Thursday, January 14, 2021

Freight Stops: Ocean Shore Maintenance Yard

The existence of the Ocean Shore Railway in Santa Cruz County was in hindsight such a fleeting thing that it is often forgotten how important the project once was to the county. From anticipated electrification of the entire system to a substantial pier at the Main Beach to a massive viaduct over the Southern Pacific Railroad's yards to extensions of the route north to San Francisco and south to Fresno and beyond, the company had a grand vision and aspirations to something great. And while all of those dreams vanished in the fires of the 1906 Earthquake and the financial crises that followed, the railroad did successfully build some infrastructure in the county. The heart of that infrastructure was the company's maintenance yard on the West Side of Santa Cruz.

The Ocean Shore Railroad's maintenance yard near Garfield Park with a locomotive in the engine house at right and the remains of Ocean Shore #2 in the center with its tender at left in front of a passenger car, ca 1910. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Permission to construct the yard was granted by the city in June 1905 and building began shortly after. The completed yard encompassed several blocks within David Gharkey's old tract between Lighthouse Avenue to the east, Gharkey Street to the north, Centennial Street to the west, and Oregon Street to the south. Through this section, the Ocean Shore's track curved gently southwest from its bluff-top passenger shelter. From just south of Gharkey Street, the track split, with double-track running all the way to Garfield Avenue. A crossover was located near the junction of Delaware Avenue and Colombia Street, although the double-track continued to Garfield, where it stopped abruptly. Presumably, this was the start of the long double-track that was intended to continue up the coast to San Francisco, but only this short section was ever built along the Southern Division. Where the double-track broke off, a second track also detached to form the southern wye, which stretched south to Oregon Street. The wye allowed the railroad's locomotives to turn around without the need of a turntable, which was not available along the Southern Division. The other wye on the Southern Division was located north of Davenport at Folger beside Scott Creek.

Only complete layout map of the Ocean Shore Railway's yard in the Gharkey Tract from microfilm, showing curve angles, spurs, the wye, and support structures, ca 1907. [California State Library]

In addition to the double-track and wye, the maintenance yard had four other spurs throughout the area. The northern most of these, measuring 415 feet in length, broke off from the wye track and crossed Santa Cruz Street where it paralleled Laguna Street before stopping at Monterey Street. Another 450-foot-long spur broke off from the main line near the same place but turned west to stop at Liberty Street. A structure near the top of these spurs sat alongside Laguna but no purpose for this building is described on the only available map of the area.

The final two spurs more clearly related to the engine house and maintenance yard, which was located on the north side of Monterey Street midway between Centennial and Liberty Streets. The spurs flanked the buildings with a 466-foot-long spur snaking over them to the north and a straight 337-foot-long spur cutting through the engine house, with both ending at or in Centennial Street. The engine house was capable of housing two locomotives but no additional rolling stock, and no other covered areas were provided in the yard. Three tanks capable of holding 310,000 gallons of water stood beside the engine house to refuel locomotives. Two maintenance shops in an L shape were connected to the engine house. Most of these features can be seen in the photograph at the top of this page, with a tender and car parked on the longer spur and a locomotive in the engine house.

The yard limits for the Ocean Shore's Santa Cruz operations spanned from the end of track above the Southern Pacific yard at West Cliff Drive to the city limits at Moore Creek and the San Vicente Lumber Company's millpond (Antonelli Pond). Within this area were three stations—Santa Cruz, Garfield Ave. and Rapetti—the middle of which was composed entirely of a small 8' x 10' wood frame passenger shelter located at the southwest corner of Garfield (Woodrow) and Delaware Avenues. This structure served as a transfer point with the Union Traction Company's electric streetcar line between Vue de l'Eau and the rest of its network and, as such, was a regularly scheduled stop. No photographs of the shelter exist, unfortunately.

Subdivision map of "Marx's Property" within the Gharkey Tract, showing details of the Ocean Shore Railroad's freight yard, October 13, 1913. [California State Library]

The maintenance yard was linked directly to the operations of the Ocean Shore Railway and may not have survived much into the Ocean Shore Railroad's existence after 1911. The San Vicente Lumber Company, which had its mill on Shore Investment Company (an Ocean Shore subsidiary) land at Rapetti Ranch beside Antonelli Pond is noted on a Sanborn map in 1917 as having a long car shed and a separate car shop. These were not present in 1911. It is possible that these were or became the new maintenance facilities for the Ocean Shore Railroad in the mid-1910s, especially since the railroad only operated two locomotives at a time on the Southern Division during this time. The Rapetti property certainly served as the maintenance yard after October 1920, when the railroad sold its southern rolling stock to the lumber company and abandoned any remaining stations and shelters in Santa Cruz County. If the original maintenance yard survived until the end of the railroad's existence, it was decommissioned at some point in late 1920 or early 1921. Most of the property remained undeveloped until after World War II, when it was subdivided into housing parcels.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:

36.9580N, 122.0315W

The location of the company's shops were at 404 Centennial Street, which today is occupied by a private home. No visible trace of the Ocean Shore's maintenance yard survives but there are relics that can be found on property lines. Indeed, the entire route of Delaware Avenue between Columbia and Santa Cruz Streets is due to the Ocean Shore's alignment and its subsequent conversion to a public road in the 1940s. The properties that most obviously still reflect the former Ocean Shore right-of-way through this area are 224 Gharkey Street, 403 Laguna Street, 302 Monterey Street, and 301-303 Santa Cruz Street, although the orientations of some structures in the area may also reflect the railroad's original alignment.

