Friday, August 7, 2020

Curiosities: Blackburn Terrace

There was a time once when the most direct means of getting from the Lower Plaza of Santa Cruz to the Main Beach was taking the steep road over Beach Hill. Modern Santa Cruzans have taken for granted the fact that it was the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad that, in 1875, cut through Beach Hill in order to provide railroad access to the waterfront and the new Railroad Wharf it was erecting near the outlet of Neary Lagoon. By so doing, the railroad also cut off a short section of the marine bluff, turning the so-called Blackburn Terrace into a virtual island. Prior to then, the hill was continuous, running from a height just beside the lagoon's stream until reaching the floodplain of the San Lorenzo River at Beach Flats. Inconvenient geography and contested property rights required this cut to be made, and it changed the landscape of Santa Cruz forever.

Charles B. Gifford's painting of a Bird's Eye View of Santa Cruz, c. 1873. Note the relatively continuous hillside along the waterfront, with only a dip to allow for Pacific Avenue to cut through to the beach. [Bancroft Library]
William F. Blackburn of Harpers Ferry, (West) Virginia, was one of the most important Americans in Santa Cruz when the territory was annexed to the United States from México in 1848. He moved onto Isaac Graham's Ranch Zayante in 1845, where he worked for the season making shingles. After the season ended, Blackburn relocated to Santa Cruz and opened a general store and hostelry in one of the old adobé structures at Mission Santa Cruz. During and immediately after the Mexican-American War, he was appointed  alcalde (mayor-judge) of Branciforte by the military governor of California three times, although often alongside other prominent locals including William Anderson, Adna Hecox, and Joseph Majors. During the war, he also briefly served in General Frémont's battalion and afterwards attempted to strike gold in the Sierra Nevada. Following statehood in 1850, he served as a justice of the peace and ran for the judgeship of Santa Cruz, in which role he served from 1851 to 1854. He later was elected to the California State Assembly in 1857.

Lithograph of William Blackburn from
James Guinn's History of the State of California, 1903.
Members of Blackburn's family joined William in Santa Cruz in the 1850s, namely his brothers, Jacob Alt and James Hanson, who were instrumental in the introduction of apples to the Pajaro Valley. William himself settled in a stately home with a view of the ocean at the western end of Beach Hill, between Neary Lagoon and the Davis & Jordan Wharf. As payment for his role as alcalde, he had been given a grant of land in 1847 that stretched from Laurel Street to the ocean, with Pacific Avenue to the east and Bay Street to the west marking its other boundaries. With the help of another brother, Daniel Drew, William planted potatoes across Beach Hill and the flats beneath it near the lagoon. The income from these potatoes provided for Blackburn's income for the remainder of his life. In his final years, he later replaced the potatoes with apple orchards, visible also in the painting above, following the lead of his brothers in Watsonville. Elsewhere, the Blackburn family were responsible for building the sawmill in Blackburn Gulch along Branciforte Creek and later developing that area for housing.

A stump from redwood logging operations in Blackburn Gulch.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
As a brief aside, Neary lagoon along the northwest edge of the Blackburn property was originally the route of the San Lorenzo River at the time when the Spanish first settled in the area in the 1790s. The river, so long levied now, once meandered between the two ends of Beach Hill, shifting restlessly as one end silted up forcing it to transition to its other outlet. Indeed, even after California became a state, nearly all of the land immediately north of Beach Hill was unusable for almost two decades due to the intemperate nature of the river, which would sometimes flood the entire area between the lagoon and Beach Flats. In its early days, the body of water went by Laguna de la Playa (Beach Lagoon), and later Blackburn Lagoon. Irish immigrants James and Martin Neary purchased a section of land beside the lagoon from the Blackburns in 1862 and used it primarily for dairying and some minor agricultural pursuits. The Neary family continued to own it until 1962, when Alice M. Neary sold the property.

Pastel painting 3025 Neary Lagoon Santa Cruz City Park, Tule Marsh in Fall, October, by Ann Thiermann.
While William Blackburn is certainly important in understanding the history of Blackburn Terrace, his wife was the key player in the conversion of the west end of Beach Hill into an isolated bluff. Blackburn married Harriet M. Meade in 1859, only a year after she had arrived in California with her father. The couple had one son together who died as a toddler in 1864. William later died on March 25, 1867 in San Francisco and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Santa Cruz. Harriet then became mistress of the estate and continued to oversee the property well into the twentieth century. She never remarried but rather became a prominent widow in Santa Cruz society, helping lead the Ladies' Aid Society and becoming involved in several other local charities.

The Santa Cruz Main Beach, showing from left the S. J. Lunch house, the Blackburn house, the Sea Beach Hotel, the Douglas House, the Neptune Baths, the Miller-Leibbrandt Plunge, and the Kittridge house, c 1900.
[Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
Harriet had less interest in her late husband's property, however, and immediately began selling lots to interested parties, even moving out of her old house and into a smaller cabin located nearby. Much of the lower flats were sold to Frederick A. Hihn, who plotted out a housing subdivision that never took off. Hihn decided to keep the apple orchard intact until his Santa Cruz Railroad scheme in 1874 finally found a different use for some of the land. Hihn, on behalf of the Santa Cruz Railroad, also acquired an easement through Blackburn's property alongside the Neary Lagoon outlet to the Monterey Bay so that the railroad could cross into the Lower Plaza and then down Chestnut Street. By using the outlet's existing channel through the marine terrace, the railroad avoided the need for a substantial cut and instead only required a minor cut through the western side of Beach Hill.

The West Cliff Drive bridge over the Southern Pacific tracks with the Magic Carpet Motel at right on Blackburn Terrace, 1977. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – Colorized using DeOldify]
The only real casualty of this was the Bay Street viaduct, which originally crossed over the outlet and then wrapped around the front of Beach Hill from the top of the West Side terrace and on down the backside of Beach Hill over a natural low point in the hill. With this viaduct removed, access between West Side and the Lower Plaza was only possible further to the north down California Street. About a decade later, a Howe truss bridge was installed over the railroad tracks, once more establishing a crossing at the waterfront, but the route from Beach Hill down to the Lower Plaza first underwent a more drastic transformation.

