Friday, September 6, 2019

Curiosities: The Sun Tan Special

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

People: Frederick A. Hihn

Who was Frederick Augustus Hihn? He wasn't the founder of Santa Cruz County, but his power and influence in its early years means that he might as well have been. He didn't own the county, but a good portion of its land passed through his hands at one point or another. He wasn't the county's biggest or wealthiest lumberman, but that certainly didn't stop him from trying to be both. And he wasn't the county's most famous or popular politician, but in his time he was both famous and popular. No, Frederick Hihn was something different: he was a visionary, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and an everyman in almost every way. He was the quintessential Gilded Age gentleman. He appeared on the scene just as California was becoming a state and lingered into the second decade of the twentieth century. In many ways, Santa Cruz during the second half of the nineteenth century was Hihn's town, and everyone knew it.

Frederick Augustus Hihn in stately repose, c. 1900. [California State Library]
Friedrich August Ludewig Hühn was born on August 16, 1829, in Holzminden in the Duchy of Brunswick, at the time a part of the German Confederation but otherwise an independent duchy. His father was a merchant and he had six brothers and two sisters, some of whom will accompany Friedrich to the United States. For most of his early years, Hühn was expected to become a merchant, and most of his training in this time was toward that goal. In 1844, he graduated from the local gymnasium and began working for A. Hoffmann in Schöningen as an apprentice merchant. In 1847, he started his first business collecting medicinal herbs and preparing them for commercial sale. But Hühn was becoming dissatisfied with German politics and sought an escape.

Hundreds of abandoned ships left by gold-seekers in Yerba Buena Bay, San Francisco, 1853. The Reform may well be one of these ships. [Smithsonian National Museum of American History]
He began making plans to move to Wisconsin when gold was discovered in California. After much contemplation, Hühn finally decided that the best option for himself and his family was to head to California and search for gold. It was not an entirely selfish motivation that drove him, though—his family was not wealthy and Hühn wanted to provide for them and his parents so they could live more comfortably. He boarded the ship Reform on April 20, 1849 and spent the next six months sailing around Cape Horn to San Francisco, where he arrived on October 12.

Gold mining in Placer Ravine near Auburn, 1852. [Smithsonian]
Hühn spent the next month preparing himself for the Gold County and purchasing a claim near the Feather River's south fork. But he did not anticipate the winter rains, which flooded his claim and washed most of his tools and supplies downriver. By December 1, 1849, Hühn was back in Sacramento without money or any practical ability to return to his claim. Giving up on the dream, he joined with a partner who had worked the claim with him, E. Kunitz, and opened a candy shop in downtown Sacramento. But disaster struck again on Christmas Day when the American River overflowed and destroyed their shop. Hühn decided to return to the gold mines and went to Long Ear near Auburn, where he finally had some success.

Downtown San Francisco in 1851, showing several of the main businesses in town including a drug store left of center, although whether this was Hihn's is unknown. Photograph by Daniel Hagerman. [Fine Art America]
Therese Paggen, c. 1870. [Hihn-Younger
Archives, University of California, Santa Cruz]
It was while working near Auburn that Hühn finally decided to apply to become an American citizen on June 6, 1850. Casting off his German origins, he adopted the new name Frederick August Hihn. Shortly afterwards in August, he returned to Sacramento and became the manager of two hotels on K Street. But this venture proved too tedious for the ambitious Hihn and he moved back to San Francisco, where he opened his first mercantile store, a drug store on Washington Street. It was in San Francisco that he met Therese Paggen, a French immigrant, whom he married three years later on November 23, 1853.

Hihn did not thrive while living in San Francisco. His drug store burned down on May 5, 1851, and he immediately switched to selling mattresses. But his mattress stock caught fire and were destroyed on June 22. During this time, he also lost most of spare cash to theft and was at times living on friends' spare beds and couches. By June 30, Hihn had decided to return home, but a friend convinced him to get a job at the Sacramento Soap Factory. It was there that he met Henry Hintch, who convinced Hihn to relocated with him to Mission San Antonio to grow tobacco. They took a substantial load of supplies with them on muleback and discovered, to their surprise, how popular their items were with the local Californios when they stopped to rest for a night at San Juan Bautista. Within days, they had run out of supplies, so Hihn rode back to San Francisco to purchase more goods for sale.

Therese Paggen, their first child Katherine Hihn, and Frederick, c. 1858. [Hihn-Younger Archives, UCSC]
After make a few more sales, Hintch and Hihn rode on to San Antonio, but near Soledad the two decided to turn back and make for Santa Cruz instead in order to catch a ship bound for San Francisco. It was a fateful decision. The pair crossed the Pajaro River into Santa Cruz County on September 19, 1851, and Hihn never really left again. He purchased a home at the corner of Willow Street (Pacific Avenue) and Front Street and opened a mercantile shop in late 1852. His was one of the few local businesses to stay afloat during the terrible financial recession of the mid-1850s, and it meant he was in a good position to expand afterwards. It also meant he was finally financially secure enough to marry Therese Paggen.

