Thursday, September 7, 2023

Car Stops: Arana Gulch and the Catholic Cemetery

The eastern limits of the municipal area of Santa Cruz—once comprising the City of Santa Cruz and the Township of Branciforte—have long been set at Arana Gulch, a depression formed by Arana Creek, which has its source far up Hidden Valley Road. The County Road—now Soquel Avenue—snakes through the gulch, splitting at its midpoint to head toward Soquel or Capitola. On the east side of the gulch is Old Holy Cross Cemetery, which was established in 1873 as an overflow cemetery for Catholic residents of the county. Most of the people buried at the old Santa Cruz Mission cemetery were reinterred here in 1885 when the Holy Cross Church was built. All of these facts contributed to the idea that any street railroad system on the East Side of the San Lorenzo River should extend to at least Arana Gulch.

An East Santa Cruz Street Railroad horsecar running along Atlantic Avenue with a view north across Wood's Lagoon and up Arana Gulch, ca 1892. [UC Santa Cruz Digital Collections – colorized using MyHeritage]

The gulch was named after José Arana, who was originally granted Rancho Potrero y Rincón de San Pedro Regaldo by California Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado on August 15, 1842. This 92-acre land grant sat north and northeast of Mission Santa Cruz on the mission's former pastureland. Arana moved to the west side of his namesake gulch around the time that California became a state in 1850. He lived there until his death on March 1, 1868. East of Arana Creek was Rancho Arroyo del Rodeo, originally owned by the family of José Antonio Rodriguez but sold to John Daubenbiss and John Hames in 1845. Prior to Arana's relocation to the area, the depression had been known as Rodriguez Gulch by English-speaking settlers and retained that name into the 1850s.

An East Santa Cruz Street Railroad horsecar on Soquel Avenue near Cayuga Street, ca 1893. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

By the late 1880s, the population density of Santa Cruz had grown such that easier means of transportation were required for people who needed to commute daily from the outskirts. While horse-driven street railroads had reached the West Side by the late 1870s, the East Side only had a brief service from 1876 to early 1881 when the City Railroad, running on the Santa Cruz Railroad's tracks, operated to Railroad (Seabright) Avenue. Following a nearly decade-long lapse in service, William Ely, a well-respected East Side community member, petitioned the Santa Cruz Common Council on November 4, 1889 to extend a horsecar line along Soquel Avenue to the western ledge above Arana Gulch. The council approved the franchise on December 3 and the East Santa Cruz Street Railroad was incorporated a week later.

East Santa Cruz Street Railroad No. 4 on Soquel Avenue, ca 1895. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Ely was quick to build the line to Cayuga Street and it officially opened on May Day 1890. But rather than extending the line to Arana Gulch, as promised and contractually obligated to do, Ely wanted to redirect the line down Cayuga to Seabright Beach. At a tense meeting with the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors on May 10, Ely was given permission to build this new branch line, so long as he completed the track to Arana Gulch first. He was given a month to resume building the track the requisite 4,000 feet to its agreed terminus.

The track to Arana Gulch and the Catholic Cemetery was finally completed on April 17, 1891. Although it was completed with no fanfare, the Santa Cruz Surf noted that it brought the streetcar line one step closer to Soquel and Capitola. It also noted that the fact that the streetcar line ended at the cemetery meant people could more easily visit their deceased friends and relatives. Why it was actually important is unclear—it may have been done to ensure East Siders that they were not forgotten. While the streetcar tracks were being installed down the County Road, the Board of Supervisors used the construction as an opportunity to fill, regrade, and otherwise improve the main road to Soquel. In 1894, plans were announced to extend either the Arana Gulch or Seabright branches to Capitola, but the economic conditions of the time put this project on hold. 

East Santa Cruz Street Railroad listed for sale, Santa Cruz Surf, October 22, 1901.

By the end of the century, it was clear that the future of the line was in electrification or abandonment. Fred Swanton, former owner of the Big Creek Electric Company, already controlled the city's other railroad, the Santa Cruz Electric Railway, and bought a controlling stake in the East Santa Cruz Railroad in the late 1890s. In May 1902, he received permission from the Board of Supervisors to extend the Arana Gulch Branch to Soquel and Capitola, but a better opportunity presented itself. The owners of the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville Railway Company, which planned to build an electric streetcar line between the named places, offered to buy the aging horse-railway. Swanton and Ely agreed to the sale in August 1902. Electrification of the line was approved by the Board of Supervisors on January 6, 1903, with a proviso that the Arana Gulch track be electrified no later than October 15. By the time the Union Traction Company consolidated all of its predecessors on September 2, 1904, the Arana Gulch Branch had been electrified for nearly a year.