Citations & Credits:

  • Bender, Henry E., Jr. "Ocean Shore Railroad." December 2017.
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2007.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Streetcars: Watsonville Transportation Company

Watsonville was not immune from the excitement of the streetcar age nor did it miss an opportunity to undermine Southern Pacific's relative monopoly on rail services around the Monterey Bay. The Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad was incorporated in 1889 partially for this purpose, but it quickly failed in its goal and became almost exclusively a freight hauler for the Western Beet Sugar Company owned by Claus Spreckels. A different sort of excitement came with the incorporation of the Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville Railway in September 1902, which hoped to build an electric streetcar line linking the Santa Cruz Main Beach to Capitola, Aptos, and Watsonville.

Watsonville Transportation Company car #2 on a maintenance spur, 1904. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Progress on the new line did not begin until the next year, and it seemed to many that the Watsonville aspirations of the company's directors were more wishful thinking than reality, with Capitola and Aptos the primary initial targets. To complicate matters further, there were no good spots on the shoreline north of the Pajaro River for a port, yet Watsonville sorely needed one if it wanted to avoid the Pacific Coast Steamship Company's monopoly on coastal trade.

Map showing the original route of the Watsonville Transportation Company's line in relation to the other local railroad lines. Drawn by H. W. Fabing. [Western Railroader]

The solution to all of these problems was to create a new locally-owned railroad and streetcar line that would also interact with a brand new port that was all Watsonville's. Thus, on February 13, 1903, several local financiers and entrepreneurs founded the Watsonville Transportation Company. The leader of these men was William J. Rogers, who was appointed general manager of the line. Other officers of the company included President Robert E. Eaton, Vice President and Treasurer Fred A. Kilburn, and Secretary H. H. Main, with Stephen Scurich serving as a director. The capital goal of the company was set at $200,000 and the goal was to attract mostly local money.

Workers building Port Rogers, using a flatcar to shuttle supplies and lumber, early 1904. [Louis L. Stein, Jr. – colorized using DeOldify]

The articles of incorporation described the plans of the company as thus:

To construct a single or double track railroad of either narrow gauge or standard gauge, operated by steam engines, electrical power, gasoline motors or any lawful means of power, from the city of Watsonville along any feasible route to Monterey Bay at an estimated distance of five miles. Also to erect and maintain telephone and telegraph facilities and furnish electric current for such use as it may be put to use.

The proposed pier at the beach was to be named Port Rogers after the general manager, while the steam schooner the company planned to buy would be branded the F. A. Kilburn, after the company's vice president and treasurer. In reality, it became known as the 'berry boat,' probably because its primary function was shipping berries to San Francisco. The Kilburn was built by the H. B. Bendixsen Ship Building Company of Eureka. The 175-foot-long ship was known to be fast and reliable. It had 45 rooms for travellers on the top deck and a large hold below for freight.

Port Rogers with a Watsonville Transportation Company streetcar rounding the curve, ca 1904. [Randolph C. Brandt]

The narrow-gauge line was planned to begin at the intersection of Main Street and Wall Street (Beach Street) and from there run parallel to Beach Street all the way to the beach, where the track briefly zigged north around Camp Goodall before turning back toward the bay where it would end on the Port Rogers pier. The reason for this zigzag was to move the line out of the domain of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, which owned the rights to all port access south of Watsonville Slough. Almost the entirety of the route was level and, with the exception of the two curves, ran in a straight line to the beach. The track ran on the road for half the length and then shifted to the north side of Beach Street from near the Lee Road crossing. The only bridge on the route was a short span of unknown design across the slough.

Colorized postcard of F. A. Kilburn docked beside Port Rogers on its maiden
voyage and at the grand opening of the pier, April 16, 1904. [Pacific Narrow Gauge]

At the beach, the company hoped to build a resort around the base of the pier. Construction on the pier began in April 1903 and progressed rapidly. The total length, once done, was 1,300 feet and it was designed in the manner of a wide trestle with a flat deck on top. Meanwhile, the company hired William Henry Weeks to design a dance pavilion at the foot of the pier. The building was to measure 50 feet by 20 feet and would provide views from across the Monterey Bay. These two structures attracted large crowds when the F. A. Kilburn had its maiden voyage on April 16, 1904. Much of the city turned out for the event. The steamship began regular service soon after, leaving Port Rogers in the evening and arriving in San Francisco the next morning, where goods could be sold on the open market.

1908 Sanborn map with annotations showing a likely layout (black) of the Watsonville Transportation Company's maintenance yard trackage (black) in relation to the Pajaro Valley Consolidate Railroad's line (blue) and the Southern Pacific's Santa Cruz Branch (red). [Library of Congress]

As the pier was completed and regular traffic began, work on the streetcar line became the next priority. The directors of the Watsonville Transportation Company entered negotiations with the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad to arrange an interchange between their respective lines. On Beach Street, the streetcar company erected its power house, which operated on oil. Behind it and beside the Adamson Fruit Company's warehouse, it built a large warehouse and streetcar barn, as well as a smaller car barn for the company's boxcars. The warehouse had platforms on the west and south sides and it was near the Pajaro Valley line's tracks, suggesting that the interchange was located at the warehouse, where goods could be easily transferred. The narrow-gauge of the streetcar line was likely in order to fluidly exchange with the railroad, and together the two could bypass the Southern Pacific monopoly even more effectively.

Car #2 on Third (Wall) Street beyond the railroad depot, ca 1905. [Main Line – colorized using DeOldify]

In reality, the exchange between the two railroads was rarely used and probably only by the streetcar line to borrow rolling stock—the Pajaro Valley line had a more reliable deep water port at Moss Landing and had little use for Port Rogers. However, in July 1904, the success of the streetcar line thus far inspired its directors to approve funding for an extension inland to Rancho Vega, San Juan Bautista, Hollister, Gilroy, and ultimately Fresno. These may have all reflected a hope of extending the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad's sugar beet network, thereby binding together the destinies of the two railroads.

