Friday, October 31, 2014

Del Mar

For many years, there was a relatively long stretch of open track between Twin Lakes and Capitola—it was a span of 2.8 miles. Then, in the late 1891, James Corcoran, Patrick Moran, and Henry Johans donated a section of land between Corcoran and Schwann Lagoons for use as a Catholic resort. The new summer retreat was located at the bottom of 17th Avenue and placed under the administration of the Catholic Ladies' Aid Society. The Society built a female-centric resort called the Santa Maria del Mar Hotel which catered both to Catholic women and summer tourists. It sat above the cliffs beside modern-day East Cliff Drive.

Hunting Crabs near Twin Lakes Beach with the Santa Maria del Mar Hotel in the background.
(Jongeneel Collection – Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History)
A Southern Pacific Railroad flag-stop was raised beside 17th Avenue at around the same time on a 60-foot wide stretch of land donated by Corcoran. Today, it would be located near the site of Shoreline Middle School just east of Schwann Lagoon. Del Mar first appeared as a full station in January 1909 under the name "Delmar" (later that year renamed "Del Mar"), located 2.9 miles from Santa Cruz, 117.5 from San Francisco via Pajaro Junction, and 83.3 miles from San Francisco via Santa Cruz and the Mayfield Cut-Off. It had no spur or siding, emphasizing its existence as a passenger stop. A short spur was finally added in 1923, suggesting the introduction of an industrial complex nearby. That spur was privately owned by the Farmers Co-Operative Exchange, the grain elevator for which still sits on the site across from the school.

The Villa Maria del Mar today. (Santa Cruz – Connection Magazine)
The creation of the Rio Del Mar housing development at the mouth of Aptos Creek further to the east likely caused the Southern Pacific to rename their small station on 17th Avenue to "Cliffside" at some point in the early 1930s. The name recognized the community's status as a clifftop subdivision, though the station itself was over half a mile from the nearest cliff. Though the Catholic church still had a presence in the area, the landscape had evolved to include dozens of private homes and rental cabins. Regular passenger service to the site ceased in February 1938 and has not since resumed. When the spur was removed is unknown.

Traces of Del Mar still persist in the area. The resort hotel survives as the Villa Maria del Mar Retreat Center operated by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus & Mary since 1963. Thus, it remains a Catholic facility, though it caters to everyone as a conference center. Over the years, the facility has been greatly expanded and a small Mission-style church now sits nearby. Closer to the tracks, the Del Mar Middle School still keeps alive the old name for the community. The track, now owned by the City of Santa Cruz, still cross over 17th Avenue, though its use has been infrequent since 2007.


  • Donald Clark, Santa Cruz County Place Names (Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2007).
  • Gary B. Griggs & Deepika Shrestha Ross, Then & Now: Santa Cruz Coast (Arcadia Publishing, 2006).

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