Colorized lithograph of the Santa Cruz beachfront, circa 1882, showing Blackburn Terrace at center-left with the South Pacific Coast Railroad's beach station overly prominent to its right.
The Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad came late on the scene in Santa Cruz. Desirous of a wharf at the Main Beach, the company was blocked from reaching the Monterey Bay via the lagoon outlet due to the presence of the Santa Cruz Railroad. The railroad, therefore, was forced to find some other means of reaching the beach. The existing Gharkey's Wharf at the end of Main Street was slightly too far to the east to be usable and was also reaching its end of life. Therefore, the best solution was to build a new wharf beside it to the west, with a connecting wharf that could expand railroad access to it briefly while the new wharf was built. But the trouble remained: how to get the tracks to the other side of Beach Hill?

Property boundary map showing the newly-built routes of the Santa Cruz Railroad and Santa Cruz & Felton Railroads through Harriet Blackburn's land, 1877. [Santa Cruz GIS & Historical Maps]
The solution was brutal but effective. Buying land from Harriet Blackburn on the extreme east side of her property along Pacific Avenue where the marine terrace dipped low, the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad blasted Beach Hill down to the same level as the Lower Plaza, thereby creating a deep cut that permanently isolated Blackburn's land from the rest of the bluff. The cut was also substantial. Using Chinese laborers, the railroad made the cut wide enough for two railroad tracks—one for the mainline to the wharf and one for a horsecar line to the beach—as well as a service road. Pacific Avenue, meanwhile, continued over the hill following its former path, exiting just across from the new wharf.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing Blackburn Terrace, lower Pacific Avenue,
and the Bay Street bridge, 1888. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
When the new bridge over the lagoon outlet was built in the 1880s, the road down from the bridge to Pacific Avenue remained dangerously steep and could only be used by horses and unladen wagons. Around 1920, Mayor Arthur Adelbert Taylor finally convinced the county to purchase another part of Blackburn Terrace for use as a viaduct that gradually descends along the Pacific Avenue side of the terrace until reaching the Lower Plaza near the Southern Pacific Union Depot. In later years, this stretch of road was realigned and became an extension of West Cliff Drive, with Bay Street becoming the new road down to the foot of the Municipal Wharf beside the Dream Inn.

Subdivision map for Blackburn Terrace showing property boundaries and the
proposed lots within the property, c. 1889. Note that Chestnut "Avenue" conceptually
shared the Santa Cruz Railroad's right-of-way beside the Nearys Lagoon outlet.
[Santa Cruz GIS & Historical Maps]
The remnant Blackburn land, now on a hill sandwiched between two railroad lines and Bay Street (West Cliff Drive from the 1940s), began its long second life. In 1889, Harriet subdivided her property as Blackburn Terrace, the first official use of the name, but the subdivision sold poorly. Only two homes were built there in the 1890s and another in the 1910s. The largest of the buildings was a vacation house named Concha del Mar, owned by San Francisco attorney John R. Jarboe and his wife, author Mary Halsey Thomas, pen name Thomas H. Brainerd. While Harriet hoped to sell the lots for vacation homes, by the 1910s most of the properties that sold were to the families of Italian fishermen who worked on the old Railroad Wharf and, later, the Municipal Wharf. The nearby La Baranca neighborhood along Bay Street became an Italian community, but some families also settled on nearby Blackburn Terrace. In 1907, the Ocean Shore Railway briefly planned to erect a massive viaduct across the terrace in order to bypass the Southern Pacific yard but was blocked in its plans.

Closeup of George Lawrence's Bird's Eye View of Santa Cruz, 1903, with Blackburn Terrace in the center. [Bancroft]
Harriet Blackburn died on October 11, 1920 in Santa Cruz and was buried beside her long-departed husband in Evergreen Cemetery. Her heirs were close relatives and friends who sold the tiny remaining property and divided the money between themselves over a protracted period of time ending in 1943. With the final disposition of the estate, the remaining Blackburn property was finally sold off and subdivided for use by the railroad, the city, hotels, private residences, and various businesses. By the late 1920s, the railroad tracks down the cut beside Blackburn Terrace were removed and Pacific Avenue redirected along that path, with the former route up Beach Hill established as an extension of Front Street.

Concha del Mar on Blackburn Terrace, 1896.
[The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture – colorized using DeOldify]
Development of Blackburn Terrace remained slow into the 1950s. Eventually several more homes as well as a hotel were built atop the terrace. The Concha del Mar remained an informal motel until 1966 when it was expanded to become the Magic Carpet Motor Lodge. This was replaced in 1996 with a Ramada Inn, which is now a Howard Johnson. The legacy of the Blackburn family survives primarily through a few roads named after the family, notably Blackburn Street within William and Harriet's old property, and Blackburn Terrace itself.

Citations & Credits:
  • Clark, Donald A. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2002.
  • Guinn, James Miller. History of the State of California and Biographical Record of Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo Counties. Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1903.
  • Harrison, Edward S. History of Santa Cruz County, California. San Francisco: Pacific Press Publishing, 1892.
  • Santa Cruz Evening News, 1923.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1943.
  • Steen, Judith, ed. The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture. Third edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2005.
  • Stevens, Stanley D. "The Alcaldes of Branciforte-Santa Cruz (1802–1850)." Santa Cruz Public Libraries Local History. 2006.

Friday, July 31, 2020

People: The Awaswas and the Californios

The Mexican government had been out of power in California for fourteen years by the time that the first proposals for a railroad in Santa Cruz County began circulating in the Pacific Sentinel around 1860. The royal Spanish government that preceded it had been replaced nearly forty years before. And earlier still, the Native American Awaswas people once dominated the region from the Pajaro Valley to Point Año Nuevo. So why does the legacy of the Native American period and the Spanish and Mexican occupation of the Californias hang so heavily over local railroading history? Well, it's all in the names.

The Castro Adobé and surrounding livestock paddocks on Rancho San Andrés, originally owned by José Joaquín Castro. [Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks – Colorized using DeOldify]
Before California was forcibly colonized in the eighteenth century by Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries afraid of Russian and British encroachment on their claimed territory from the north, the land was peopled by diverse Native American tribes who lived along the coast and up river and creek valleys throughout the future state. The area of Santa Cruz County, which initially stretched north of Pescadero, was not an especially populous region. Remote, windswept, geographically separated from the interior by heavily-forested steep mountains with roaming grizzly bears and mountain lions, it was not the kindest environment for year-round settlement. Most of the Ohlonean tribes, especially the Awaswas who dominated the northern side of Monterey Bay, stuck close to the coast where the environment was less dangerous and there was adequate land for hunting, fishing, and minor agricultural activities, as well as establishing year-round villages.