Frederick Hihn with his four grandchildren, c. 1900. [Hihn-Younger Archives, UCSC]
Charles B. Younger, Jr., husband of Agnes Hihn,
who together with her helped preserve Hihn's legacy.
[Hihn-Younger Archive, UCSC]
Hihn's family came along rather slowly, at least comparably to the time. He was twenty-four when he married Therese and she was only seventeen, which may explain the delay before their first child was born. Katherine Charlotte Hihn was born on September 8, 1856. She would later marry William Thomas Cope. Louis William Hihn was their second son, who married Harriet Israel and had two children. Their third child, Elizabeth, died at less than a year old, and this seemed to delay the couple from having more children until 1864, when August Charles Hihn was born. August married Grace E. Cooper but had no children. The most famous of the Hihn children was Frederick Otto, the fifth child, who married Minnie E. Chace and had one son, Frederick Day Hihn. Frederick and Therese had another son, Hugo, in 1869, but he also died young. The couple's penultimate child, Theresa, married George Henry Ready and had a daughter, Ruth Ready, who lived until 1988. But it was their final child, Agnes, who proved the most prolific. She married Charles Bruce Younger, Jr., the son of Frederick Hihn's lawyer, and they had three children, the youngest of whom, Jane, only died in 1999. It was the Younger family that ultimately donated much of Hihn's business and personal documents to the University of California, Santa Cruz, which forms the basis of the university's special collections archive.

Hihn officially became a citizen on July 2, 1855, and a strange story developed around the same time relating to his wealth. Around 1855, Hihn purchased a gold claim along Gold Gluch. This was in response to a large boulder that was found on the gulch that contained a large amount of gold. The rumor goes that Hihn sacrificed his wheat-grinder, that he had used extensively over the previous two years to grind wheat into flour, in order to grind the boulder down to dust, from which the gold could be extracted. Naturally, he received a portion of the gold in payment for both purchasing the claim and sacrificing his grain mill. While there is no evidence to the truth of this story, it does explain the fate of the gold-laden boulder, the disappearance of Hihn's flour industry, and his substantial fortune that somewhat suddenly appeared in the late 1850s. The truth of the matter will likely never be known for certain.

The earliest-known photograph of downtown Santa Cruz, 1866. The brick-built flatiron building at the center of the photograph was built by Hugo Hihn in 1860 to house the mercantile store he purchased from his brother three years earlier.  [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
Frederick Hihn entered the most significant stage of his life on August 21, 1855, when he purchased his first major property in Rancho Soquel Augmentacion through a court auction. Over the next five years, Hihn purchased several other tracts in Ranchos Soquel and Soquel Augmentacion. At this time, Hihn was also increasing his interest in business investing. In 1856, he joined Elihu Anthony in developing the Santa Cruz municipal water system. Tired of owing money and being in debt, he sold his mercantile business in December 1857 to his brother, Hugo, who had recently arrived in California with their brother, Lewis. Hugo rented the upstairs for use as city hall for four years while running his business downstairs. Hugo eventually sold the building and returned to Germany. In 1858, Frederick Hihn invested heavily in the Santa Clara Turnpike Company, a firm that passed through portions of his Rancho Soquel land on its way to the Summit.

Hihn's majestic estate on Locust Street in downtown Santa Cruz.
By 1861, Hihn was also looking into expanding a railroad into Santa Cruz County. In that year, he helped organize the San Lorenzo Valley Railroad, which ultimately hoped to build a railroad route into the Santa Clara Valley from Santa Cruz, but initially planned to connect Santa Cruz and the pioneer settlement emerging around Boulder Creek. It was probably for this cause that Hihn ran for and was elected onto the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on September 4, 1861, beginning his term on May 5. He quickly discovered that the position did not provide him with all of the benefits that he sought, but he nonetheless was reelected in 1864. As his railroad plans languished in the courts over property rights, Hihn organized a second company, the California Coast Railroad, in 1867 with the goal of connecting Santa Cruz to Gilroy via a coastal route. Confusion spread by the Southern Pacific Railroad delayed this plan, and this delay likely led to him running and becoming a California State Assemblyman in 1871. Using his state-level influence, Hihn hoped to finally secure some funds to build a railroad in the county. But again, he was met with heavy opposition and did not run again in 1873. Shortly afterwards, he incorporated the Santa Cruz Railroad Company and became its president. This railroad was finally completed in 1876.

Hotel Capitola on the beach at Camp Capitola, c. 1890. [Hihn-Younger Archives, UCSC]
Much of Hihn's other public projects were linked to private ventures, generally housing subdivisions. Hihn founded Camp Capitola in 1869 on the beach at the mouth of Soquel Creek. On this land, he built a sprawling tent and cottage city and the massive Hotel Capitola. Up near the Summit, Hihn's Sulphur Springs was established along the turnpike to make commercial use of a hot spring found there. Hihn also was a key player in the founding of towns of Felton, Aptos, Valencia, Laurel, and the Fairview Park subdivision south of Capitola (all of the area south of Capitola Road and east of 41st Avenue to 49th Avenue). Further afield, he also helped layout the city of Paso Robles in 1899 and owned its famed El Paso de Robles Hot Springs Hotel.

