Friday, December 27, 2013

Cunningham & Company Planing Mill

Spur site. The spur would have turned to the left into the Cunningham
property, now occupied by ProBuild. (Google StreetView)
Most visitors to the Santa Cruz ProBuild off of River Street do not realize that they are entering a part of Santa Cruz history. In the 1880s, the area north of Mission Hill in Santa Cruz was known as the Potrero District and terminated its southern boundary on Quintana Road. While the main South Pacific Coast narrow-gauge line continued south through a tunnel under Mission Hill, a short spur line turned east into what is today the parking lot of ProBuild off of River Street.

Cunningham & Co. Planing Mill & Lumber Yard, 1892. Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. (UCSC Map Collections)
The lumbering history of the property dates back to the beginning of railroading in Santa Cruz. In no later than 1892, Cunningham & Company, the owners of a large lumber mill north of Boulder Creek and stakeholders in the Santa Clara Valley Mill & Lumber Company, operated a large planing mill at the Potrero site. The planing mill likely ceased operations within a few years of the Sanborn map. James Cunningham retired before the map, in 1890, while his brother began working more directly for the SCVM&L Co. By 1905, when the next map of the area was published, the mill had ceased operations.

The mill property was divided between a large planing and lumber mill, and various storage areas. Lumber piles surrounded the facility on all sides. A short tramway to transfer logs and lumber between locations was built behind the mill while the main spur line to the tracks was on the north side of the mill. From this narrow-gauged railroad spur, waiting lumber and manufactured redwood goods would be loaded onto freight cars for shipment over the mountain or to the Railroad Wharf. After the mill passed out of the hands of the Cunninghams, the primary mill and storage structures remained. Indeed, comparisons between the Sanborn fire insurance maps of the 1890s and the current structure today suggest that parts of the current building may date from the original Cunningham mill structure. If the current building is newer, it was almost certainly built upon the same foundation as its predecessor.

Geographically accurate Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Cascade Steam Laundry facility on the site of the Cunningham & Co. Planing Mill, 1905. (UCSC Map Collections)
After the Cunningham operation closed, the property at the southern end of Quintana Street passed through various owners, including the Cascade Steam Laundry in 1905 and the City of Santa Cruz for use as a corporate storage facility by 1917. It is doubtful that the spur remained in use during these later dates, and it is highly doubtful that the spur was upgraded to standard gauge in 1907 when the entire line was replaced. The 1917 Sanborn Map shows the spur still in existence but the map was copied directly from the previous 1905 and then edited where necessary. At some point after 1917, the Santa Cruz Lumber Company purchased the property where it operated a commercial lumber and hardware store. The San Lorenzo Lumber Company purchased the site in 1986. That company was itself absorbed into Lumbermens in 2004 and then by ProBuild in 2006. ProBuild continues to operate a hardware and lumber store on the site, though the spur has long since disappeared.

A likely inaccurate Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showing the City Corporation Yard at the old Cunningham & Co. Planing Mill site, 1917. The spur line likely no longer existed when this survey was completed. (UCSC Map Collections)

1 comment:

  1. Derek,
    San Lorenzo Lumber ( owned by The Butcher Family ) did not purchase the site until around 1986. Prior to that, it was owned by Santa Cruz Lumber ( owned by the George Ley Family, now known as Red Tree Properties.) They also owned the mill complex at Felton, one at Waterman Gap, and a lumber yard that was known as East Side Lumber. Located on Soquel Ave. and occupies the triangular block where Whole Foods now sits.