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad to Gilroy. This had the effect of killing the stock-sale drive of the California Coast Railroad's plans, but it invigorating local interest in a railroad.

Boundaries of Railroad School District, from the Official Map of Santa Cruz County, 1889. [Library of Congress]

All of this talk of a railroad got the better of some locals. This fact is no clearer than in the optimistic creation of the Railroad School District two miles east of Watsonville. Since the 1850s, dozens of farming families had settled along the north bank of the Pajaro River between the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Watsonville town limits. This area had been under the jurisdiction of the Carleton School District for several years, but by January 1868, it had sufficient population to justify a division. The boundaries of the new district followed the surveyed route of the California Coast Railroad between Pajaro Gap and Watsonville: it ran from the eastern boundary of Santa Cruz County west along the north bank of the Pajaro River, creating a triangular section that encompassed the lands of the Silliman, Wiley, Driscoll, Fining, Carleton, Folgey, and Casserly families.

USGS map showing the location of Railroad School and the original alignment of Riverside Road, 1913.

The earliest history of the school is not well documented. Classes were first held on Max Jones' property, either in his home or in an adjacent existing structure. A small purpose-built schoolhouse was erected nearby in 1869 and later moved to Riverside Road on the land of the Kelly–Thompson family. Today, this site is at the intersection of Riverside Road and Carleton Road. This first schoolhouse was eventually bought by O. H. Willoughby, Sr., in 1878 to allow for the construction of a new, larger building. Willoughby moved the old schoolhouse to his property where he used it as a stable. The second schoolhouse was built by John Aston on the same site. For the next twenty years, very little is said in local newspapers about the school, but it served as a polling place for the local community. In April 1890, a flagpole was installed outside the school and an American flag was raised, the first school to have such a flag in the Pajaro Valley. It became a point of pride to the local population, many of whom pitched in to buy the pole and flag.

Railroad School, ca 1900s. [Pajaro Valley Historical Association – colorized using MyHeritage]

A controversial district vote in November 1899—which saw a 4-hour polling window and only 18 people voting in favor of a new schoolhouse out of 35 total voters—led to the erection of a third schoolhouse at the site. The old structure was sold for $100 to the Silliman family and moved to their ranch, where they used it as a cookhouse into the 1930s. The new structure was designed by William Henry Weeks and constructed by a man surnamed Thomas on a budget of $1,200. The structure likely was first used during the 1900-1901 school year.

The new schoolhouse was anything but perfect. The Railroad School District was often cash-strapped and as a solution, it hired two female students to work as janitors. By 1913, the schoolhouse was covered in cobwebs, the plaster walls were cracking, and the toilets were in disrepair. It was advised by the Santa Cruz Evening News that the district should hire a janitor and install modern septic tanks and toilets, but this still had not been done by 1927. Several additions were made to the school over its nearly fifty years of existence, though, including new classrooms and offices for staff.

Railroad School, ca 1920s. [Adi Zehner – colorized using MyHeritage]

Like most rural schools, the district only supported one full-time teacher for much of its history, and most of its teachers only served for a year or two. In later years, the district supported up to three teachers as well as a principal. Newspapers do not list all of the staff, but one of the earliest teachers in his first assignment in the county was John William Linscott. Another was George W. Furlong, who had a long tenure at several different Pajaro Valley schools in the 1880s. Other teachers included Allie Culverwell, Kara Allen, Louise Kidder, Jennie Ross, Ida A. Nohrden, Thomas J. Ready, Eileen Keefe, Irene Strazich, Ruth Sommers, Eldon John Covell, Gladys I. Zobel, Elma Hockabout, Helen Lorentzen, Anna Jensen, Ann Cikuth, Ann Stolich Moe, and Sue Gilbert.

As fate would have it, the school never lived up to its name. When the Southern Pacific Railroad did eventually complete a branch line down the Pajaro Valley in January 1872, it mostly stuck to the south bank of the Pajaro River and never entered into Watsonville. The only part of the Railroad School District that actually had a railroad was a 2.5-mile-long section through Chittenden, at the extreme eastern end of the district's jurisdiction, but this easternmost section was split off from the Railroad School District by 1886 and joined the Vega School District, which spanned the Pajaro River to San Benito and Monterey Counties. In the 1920s, Vega was split along the county line and the Santa Cruz County portion reverted to the Railroad School District, once more allowing the district to live up to its name, albeit barely.