View of Port Rogers from the pier, ca 1905. [Main Line – colorized using DeOldify]

The streetcar line was composed of either two or four heavy-duty interurban-style electric cars, four flatcars (later increased to ten), and two boxcars. The tougher electric cars were chosen since they were capable of carrying passengers but could also haul several cars behind it. Photographs only show Car #2 and Car #4 and available sources are contradictory, so the actual number of electric cars remains unknown. The first runs on the line began in mid-November 1903. Passenger revenue in the first year amounted to a modest but promising $13,750. Meanwhile, freight gross reached $36,250. These positive numbers were both key factors in the company's approval of the line's extension east.

Car #4 beside a flatcar on the Port Rogers pier, possibly assisting in construction, ca 1904. [Main Line – colorized using DeOldify]

Unfortunately, problems began to mount in late 1904. The speed at which the pier was built came at a price: worms began eating it as soon as it was constructed and a storm in November washed away 200 feet of the damaged pier. Redwood piles were brought in and the pier was repaired by the end of December. However, early the next year, 500 feet of the pier collapsed in another storm and the cost to repair was estimated at $35,000.

Watsonville Transportation trackage north of the railroad depot along Third (Wall) Street, ca 1905. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

Around the same time, a lawsuit broke out against Rogers and Main, who had served as the company's chief promoters. Stockholders were disappointed with the compensation Rogers and Main claimed for their promotional efforts. On August 12, 1905, a grand jury in Santa Cruz indicted the men for misappropriation of funds and falsifying records. Although the two men were later absolved by an appellate court, the damage to the company's reputation was done. That same day, the Pajaro Valley Bank called in a $19,000 balance due on a loan taken out by the streetcar company's financiers. Unable to pay the loan or attract enough goodwill, the company declared bankruptcy on September 8, 1905.

Streetcar tracks down Beach Road looking south, with the Loma Prieta planing mill at left and the Earl Fruit Company warehouse at right, ca 1910. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

For the next five years, the streetcar line languished, although Rogers would not let the railroad tracks be torn up. Whether a streetcar operated during any part of this time is unclear. When Edward White attempted to dispose of the tracks and rolling stock, Rogers filed an injunction with the California Supreme Court claiming that he was owed money by the railroad. He was eventually given $2,500 in settlement in 1907. With the lawsuit resolved, Rogers quickly moved on selling the firm and reformed it into the Pacific Railroad & Steamship Company in February 1907. He then promptly sold this new firm to the Monterey, Fresno & Eastern Railway Company, which was a subsidiary of the Ocean Shore Railway incorporated on December 28, 1906.

The F. A. Kilburn off the coast, ca 1906. [Worthpoint – colorized using DeOldify]

The new railroad company hoped to use the Watsonville streetcar line as its Monterey Bay port since access to the bay had been blocked by Southern Pacific in Santa Cruz. Its plans to link San Francisco to the San Joaquin Valley via a coastal route, thereby bypassing the Southern Pacific monopoly on the region, required port access and rights-of-way. The Ocean Shore had already briefly leased the Union Traction Company's streetcar lines in February 1906, but the earthquake in April led them to abandon that contract. Yet the option of taking it up again and extending the tracks to Watsonville remained. Once in Watsonville, the tracks could link up to the Watsonville streetcar line and continue up the Pajaro River. To accomplish another phase of this plan, the San Juan Pacific Railway was incorporated on May 4, 1907 with a long-term goal of building a line from Chittenden to Hollister via San Juan Bautista.

The F. A. Kilburn docked at Port Rogers, ca 1905. [Derek R. Whaley – Colorized using DeOldify]

The Kilburn was a key part of the Monterey, Fresno & Eastern negotiations. On April 1, the steamship entered service between Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco. It was forced to bypass Watsonville at the time while the pier was repaired and upgraded. After the new railroad scheme fizzled in late 1907, the steamship was sold to Fred Linderman, a former stockholder in the streetcar company. He added the ship to his other steamship operations between San Francisco and Oregon where it operated for several years. It eventually sunk following a fire off the coast of Key West, Florida, on June 16, 1918.

The F. A. Kilburn off the coast of Eureka, California, ca 1916. [Derek R. Whaley – colorized using DeOldify]

The Monterey, Fresno & Eastern project failed for several reasons, but locally it was because the company attempted to bypass local laws regarding maintaining roads through which its tracks passed. In June 1907, the company attempted to standard-gauge the line and abandon a stretch of track downtown, which immediately prompted an injunction and a lien on its two streetcars. Shortly afterwards, the Panic of 1907 struck and many of the investors lost their ability to pay bondholders what was owed. The next January, the company was sued, with former Watsonville Transportation Company directors claiming their company was acquired through fraud. A two-year lawsuit ensued with Edward White managing the local properties until the suit was settled.

Colorized postcard of Port Watsonville Beach, 1911. [Derek R. Whaley]

Even before the suit was settled, White attempted to auction the railroad equipment, tracks, and franchise on June 11, 1910. Only one bid was offered for the lot by A. N. Judd, who represented a group of Watsonville businesspeople hoping to reopen the line and port. Rogers intervened to stop the sale claiming that the Monterey, Fresno & Eastern still owned the route, but his case was dismissed. An offer in July by bondholders of the railroad proposed an entirely new structure for the company, but the offer was also declined. A second round of bidding in February 1911 finally led to the sale of the lot to a different group of Watsonville investors, who founded on April 22, 1911 the Watsonville Railway and Navigation Company.

