Friday, August 14, 2020

Stations: Santa Cruz Beach

Histories often overlook obvious facts in favor of the sensational or exciting. When the South Pacific Coast Railroad first reached Santa Cruz in 1880, its trains stopped at the luxurious, if cramped, depot at the corner of Cherry and Rincon Streets just outside of downtown. But the tracks continued on to the freight yard and Railroad Wharf, and at the foot of that wharf was the railroad's actual terminus: the small and mostly forgotten Santa Cruz Beach Station.

The Santa Cruz waterfront at the foot of the Railroad Wharf, c 1909, showing the foundation for the Union Ice Company ice house in the center foreground at the site of the Santa Cruz Beach station.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – Colorized using DeOldify]
The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad had set the precedent for this station through its erection of a substantial lime, grain, and all purpose freight warehouse between its tracks and Pacific Avenue at the western end of Second Street. The primary purpose of this structure was to store freight while awaiting the arrival of steamships to the Steamship and Railroad Wharves, which were connected in 1877 via a curved wharf. The lime stored in the warehouse was from the various lime kilns in Felton, namely H. T. Holmes & Company on Bull Creek and the IXL Lime Company on Fall Creek. The grain was likely from the nearby Centennial Flour mill and perhaps smaller mills along the coast. As with all of the Santa Cruz & Felton infrastructure, this warehouse did not support or interact with the nearby Santa Cruz Railroad, the tracks of which passed in front of it on their way to the Park Street depot.

Various men standing around the foot of the Railroad Wharf with a Santa Cruz & Felton passenger car and horsecar in the background, and the local saloon at left where the Sea Foam Hotel would later be built.
[Harold Van Gorder Collection, Santa Cruz MAH – Colorized using DeOldify]
Since the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad did not formally cater to passengers, it had no need for a passenger depot either downtown or at the beach. In fact, the area near the foot of the Railroad Wharf at this time was almost entirely industrial. The Pacific Steamship Company's local office was just across the street from the warehouse while a saloon catering primarily to sailors and railroad workers was accessed simply by crossing the railroad tracks across from the wharf. All of the beach amenities were located further east where the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is located today.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the location of the South Pacific Coast Railroad's Beach Station across from the Railroad Wharf, 1892. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Special Collections]
For the area immediately near the wharf, the arrival of the South Pacific Coast Railroad in 1880 heralded a conversion of the entire beachfront to a resort area. The company established at the foot of the Railroad Wharf, which it expanded and improved, its southern terminal station. Branded Santa Cruz Beach on timetables, both due to its location and to assist in marketing, the depot was a mid-sized structure that hosted a freight house on one side and a ticket office, waiting room, and baggage closet on the other side. Outhouses were located out back beneath the Bay Street bridge. Its location was strategically convenient: it sat directly between the Santa Cruz Railroad and South Pacific Coast Railroad tracks, both lines of which also supported horsecars at the time. It also was at the foot of the wharf, meaning any steamship passengers could easily access the depot. And it was directly south of the junction of Bay Street and Pacific Avenue, the two main vehicular arteries on the beach.

Artistic rendering of the waterfront in 1880 showing the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's warehouse at center-left and an extremely simple Santa Cruz Beach Station at the foot of the Railroad Wharf (middle-left wharf).
But convenient location was not enough for the South Pacific Coast—it felt that the beachfront also needed a desperate facelift. In 1882, it removed the Steamship Wharf and its connection to the Railroad Wharf, thereby opening the Santa Cruz Main Beach to a much wider panoramic view of the Monterey Bay. From this point forward, the beach scene changed quickly. Almost immediately, several new hotels appeared across Beach Hill while several older hotels were expanded and improved. Most of these businesses changed their names to reflect ocean themes, such as Sea Beach Hotel, Ocean View House, Seaside Home, and Sunshine Villa. Several new bathhouses also opened up to the east, prompting the Sea Beach Hotel to tripled in size by early 1892. At the foot of the wharf, Joseph Kinney level his former industrial lot in order to erect the Sea Foam Hotel (later the Hotel St. James), which proved to be a popular lodging for sailors and low budget vacationers.

George R. Lawrence's Birdseye View of Santa Cruz with a closeup on the foot of the Railroad Wharf, showing a streetcar passing in front of the Hotel St. James and the Union Ice Company ice house, 1906. [Bancroft Library]
As with all things, though, the Santa Cruz Beach station met its end in 1893. With the opening of the Santa Cruz Union Depot that year, the Southern Pacific Railroad clearly felt that it no longer required a separate station at the beach. When precisely the freight warehouse and depot were removed is unknown, but the Beach Station disappeared from timetables immediately and both structures were gone no later than 1905, when the next Sanborn Fire Insurance map was produced. All that remained was a Union Ice Company ice house beside the tracks, likely catering to local fishermen. This was removed around 1908.

Postcard of the Chamber of Commerce Park at the former location of Santa Cruz Beach station, 1910.
[James Long – Colorized using DeOldify]
In 1910, Andrew Carnegie, who had previously donated funds for a city library, visited Santa Cruz. In preparation, the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce redeveloped the site of Santa Cruz Beach station into the Chamber of Commerce Park in an effort to beautify the waterfront. The group installed concrete sidewalks and pathways and planted trees, shrubs, and flowers. It also erected a small pergola, visible in the postcard above, and a public toilet beside Bay Street. The park remained in place into the 1920s when it eventually was replaced with a service station that doubled as a shop for local surfers. By the late 1960s, it had become an overflow parking lot for the wharf.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9633N, 122.0246W

The site of the Santa Cruz Beach station is now occupied by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Discovery Center on Pacific Avenue across from Front Street. With the exception of the single track that still passes beside the center, no remnant of the former South Pacific Beach station remains.

Citations & Credits:
  • Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, "Santa Cruz County Chamber History." 2013.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.

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