Railroad School's students and faculty, 1935. [Dee Mosegaard – colorized using MyHeritage]

The Railroad School District was united to other local primary schools in February 1946 to become a part of the Salsipuedes Union Elementary School District. Railroad Elementary School lingered for another two years before shutting down in the summer of 1948. The schoolhouse was put up for auction in August 1949 for a statutory $500, but received no bids. It's ultimate fate is unknown. The property reverted to the Kelly–Thompson family but is currently the undeveloped lot where Riverside Road turns onto Carleton Road.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • Hatch, Andrew Jackson. "Official Map of Santa Cruz County." San Francisco, CA: A. J. Hatch, 1889.
  • Lewis, Betty. "Railroad Hotel and school remembered." Register–Pajaronian (Sept. 1, 2000), 5.
  • Various articles from The PajaronianSanta Cruz Evening News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Santa Cruz Surf.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Companies: Union Mill & Lumber Company

The story of the Union Mill & Lumber Company shares its origin with the Alpine Lumber Company in that both began with Hubbard Wilson McKoy, an early settler in the Felton area. In 1871, McKoy’s daughter Sierra Nevada married the bartender of his Felton Hotel, Thomas Benton Hubbard. This link soon brought their two families into business together, prompting seventeen years of collaboration.

Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. mill on Oil Creek, one of the headwaters of Pescadero Creek, late 1890s. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

The Hubbard family had migrated from Missouri and were led by Thomas’s father, Daniel Campbell Hubbard, who went into business with McKoy in 1875. The following year, Thomas began working at George Treat’s mill near the toll house south of Felton, giving him both experience in the industry and a connection with an influential local capitalist. On September 5, 1876, Thomas joined McKoy to form McKoy & Hubbard. For the next three years, the partners ran a mill north of Felton on the line of the San Lorenzo Valley Flume. During this time, they owned a lumber yard near the Railroad Wharf and briefly partnered with Nathaniel Manson and Charles Cummins of Lompoc, operating together as the Santa Cruz Lumber Company. But Manson, Cummins, and Hubbard all wanted more direct control over their operations and eventually went their separate ways in spring 1879.

H. W. McKoy's Central Hotel in Felton, mid-1870s. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Hubbard soon joined forces with another son-in-law of McKoy, Isaac Newton Hayes, and together they purchased stumpage rights to the lands of H. E. Makinney and T. H. Peterson on Marshall Creek in a gulch soon named after Hubbard. Their mill opened the week of May 22, 1880, and was placed under the management of veteran lumbermen Joseph W. Peery and J. W. Basham. At the end of the year, Hubbard was appointed to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to replace James F. Cunningham, who had resigned his post. Despite his unexpected shift into local politics, he remained focused on his lumber projects.

Hayes & Hubbard's mill on Marshall Creek, ca 1881. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

In May 1881, Hayes & Hubbard sold its mill on Marshall Creek to the Independent Lumber Company of San José, which planned to run the mill until the end of the summer and then relocate the machinery to Soquel Creek. Only two months later, Hubbard partnered with David Lynd Kent, William Armstrong, Isaac B. Kent, and Nathan Robbins Bowes to incorporate the Union Mill & Lumber Company. That same month, the firm opened its first mill a quarter mile upstream of Hubbard’s previous mill. Joe Nichols oversaw construction of the new facility, which had a capacity of 20,000 board feet of lumber per day. The mill opened the last week of August and employed 30 to 40 people.

D. L. Kent's General Merchandise store in Felton, ca 1880. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

Union Mill’s operations in Hubbard Gulch lasted for three seasons. During that time, the mill ran at peak efficiency but the San Lorenzo Valley Flume could not handle its increased output, so the company was forced to transport lumber to Felton by wagon on the County Road (Highway 9). Once in Felton, it was loaded onto waiting South Pacific Coast Railroad flatcars. This was an inefficient system, one that the company hoped to avoid at its next venue. In February 1883, the company bought 400 acres of timberland along Lompico Creek from Peter C. Van Allen for $6,000.