Watsonville Railway tracks down Beach Road looking east at the point where the tracks shifted to run along the east side of the road, with a streetcar on the tracks in the distance, ca 1911. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

There was no overlap between the old firm and the new. The stated purpose of the Watsonville Railway and Navigation Company was to rehabilitate the decaying line, restore steamship service between Watsonville and Santa Cruz, and resurrect interest in the beach. The first goal was to restore the streetcar line, which resumed service only a week after the company was founded. However, the range was reduced to between the Southern Pacific depot at Walker Street, thereby abandoning the track beyond to Main Street. In addition, the company only had one streetcar and ten flatcars left in its fleet. The other streetcar had burned down in a fire at the carbarn in 1909. Several of the flatcars had seats installed as a stopgap until the streetcar could be properly rehabilitated for service.

A young Preston Sawyer on the Port Watsonville wharf, ca 1911. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

The Port Rogers pier had fallen into such a sorry state that it was decided to demolish it and erect a new, longer wharf. The Marine Concrete Construction Company was awarded a $60,000 contract for the job and the new wharf was set at 1,900 feet long, with a wider section at the end for a freight warehouse and double tracks. Something happened, though, that caused this contract to be cancelled. A few months later, a new contract with the San Francisco Bridge Company for a redwood timber wharf of 1,700 feet was commissioned, with parts of the Port Rogers pier repurposed where possible. This made it the longest wharf on the California coast at the time.

Construction on the expanded facilities at Calpaco at the foot of the Port Watsonville wharf, ca 1911. [Derek R. Whaley – colorized using DeOldify]

With Rogers out of the equation, the seafront was renamed Port Watsonville. And since this new company did not plan to compete with the railroad or established shipping firms, the Pacific Coast Steamship Company was one of the first to request access to the wharf.

Port Watsonville with a streetcar coming off the wharf and a steamship docked at the end, ca 1911. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Meanwhile, property developers began subdividing and designing a resort on the shore at the base of the wharf and just northwest of Camp Goodall. F. E. Snowden, the new streetcar company's president, founded the California Pacific Company and began developing Calpaco, a tent city resort on the beach. A boardwalk and running water were installed between over sixty tent cabins. A baseball field and horse racing track were built nearby.

Port Watsonville in its prime, with the pier in the distance, William Week's dance pavilion on the beach beside a windscreen wall, and tent cottages in the foreground, ca 1912. [Adi Zahner – colorized using DeOldify]

William Week's dance pavilion was renovated and a new outdoor stage erected beside it. The resort opened on July 4, 1911 and the streetcar was so crowded that flatcars were brought back online to add seats. Estimates put the Fourth of July crowd at nearly 1,500 visitors. The popularity of the resort and wharf lasted for two well-remembered summers.

Port Watsonville wharf with streetcar tracks removed from the end and a wind screen visible on the sandbar in the distance, ca 1913. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Unfortunately for everybody, the use of wood pilings rather than concrete on the wharf proved once again to be a mistake. A huge storm swell in December 1912 destroyed 160 feet of the wharf and flooded Calpaco with damage valued at $40,000. Rather than pay the cost, Snowden sued the San Francisco Bridge Company for faulty construction, but the suit was dismissed. The relatively cheap repair could not be made due to a lack of financial support from local investors. The wharf was patched up as best as possible and service resumed the next year, but fewer steamships called in and fewer passengers were drawn to the beach and wharf. Meanwhile, Snowden sought out potential buyers of the line and the Calpaco resort.

Streetcar tracks down the center of Beach Road with the Loma Prieta planing mill at left and the Earl Fruit Packing Company at right, ca 1910. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

During the summer of 1913, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad used the streetcar's tracks for sugar beet operations on Beach Street, but the profits were insufficient to recoup any losses. In October, the company filed for bankruptcy and was dissolved on February 24, 1914. It was sold in its entirety to the San Francisco Bridge Company, which was still owed for work related to constructing the problematic pier. In 1915, a group of Los Angeles investors attempted to revive the entire network, but nothing came of it and the wharf was finally dismantled in August. The tracks languished for two more years and were finally removed in January 1917, likely to be sold for scrap to be used in the war. The abandoned dance pavilion and clubhouse were also sold at this time and relocated, putting an end to Calpaco.

Beach Road near the beach where the tracks crossed to wrap around Watsonville Slough on its way to Port Watsonville, ca 1920. [Randolph C. Brandt – colorized using DeOldify]

Following abandonment, several ties were left alongside Beach Street toward its western end, reminding locals of the short-lived streetcar line. After the tracks were pulled, a short portion of the right-of-way continued to be discernable on the road to Pajaro Dunes and modern property maps still show a railroad easement paralleling Shell Road to the east and continuing beyond the entryway. Meanwhile, two rails from the line remained imbedded on Beach Street near Main Street for decades until they were paved over. These likely still sit beneath the surface. The name Port Watsonville has since been borrowed by an unrelated housing subdivision beside Sunset Beach north of the original port.