An oxen team working in Gold Gulch near Felton, 1898. [History San Jose]
But the primary use Hihn had for his vast property holdings in Santa Cruz County was for harvesting lumber. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad began surveying its route into Santa Cruz County around 1877, Hihn tried to convince the company to run its line through Rancho Soquel. When this plan was rejected, he still managed to convince them to skirt the top of his property at Laurel, where a small lumber mill was established that cut timber for the railroad's tunnels and crossties. This mill operated on Hihn's land, but it was not his venture. The first mill that Hihn personally ran was on Trout Gulch in Aptos in 1883. It was a small operation able to cut 30,000 board feet of lumber per day, but the nearby timber was quickly exhausted.

The Valencia apple barn, c. 1900, still standing in Aptos and home of Village Fair Antiques. [Aptos Museum]
In 1884, a new mill was built three miles up Valencia Creek. This became Hihn's major base of operations. It could cut 40,000 board feet of lumber per day and ran for three years before burning down on November 29, 1886. Hihn rebuilt the next year with a larger 70,000 board foot capacity mill and constructed a narrow-gauge railroad line to it in order to make shuttling lumber to Aptos significantly easier. The mill shut down at the end of 1893 after almost completely clearcutting the Valencia Creek watershed. For the workers he left behind, he established an apple company and sold tracts of former timberland to his former employees to be used as orchards. Meanwhile, his lumber operations moved to Gold Gulch, then Laurel, King's Creek, and finally back to Laurel.

F. A. Hihn Company letter head showcasing various businesses that the company was involved in.
[Hihn-Younger Archives, UCSC]
It was at this time that Frederick Hihn decided to retire and pass on the company to his family. He founded the F. A. Hihn Company in 1889 and officially retired from business at this time, although in reality he remained quite hands on for two more decades. During this time, he served as president of the Society of California Pioneers of Santa Cruz County, whose offices were in the upstairs of the Santa Cruz Southern Pacific depot. He helped to organize the Santa Cruz City Bank and the City Savings Bank of Santa Cruz. He served as a trustee of the Santa Cruz School District, and he also was president of the Santa Cruz Fair building Association. In 1902, he became one of the five founding trustees of the California State Polytechnic College, which became CalPoly San Luis Obispo. It was he who selected and arranged the purchase of the campus site and helped design and build the first structures, with help from local architect William Henry Weeks.

Frederick Hihn with his daughter, Agnes, during a European vacation in 1893. [Hihn-Younger Archives, UCSC]
By the late 1900s, age was finally having an impact on Frederick Hihn. He negotiated the sale of his commercial lumber business to the A. B. Hammond Lumber Company in March 1909, although the F. A. Hihn Company retained all properties and could continue to cut lumber, just not sell it to anyone other than Hammond. Hihn continued to be seen in town and participate to the best of his abilities until his death on August 23, 1913 at his home on Locust Street. He had just turned eighty-four years old. He was survived by several children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, several of whom still live in Santa Cruz County today. In later years, his home served as city hall before eventually being demolished in the 1960s to build the current city hall.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 23, 2019

Railroads: Santa Cruz Railroad

First, Frederick Augustus Hihn dreamed of a railroad up the San Lorenzo Valley. But before progress could even be made on that vision, Hihn joined in the incorporation of another venture, the California Coast Railroad. This new railroad, incorporated in June 1867, was intended to connect Santa Cruz to Gilroy, where the under-construction Santa Clara & Pajaro Valley Railroad was to terminate. However, this plan, too, stalled due to infighting, a lack of stock subscriptions, and confusion regarding the plans of the Central Pacific Railroad, which purchased the trackage to Gilroy in 1868. In January 1870, the Santa Cruz County Railroad Committee, headed by Hihn, petitioned the local city, county, and state governments for funds to support a coastal line between Gilroy and Santa Cruz and two branch lines up Soquel Creek and the San Lorenzo Valley. Yet once again Hihn's plans were sidelined when Central Pacific incorporated the California Southern Railroad Company, which planned to build a railroad between Gilroy and Salinas. Hihn changed tact and included this new railroad in his funding plan, but the state legislature voted against the idea and the entire campaign fizzled.

Santa Cruz Railroad advertisement, 1879, from S, H. Willey's History of Santa Cruz County, California.
Hihn, though, was not one to give up easily. Despite ongoing legal troubles with his San Lorenzo Valley Railroad and two failed attempts to build a coastal line that would connect to the now-Southern Pacific trackage, which reached Pajaro in November 1871, Hihn convinced several wealthy Santa Cruz residents of the merits of financing a railroad. The reason this time was tribal: with the railroad passing through Watsonville, Santa Cruzans feared that they would be left behind since much of the county's wealth would go through Watsonville via railroad. On January 18, 1872, a second coastal railroad company was incorporated under the name Santa Cruz & Watsonville Railroad. The conditions of construction were that five miles needed to be built before the project received Santa Cruz City and County funding and that the entire project had to be completed within two years. But as before, things went wrong. This time, the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad implied strongly its desire to build a railroad from San Francisco down the coast through Santa Cruz County and then eastward toward the California-Nevada border. Optimism was at an all-time high in the county and several important deadlines lapsed while further word on the Atlantic & Pacific plans were eagerly awaited. It wasn't the last time Santa Cruz would be led down by a company attempting to bridge the coast or place Santa Cruz on a transcontinental line. By Autumn 1872, the Santa Cruz & Watsonville Railroad was effectively dead, with reluctant investors pulling out and lacking any government funding.