Sketch of Ohlone dancers at Mission San José, 1800s, by Wilhelm Gottlief Tilesius von Tilenau. [Bancroft Library]
Living on the coast, however, made the Awaswas vulnerable to seaborn invaders. Although the Spanish were the first to explore the coast, the Russians were likely the first to directly interact with the people as they hunted seal and otter down the California coast in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Spanish, however, were the first to establish permanent settlements within the Awaswas domain. In the 1760s, the Spanish Empire sent out a settlement party led by the explorer Gaspar de Portolà i Rovira and the Franciscan father superior of the Californias, Junípero Serra y Ferrer. Following the establishment of several principal missions along the coast between San Diego and San Francisco, Portolà set to work founding secondary missions as waypoints for travelers and as places to gather potential native converts (neophytes). Juan Crespí, another priest, established the location for a mission in the heart of Awaswas territory on October 17, 1769, but it was not until August 28, 1791 that a physical mission dedicated to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was consecrated on the west bank of the San Lorenzo River. Following several floods, the mission was moved above the floodplain and reconsecrated atop Mission Hill in 1794.


Painting of Mission Santa Cruz. [Romero Institute]
The Spanish presence in the area prompted a quick and deadly decline for the Awaswas people. Before the mission at Santa Cruz was established, many Awaswas peoples were taken to Mission Santa Clara or further afield to Carmel and San Francisco. Mission Santa Cruz completed the job by gathering all the remaining Native Americans together at the mission, where the population was decimated by disease, violence, and malnutrition. A substantial portion of the Awaswas people of the region were dead or had fled to distant communities by the time that the county's Catholic-held land was secularized around 1839. Most of the small population that remained lived on former mission lands on the West Side or in the Potrero, largely abandoned and forgotten by the Mexican and, later, American peoples who dominated the political and cultural life of the region.


The Branciforte Adobé, last surviving structure of the former pueblo Branciforte, 1902.
[Edna Kimbro – Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks – Colorized using DeOldify]
In 1797, a new type of community was organized across the San Lorenzo River from Mission Santa Cruz. The Spanish government, wishing to reward loyal but aging soldiers while protecting its sparsely settled frontier, began granting large properties to its veterans. Initially, these were small farms centered at el Pueblo de Branciforte on the bluff on the east side of the river. While elsewhere in California the government began granting larger tracts for cattle ranches, the settlers in Branciforte had to content themselves with the small parcels they were given, with their meager wealth supplemented frequently with raids into mission lands and illegal seizures of unallocated land elsewhere in the region. Over the subsequent thirty-six years, the small settlements facing each other across the river vied for political power, control over resources, and physical possession of land and the tiny remnant of native peoples. These people of European or mestizo descent, as well as similar peoples elsewhere in the Californias, became the first Californios.


Sketch of Rancho Zayante, 1840s, from Vischer's Pictorial of California.
Within a few decades, Santa Cruz-area Californios had staked claims across the coast but lacked official recognition for their lands. For three of these properties, they adopted names from the Awaswas such as Zayante, Soquel, and Aptos. These names have since lived on, reminders of an earlier age mostly forgotten. As land grants were legitimized by first the Mexican and later the American governments, the names were transferred into documentary history, obtaining a formality and historical quality that has ensured their survival. Thus, when the early narrow-gauge railroads first passed through the ranchos that had adopted these names in the 1870s, they in turn gave the names to railroad stations along their lines:
  • Zayante, named after Rancho Zayante and Zayante Creek, which in turn was named after the Sayante tribe of Awaswas, became a remote hilltop station of the South Pacific Coast Railroad above Zayante Creek north of Felton
  • Soquel, named after Rancho Soquel or Soquel Creek, which in turn were named after an Uypi (later Osocalis or Zoquel) tribal chief, was the original name given by the Santa Cruz Railroad to Capitola station when the station still sat on the west side of the Soquel Creek railroad bridge
  • Aptos, named after Rancho Aptos or Aptos Creek, which in turn were named after the Aptos tribe, sat between the County Road (Soquel Drive) and the Santa Cruz Railroad's tracks in the town still named after it.
A curious truth of these three ranchos is that all have an entirely Awaswas name, with no longer Spanish form like nearly every other rancho in the county has. They were some of the earliest ranchos granted in the county, with two owned by members of the Castro family—Soquel and Aptos—and the third eventually owned by an in-law of the Castros.

Diseño for Rancho Aptos. [Bancroft Library]
The Mexican government was at first hesitant to give out copious quantities of land to settlers, regardless of how long they had occupied said land. The Spanish had made some land grants but it was usually conditional and granted only for the life of the beneficiary. The ranchos they established were usually one square league—just over 4,000 acres. The difficulties in winning independence from Spain followed by the tumultuous years of the Mexican Empire delayed the granting of further ranchos until the late 1820s, when new laws were passed and the ability to grant land given to the territorial governor of Alta California. However, it was the secularization of the mission land that accelerated the process, especially within the Santa Cruz area.

Diseño of Rancho San Vicente on the North Coast of Santa Cruz County. [Bancroft Library]
Unlike the Spanish, the Mexican government granted land in perpetuity, which the United States government later upheld in many instances. Grantees were given one year to cultivate the land, either through agriculture or through industry, and were required to build a home upon the land in which they were required to live for that first year. Lacking the machinery to easily cut redwood timber, most of the early rancho homes in Santa Cruz, as elsewhere throughout the state, were made of adobe. It was also required to define their boundaries before either the Mexican government or, later, the American government would accept the grants. José Bolcoff, a Russian settler and husband to another member of the Castro family, served as Santa Cruz's surveyor during the 1830s and 1840s. It was he who mapped many of the boundaries for the roughly two dozen recognized ranchos that soon spread across the county from the coast to the peaks of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Map showing the comparative sizes and compositions of Mexican ranchos in Santa Cruz County.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]
A total of twenty-three ranchos were located in Santa Cruz County at the time of statehood, the northernmost being Rancho San Gregorio, which later became part of San Mateo County, and the southernmost Rancho Bolsa del Pajaro. With the exception of the three ranchos mentioned above, the names of these properties were evenly split between Spanish descriptions of places and the names of saints upon whose feast day the place was discovered or christened. Almost as soon as the land was surveyed, grantees began leasing and subdividing their lands between tenants and new owners. This process reached a peak shortly after the United States annexation of Alta California, so that by the time that the railroads first arrived in the county, little of the land was still owned by the original families of the grantees.