A baseball game at Port Watsonville after the demolition of the pier and removal of the streetcar tracks, 1920s. [Adi Zahner – colorized using DeOldify]

Citations & Credits:

  • Fabing, H. W. "Watsonville Transportation Company," The Western Railroader 29:11 (November 1966).
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • Lewis, Betty. Watsonville: Memories That Linger, Volume 1. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 1986.
  • Ramsdell, Ed. "Last Month's Do You Recognize." The Main Line: The Monthly Bulletin of the New England Electric Railway Historical Society Libraries 12:5 (July 2020): 2-6
  • McCaleb, Charles S. Surf, Sand & Streetcars: A mobile History of Santa Cruz, California. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum of Art & History, 2005.
  • Various newspapers, 1906-1910.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Bridges: San Lorenzo River Mouth

On the eastern edge of the Santa Cruz Main Beach, the San Lorenzo River meanders gently, pulsing with the tides as it exits into the Monterey Bay. After the Santa Cruz Railroad incorporated in June 1873, the river would prove to be one of its greatest obstacles. Most of the problem was funding, but the geographic terrain at the river's mouth was always going to be an issue. A large sandbar ends the beach, jutting in between the bending river and the relentless sea. The beach was smaller then and the river was wider and deeper. At the time, there were no developments at the eastern end of the beach, with only grass and ice plants keeping the sand from washing away with the tide. The task of conquering this tenuous terrain was difficult but not impossible, but it was a constant struggle between human ingenuity and the tireless power of nature.

A Southern Pacific freight train steaming across the second bridge over the San Lorenzo River at the Santa Cruz Main Beach towards the Boardwalk, August 1946. Photograph by Ed Webber. [Fred Stoes – colorized using DeOldify]

The first railroad bridge over the river required a monumental feat of construction and funding to accomplish since it was erected by the ever cash-strapped Santa Cruz Railroad. Begun in November 1874, it was completed on April 17, 1875. Once done, the bridge was approximately 600 feet in length, with around 350 feet comprised of a trestle viaduct and the remainder an elevated, wooden double-intersecting Warren truss span through which trains could pass. The span was anchored on the eastern side by an abutment installed on the cliff, while the western side sat atop a large wooden pier. Like the other bridges along the line, the San Lorenzo River bridge was painted white using a lime and oil blend in hopes of protecting it from rot and fire.

The first bridge over the San Lorenzo River at the Santa Cruz Beach, ca 1890. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

For two years, the bridge served its purpose while the railroad route was completed and regular service began. But the poorly-built structure was destined to fail, especially during the harsh Santa Cruz winters when powerful waves lashed the coast. The first such failure happened in late 1877, when part of the trestlework collapsed. Railroad investors were asked to hand over their profits from the previous year to fund repairs. They did so begrudgingly and the bridge was repaired. In late 1878, to protect the bridge's single pier from being undercut, wooden cladding was attached to all sides of it and the pier was weighted down with heavy rocks to give it more weight.

The first bridge viewed from the north showing severe damage following a winter storm in January 1881. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Winter storms struck again on January 27, 1881, and over fifty feet of the viaduct collapsed. The Santa Cruz Weekly Courier on May 4, 1881, explained: "The violence of the elements last winter was more than a match for his [Frederick A. Hihn's] patient investments, and when the bridge across the San Lorenzo went out to sea, it was the death knell of the Santa Cruz Railroad." The damaged pieces were not actually washed out, but rather were collected and taken to a warehouse awaiting reassembly. However, Hihn, the chief promotor of the railroad, was unable to convince investors to pay for the repairs. It marked the end for the Santa Cruz Railroad, which struggled to compete with the recently-opened South Pacific Coast Railroad.

The first bridge viewed from the south following the storm of January 27, 1881. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

In May 1881, the Southern Pacific Railroad bought a controlling interest in the Santa Cruz Railroad and set to work repairing the line. The bridge was quickly restored and reopened on June 4, 1881. Over the next two years, the structure was reinforced and repaired repeatedly, and it was eventually expanded and heavily reinforced to allow it to carry standard-gauge trains. The core structure of the bridge—the truss span over the river—appears to have survived all of these storms and crises unscathed, so the real trouble was the viaduct, which was more exposed. Initially, the railroad seems to have simply driven additional piles into the sand. This allowed the upgraded standard-gauge bridge to reopen on November 15, 1883 along with the rest of the route.

People posing at the beach along the river with the first bridge and the vehicular bridge over East Cliff Drive visible in the background, ca 1895. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Over time, Southern Pacific replaced all of the piles with heavy-duty redwood logs and installed stronger bents to keep them stable. At some point in the 1890s, the railroad also belatedly added claddings to the entire truss span, turning it into a covered bridge.

The first bridge with the truss span covered in wood cladding, ca 1900. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

As activity at the beach warmed up, interest in a new bridge arose. In February 1904, Fred Swanton, promotor of what would become the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and a major investor in the Santa Cruz, Capitola & Watsonville streetcar line, hoped to complete the extension of his line to Capitola and beyond. He viewed a route across the river mouth as the best option and began negotiations with the city and Southern Pacific to install a parallel track beside the existing railroad bridge. In addition, he hoped to have a pedestrian bridge installed to provide easy pedestrian access to Seabright from the Main Beach.

The first bridge over the San Lorenzo River viewed from the south, with the truss in wood cladding, ca 1900. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Although the streetcar bridge was never built, Southern Pacific apparently took the initiative and began upgrading the former Santa Cruz Railroad bridge. On May 5, the Sentinel reported that a train was dumping gravel on either side of the viaduct at the beach to turn it into a fill. On May 15, news broke that the railroad intended to replace the old wooden truss with a modern steel bridge. Similar projects were announced across the county. Speculators hoped that Santa Cruz would become the main route of the Coast Division for San Francisco—Los Angeles traffic once the route through the mountains was standard-gauged and the Mayfield Cut-off was completed. Nothing so grand would come, but the new bridge would be built.