A Union Traction Company electric streetcar near DeLaveaga Park, ca 1909. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries]

Very little is actually said of the Arana Gulch and Catholic Cemetery stops. A notice in June 1895 stated that a turntable was to be installed at Arana Gulch, but it is unknown if this ever happened. In January 1902, a letter to the Sentinel reflected on a recent trip the writer took on the horsecar line to Arana Gulch and down Haynes Hill, presumably the name for the western slope of Arana Gulch. This is the only concrete evidence that the streetcar line actually descended into the gulch itself, though there is no evidence it climbed the eastern embankment. Service to Arana Gulch was repeatedly curtailed during years with tight budgets, with the branch being closed most of 1905. However, the line was not abandoned and surveyors working for the Ocean Shore Railway Company hoped to use the Arana Gulch Branch as its mainline between Santa Cruz and Watsonville.

Perhaps as a reflection of this newfound optimism, the tracks beyond Cayuga Street were replaced with heavier rail in June 1906 in anticipation of the line's extension to Soquel. At the same time, most of the network was upgraded to standard-gauge, which left the short Arana Gulch Branch in a difficult situation. Beginning June 28, horsecars once more plied the branch line from Cayuga to Park Way, not because the branch wasn't electric, but because the new standard-gauge system was not compatible with the older narrow-gauge electric cars. The 160-acre property of Adolph Hagemann, which on the western rim of the gulch, marked the terminus, suggesting that trackage into the gulch, if any ever existed, was abandoned no later than this point. Service to Arana Gulch was every half hour from 7:20 a.m. to 6:20 p.m., and the Evening Sentinel reported that the line was "doing a good business." On June 3, 1907, the Board of Supervisors approved the extension of the line to Soquel and Capitola and its electrification. However, that same day the Board of Supervisors permitted the construction of an entirely new branch line along Water Street and Morrissey Boulevard to DeLaveaga Park.

A woman waiting for a Union Traction Company streetcar at Morrissey Boulevard, December 1, 1918. [University of California, Santa Cruz]

This new line effectively rendered the Arana Gulch Branch redundant. When the DeLaveaga trackage reached the old Arana Gulch track on October 15, 1908, it seems certain that the two lines were linked and the old Cayuga to Morrissey trackage put out of service, though it was not abandoned at this time. The trackage from the new branch along Soquel Avenue to Park Way must have been upgraded to standard gauge at this time. Plans were still in place to eventually extend this trackage to Soquel, while another scheme intended to take the track up Park Way into DeLaveaga Park, where it could more easily reach Laveaga Heights at the top of the park. At the Park Way entrance, a large entry sign would be installed.

Sign welcoming people to the City of Santa Cruz on Soquel Avenue at Park Way, March 1931. [UC Santa Cruz]

For some reason, this Park Way route was never built despite the newspaper spending many words on it throughout 1910. The Morrissey track to DeLaveaga was electrified in late 1910, signalling the end of plans to create a grand entrance at Park Way. Meanwhile, Union Traction quietly abandoned its Cayuga Street to Morrissey track in October 1911 to allow it to be concreted for automobile traffic. When precisely service ended to the bottom of Park Way overlooking Arana Gulch is unknown, but it was likely around this same time. A decade after the stop was abandoned, a large sign was installed over the road at Park Way welcoming people to the City of Santa Cruz.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:

Arana Gulch: 36.981635, -121.998820 (speculative)
Catholic Cemetery: 36.983216, -121.994716 (speculative)

There are no known photographs of either stop's shelter, assuming any such structure was built. To make matters even more frustrating, the precise locations of the streetcar stops for Arana Gulch and the Catholic Cemetery remain uncertain. The Arana Gulch stop was somewhere in the vicinity of Park Way according to multiple sources. Since the County Road crossed Arana Creek in this section, it is plausible that the streetcar line did as well, in which case the stop for the Catholic Cemetery was likely the Capitola Road Extension, which was originally Capitola Road. However, if it did not climb to the top of the eastern hillside, then it probably stopped across from today's La Fonda Avenue, where there was a footpath to the cemetery. The cemetery itself closed in 1946 and fell into disrepair for half a century before volunteers restored it. The area immediately south of the stop sites is now Arana Gulch Open Space, which includes walking trails to Woods Lagoon and the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald Thomas. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. 2nd edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2008.
  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. 2nd edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2005.

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