While its Hubbard Gulch mill ran for one last season, the Union Mill & Lumber Company set up a new facility near the confluence of Lompico Creek and Zayante Creek using machinery purchased from the late William Waddell’s defunct mill near Point Año Nuevo. Construction was slow, particularly because the basin was extremely narrow. Crews used this to their advantage and installed a 35-foot-high dam that allowed the millpond to snake up the creek for half a mile. At the top of this, they installed a 330-foot-long canal, which served as a catchment for logs pulled or lowered from above. Once completed, the mill had a capacity of 50,000 board feet of lumber per day, more than double the output of the Hubbard Gulch mill. Probably in early autumn 1884, the South Pacific Coast Railroad extended a 0.4-mile-long narrow-gauge spur to the mill. Ownership and maintenance of the track was split between the lumber company and the railroad, with Zayante Road marking the dividing line. Empty cars were lowered to the mill using gravity and brakes, while horses pulled loaded cars up to the railroad grade. An access road was extended from the mill to Zayante Road in September 1884, and the mill was ready for operation in October.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map of downtown Felton, showing the dilapidated Union Mill & Lumber Company's planing mill between the end of the Old Felton Branch of the South Pacific Coast Railway and the San Lorenzo River, 1895. [Library of Congress]

Around the same time the Lompico mill was being erected, the Union Mill & Lumber Company also erected a planing mill behind the old Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad’s freight depot on the west side of the San Lorenzo River. The steam-powered facility had a capacity of 8,000 board feet of lumber per day, and, in May 1884, it shipped five carloads of wood products every day. This planing mill was responsible for processing rough lumber, splitstuff, and other wood products that could not be manufactured at the Lompico site.

Fellers and piecemakers of the Union Mill & Lumber Company posing around a felled tree above Lompico Creek, ca 1886. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

A Sentinel reporter visited the Lompico mill in October 1885 and reported on the operations there:

This mill is running light at present, with a force of twenty-five men, and turns out about 12,000 feet of lumber per day, though its full capacity is 50,000 feet. This mill can boast of having the largest engine used in any saw-mill in the country, being one hundred horse-power. The system of bringing logs from the woods is different from all other mills in this part of the State, and has resulted in a great saving to the company, who formerly used sixteen yoke of oxen, while at present only four yoke are engaged in hauling the logs to a dam on the Lumbago creek, down which they are floated to within about one hundred feet of the mill, when they are attached to a chain and pulled by the huge engine to the saw. It is very interesting to watch this process, which is a well contrived plan and a much more rapid means of moving logs than was the old system.

Most of the wood products produced at the mill were sent to San José, where Hubbard moved in January 1885 to work as the primary sales agent for the Bay Area.

On January 20, 1886, there was a change in leadership at the Union Mill & Lumber Company when H. W. McKoy was elected president. McKoy had spent the previous three years running the Central Hotel in Felton, but he had been a principal an investor in the lumber company when it first formed five years earlier. As president, he moved to San José and took over the company’s yard there. He only remained in his position for two years, however. In January 1888, he sold his shares in the company and permanently left the lumber industry. He returned to running his hotel until a fire on October 20, 1889, burned much of Felton to the ground. He rebuilt, christening the new structure the Grand Central Hotel, and continued to run the hostelry until his death on August 22, 1895.

Not long after McKoy took over the Union Mill & Lumber Company, the firm acquired 356 acres of additional land in the Lompico basin from the estate of Charles McLaughlin via a judicial ruling. This solidified the company’s hold over the timber in the Lompico Creek basin. The next year, in July 1887, the company announced plans to build a new mill on San Pedro Street in San José for $32,000. There is some evidence to suggest that it was actually built. The company also acquired timberland four miles north of Boulder Creek and was operating a mill there in March 1887, though no further details of this operation can be found.

Hubbard’s relationship with the company after this point becomes murky, primarily because local newspapers had a habit of blurring the names of local businesses with the names of their owners. What is clear is that Hubbard was likely in charge of the planing mill in Felton during this time. That planing mill was scheduled to relocate to Lompico in March 1887, but it is unclear if it ever moved since it was still operating somewhere in Felton in February 1888. That same year in October, Hubbard entered into a new partnership with Daniel and Neil Carmichael of Saratoga to harvest timber along Oil Creek, a tributary of Pescadero Creek at the northernmost point of Santa Cruz County.

Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. first mill on Oil Creek, ca 1890. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using MyHeritage]

The Union Mill & Lumber Company must have gone inactive at around this time since the Sentinel notes that Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. relocated the Union Mill’s machinery to its new operation on Oil Creek prior to July 1890. Charles C. Smith is named as president of the Union Mill & Lumber Company in April 1889, but the firm is not mentioned against in newspapers after this date. It may have suffered during the economic downturn of 1893, which severely impacted the local lumber industry, and never recovered. What ultimately happened to the Union Mill & Lumber Company remains a mystery, but it was finally dissolved on December 14, 1905.