Excerpt of a 1918 United States Geologic Survey map of the middle portion of Santa Cruz County.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
Railroad companies borrowed names from their surroundings regularly when founding stations, and such was the case with those that operated within Santa Cruz County. The names of ranchos, the rights to some of which were still going through the courts and the names still in common discussion within the county, provided a convenient source for station names:
  • Los Gatos, now a substantial town north of Santa Cruz in Santa Clara County, was originally derived from Rancho Rinconada de los Gatos
  • Pajaro and Vega, along the Southern Pacific Railroad's Coast Division mainline just across the Pajaro River from Watsonville in Monterey County, were named after Rancho Vega del Río del Pájaro
  • Aromas, split between Monterey and San Benito Counties and just across the Pajaro River from Chittenden, was named after Rancho Las Aromitas y Agua Caliente
  • Laguna, later Nuga, was either named generally for the nearby sloughs or specifically after Rancho Laguna de las Calabesas, which was located nearby outside of Watsonville but never confirmed as a legitimate grant by the US government
  • San Andreas, the original named of Ellicott station, was named after Joaquín Castro's Rancho San Andrés, now La Selva Beach
  • Rincon, above the San Lorenzo River and now a popular mountain bike gathering point, was named after Rancho de la Cañada del Rincón en el Río San Lorenzo
  • Laguna Creek (Southern Pacific) and Lagos (Ocean Shore Railroad) on the North Coast were named after Rancho Arroyo de la Laguna
Although not formally a station, a freight stop was established near Swanton for the San Vicente Lumber Company, which was named after Rancho San Vicente, the original grant upon which Davenport is located.


Molino on the Loma Prieta Branch, 1890s. [Aptos Museum]
Spanish words were frequently adopted by the railroads to describe new stations where other established terms were not available or already in use elsewhere. Along the Loma Prieta Branch alone was Molino, Loma Prieta, and Monte Vista, more than half of its official station names. Meanwhile, on Los Gatos Creek was Alma, Oleoso, and Eva, while the tracks south of Gilroy included Carnadero and Nema. However, Spanish names based on common words did not become commonplace within the San Lorenzo Valley, with only Siesta as an example, nor along the Santa Cruz Branch, where can be found only Manresa, named after the similarly-named city in Spain and birthplace of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. But in both these latter cases, the names were selected for specific marketing reasons, Siesta as Fred Swanton's mountain retreat, and Manresa as a Jesuit seaside resort.

Painting of an idealized Awaswas village along Aptos Creek by Ann Thiermann.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History]
The Ohlone, Spanish, and Mexican periods still hang heavily upon the Central Coast of California, and the early railroads borrowed from that heritage when establishing its many stops throughout Santa Cruz County and its immediate surroundings. While some of the places such as Soquel, Aptos, Zayante, Pajaro, Aromas, and Los Gatos still survive today as places, others like Loma Prieta, Rincon, or San Andreas have mostly fallen away, lost to the wilderness or to suburban sprawl. But many of the names still survive on maps, as the names of businesses and streets, and in the memories of people who came before and wrote down their recollections for future generations. The railroading history of Santa Cruz County is rich, and a large portion of that is due to the peoples that came before it.

Citations & Credits:

  • Clark, Donald T. Santa Cruz County Place Names: A Geographical Dictionary. Second edition. Scotts Valley, CA: Kestrel Press, 2002.
  • Powell, Ronald G. The Tragedy of Martina Castro. The Secret History of Santa Cruz County I. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.
  • Rizzo, Martin Adam. "No Somos Animales: Indigenous Survival and Perseverance in 19th Century Santa Cruz, California." Unpublished dissertation. Santa Cruz, CA: University of California, 2016.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Car Stops: Pacific Avenue Carbarn

Horsecars were all the rage in Santa Cruz when the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad Company was incorporated on April 5, 1876 by the management of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad. The original route connected with the railroad line near Mora Street north of the city and then continued down River Street, turned down Pacific Avenue in front of the St. Charles Hotel, and then continued down Pacific Avenue to the Railroad Wharf, where it reconnected with the Santa Cruz & Felton line. However, the arrangement was always intended to be temporary and in March 1877, James P. Pierce took over the company and severed its connection to the Santa Cruz & Felton. This meant that the narrow-gauge horsecar line needed to relocate its horse stables from the shadow of Mission Hill to its own property elsewhere along the line.

A Pacific Avenue Street Railroad horsecar passing the company's horse stables on Pacific Avenue, late 1880s.
[Bill Wulf – colorized using DeOldify]
Competition for properties around the Lower Plaza was fierce so Pierce wisely decided to move the stables to the south. Local streetcar historian Charles McCaleb situated the new stables on Cathcart Street, but they were actually located at the corner of Sycamore and Pacific Avenue closer to the beach and at the extreme fringe of the Santa Cruz freight yard.

Annotated Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad horsecar stables and barn
at the corner of Sycamore and Pacific Avenue, 1886, with speculative trackage.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
Locating the company's stables near the freight zone actually made a lot of sense. Since the line began as a part of the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad's main route, a track already passed through the backlot of the Olive & Foster lumber yard beside Pacific Avenue, meaning that easements for the land already existed. Although the arrangement of the tracks can't be known with complete certainty, it seems that a siding from the main track passed through the car house where three or four cars could be locked up at night, while another two or three spurs broke off to head into the stables, where the horsecar line's horses, hay, and vehicles in need of repair would be stored and cared after. The track likely unified again behind the stables and then passed into Olive & Foster's yard.

A Santa Cruz Electric Railway streetcar passing the former horsecar stables on Pacific Avenue, 1895.
[Preston Sawyer – colorized using DeOldify]
Pierce ran the horsecar company until May 18, 1887, when he sold to a group led by E. J. Swift. Unfortunately, Swift died in 1889 just as the company was planning an expansion and the company struggled over the next few years to find its footing again. In 1891, a rival company, the Santa Cruz, Garfield Park, and Capitola Electric Railway, was founded with the intention to build an electric streetcar line throughout the West Side. This quickly expanded to the Lower Plaza—the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad's domain. With few other options, the old horsecar line gave up its franchise on August 6, 1892 and was taken over by the new electric line. A new company, the Santa Cruz Electric Railway, was formed on August 23, 1892. By the end of March 1893, the entire line was upgraded and appended to the electric streetcar system and the old carbarn and stables on Sycamore and Pacific were abandoned in favor of the company's preexisting facilities elsewhere.