Santa Cruz Railroad's Cherry Street Depot outside downtown Santa Cruz, c. 1890. Frederick Hihn kept his local offices in the upstairs of the depot until his retirement in 1892. This depot marked the end-of-track for the Santa Cruz Railroad until the adjacent South Pacific Coast Railway trackage was standard-gauged in 1908. The depot itself shut down in 1892 when the Santa Cruz Union Depot was built at the end of Center Street.
[Harold van Gorder Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
Flustered and impatient for any railroad in the county—it had been nearly eight years since his failed San Lorenzo Valley Railroad had incorporated—Hihn proposed one last plan to build a route between Santa Cruz and Pajaro. In September 1872, he suggested that individuals in the county pool their money together to build a narrow-gauge railroad using the cheapest equipment, rolling stock, and material available. Hihn even saved some money by using the survey maps done by the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, which clung more closely to the coast than earlier surveys. Hihn made one important deviation: he curved the trackage inland at Aptos in order to reach his timber tracts up Soquel, Aptos, and Valencia creeks. Just as yet another railroad company was ready to incorporate, Leland Stanford of Southern Pacific visited and implied strongly that his railroad would soon be building a route through the county. As before, this almost derailed the entire project, but Hihn and his investors had grown wiser over the past decade. When the stock market crashed a few months later, they were unfazed and decided to incorporate the Santa Cruz Railroad on August 4, 1873, with plans to build a line between Pajaro and Point Año Nuevo on the northern county line.

The Betsy Jane with its crew, c. 1875. [University of Southern California]
The new railroad began construction at once, fearing that some interruption would delay or end their plans for a fourth time. Construction was not continuous, but rather occurred in somewhat haphazardly along the surveyed right-of-way. All of the initial construction in late 1873 and 1874 happened between the San Lorenzo River and Aptos, the former because of the obstacle the river presented, the latter because the final alignment to Pajaro had not been decided yet. Although locals were involved in the project, Chinese laborers did most of the heavy lifting. When enough track was laid, a small locomotive, the Betsy Jane, was brought in to help with construction.  By May 1875, all of the tracks between the river and Aptos were in place. The massive gulch above Soquel Creek presented a significant engineering problem, but this bridge was finished by the end of 1874.

A Santa Cruz Railroad mixed train passing beneath houses on Beach Hill, c. 1878. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
Just as things were progressing, the people of Watsonville revolted. The published survey bypassed the city by a half mile—punishment for fighting against the railroad and throwing obstacles at its completion. But as the riotous settlement realized that the railroad would happen and that they would be left off this railroad route, they suddenly demanded to be included. They sued the Santa Cruz Railroad and the railroad's heads decided to relent—indeed, they probably had planned to do so all along. The route was resurveyed along the southern side of Watsonville, where it then turned across the Pajaro River and met the Southern Pacific right-of-way.

A Santa Cruz Railroad passenger train crossing Soquel Creek, c. 1878. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]
From the middle of 1875, construction continued at a breakneck pace. The bridge over the San Lorenzo River was opened on April 17 and the track reached the northern terminus on Cherry Street at the end of the month. On May 22, a grand opening celebration was held in Santa Cruz, despite the fact that the bridge over Valencia Creek remained incomplete and the track from there to Pajaro was still under construction. Progress throughout the rest of the year was rapid, but an especially wet winter ensured the line's completion would be delayed. The route between Santa Cruz and Watsonville was finally opened to through traffic on May 7, 1876. As a way to celebrate, a new Baldwin locomotive was brought in named the Pacific to replace the tiny Betsy Jane. Two other locomotives, Jupiter and Neptune, joined it shortly afterwards. The completion of the bridge over the Pajaro River, thereby joining the isolated railroad to the larger Southern Pacific network, was not done until November, although all passenger and freight still had to be transferred since the two railroads ran on separate gauges. Plans to extend the track north of Santa Cruz to the county line remained on the books, but were never acted upon.

Jupiter sitting on the tracks near the Cherry Street depot in Santa Cruz, c. 1878. [Pacific Coast Narrow Gauge]

Despite so many plans and so much hype, the Santa Cruz Railroad had a surprisingly short life as an operating railroad. The damage to the line in early 1876 had cost the railroad dearly, and the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad, completed in 1875, decided to ship out timber and lime from steamships at its piers at the beach rather than using the coastal railroad line. And Hihn himself was actively undermining his own project by working with the South Pacific Coast Railroad to route an alignment down Soquel Creek, although he undoubtedly hoped that the South Pacific Coast would purchase the coastal trackage as a part of such a deal. By 1878, it became clear that the South Pacific Coast planned to build a route down the San Lorenzo Valley—or buy the existing line, as it happened—thereby creating a shorter and more cost-effective route between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. This alone scared a lot of investors, but the line itself was barely viable. The bridge over the San Lorenzo River washed out in 1877, forcing financiers to spend much of their recent profits to revive the line again. Investors were asked to give an additional $10 per share to maintain the company in 1878, but only Hihn paid the amount.