Earliest known photograph of the second bridge over the San Lorenzo River at the Santa Cruz beach, with not structures in the immediate vicinity and a pedestrian walkway beside the bridge, ca 1906. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collcetions – colorized using DeOldify]

The actual construction was a prolonged affair since neither local businesses nor Southern Pacific wished to negatively impact summer traffic to the beach. While the fill work was completed before the start of the summer season, most of the supplies for the new bridge only came in the Autumn. Loads of cement for the piers and abutments arrived on October 4 and it took over three months for the piers to be completed. The job was still not done by May, when the Sentinel reported that construction continued with trains using the older wooden bridge in the meantime. This is the only mention of both bridges coexisting during this period, and it means that their alignments were not identical. Even as construction was wrapping up, Seabright residents came to an agreement with Southern Pacific to install a permanent steel foot-bridge beside the new bridge.

Boaters beneath the second bridge over the San Lorenzo River with the L. A. Thompson Scenic Railway in the distance and some structures at right, ca 1915. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections]

The structure, which was completed around mid-July 20, 1905, was approximately 305 feet in length, with the remainder of the old bridge completely buried in fill. Approximately 65 feet of the new bridge was a prefabricated steel plate girder open deck span that was anchored on one side by a concrete abutment and the other by a concrete pier. The pier also served as the western foundation for a 120-foot-long prefabricated Warren truss span with verticals. This was anchored to another concrete pier after which an identical truss connected to the eastern cliffside via a concrete abutment. The two truss bridges were open deck bridges through which trains could pass, as with the previous bridge. Southern Pacific officially designated the bridge #119.67 (based on the mile marker) on the Santa Cruz Branch.

A Southern Pacific excursion train heading to Watsonville over the second bridge over the San Lorenzo River. Below the bridge, the tracks for the miniature Sun Tan Jr. Railway head to the Shoot-the-Chutes at River Park, ca 1930. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Since it was built, the bridge has become a popular object for photography, with photos of the bridge spanning its entire history. Indeed, the very history of the lower end of the Boardwalk and the river mouth can be followed partially through photographs of this bridge. Most famously, the bridge featured in the 1987 film The Lost Boys, although it has appeared in other less well-known films and has become an iconic feature on the Santa Cruz waterfront. Every summer, thousands of people use the bridge and its adjacent pedestrian walkway to walk to and from the Boardwalk and Seabright.

The lower end of the Boardwalk in the 1930s with beachgoers lounging beside the San Lorenzo River and the second bridge in the distance. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Today, the second bridge across the river remains intact, but in a decreasing state of repair. A report delivered on August 31, 2012 commissioned by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, which owns the bridge, noted the bridge to be in poor condition with potentially high rehabilitation costs. That being said, it also noted that the bridge was in surprisingly good condition for its age and is cheaper to repair than to replace. The primary concern relates to long-term damage from two earthquakes. Built in 1905, the bridge sustained minor damage in both the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. These two events caused the bridge to shift northward slightly in relation to its piers and anchors, although thus far these have not negatively impacted its stability. Ultimately, the bridge will need to be replaced in no more than 25 years even if repaired.

A Southern Pacific passenger train crossing the second bridge over the San Lorenzo River at the beach with beachgoers watching from below, ca 1920. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

Until that time, the railroad bridge over the mouth of the San Lorenzo River remains a legacy of the Southern Pacific at its height and the Santa Cruz Main Beach right at the moment that it evolved from a scattering of bath houses into a full amusement park. The bridge is old and deteriorating, but represents an earlier age of rail and tourism. And to the many people who cross it legally on the adjacent footpath or illegally by hopping the crossties, it represents a core component of the Santa Cruz waterfront.

Citations & Credits:
  • Hamman, Rick. California Central Coast Railways. Second edition. Santa Cruz, CA: Otter B Books, 2002.
  • MacGregor, Bruce. South Pacific Coast: A Centennial. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1980.
  • Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1904-1905.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Stations: Casino

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has a feeling of permanence about it. The towering Mission-revival walls of the Casino mix seamlessly with the rows of columns that flank the beachside colonnade. The immense space within Neptune's Kingdom causes people to stop and ponder, wondering what once was. The eerie circling of the Edwardian-style horses of the Looff Carousel contrasts remarkably with the screaming passengers of the Giant Dipper, although both herald back to an earlier, more innocent time. For many people, the Boardwalk is Santa Cruz, or at least the heart of it. And for the past century, that has often been true for tourists. Yet it was a combination of entrepreneurial vision and investment by the Southern Pacific Railroad that led to its success and lasting fame.

Colorized postcard of the Casino on a busy day during its inaugural year at the Santa Cruz Main Beach, 1907. [Derek R. Whaley]

The story of the Boardwalk does not begin with the beach. The beach had existed since time immemorial and people—Native Americans, Spanish, Mexicans, Americans, and others—already understood its allure. Since the 1860s, bathhouses and bathing sheds had existed along the Santa Cruz Main Beach, and these only expanded as the decades wore on. No, the story of the Boardwalk begins with a man: Fred Wilder Swanton. While not a child of Santa Cruz, Swanton grew up in the town from a young age. He had a vision for a greater Santa Cruz and tried to realize that vision every chance he had. He brought the telephone to California in the mid-1880s. He built and ran the Swanton House, the tallest hotel in the city. He operated the Knight's Opera House alongside his father. When the hotel burned down in 1887, he opened up the Bonner Stables and later, the Palace of Pharmacy.

The Swanton House on Front Street, run by Fred Swanton and his father, 1886. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]

However, it was Swanton's interest in electricity that truly brought him local renown. In 1889, he alongside H. H. Clark founded the Santa Cruz Light and Power Company, the city's first widespread electrical system. Two years later, he helped found the Santa Cruz, Garfield Park & Capitola Electric Railway, the city's first electrical streetcar line. He remained invested when it became the Santa Cruz Electric Railway in 1892 and expanded his electrical control with the founding of the Big Creek Power Company shortly afterwards. But Swanton was always looking ahead. He sold the power company in 1900 and abandoned his stake in the streetcar system in 1906. He dabbled in other projects, both local and elsewhere, until he had gathered enough influence for his next big project in Santa Cruz: an amusement park.