Another Santa Cruz Electric Railway streetcar near the old horsecar stables, c 1900.
[Harold van Gorder – colorized using DeOldify]
Photographs from the mid- to late-1890s still show the old horsecar barns abandoned on Sycamore Street with no new trackage turning toward them, suggesting they were long out of use. The erection of a fence behind the carbarn further gives evidence of their lack of use during this time. Meanwhile, a new short spur was installed at the Union Depot in mid-1893 to cater to train passengers, suggesting the company maintained no other presence in the area. The consolidation of the various local streetcar companies under the Union Traction Company in October 1904 finally prompted the rebuilding and massive expansion of the former horsecar facilities on Sycamore Street.

The new Union Traction carbarn on Sycamore and Pacific showing a streetcar and repair vehicle in two bays and the passenger waiting area and office at the corner, 1905. [Randolph Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]
Annotated Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Union Traction Company carbarn and passenger depot
at the corner of Sycamore and Pacific Avenue, 1917, with speculative trackage.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
The new structure was erected in early 1905. The 1917 Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows in detail the arrangement of the carbarn. Situated parallel to Pacific Avenue, it originally had six long bays for parking streetcars overnight. Cars entered from a short line along Sycamore Street. In the first few years, the barns doubled as a repair shop and had one-foot-thick concrete walls, four fire hydrants (one on each corner), a 400-foot-long fire hose, and a 500 volt motor room. Outside the house, to the west, were a small oil house and a transformer house beside presumably two spurs.

The engine room in the Union Traction Company's carbarn on Pacific Avenue, 1907.
[Bill Wulf – colorized using DeOldify]
Carpenters working in the extension to the Union Traction carbarn on Sycamore Street, 1908.
[Bill Wulf – colorized using DeOldify]
These were enveloped following the 1906 earthquake, which collapsed a wall of the barn, by an extension that included a paint shop, mechanics shop, woodworking shop, and blacksmith shop, with the two spurs remaining at the far end of the facility and continuing out back. On the Pacific Avenue side of the carbarn, Union Traction established its primary Santa Cruz passenger depot and corporate office. It included a waiting room, office, storage area, and dressing room for staff.

The Union Traction car stop at the Union Depot (right), 1907. [Randolph Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]
After a brief few months under the control of the Ocean Shore Railroad, Union Traction was bought by the Coast Counties Power Company, a PG&E subsidiary, in July 1906 and began its recovery from the earthquake. The carbarn was expanded in March 1907 to allow for the local construction of streetcars. At the same time, the tracks were upgraded to standard gauge and the single narrow-gauge track down Pacific Avenue was replaced by two standard-gauge tracks. Meanwhile, the carbarn lost its status as a passenger depot when a brand new Mission Revival-style passenger depot was built at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Center Street directly across from the Southern Pacific's Union Depot in 1907. This provided much closer access for arriving passengers and eliminated the need for passengers to take wagons or buses to the depot on Sycamore.

The Union Traction carbarn on Pacific Avenue following upgrades, 1907.
[Randolph Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]
For the next nineteen years, the carbarn and Union Depot stops remained in daily use ferrying cars and passengers across the county. But the advent of the automobile and its spread throughout the 1910s led to the abandonment in the early 1920s of branches to Laveaga and Capitola. By April 1925, Union Traction was prepared to throw in the towel but it was not until August that permission was granted for the franchise to wrap up in downtown Santa Cruz. On January 14, 1926, the last schedule streetcar ran down Pacific Avenue, almost exactly fifty years after the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad Company was founded. The carbarn was sold in early 1927, possibly to be used by the Auto Transit Company for storing and maintaining buses. It later became a Chevrolet car dealership lot. The fate of the Union Depot car stop is not known but it was gone by 1977 at the latest.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36,9671N, 122.0246W
555 Pacific Avenue

The site of the Union Traction Company carbarn is now occupied by a mixed residential-commercial complex at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Sycamore Street. Meanwhile, the Union Depot streetcar depot is approximately in the location of the Homeless Garden Project store beside Depot Park. No remnant of the former streetcar line survives.

Citations & Credits:
  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. Santa Cruz, CA: Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, 2005.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Stations: Santa Cruz (Ocean Shore)

If the Ocean Shore Railway was a thing of dreams, then its plans for its depot in Santa Cruz was the Emerald City. And it proved just as ephemeral. When the company was incorporated, it did not anticipate the type of opposition it received from the Southern Pacific Railroad. Despite cooperating to a degree in the parallel construction of the Coast Line Railroad (SP) and the Southern Division of the Ocean Shore Railroad from the northern city limits of Santa Cruz to Davenport, no such politeness could be found within the city. Both Southern Pacific and the Cowell Lime Company did their utmost to block the railroad's entry into Santa Cruz and succeeded spectacularly.

The Ocean Shore Railway's West Cliff Drive shelter overlooking the Southern Pacific Railroad's yard in Santa Cruz, c 1906. [Louis L. Stein, Jr. – Colorized using DeOldify]
When it was incorporated in 1905, the Ocean Shore intended to build an impressive trestle viaduct from the hill above Neary Lagoon across the Southern Pacific tracks, Blackburn Terrace, West Cliff Drive, and Pacific Avenue to eventually reach Cedar Street, where a large freight yard would be located between Center Street and Cedar and from Lincoln Street in the north to the Santa Cruz Union Depot in the south. Fred Swanton captured this visionary idea in the panoramic painting below, published in 1907.

Enlargement from a panoramic painting of Santa Cruz showing in the center the Ocean Shore Railway's proposed viaduct over the Southern Pacific yard and onto Cedar Street, 1907.
The finishing touch would have been a massive cathedral-like passenger depot on Pacific Avenue. Had it been built where planned, it would have occupied both sides of Cathcart Street on the west side of Pacific Avenue from the University Town Center building to the Catalyst. Chief Engineer J. B. Rogers described the proposed depot to the Santa Cruz Sentinel in November 1907:
"The building will certainly be better than any building now existing in Santa Cruz, I assure you. We desire naturally to make our station the center of the city if possible and to make it a revenue producer. No I can not tell whether it will be a steel structure, stone, brick, or of what material it will be, but I am of the opinion that it will be at least four stories high. That will allow three stories for office purposes above the ground floor, which floor will be used as the station. Yes, the electric trains will run right into this building, on the first floor, and up to Pacific Av. The station waiting rooms, booths, etc., will undoubtedly take up the entire ground floor, so that there will not be a single bit of the Pacific Av. frontage blocked off and rented for business purposes. A large amount of the railroad business will undoubtedly be transacted in the upper stories of the depot building."
The company purchased much of the required land for this project but all of its attempts to cross the Southern Pacific yard were blocked.