The former Union Mill on Union Creek within Big Basin, ca 1901. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – colorized using MyHeritage]

The story of Hubbard and the physical remains of the Union Mill take different paths from this point. Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. sold the old mill structure and machinery to Henry L. Middleton in March 1895, who moved it to Little Basin northwest of Boulder Creek. Middleton employed around 40 workers at the mill during the three years that it operated there. He then moved the mill further north onto a 160-acre tract on today’s Union Creek within Big Basin that he harvested from 1898 to 1900 at a reduced capacity. This threat posed by this mill, along with a few others owned by Middleton, finally convinced the State of California to purchase land that would become the California Redwood Park in 1902. Following the sale, the mill was dismantled and removed to Boulder Creek in November. Joseph Grahamer later leased the site in 1904 and established the Union Mill Camp and Tavern, one of the earliest campgrounds at Big Basin. Unfortunately, the site was destroyed by fire on September 7, only a few months after it opened.

A Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. water wagon on Big Basin Road, ca 1901. Batista 'Bat' Mevin is driving. Photo by Andrew P. Hill. [History San José – colorized using MyHeritage]

Hubbard & Carmichael Bros., meanwhile, continued their operations on Oil Creek. The company may have closed the mill for a few years from 1893, which explains why the Union Mill was sold to Middleton during this time. When business resumed around 1896, the partners shifted operations downstream of their original mill site into San Mateo County. The mill was moved 0.75 miles off Saratoga Gap to a clearing beside Oil Creek. To get the cut lumber and other wood products to the top of the ridge, where the lumber yard was located, the company built a funicular cable railroad, the first of its type in the county. Horses pulled wagons full of lumber from the mill to the bottom of the incline, where they were attached to a cable and hauled up the grade to the yard. Once in the yard, crews would load wagons and send the material off to Saratoga and San Jose. The mill at this time employed around 50 men and cut 20,000 board feet of lumber per day. The Oil Creek mill remained in operation at this site for at least two seasons.

The original Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. mill on West Santa Cruz Street in San José, mid-December 1901. [San José Daily Mercury – colorized using MyHeritage]

In January 1900, Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. opened a new retail mill and yard on West Santa Clara Street in San José. It would remain the most stable aspect of the firm for the next three decades. The mill on Oil Creek shut down after the 1899 season and relocated to the Morrell Ranch on Two Bar Creek. But it only remained there for two years, shifting back to a new site on Oil Creek in July 1902. The mill resumed using the funicular railroad to bring lumber to Saratoga Gap, but the company’s primary focus had shifted to the hillside west of the mill, with felled trees dragged via cable to the millpond below. Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. finally ended its operations on Oil Creek at the end of the 1905 season, after which it relocated to Waterman Creek just below the California Timber Company’s property.

Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. workers in San Jose celebrating 100% union membership, ca 1913 [San José State University – colorized using MyHeritage]

During this time and for at least two more decades, Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. became a pillar of the San José lumber scene. The company briefly incorporated as Carmichael Bros. on October 27,1909, perhaps reflecting changes to the firm caused by the San Francisco Earthquake. This entity went out of business on April 13, 1914. Yet four years later, the older Hubbard & Carmichael Bros. was reincorporated and remained a legal entity until December 18, 1944. Not unexpectedly, Thomas Hubbard did not live to see the final end of his lumber empire. He died on November 23, 1917, after which his son Albert L. Hubbard succeeded him as president of the firm. From his start as a bartender in the upstart hamlet of Felton, Thomas became over forty years one of the most prominent lumbermen in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties, whose legacy lives on in the gulch named after him in Ben Lomond.

Citations & Credits:

  • California Office of the Secretary of State. bizfile Online.
  • San Jose Evening News and Herald. Various articles.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Weekly Sentinel, Daily Sentinel, Morning Sentinel, and Evening Sentinel. Various articles.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Sources: Subdivision Plans

Almost every property in Santa Cruz County and in the surrounding areas was once a part of a larger property. On the coast and in the Pajaro Valley, most of these were Mexican ranchos. Elsewhere, they were large land grants, often in nearly uninhabitable mountain terrain. Eventually, the forests were cut down, the swamps were drained, and roads were extended, making much of the land in the region usable by settlers. Over time, the large ranchos and tracts were subdivided into smaller, more manageable properties. And the plans of these subdivisions can be very useful in researching local railroad history.

The railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains passed through several large properties. These included the coastal ranchos, the Pajaro Valley ranchos, Ranchos Zayante and Rincon on the San Lorenzo River, and Rancho Rinconada de los Gatos in Santa Clara County. Other large tracts through which railroads passed include the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company's properties high up Zayante Creek, the Pacific Manufacturing Company's properties in the Ben Lomond area, Grover & Company's lands around Brookdale, and the various timber companies that owned property in and north of Boulder Creek. When the early railroads built their routes, these were still large property blocks, so negotiating easements and rights-of-way were relatively straightforward. However, as time passed, these large properties shrunk and subdivisions were created, often directly beside or around the railroad tracks.

A property developer creating a new subdivision can deal with the presence of a railroad in a number of ways:

  • In select cases, they may petition the Southern Pacific Railroad to create a dedicated station for their subdivision. This is how Glen Arbor, Olympia, Call of the Wild, and Seabright all obtained their stations. Similarly, resorts such as the Boardwalk, Mount Hermon, Twin Lakes, Eva, and Manresa were allowed stations because the resort owners petitioned the railroad.
  • Alternatively, a subdivision may be created around an already-established station, with the property developers integrating the station into its plans (and the name sometimes changing as a result). This occurred at Eccles, Meehan (formerly Doughertys), Farley (Claus), Glenwood, Laurel (Highland), and elsewhere. In some cases, large-scale communities developed around former freight stations, such as at Ben Lomond (Pacific Mills), Brookdale (Reed's Spur), Aromas (Sand Cut), and Capitola (Soquel).
  • In the majority of cases, the property is subdivided with acceptance of the adjacent railroad but no active engagement with it. Sometimes proximity to a nearby railroad station is offered as a perk, other times the railroad goes entirely unmentioned. And in rare instances, it is left off the subdivision plan itself, suggesting that the developer wanted to downplay the presence of the railroad.
The plans created for subdivisions can often reveal a lot about the developer's strategy regarding the railroad. And other details in the plans including the layout of the subdivision, the year it was surveyed and registered, the people involved, the owners of adjacent properties, and the details of the railroad itself all make them an invaluable resource when researching local railroad history.

Ways of using this type of source:

When it comes to railroad research, the number one reason to view a subdivision plan is to see how the property developers intended to interact with the railroad right-of-way. The area around Brookdale in the San Lorenzo Valley provides several different examples demonstrating the various relationships. Brookdale was developed from the land of Grover & Company, a lumber company, which had been purchased in the late 1890s by James Harvey Logan, a superior court judge. At the time, there were two train stations in the area: Reed's Spur and Steen's Spur. Both of these were industrial spurs catering to local logging operations, which had shut down by the time Logan had purchased the property.

Map of Brookdale (assembled from four tiles), 1910. [Santa Cruz County GIS]

This map above lays out the town in some detail. By this point, Reed's Spur had become the official station for Brookdale and Steen's Spur had become Fish Hatchery. There was also a new station directly across the river to the southeast called Siesta. Notably on this map, the station locations are emphasized, but the spurs and facilities are nowhere mentioned. This map is primarily about property ownership, so other details are lacking. Yet the importance of the railroad line passing through the property development is obvious. The three stations are mentioned and clearly play some role in the life of the community.

Map of Huckleberry Island, April 1903. [Santa Cruz County GIS]

This map of Huckleberry Island is in some ways the opposite of the Brookdale map. The railroad right-of-way is shown, but it is there purely for geographic accuracy, nothing more. The actual railroad passes through an adjacent tract owned by the Hartman family (who are not named on this plan). For whatever reason, no agreement was made with the family and the railroad to allow a flag-stop for Huckleberry Island. Granted, the subdivision was just across a bridge from Brookdale station, but the fact that the developers of the subdivision mostly ignored the railroad in their plans is relevant to understanding the history of this little community.

Excerpt from a revised Map of Brookdale, ca 1911. [Santa Cruz County GIS]

At the other extreme is the above extract from a revision to the 1910 Map of Brookdale. Notice the sudden addition of "North Brookdale Station" at the end of Irwin Way. This station never existed but was rather the fanciful idea of the property developer, surveyor, or cartographer.  Yet the suggestion of such a station is reasonable—this community is separated from Brookdale station by a wide bend in the river putting it 0.9 miles away The next nearest station is Harris (formerly Boulder Mill), which is across the river and therefore inaccessible at this time. Thus, the closest station is actually Filbert 0.8 miles to the north along the main county road (Highway 9). It therefore makes sense that the developer would petition for such a station, but there is no evidence that a station was ever requested and Southern Pacific certainly never established one at this site. Its presence on this map is both evidence of hope and a warning to researchers not to trust everything found on a subdivision plan.