The second San Lorenzo River Bridge following its collapse during a storm on January 27, 1881.
The final death blows came quickly. In May 1880, the South Pacific Coast finished its line through the Santa Cruz Mountains. There was little reason for anyone except rural businesses to need the coastal line after this. Still, the railroad trudged on. Then, in late January 1881, large portions of the line had washed out and the San Lorenzo River bridge has collapsed for a second time. Hihn was the only person willing to finance the line by this point, and he saw no profit in it. In March, the company declared bankruptcy and went up for auction, almost exactly five years after it had first opened. The next month, the Pacific Improvement Company—one of Southern Pacific's property investment firms—bought the dilapidated line and began refurbishing it. Limited operations resumed in June while Pacific Improvement initiated plans to standard gauge the line. In mid-November 1883, standard-gauging was complete and on June 3, 1884, the line was rebranded the Pajaro & Santa Cruz Railroad, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southern Pacific, which later consolidated it in 1888 and reclassified the 21-mile-stretch of track as the Santa Cruz Branch.

Jupiter as it is displayed today at the Smithsonian. [Smithsonian Museum]

Except for a short portion of track in the vicinity of New Brighton State Beach, as well as the stretch over Woods Lagoon (the harbor), the original right-of-way of the Santa Cruz Railroad still exists and serves as the southern two-thirds of the Santa Cruz Branch Line, which was purchased by Santa Cruz County in 2012. None of the original structures associated with the railroad survive but the third locomotive bought by the company, Jupiter, has been restored and is now on permanent display at the Smithsonian's "America on the Move" exhibit.

Citations & Credits:

Friday, August 16, 2019

Curiosities: Boulder Creek-Area Resorts

From its earliest years as a community, Boulder Creek and its predecessors—Boulder and Lorenzo—was more of an industrial town than a resort destination. Throughout the five decades that the railroad operated in the community, the driving purpose of the settlement was the lumber industry, and it should come as no surprise that much of the timber in the surrounding hills were logged out, leaving little space or scenery for resorts. Nonetheless, resorts did develop from early on and the town was known to host several hotels throughout these years. Below are just some of the hotels and resorts that operated in the vicinity of Boulder Creek during the period 1884-1934.

Boulder Creek House (1872 – 1933)
The first commercial hotel to open in the vicinity of Boulder Creek was the Boulder Creek House, erected along modern-day Park Avenue near where the public library sits today. The hotel was built by John Alcorn, a native of Indiana who moved to the area in 1865. His wife and a Mrs. Eygler ran the day-to-day operations and the hotel was open year-round, which testifies to its industrial clientele. The Weekly Sentinel stated that the building was "two stories high, with a porch the entire length, from which a flight of stairs leads to the dancing hall above. The lower part is divided into dining room and sleeping apartments, and arrangements for the necessaries and comforts of dwellers and travelers."

Boulder Creek House, c. 1877. Photo by R. E. Wood. [California State University, Chico]
Alcorn soon sold the property to Demicrius Crediford, who turned around and sold it to J. S. Carter in 1874. When the San Lorenzo Valley Flume & Lumber Company was founded the next year, Carter sold the hotel to serve as a boarding house for local lumbermen. It passed to the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1879 and probably remained under their—as well as Southern Pacific Railroad—ownership for nearly thirty years. Several managers were brought on during this time to handle daily operations, including George Denison (1883), Joseph Ball (1886), Samuel D. Morgan, (1894, who briefly renamed the hotel the Morgan House), and George and Albert Denison (1905). During this time, most of the excess property of the hotel was sold to Winfield Scott Rodgers.

J. M. Fuller's Cash Grocery with the Boulder Creek House in the background, c. 1910.
Photo by Cheney Photo Advertising Company. [WorthPoint]
In 1905, Patrick and Fannie Welch purchased the property and it remained in their family for twenty-eight years. In most years, the Welches personally supervised the hotel, but Helen Jeter was brought on to assist in 1913. After Fannie's death, the hotel passed to her son-in-law, Frank Murphy, who leased it to William D. Alexander. Alexander tried to rebrand the hotel the White House in 1924, but the name never took off. Soon afterwards, he tried again by naming it the Alexander House and he opened an Italian restaurant under the name Alec's Boulder Creek House.  Unfortunately, an explosion in the kitchen in the twilight hours of August 14, 1933, quickly turned into an inferno and consumed the entire building except for a few pieces of furniture.

Lorenzo Hotel (1875 – 1897)
Joseph Peery was an entrepreneur and visionary and wanted to create a small city high up the San Lorenzo Valley. He founded the town of Lorenzo in 1875 and built the San Lorenzo Hotel along the main county road as a part of his plan. The two-story hotel was a rather no-nonsense structure composed of roughly twenty guest rooms and a stable. Management was initially given to the Elliott family, but it later passed to James T. Taylor, owner of the Big Tree Hotel in Felton, in 1880. George M. Day took over in 1882 and began selling wine, liquor, and cigars downstairs, profiting from the alcohol ban in nearby Boulder. Management of the hotel proved unstable over the following years, though. In quick succession, the hotel was run by Taylor (1884), the Hartman Brothers (1885), W. G. Randall (1886), and Samuel Hubbs (1887). Some time over the next decade, H. E. Gardner purchased the property and hired H. H. Morrell to manage it. Little else is known from this decade, though, except that the hotel appeared as a casualty of the April 14, 1897 fire that destroyed most of the commercial block of Lorenzo. The town was soon absorbed into Boulder Creek and the hotel was never rebuilt. The hotel was located on State Route 9 near Mountain Street.