Sketch of the Ocean Shore Railway's right-of-way in Santa Cruz showing the proposed viaduct entry into the city and the planned steamship pier on the waterfront, 1906. [Jack Wagner]
By the end if 1905, the Ocean Shore had erected a temporary 8 foot by 10 foot wood frame shelter on the hill above the Southern Pacific yard immediately adjacent to West Cliff Drive. The purpose of this structure was two-fold. First, it allowed passengers from the Santa Cruz Union Depot to more easily access the Ocean Shore's trains by simply walking up West Cliff Drive and around to the shelter. Second, it provided access to the Santa Cruz Main Beach, which hosted the popular Neptune Casino and Plunge until both burned down in mid-1906. Whether there were plans to keep a permanent shelter at the site or whether it was simply a temporary structure built in the interim while awaiting the construction of the main depot on Pacific Avenue is unknown, although the track beside the shelter was originally intended to continue onto a new steamship wharf between the Cowell Wharf and the Railroad Wharf.

The first revenue train leaving the Santa Cruz passenger shelter at West Cliff Drive, June 1906.
[Randolph Brandt – Colorized using DeOldify]
Beside Bay Street, under which the Ocean Shore's right-of-way passed, the company maintained its passenger agency depot. It was situated at the northeast corner of Laguna Street and Bay Street and it appears in miniature in a single aerial photograph taken in 1906 by George Lawrence. The structure was small and simple, resembling in many ways the cottages used by Fred Swanton's Santa Cruz Beach Cottage & Tent City Corporation. Passengers would purchase tickets for the train here and presumably board either at the West Cliff Drive location or near the freight house located midway between Gharkey and Santa Cruz Streets off Laguna.

Enlargement of George Lawrence's aerial photograph of Santa Cruz, focusing on the Ocean Shore right-of-way with the small depot beside Bay Street at center-right. Note the Bay Street railroad overpass at far right.
The financial upheavals of the Ocean Shore Railway between the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and  1911 led to the reincorporation of the company was the Ocean Shore Railroad Company. This marked a change in strategy for the company including the abandonment of some of its structures. At Santa Cruz, it meant the cutting back of the line to the small depot on Bay Street with the track beyond that point likely abandoned. All transfers with the Southern Pacific Railroad would now pass through the more even grade at Rapetti/Orby, where the San Vicente Lumber Company maintained its large mill. The end of the line on West Cliff Drive remained mile marker 0.0 but the station had decisively shifted. Stanley Steamer autobuses were brought in to connect the line between Swanton and Tunitas and tickets for this and other services were available at the Bay Street depot.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map for 1917 showing the Ocean Shore depot over the right-of-way on Bay Street.
[University of California, Santa Cruz Digital Collections]
Over the following nine years, passenger service came to a crawl as the Ocean Shore continued to fail to connect its separate lines. Eventually, autobus transportation and the better efficiency of the Southern Pacific trains, which could reach San Francisco directly via two routes, meant that passenger service was simply no longer required. Nonetheless, the Ocean Shore maintained such service throughout the duration of its life as an active railroad. In 1920, the company ceased operating as a railroad and the local track was taken over by the San Vicente Lumber Company, which had no need for passenger depots or shelters. The ultimate fate of the Bay Street depot is unknown but it was likely moved and converted into a home as such was the fate of many such structures.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
Beach Shelter: 150 West Cliff Drive, 36.9629N, 122.0257W
Santa Cruz Station: 221 Bay Street, 36.9606N, 122.0284W
Santa Cruz Passenger Terminal (?): 512 Laguna Street, 36.9592N, 122.0290W

The site of the passenger shelter is now occupied by the Westcliff Townhomes on West Cliff Drive, just before the truss bridge over the railroad tracks. The shelter would have been on the bluff just behind the buildings, which is now occupied by gardens. The passenger depot on Bay Street is either gone or heavily modified into the private residence that now occupies the site. The likely site of the passenger terminal further north along Laguna has certainly been replaced with a new building if there ever had been a building there to begin with. Curiously, the homes on 512 and 520 Laguna are oriented toward the right-of-way rather than the road even though the buildings appear to have been built in the 1960s.

Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry E., Jr. "Ocean Shore Railroad." Unpublished, 2017.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Hunter, Chris. Images of Rail: Ocean Shore Railroad. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
  • Nanney, Duncan. Personal correspondence.
  • Nurkse, Peter. Personal correspondence.
  • Wagner, Jack R. The Last Whistle: Ocean Shore Railroad. Berkeley, CA: Howell-North Books, 1974.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Freight Stops: Railway Express Agency

Parcel services are something that we take for granted today. Before 1918, the United States did not have a consistent, nationwide network of parcel service. Even the United States Post Office did not deal in anything bigger than what could be held in a hand until 1913. For most of the country's history, small, local, independent firms managed parcel shipping, while similarly small, local, independent firms managed receiving and delivery. In Santa Cruz, that service was handled by the Daniels' Transfer Company, which worked with Southern Pacific Railroad, the Pacific Steamship Company, and the various long-haul parcel companies such as American Express and Wells Fargo to ensure that parcels arrived at their destination. Efficiency and supply-line problems prompted by World War I, however, forced the country to move forward. The United States government took control of the country's railroads in 1917 to aid the war effort, and this meant that all railroad contracts with parcel firms were suddenly terminated. A solution had to be found to ensure that parcel delivery could resume.

The former Railway Express Agency building at Depot Park, 2018.
It was the United States Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo who proposed the idea of a unified railroad parcel company in early 1918. In July, the American Railway Express Agency was founded, taking control of the parcel services of American Express, Wells Fargo, Southern Express, and Adams Express companies. American Express was left largely in control of the new agency since it contributed to 40% of the assets, although not in Santa Cruz County. The United States Railroad Administration remained in control of the country's railroads until March 1920 but did not release its influence over the American Railway Express Agency until March 1929. During these years, the REA expanded service to Chicago, which was not originally included in its range, and also opened an Air Express Division in 1927.