A booster train with Fred Swanton (center back left, seated) and other directors of the Santa Cruz Beach Cottage & Tent City Corporation, ca 1904. [University of California, Santa Cruz, Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

From probably 1901, Swanton made his idea for a seaside amusement park on the Santa Cruz Main Beach clear to the Leibbrandt Brothers, Miller Brothers, and Southern Pacific Railroad, which collectively controlled the beach. However, it took around two years for their ideas to coalesce and an agreement to be reached. On October 29, 1903, the consortium founded the Santa Cruz Beach Cottage and Tent City Corporation with an initial investment of $100,000. This eventually reached $1.5 million following several months of campaigning by Swanton. The company consolidated all three of the bathhouses on the beach, as well as large tracts across the tracks from the Leibbrandts and Southern Pacific. In April 1904, the city council approved in a close vote an exclusive franchise on the beach for the corporation. Swanton and his associates began construction immediately, hoping to open in time for summer.

Colorized postcard, artificially made to appear like night, of the Neptune Casino on its opening day, June 2, 1906. [Derek R. Whaley]

The Neptune Casino and Plunge opened to great fanfare on June 11, 1904. The three-story, Moorish-style structure dominated the waterfront at the bottom of Cliff Street, occupying the site of the former Neptune Baths, from which it borrowed its name. Next door to the east, the Plunge Baths was refurbished and upgraded to match the style of its neighbor, with onion domes affixed to copper roofs. To the east, the Co-Operative Electric Company established a small structure surrounded by windows with onion domes on the corners of the roof. This housed the power plant for the park and ran the salt water pumps and boilers for the plunge. On the beach side of the building, several private hot tubs were installed for visitors. Between the Plunge and power plant, a 450-foot-long Pleasure Pier was extended out into the Monterey Bay, disguising the intake pipes for the baths while allowing visitors to leisurely stroll over the water.

Colorized postcard of the Tent City with the Neptune Casino and Plunge in the background, ca 1905. [Frank Perry]

The old Neptune Baths building was also renovated, substantially downsized, and moved across from the Neptune Casino, where it served as the restaurant for the tent city. The tent city originally did not have any cottages. It occupied the entire two blocks from the Esplanade (Beach Street) to Second Street, but only occupied the section directly north of the casino. The tents had raised wooden floors and half-walls that became colorful canvas about three feet above the floor. The canvas was extended overhead as a roof, as well. The tents had few amenities—little more than beds and a washing basin—with guests expected to dine in one of the resort's restaurants. Four water closets containing toilets and showers were scattered throughout the lot. By the end of 1905, several fully-enclosed wooden cottage were also built and the tent city property had begun expanding to Dolphin Street, a half-block to the east.

The Neptune Casino in its full glory, ca late summer 1904. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify]

The highlight of the new resort was the Neptune Casino, which, it must be noted, was not a gambling establishment. Rather, it was a more traditional, Italian-style casino where people gathered for more general entertainments. Half of the structure was composed of dressing rooms for bathers, with the ladies' rooms in the west wing of the building and the gentlemen's rooms on the east. The main facility was a massive ballroom where Swanton would host nighttime parties, serviced by a large bar. Upstairs, a smaller ballroom hosted a substantial grill restaurant that operated when the ballroom was not otherwise being used. Outside the casino, a bandstand stood alone surrounded on three sides by viewing windows, balconies, and verandas. A confection shop was also located just to the east. With the dressing rooms relocated, the Neptune Plunge expanded its own galleries around the large plunge pool in its center and both the casino and plunge hosted observation decks on their third stories. An electric carousel, a small aquarium, a tin-type photo studio, and a large roller rink added in 1905 completed this first iteration of the park.

The Neptune Casino and Neptune Plunge on a quiet day, ca 1905 [WorthPoint]

The increased activity at the beach, partially sponsored and promoted by Southern Pacific, spurred the railroad to finally register a railroad stop at the beach. Special excursion trains had undoubtedly stopped at the bathhouses for two decades by this point, but the railroad had never bothered to make the stop official. Horsecars and streetcars, however, had found the beach one of their primary destinations, with the two earliest horsecar lines reaching the beach in 1875 and 1877 respectively. The beach remained popular with streetcars until they were discontinued in 1926. The railroad hesitated until 1902, when a stop named Bandero, a fanciful play on the bandstand at the beach, appeared in company agency books. How frequently this stop was used is unclear, but Swanton utilized the railroad extensively in boosting the resort and likely promoted railroad access as a perk. Still, despite their investment, the railroad did not commit to a more formal, scheduled stop at this time.

The Neptune Casino and bandstand on fire, June 22, 1906. [Santa Cruz Public Libraries – colorized using DeOldify, with hand embellishments]

Swanton was rather smart when he built his resort. He invested little of his own money and ensured that his buildings were adequately protected from fire, allowing him to cut back on insurance premiums. But in this, he overplayed his hand. Although the resort survived the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake nearly unscathed, two months later, on June 22, 1906 and at the start of the summer season, a kitchen fire spread out of control and incinerated the entire complex. The Neptune Casino, Neptune Plunge, and Tent City Restaurant (the former Neptune Baths) were completely destroyed over the course of a few hours. The only structures that survived were the Pleasure Pier, the power plant and pump house (owned by the Co-Operative Electric Company), the roller rink, and most of the tents, some of which lost their tops. The facility was woefully underinsured and the corporation was out millions of dollars after only operating for two seasons.