Hartman Hotel (1883 – 1897)
Another early hotel and possibly a spin-off of or companion to the Lorenzo Hotel, the Hartman Hotel was located where the Boulder Creek laundromat now sits. Dan Hartman founded the hotel in 1883 and it was run by himself and his brothers. During its years in existence, it hosted several VIPs including Grover Cleveland, Ulysses S. Grant, and an entire circus troupe. Like its neighbor, the Lorenzo Hotel, the Hartman Hotel burned to the ground on April 14, 1897. Dan Hartman sustained minor injuries escaping the inferno.

Rex Hotel (1884 – 1932)
For being one of the oldest standing buildings in Boulder Creek, surprisingly little is known about the Rex Hotel, largely because it has a confused and conflated history with another hotel that was located two buildings over: the Basham House. The current building called the Basham House has historically always been the Rex Hotel. Established as early as 1884 as a bordello, the hotel did not gain any respectability until the early 1920s after Newton Ernest Raymer took over the building. He ran a barber shop and general store on the first floor while renting rooms upstairs and in the back. But Raymer was no angel. The hotel barely survived Prohibition and Raymer was arrested for illegal possession of liquor on at least two occasions. On February 2, 1932, Raymer shot himself in a drunken rage while attempting to murder his wife. It was not the first violent attack by Raymer, but it was his last. The hotel shut down for several years but was eventually purchased by P. Giacosa in March 1937, who undertook a remodeling of the hotel. But then it disappeared from records once again. It was taken over by the Boulder Club, run by Jack and Frances Gaultier, in 1973 and after several years servicing local workers, it became a popular gathering place for Hell's Angels and other biker gangs. Drunken fights became an almost daily occurrence and the business ran afoul of the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) several times. In 1990, the club shut down permanently. Three years later, the building was purchased by Wes Felts, who renovated it into a restaurant and opened in October 1993 as the Basham House, mistaking the building with the earlier structure that had stood two buildings to the north. After only a year in business, Felts put the restaurant up for sale where it languished for over a year. At some point since then, it was purchased and renovated and now serves as the home of the Psychic Temple at 13133 Central Avenue.

The Rex Hotel as it appeared in 1990 while hosting the Boulder Club. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
South Pacific Hotel (1886)
As soon as the Felton & Pescadero Railroad came to town in 1885, property speculators came in. And one such speculator was J. W. Billings, who in 1886 erected the South Pacific House on Central Avenue, a clear reference to the new railroad's parent, the South Pacific Coast Railroad. Within months of opening, Billings was adding new rooms and upgrading facilities. However, tragedy struck early in the life of this hotel. On July 30, 1886, just months after opening, a fire ravaged the town and severely damaged the hotel, injuring both J. and his wife in the process. Nothing more is mentioned of this hotel after the fire.

Wildwood Home (1886 – 1932)
The Wildwood Home was another hotel that sprang up in the wake of the Felton & Pescadero Railroad's arrival to Boulder Creek in 1885. Situated at the corner of Lomond and Pine Streets, Wildwood Home was built, owned, and managed by Mrs. L. E. Paschall when it first opened in May 1886. The twenty-room hotel was notable for its creeping vines and ivy that flowed off the second story balcony toward the ground. Management passed through several hands over the years, including to Mrs. Jerome Goerecke (1890) and Mrs. Kenneth Ferguson (1891). Paschall sold the hotel in 1896 to Mrs. M. C. Cumming (née Roundtree) of Fresno, who continued to operate the hotel for several more years. Little is reported on the hotel for the next decade. In 1905, after years of neglect, the hotel was taken over by Julia A. Glenn, who refurbished it completely and added new rooms. She hired Mae Chambers as the manager, who took over in early 1906.

Wildwood Home, sans its iconic vines, c. 1900. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Ownership passed to Mrs. Emma E. Hutchings in the early 1920s and, during this time, several films crews and celebrities stayed at the hotel while filming movies in the vicinity of Big Basin. In 1930, she handed day-to-day management to A. H. Lindsey, his wife, and their three sons, all of Kettleman, California. But the hotel declined while under their care. Hutchings returned in 1932 with plans to either sell or improve the building when a fire struck early in the morning of May 14, 1932. The hotel did not have any guests at the time, owing to the renovation, and there were no injuries, but the building was destroyed outright and never rebuilt.

Alpine House (1890 – c. 1915)
What began life as the Morgan House first opened its doors around 1890 under the ownership of Dr. Sam D. Morgan. The Sentinel describes the hotel in 1894 as "conducted in first-class style, the dining-room and cuisine department being under the able supervision of Mrs. Morgan, whose reputation as a hostess is already well established. The table is supplied with the best the market affords, and everything about the hotel has an air of cleanliness, every detail tending to the comfort of the guests being attended to. Mr. Morgan is considering the enlargement of his hotel, in order to accommodate increasing business." In 1893, L. E. Paschall of Wildwood Home was bought on to manage daily operations at the hotel. When the Alpine House first opened in 1895, it was founded as a separate hotel from the Morgan House, but the two were intricately entwined from the beginning with Sam Morgan in charge of both. As he oversaw the new Alpine House, he hired William Branch to run the Morgan House. Whether the two merged together after 1896 or the Morgan House was demolished is unclear and Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of the time do not provide clarity, but the Morgan House is never mentioned again by the Sentinel after 1896.

