Friday, August 28, 2020

Freight Stops: Santa Cruz Wharves

The Santa Cruz Main Beach has hosted a total of six piers—all but one erroneously called wharves—since California statehood, and four of them functioned in some capacity as a railroad wharf, although only two were purpose-built as such. Behind many of these structures was an ill-fated dream that Santa Cruz would become one of the primary seaports on the Pacific Coast. The idea was not entirely far-fetched. Santa Cruz was located on the less exposed side of the Monterey Bay, with the strong currents striking Monterey but largely missing Santa Cruz. But the protection was slight and the owners of each pier realized quickly that the current was too strong, the tide too extreme, and the swells too high to safely convert Santa Cruz into a major seaport. Nevertheless, the people of Santa Cruz tried time and again to accomplish the improbable.

View of Santa Cruz, 1876, showing the three piers at the Santa Cruz Main Beach. Painting by Leon Trousset.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
The first wharf to eventually support rail was built by David Gharky at the end of Main Street in 1857. It was erected in part to counter the coastal dominance of Isaac E. Davis and Albion P. Jordan from their pier at the end of Bay Street, which was the first to be built along the shore in 1849. Initially, it shipped general goods including the lime products made from kilns not owned by Davis and Jordan. Soon, however, it also became the primary passenger port in the city, stealing that honor away from the older pier. It's bigger victory, however, was gaining the shipping contract for the California Powder Works in 1865, the same year that Henry Cowell bought out Jordan's share in the lime company. Commercial conflict between Cowell and the Powder Works quickly pushed the Powder Works into buying Gharky's wharf, turning it into the Powder Works Wharf. Around 1867, the company also gained the steamship franchise of Goodall, Nelson and Perkins—the Pacific Coast Steamship Company from 1876—which led to many people naming the pier the Steamship Wharf.

Map showing all six Santa Cruz Main Beach piers superimposed atop each other with their dates.
[Lime Kiln Legacies]
From 1865 to 1875, Gharky's wharf was the closest thing Santa Cruz had to a public wharf. It became a major destination point for anybody arriving in Santa Cruz via tall ship or steamship. The town's small fishing community operated along the wharf and at its base. A small village developed on Beach Hill above it, with homes owned by sailors, venture capitalists, as well as port workers, fishermen, and ranchers. Powder Works wagons rolled precariously up Pacific Avenue and over Beach Hill to reach the wharf, endangering everyone but fortunately never once exploding. At the base of the wharf, the Powder Works built a warehouse to store the powder while it awaited final shipment. As the years passed, the waterfront became increasingly industrialized, but the arrival of the railroad in 1875 made the change permanent for half a century.

The Railroad Wharf connected to the Powder Works Wharf via a short, curving length of track, with the Cowell Wharf's tramway in the immediate foreground, c 1880. [Lime Kiln Legacies – colorized using DeOldify]
The backers of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad had one singular goal in mind when it built its combined flume and railroad network: to get timber cut from Boulder Creek shipped from Santa Cruz to eager markets. But neither the Cowell nor the Powder Works wharves were in convenient locations for the railroad. Thus, the company decided to erect a third pier at the Santa Cruz Main Beach midway between the two existing piers. Charlie and Winfield Gorrill of the Pacific Bridge Company were responsible for building all eleven bridges on the line, as well as the pier, but the pier had to wait until the rest of the line was completed. Presumably lumber was initially shipped out on the Powder Works Wharf before the new pier was completed. Throughout late 1875, the Bridge Company worked on installing pilings and decking, eventually producing a 1,278-foot-long structure that was slightly longer than those of its neighbors. Befitting a railroad wharf, track was installed across its entire length. At the end of Bay Street near the foot of the pier, yet another warehouse was erected.

Abstract sketch of the Santa Cruz waterfront from 1879 showing the Railroad Wharf and its connection to the Powder Works Wharf, with a Pacific Avenue Streetcar at left and a Santa Cruz Railroad train at right.
[W. W. Elliott, Santa Cruz County Illustrations with Historical Sketch]
From 1875 to 1880, Santa Cruz reached its peak as a seaport. Railroad and steamship traffic reached such a high point that in October 1877, a new short S-shaped wharf outfitted with narrow-gauge railroad tracks was extended from the base of the Railroad Wharf to the end of the Powder Works Wharf, effectively converting the latter into a second railroad wharf. This allowed the California Powder Works to move its goods directly onto a waiting steamship and ensured that there were three viable docking locations available with railroad access at any time—two on the Railroad Wharf and one on the east side of the Powder Works Wharf. All of Santa Cruz's commercial products were shipped from the piers and received at them, including lumber, lime, leather, black and white powder, agricultural products, and mail and parcels. Passenger traffic, meanwhile, shifted to the Railroad Wharf after it opened. The piers became so busy at times that the switching horse was brought over from the railroad's freight yard to help shift rolling stock.