Plan of East Brookdale, August 1909. [Santa Cruz County GIS]

Some of the most useful subdivision plans aren't even necessarily of the specific area in question. This plan of East Brookdale from August 1909 shows Siesta station in detail, despite the fact that it's actually focused on an adjacent subdivision. The plan shows the approximate length of the railroad spur and implies a relationship with the subdivision. Curiously, Siesta is not named, perhaps because the station itself did not have a name at the time this plan was made. The station's prominence in this plan makes clear that it would be available to residents and vacationers to the East Brookdale subdivision. For railroad researchers, it is also very helpful that visual details of the adjacent bridge over the San Lorenzo River are provided, making this plan even more helpful.

Excerpt of the Map of Brookdale, ca 1911. [Santa Cruz County GIS]

Shifting to another use for these maps, they can be used to identify important people, including those who lived on the property before it was subdivided, those who subdivided it, those who lived on it when the map was made, and neighbors to the subdivision. In this random excerpt from the circa 1911 revised Map of Brookdale, several names jump out, some individuals and some businesses. The most important business is the Brookdale Land Company, which subdivided the property on behalf of Judge Logan. Other important property holders include the Fish Hatchery and the Brookdale Lodge. Then there are individuals: Ralph Miller, former co-owner of the Neptune Baths at the Santa Cruz Main Beach; Fred R. Walti, owner of a large slaughterhouse in Santa Cruz; John W. Linscott, superintendent of county schools; and several other people connected to county business and government. All of these may provide clues as to why the subdivision was created, who it hoped to attract, and how the railroad was involved.

Map of the Clear Creek area, 1894. [Santa Cruz County GIS]

One final important use for subdivision plans, town maps, and similar documents is to show a progression. Brookdale was not always a large property subdivision. Once it was just a lumber mill along the county road to Boulder Creek. This map surveyed by E. D. Perry in 1894 shows a very different area than would later emerge. Everything is in a grid pattern corresponding with a standard township division of 36 sections in a 6 mile by 6 mile grid. The railroad bridges are very helpfully numbered, presumably according to the South Pacific Coast Railway's formula. The relationship between the railroad, San Lorenzo River, and county road are much more apparent since there are no small properties confusing the scene. A 'white sulphur spring' is apparently located on the east bank of the river along a small brook. Most importantly, the names of the several large property owners are visible across the page: Grover and Logan, Castle, Ordway, Peterson, and the Hartman Tract. There's also the promise of some development in the area with 'Island Park' already labeled over Huckleberry Island.

Local history resources:

While there are various places you can go to find a few subdivision plans, Santa Cruz County has a one-stop online place to find almost all of them relating to the county. Geographic Information Services (GIS) for Santa Cruz County includes many different maps of the county, but among those are subdivision and other property plans documenting the entire property history of the county.

You can access the GIS Web portal at Type in or navigate to a property, click on it (make sure only one property is selected, because it sometimes will click two), and then click on "Recorded Maps & Docs." Under the "Recorded Maps" and "Non Recorded Maps" sections are sometimes dozens of items relating to the property or the larger property within which it is found. Most subdivision plans are under "Recorded Maps," but other things such as rancho boundaries, early area surveys, smaller private subdivisions, and court maps may be found under "Non Recorded Maps." There are also several other categories of maps that may be useful, depending on your topic.

Monterey County has a similar GIS map viewer that can be found here: Unlike the Santa Cruz version, this GIS site shows many of the subdivisions at the overview level and users can see small thumbnails of the available plans and maps when they click on a property. This makes it both more and less convenient to users, depending on how you want to search for your plans.

Unfortunately, Santa Clara and San Benito Counties do not appear to have similarly useful online web tools to search for historical subdivisions and property information. While they have GIS websites, these do not seem to allow for historical breakdowns of properties.

Online map tool:

To assist researchers and those interested in local history, Santa Cruz Trains is created an online map showing all of the ranchos, named subdivisions, and organized towns and cities in Santa Cruz County. The focus currently is on Felton and Ben Lomond, but the map will be expanded to the entire county as time permits.