The Alpine House sat prominently at the corner of Central Avenue and Big Basin Way (State Route 236), c. 1900.
[San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
In 1899, Otto Ausman became a partner in the business, but sold his share to a relative, Emma L. Ausman, in 1904. That same year, W. S. G. Todd became the manager, but he was replaced in 1905 by Frederick G. Troy, a nephew of the McAbee Brothers who owned a mill on Two Bar Creek. However, scandal hit Troy in 1907 when he was found allowing a minor to gamble in the hotel. The hotel shut down for the remainder of the year. In 1908, the hotel was purchased by the Koepkes, who installed the final stretch of cement sidewalks in town. All record of the hotel disappears around 1910. It was located across State Route 236 from Johnnie's Supermarket where the Boulder Creek American Gas is today.

Basham House and Baldwin Lodging House (1891 – c. 1920s)
The real Basham House, not to be confused with the former Rex Hotel now called the Basham House, was built around 1891 by William Basham. For the first several years of its existence, it served as a boarding house for seasonal lumbermen. As such, it was rather small, with only eight upstairs rooms for guests, while the downstairs was used as a restaurant and store. Basham soon sold the boarding house to Andrew J. Baldwin and the latter renamed it the Baldwin Boarding House. Baldwin, in turn, sold it or transferred it to his relative, Rachel F. Baldwin, in 1896. She only kept the hotel for a few years, selling it to Lizzie Brickmore in 1902. Brickmore followed suit and the hotel passed to William F. Pierce in 1905. He was responsible for adding the second-story covered veranda and remodeling the boarding house into a proper hotel with twenty guest rooms in 1911. A few years later, Jacob Hartman purchased the hotel and ran it until 1920, when it was sold to Annie Dexter. After this date, the hotel is never mentioned again in newspapers. It sat midway between the Rex Hotel and the Alpine House, roughly where the alleyway between Boulder Creek Liquors and the Brandy Station is located today.

A trio of hotels on Central Avenue, c. 1912. In the foreground is the Rex Hotel, next to it sits the original Basham House, and in the distance is the palatial Alpine House. [San Lorenzo Valley Museum]
Commercial Hotel and Alpine Inn (1897 – 1956)
The structure that would later be known as the Big Basin Hotel was appropriately founded by the original owner of Big Basin, Henry L. Middleton. Middleton built the Commercial Hotel at the corner of Central Avenue and the future State Route 236 in 1897. He hired as manager George Denison, who once ran the Boulder Creek House and whose brother, Albert, ran it for several years. The structure was a long boarding house with a mid-sized restaurant on the first floor and fifteen rooms for guests.


Commercial Hotel on Central Avenue in Boulder Creek, 1901. Photo by Andrew Hill. [History San José]
A dozen years after the opening of California Redwood Park—now Big Basin Redwoods State Park—the hotel was run by Middleton's California Timber Company, the successor to many of the local lumber firms that ran out of usable timber at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1914, the company was looking for new sources of revenue since their operations on Waterman and Newell Creeks were running out of usable timber. Their hotel in downtown Boulder Creek held some potential, at least for the short term, so they tried to capitalize on the Big Basin name by renaming the hostelry the Big Basin Hotel. The gambit failed. After a few seasons, the hotel shut down. It was reopened in February 1919 as the George Hotel under the management of George Honold, but the new name didn't stick and the Honold only ran the hotel for a single season.

A big change occurred in 1920, when Adelaide T. Gibbs purchased the hotel and rebranded it the New Alpine Hotel, undoubtedly in reference to the Alpine House. Her death later that year passed ownership to her son, A. W. J. Gibbs. For several years, little was said of the hotel in newspapers and it may have served more as a private home for Gibbs and his family, who also owned Gibbs Ranch Resort above Zayante. The hotel did not become a popular destination until Doris Martin purchased the property in 1925 and tweaked the name into the Alpine Inn. The Martins were popular with the citizens of Boulder Creek and hosted several sold-out dances during the first year that they ran the hotel. They famously installed the first neon lighting on the side of their building in April 1925, signalling a technological change for the rural town. Within a few months, the hotel was completely electrified and well-lighted. However, the Martins did not remain patrons of the hotel for long. In early 1926, Howard W. West took over, but by June, M. S. Griffin was in charge. The next year, West's brother-in-law, Charles Jones, was brought on as manager and remained in that capacity for three seasons. The Martins finallysold the hotel in December 1929 to Ida Lietzow-Chamberlain, who saw its potential as a tourist hub with the impending completion of Skyline Boulevard.