Postcard of a South Pacific Coast Railway train on the Railroad Wharf, probably temporarily parked to clear the yard of rolling stock, c late 1880s. [Bill Wulf and Finescale Railroader]
The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's takeover by the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1879 and, more importantly, the latter's completion of its route over the Santa Cruz Mountains in May 1880 signalled the end of Santa Cruz's time as a premier seaport. The new railroad almost immediately moved to hauling lumber, lime, and powder over the new route, with lumber delivered primarily to the yards at Santa Clara and powder delivered to Lovelady (Campbell) for use in the New Almaden Quicksilver mines. The South Pacific Coast had little interest in continuing to service the increasingly dilapidated Powder Works Wharf or its precarious connection to the Railroad Wharf, so it arranged for its removal in 1882. This inadvertently allowed for the expanded commercial development of the beach area east of Main Street. The Pacific Coast Steamship Company continued to operate off the Railroad Wharf for the following twenty years but freight revenue decreased annually.

The Railroad Wharf alone on the waterfront with the Sea Beach Hotel looming above, c 1900.
[Santa Cruz MAH – colorized using DeOldify]
The takeover of the South Pacific Coast line by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1887 signalled a small change on the Railroad Wharf. With two gauges now operated by a single company, Southern Pacific decided to add a third rail to the pier in 1893 during its restructuring of the freight area to unify its local depots. In practice, however, this changed very little since so little freight traffic left from the pier. From the late 1880s, Italian fishermen had begun moving into small fishing shacks and lean-tos on the Railroad Wharf, earning it the nickname Fishermen's Wharf. These structures multiplied throughout the pier's final thirty years. The pier was largely forgotten by Southern Pacific by the turn of the century and all railroad traffic to it was by request only.

Opening day of the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf, December 5, 1914, by Ravnos. Note the Railroad Wharf beside it at right with fishing shacks dotting the pier. [Santa Cruz MAH – colorized using DeOldify]
Aerial photograph showing the new Municipal Wharf beside the Railroad Wharf, c 1915.
[Santa Cruz MAH – colorized using DeOldify]
The drastic fall in commercial shipping in Santa Cruz prompted the City of Santa Cruz to lay out a plan for a new, longer municipal pier that would kickstart a new era of Santa Cruz as a seaport. Put on hold due to the 1906 earthquake and the recession that followed, movement on the project finally resumed around 1910 and construction ran throughout 1913. Hoping to attract rail customers and passengers, the city situated the new pier directly adjacent to the existing Railroad Wharf, wrapping around the structure as it stretched out to sea. It also installed standard-gauge tracks on the pier with a substantial warehouse at the end to store goods for shipment. Fixing two problems of earlier piers, the Municipal Wharf was long enough to allow for deep-water steamships and curved at the end to better respond to tidal patterns. The final structure, which opened in 1914, was 2,745 feet long, well over twice the length of the piers that existed before it.

Boxcars and refrigerator cars beside fishing boats at the end of the Municipal Wharf, 1920s.
[Santa Cruz MAH – colorized using DeOldify]
The Municipal Wharf from the roof of the warehouse, 1920s. Locomotive smoke is visible in the distance at left.
[Unknown source – colorized using DeOldify]
For the first decade of its existence, the Municipal Wharf did decent business. Steamships docked and delivered passengers and goods, and goods and passengers shipped out from there. The railroad delivered boxcars, refrigerator cars, and other stock to the end for shipment, although most of the customers were smaller local businesses rather than the large freight shippers. The pier also proved to be a more favored home for the myriad Italian fishermen, who began migrating to the new pier in the late 1910s. By 1922, the old Railroad Wharf had outlived its usefulness and Southern Pacific demolished it. The remaining fishermen relocated to the Municipal Wharf en masse and became the virtual lords of the pier in lieu of other commercial and industrial customers. With so little freight traffic on the pier, the railroad finally petitioned for the spur's abandonment in September 1931, quietly ending fifty-six years of railroading on the piers at the Santa Cruz Main Beach.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Railroad Wharf base: 36.9624N, 122.0237W
Powder Works Wharf base: and 36.9631N, 122.0220W
Municipal Wharf base: 36.9625N, 122.0234W

The Municipal Wharf remains today, the last of the six piers that once populated the Santa Cruz waterfront. Long since a railroad pier, its popularity slumped throughout the 1930s and 1940s until tourism and the commercial restaurant industry led to a boom in the post-World War II years. The increased popularity of the pier led to its widening several times to support parking and additional buildings. Most of the restaurants and stores on the pier still are owned by the Italian families that first populated it a century ago. It also still serves a few fishermen with two small boat docks along its eastern side. The large warehouse at the end of the pier was removed at some point in the 1940s and, although the railroad tracks still pass beside the foot of the pier, all remnants of the old spur is gone.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.