The American Railway Express Agency office beside the Santa Cruz Union Depot, 1920s.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – Colorized using DeOldify]
When precisely the American Railway Express Agency structure was erected at the Santa Cruz Union Depot yard is unknown, but it was probably built between late 1918 and 1920. It was located directly to the north of the main station building along Washington Street. Where previously people would have had to arrange transportation of parcels by visiting the Daniels' Transfer office or visiting the main downtown post office, instead people could go to the Union Depot, where a station agent would receive parcels and then, after appropriate labeling, store them in the adjacent express warehouse to await shipment. In many ways, it streamlined the process, although Daniels' remained in business as an alternative parcel shipper. The building itself was a high-roofed, single story, wood framed building with a plain, stucco exterior done in a vaguely Spanish revival style. The building measured 30 feet wide and 85 feet long and was probably exposed timber inside.

The Railway Express Agency warehouse to the left of the Santa Cruz Union Depot, late 1940s. [Tom Hambleton]
In March 1929, the government finally relinquished its influence over the organization and it reincorporated under new terms. The new name became simply Railway Express Agency and, rather than being owned by the pre-war express agencies, was jointly owned by eighty-six railroad companies in direct proportion to the average amount of parcel service they carried along their lines. Attempts by other companies to compete with the REA began as early as 1922 with the San Francisco-based Pioneer Express Company, but Santa Cruz County proved loyal to the REA through World War II, with few local competitors really presenting a challenge.

World War II once again challenged local parcel services and most switched to using trucks for much of their short- and medium-haul trips. REA, in response, moved into the refrigerated goods transfer business via a fleet of refrigerator cars, since trucks were still not quite capable of staying refrigerated for long periods of time. This changed in the mid-1950s and by the end of the decade, even this service was suffering dramatically. REA finally adopted trucks itself in 1959 and began to phase out its fleet of rolling stock. In 1960, the company reincorporated as REA Express, Inc., marking its transition from a principally railroad-based business to all forms of transport. The company continued until 1969, when it was sold to several of its employees. Rail service had dropped by this time to 10% of its entire business and REA itself only constituted 10% of all parcel service transactions in the United States. A series of lawsuits against UPS and the Brotherhood of Railway Workers in the early 1970s led to the final demise of the company due to insolvency. The company went bankrupt in November 1975 and all of its goods were sold at auction.

Santa Cruz Sentinel notice noting closure of local REA Express office, July 23, 1971.
In 1961, the REA agency in Santa Cruz became the only operating office in Santa Cruz County when the office at Watsonville permanently shut down. A decade later, in July 1971, the office closed and all REA shipments were routed to Salinas, where couriers would have to pick up deliveries and route them to Santa Cruz via truck. In 1973, the building became Washington Square, a boutique clothing showroom and store owned by Tom Cahill. It underwent a significant facelift with arched, covered windows and decorative plants around the building. Cahill died in December 1980 but his business lasted until May 1984, at which point it shut down. The location appears to have remained unoccupied afterwards, although it continued to be used for community functions on an as-needed basis. It survived the earthquake unscathed and became the base for the Homeless Garden Project in 1994, which continued to use the building through 1998.

Washington Square shortly after opening, July 19, 1973. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
The Railway Express Agency building survived the fire that engulfed the adjacent Union Depot station on January 5, 1998. It was vacated later in the year and was included in the plans for the transformation of the depot area into Depot Park. By the time that the park opened in March 2005, the former Express Agency building had been upgraded for use as a public hall and restroom facility and remains so today. It received a Blue Plaque noting its historical importance to Santa Cruz County history from the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History on May 5, 2012.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9468N, 122.0273W
119 Center Street

The former Railway Express office is now the only surviving structure at the Santa Cruz Union Depot grounds. The building itself has been upgraded superficially to have rust orange walls over the stucco façade and the roof has modern shingling. The placement of the windows remain original. The structure was shifted slightly when the park was made but it remains within the vicinity of its original location. The interior of the building has been entirely gutted to create the public hall with no hints left as to its original purpose. The walls have soundproofing along all four walls and florescent lights now shine down from overhead. The building hosts several regular programs including yoga classes and parts of it can be viewed during these times or simply by using the restroom.

Citations & Credits:
  • Bender, Henry. "SP San Jose to Santa Cruz (ex-South Pacific Coast Ry.)." Unpublished notes. 2013.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1971–1994.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Freight Stops: Centennial Flour Mills

Santa Cruz County has never supported a successful flour industry, but several attempts have been made over the years. Joseph Majors attempted to grow wheat and refine flour in the 1840s near Scotts Valley but gave up soon afterwards. Frederick A. Hihn also ran a small grain mill out of his shop on Pacific Avenue in the 1850s, but gave up. Over the hill in Los Gatos, the Forbes Mill and its successors tried for years to commercially refine wheat only to experience endless hardship and multiple bankruptcies. Other companies and people attempted to produce commercial-grade flour as well throughout the 1860s and 1870s, but the Central Coast is simply not a profitable grain-growing region. That fact, though, did not stop J. E. Butler of San Mateo from trying.

The Centennial Flour Mills building on Pacific Avenue in a dilapidated state, late 1880s.
Note the piles of lumber indicating that Grover & Company has taken over the mill.
[Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History – Colorized using DeOldify]
Newspaper advertisement for the
Centennial Flour Mills, August 10, 1878.
[Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel]
In early 1876, Butler incorporated the Centennial Flour Milling Company, a name chosen in honor of the United States' centennial. Butler hoped to tap the existing grain growers on the North Coast of Santa Cruz County and encourage more elsewhere in the region to join them in order to refine commercial grade grain products for mass market distribution. The towering mill he built in Santa Cruz on Mill Street (later the bottom of Pacific Avenue) was the tallest structure in the city when it opened. In its four stories, it was able to produce flour, bran, corn meal, barley, graham flour, grist, and various other grain products. The land had been purchased directly from the Blackburn Estate and was noted as being the site of an Ohlone food drying place in pre-Spanish times. The mill opened in mid-June 1876 to much excitement.

The mill cost $20,000 to construct and was truly impressive for the time in many ways. Although the building was made of wood, it sat on a solid stone foundation. The machinery was freshly purchased from the Lick Mills in Santa Clara County, which had just replaced its machinery. Grain was stored on the bottom floor alongside the corporate office. The boiler and engine rooms were set off in a two-story lean-to with a smokestack that rose above the hight of the building. The second floor was where the grain was processed into flour via two large grindstones. The top two stories were primarily machinery-oriented, although additional grain was stored on the fourth floor to be fed into the mill. Large chutes ran between floors to allow for the easy movement of grain and products. An external commercial chute was also located on the second floor that could drop bags of product down into waiting wagons. At maximum capacity, the mill could produce 200 barrels of flour per day via a 200 horsepower steam engine.