The Alpine Inn situated prominently on Central Avenue, late 1930s. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Lietzow immediately began remodeling the hotel and hired her daughter, J. W. Pfeifer, as manager.  In 1931, she brought in a new manager, Lewis Williams, who continued the renovations and improved the restaurant. Like most hotels in the area, the Alpine Inn suffered from prohibition raids, but its next manager, Louis Wenger, was arrested when a large quantity of alcohol was discovered at the hotel in 1932. Lietzow returned in 1934 to manage the hotel and continue renovations. By this point, Lietzow was living in Los Angeles most of the time and the hotel was becoming a hassle. She hired Lynn Upton and Emma West to run the hotel in 1935, giving them the option to buy. They converted the entire hotel into what would today be termed a bed-and-breakfast. Still, Upton and West were not interested in buying so Lietzow brought on J. A. White in 1936. Finally, in November 1936, Lietzow was able to sell the hotel to C. E. Cadigan, a San Francisco hosteller and property investor. Cadigan immediately installed a cocktail lounge downstairs and convinced Greyhound to establish him as the local agent and the Alpine Inn the bus station. And yet Cadigan's ownership lasted less than two years.

One of the last photographs of the Alpine Inn, taken in February 1956 just months before the building was demolished to make way for Johnnie's Supermarket. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
In July 1938, the Locatelli family—Poldina, Gery, Peter, and Emilia—took over the hotel. They split the downstairs into a restaurant and liquor store while retaining the upstairs as a hotel. Around 1943, they sold the hotel to Robert and Bessie Burns, who in turn sold it to John R. and Lena Montanari and Marceau and Marie Louise Paulian in 1948. The next year, the Paulians left the partnership and were replaced by William H. and Carmen Sohr. The Sohrs oversaw the conversion of the restaurant into a Chinese Village Dining Room, specializing in Chinese food. The final owner of the hotel was Gene Engle, who purchased the hotel around 1953. After running the business for three years, Engle sold the hotel back to John Montanari in April 1956, who demolished it and built Johnnie's Supermarket in its place. Johnnie's opened on June 7.

Locatelli's Inn and Scopazzi's (1906 – Present)
The early history of the Locatelli Inn—today's Scopazzi's Restaurant—on State Route 236 is not entirely clear. As early as 1906, an Italia Hotel run by Alessandro Musitelli was operating in Boulder Creek, as reported by the Sentinel when Musitelli was caught selling liquor without a license. But whether this Italia Hotel was the same as the latter Locatelli Inn is unknown, although a Sentinel article published in 1955 certainly connects the two. Giuseppe M. "Joseph" Locatelli did not enter the industry until 1915, when he applied for and was granted a liquor license, signalling the start of his business. Interesting, the license he received only allowed liquor to be sold with meals, so this also marks the start of his restaurant. Unfortunately, he was arrested in 1917 for selling liquor without a license (the laws had changed in the meantime) and was forced to simply sell food without liquor, which became a national law when Prohibition arrived in 1920.

Locatelli's Inn, with the hotel barely visible at the far left, c. 1950.
Locatelli made an important addition to his hotel in 1924 when he added the well-known dining room beside the hotel. Soon afterwards, he renamed the hotel and restaurant Locatelli's Inn. Indeed, the 1920s transformed the workmen's hostelry into a prime locale for the Hollywood glitterati, who used the location on Big Basin Way as a base station for several movies that were filmed in and around Big Basin, especially at Poverty Flat. Unlike so many other businesses in the area, Locatelli's Inn survived the Great Depression and World War II, and the whole time remained under the ownership and management of the Locatelli family, even after Joseph's death in 1951. Catherine L. Locatelli took over and ran the restaurant throughout the first half of the 1950s, although the hotel seem to have shut down by this time. She finally sold the hotel and restaurant to John, Albino, and Guido Scopazzi on May 4, 1956. Within a few years, the Scopazzis built a connecting hall between the restaurant and hotel, using the old hotel for extra seating, an expanded kitchen, and office space. Scopazzi's remains in business as one of the oldest and most popular restaurants in Santa Cruz County.

Piedmont Hotel (1913 – 1920)
As the lumber industry north of Boulder Creek collapsed, the town became more of a tourist destination. As a result, several hotels appeared in the 1910s that catered to outdoors adventures and picnickers, such as the Piedmont Hotel at the corner of Mountain Street and Central Avenue. Built by Peter Ricca in 1913, the hotel fell into disrepute only a year later when Ricca was charged with the sale of liquor in the temperance-friendly town. Although he dodged the charges, Ricca's business lost its liquor license in 1918 due to a failure to renew it. Ricca threw up his arms and abandoned the business the next year, selling to Ugo Giomi and W. D. Alexander, who renamed it the Big Basin Inn. Giomi and Alexander renovated the hotel in early 1920 and opened it in April. The hotel featured a dining hall with am expansive dance floor and a grand fireplace. The outdoors were re-arranged into gardens with scenic pathways meandering through them. After only three months, Alexander left the partnership leaving it entirely to Giomi. Perhaps to avoid confusion with the small hotel at Big Basin, Giomi renamed his venue Ugo's Tavern in 1921, at which time the hostelry functions of the business began winding down. The restaurant closed in the early 1930s due to the Great Depression but reopened under the management of Faith Garibaldi in December 1940 as the Boulder Creek Lodge. The main structure of the Piedmont Hotel still sits at its original location, now branded as White House, across from the Boulder Creek Veterinary Clinic.

Citations & Credits:
  • McCarthy, Nancy F. Where Grizzlies Roamed the Canyons. Palo Alto, CA: Garden Court Press, 1994.
  • Robinson, Lisa A. Images of America: The San Lorenzo Valley. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, Evening Sentinel, Weekly Sentinel, and Evening News, 1870-1940.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.