Sanborn Fire Insurance map showing the Centennial Flour Mills on Pacific Avenue, 1883.
[University of California, Santa Cruz, Digital Collections]
Centennial Flour was one of the first private firms to use the tracks at the Santa Cruz freight yard to export and import goods. Before the mill even opened, the Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel advertised that the company would connect to both the Santa Cruz & Felton and Santa Cruz Railroads, but a connection was only ever made to the former. A freight spur for the mill was installed around June 9, 1876 and extended from an existing track that connected to the railroad's Pacific Avenue horsecar line (later the Pacific Avenue Street Railroad Company). A large single-story warehouse was erected in July between the main spur and the mill to store unprocessed grain that was sent in from the fields and sacks of processed grain products for shipment via the Railroad Wharf. A triangular platform jutted out from the warehouse beside the company's spur while a long boardwalk beside the spur provided additional space for loading boxcars and also a means to access the mill without walking across dirt and mud, which could contaminate the products in the mill.

Newspaper advertisement for
Bay View Flour Mills, January 28, 1882.
[Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel]
For two years, the Centennial Flour Mills operated without significant interruption and weekly ads appeared in the Sentinel. When it did close for the first time in June 1878, it was to upgrade its machinery and the company continued to advertise until September 14, 1878, when all mention of the company in the newspaper ceased without explanation. Apparently, the mill resumed operating, however, only without advertising since it was noted as closing July 1, 1880, implying it had been running before that time. In August, the mill underwent reconditioning to fix mistakes originally made by the millwright. These improvements cost between $3,000 and $4,000, which was quite high for a small industry that was facing increasing competition via other local mills and cheap grains imported via steamships and the newly-completed South Pacific Coast Railroad's line. The mill reopened in September but was forced to shut down again in January 1881 when Butler had his credit called in by the Santa Cruz Bank. Lacking available funds, he forfeited the mill. In June of that year, Robert Orton nearly leased the property, but in mid-July, it came under the management of Luke Lukes of Dixon. As soon as he took possession, he had a new two-ton fly wheel installed in order to reopen the mill. Lukes ran the company for eighteen months under the name Bay View Flour Mills before being declared insolvent in court on January 10, 1883. By this point, the mill appears to have been not operating for several months and was entering a state of decay.

In November 1883, it was speculated in the Sentinel that Grover & Company, which owned the adjacent lumber yard and mill, were interested in purchasing the entire flour company. They likely took over the property within the next two years since lumber piles are shown scattered throughout the flour mill's yard and the grain warehouse is storing hay in the 1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance map. Somewhat unexpectedly, perhaps, Grover expressed interest in reopening the facility in 1888 as a flour mill, estimating that it could produce fifty sacks of flour per day. Grover leased the mill to J. M. Jordan for this purpose, but these plans appear to have fallen through and by 1892 the facility was undergoing conversion into a new planing mill to replace the aging adjacent mill. The converted planing mill remained in operation for the next fifteen years, initially under Grover, then under Grover, Cunningham & Company. Grover joined in the Santa Cruz Lumber Company joint venture but shortly afterwards went bankrupt, passing all of its possessions to the Santa Cruz Savings & Loans Bank, which entrusted it to the Loma Prieta Lumber Company.

Throughout its years operating as a flour mill, the facility was heavily prepared for fires, which were known to be frequent in the often dry environments inside flour mills. Large water cisterns were installed on each level of the mill and steam pumps could lift water to hoses and a hydrant on all of the levels as well. The Centennial Flour Mills also employed a watchmen to ensure no fires were lighted when the mill was not operating. The watchmen was retained through subsequent managerial changes and one remained employed in the winter of 1904. On February 19, the watchman was settling down for his mid-night lunch when he noticed a flickering light in the second floor of the old flour mill. The Santa Cruz Surf reported:
Not in ten years has Santa Cruz had such an illumination as was to be witnessed this morning between 2 o'clock and daybreak, Broad sheets of flame a hundred feet high reflected against an opaque cloud covered sky, giving light enough to distinguish small objects for miles around. People who viewed the illumination from a distance were at first unable to locate the fire, but the bright relief in which Sunshine Villa, Mr. Bowman's residence, and adjacent places on Beach Hill were thrown soon showed that it was the old Centennial mill and the Loma Prieta Lumber Company's mill and lumber sheds that were on fire.
Within fifteen minutes of the time the alarm sounded there was an acre of flame rising skyward, without a puff of wind to deviate its course.... As a spectacle it was very magnificent.
The fire was so hot that it cracked the windows of buildings that sat along Third Street at the top of Beach Hill. It also destroyed several nearby structures including the old grain warehouse and the long-since-repurposed Grover planing mill that once sat beside the flour mill, although much of the nearby mill's lumber was saved by quick action by employees and the fire department. Old planing mill machinery and tools, custom mouldings, and some high grade lumber were all inside the warehouse when it caught fire, amounting to over 200,000 board feet of lost wood products.

The fire coincided conveniently with Southern Pacific's plans to standard-gauge the Santa Cruz Union Depot yard and shift the freight presence away from Pacific Avenue, which had been largely bypassed when the Union Depot opened in 1893. Nothing of the old Centennial Flour Mills facility survived the fire and the entire Pacific Avenue freight zone lost its remaining rail access shortly afterwards. The Surf noted this as a good thing since the city planned to develop lower Pacific Avenue in the coming years, although this never happened and the lot remained vacant as a lumber yard for two decades. Throughout its three operators, the flour mill repeatedly lost money and proved that Santa Cruz County was not a viable place to produce commercial grade grain products.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9659N, 122.0252W

The Centennial Flour Mills building was located at 407 Pacific Avenue. The site is now occupied by the Neptune Apartments complex and Sanitary Plumbing & Heating Company, which buildings have occupied the location since 1924. No remnants of the Centennial Flour Mills survives.

Citations & Credits:
  • Harrison, Edward Sanford. History of Santa Cruz County, California (1892).
  • Samuel Hopkins Willey, "A Historical Paper Relating to Santa Cruz, California: Perpared in Pursuance of the Resolutions of Congress for the National Centennial Celebration, July 4, 1876: At the Request of the Common Council of Santa Cruz" (Printing Department of A.L. Bancroft, 1876).
  • Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, 1875–1893.
  • Santa Cruz Surf, 1904.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Santa Cruz, CA, 2015.