The new casino and plunge buildings under construction, early 1907. [Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History]

Undaunted, Swanton set to work starting over. He incorporated a new firm, the Santa Cruz Beach Company, and recruited new investors while reassuring former investors to trust him. After cleaning out the debris, he reopened the exposed Plunge baths, installing a simple awning for cover. Next door, he erected a large tent as a temporary casino, where he was able to host dances all summer and even a California Republican Party convention. Meanwhile, he finally invested heavily himself, divesting himself of almost all other projects in order to acquire enough capital to rebuild. He hired the famed local architect William Henry Weeks to design and oversee the construction of the replacement facility.

A Southern Pacific booster train in front of the newly-opened Plunge Natatorium, with a band and several local government officials and company investors out front, 1907. [Brian Liddicoat]

As soon as the summer 1906 season ended, construction began and continued through the winter and spring of 1907. In the process, the Pleasure Pier was extended, all of the tents were expanded into full wooden cottages, and a new plunge bath was built. This time, Swanton spared no expense in ensuring the structure was fire proof, installing fireproof panelling and asbestos-laced concrete flooring as well as a widespread sprinkler system. He also made sure that his insurance plan would actually cover a future loss, which fortunately never came.

The Casino station point across from Entrance 1 between the Plunge and Casino, 1930s. [Derek R. Whaley – colorized using DeOldify]

To aid construction, Southern Pacific briefly installed a spur behind the power plant and roller rink in order to bring in supplies. As with before, Swanton disappeared in the spring to campaign for Santa Cruz, popping up at locations across the West Coast. And like before, he was not disappointed in the response. The new Casino, Plunge Natatorium, and Cottage City opened to universal praise on June 15, 1907—almost a year after the Neptune Casino burned down and three years after it had first opened. Southern Pacific celebrated this grand opening by finally establishing a permanent flag-stop at the beach, which it christened Casino.

Colorized postcard of the grill upstairs in the Casino's rotunda, ca 1910s. [Derek R. Whaley]

While similar in scope and size to the Neptune Casino and Plunge, the new structures were quite different. They were built in a Mission-revival style with adobé-like features and a tan and terracotta color scheme, intermixed with Russian onion domes on precipices, two Egyptian-style obelisks above the casino, and Roman-style embellishments. The casino was two-stories tall with a high dome atop a substantial rotunda. The first story was composed of an arcade, theatre, bar, restaurant, and shops, with the rotunda occupied by a bandstand. The upstairs was almost entirely a ballroom with a dining room in the rotunda and a kitchen to the side. In the sand just off from the rotunda sat a seasonally-erected bandstand, with seating provided along either side of the rotunda.

Colorized postcard showing the inside of the Plunge Natatorium with swimmers, ca 1910. [Derek R. Whaley]

Next door to the east, a new heated plunge was constructed with a 500,000 gallon capacity. The pool had an increasing depth with an inset smaller pool at a set depth for children. Around the pool upstairs was a patio with a diving board, a slide, and a ladder to a third-story slide. Dressing rooms were provided on either side of the pool on the first floor, while concessions shops flanked the beachside entrance. Overhead, a high wooden barrel-style ceiling with rows of windows allowed in light and gave the pool a sense of grandeur the older pool was lacking. In later years, trapeze rigs were mounted on the roof allowing carnival performers—mostly swim instructors and life guards—to entertain guests.

Colorized postcard showing the colorful Cottage City that was located across from the second casino, 1907. [Derek R. Whaley]

Most of the rest of the Boardwalk remained the same. The hot tubs in front of the old power plant became the Hanly Baths but retained its former function. The power plant itself was relocated outside, behind some early carnival games, while the newly vacant space became a storage room. The roller rink was replaced with more carnival games and a nickelodeon, which eventually evolved into the Fun House, an attraction that survived into the early 1970s. Along the beach side of the boardwalk, which now extended nearly to the San Lorenzo River, a miniature railroad called the Bay Shore Limited was installed, which Swanton used somewhat comedically to entice railroad investors to visit his park. Offshore, Swanton hired the Balboa to serve as a "pleasure ship," a venue for gambling and other less wholesome activities. Boats shuttled to Balboa from the Pleasure Pier.

Colorized postcard showing the second Casino with the Sea Beach Hotel in the distance, 1907. [Derek R. Whaley]

Over the next five years, Swanton expanded the park with more attractions and improvements. In 1908, he installed the park's first thrill ride: a LaMarcus Adna Thompson Scenic Railway. This early roller coaster excited adults and children alike despite its relatively slow speeds and gentle curves. In 1911, he hired Charles I. D. Looff to build a carousel between the Fun House and the Scenic Railway. That same year, he had the boardwalk between the rotunda and the end of the plunge on the beach side covered in a magnificent colonnade. This allowed a connection between the two buildings upstairs while providing protection to people walking downstairs.

A Union Traction streetcar in front of the Casa del Rey Hotel with a Southern Pacific locomotive in front of the Casino in the background, ca 1912. [UCSC Legacy Digital Collections – colorized using DeOldify]

The colonnade was likely made necessary by the addition to the park of the Casa del Rey Hotel across Beach Street from the Casino. The two structures were connected on the second floor by an arched enclosed bridge, and this archway and the colonnade made it possible for hotel guests to reach the Plunge without ever exiting a building. The hotel was the last major project related to the park overseen by Swanton. Like the Casino and Plunge, the three-story hotel was built in a Mission-revival style with Roman-style embellishments. Two substantial wings flanked a large lobby at the center of the complex. Within each mirrored wing was an interior garden area, and tennis courts were located north of the hotel. Behind it to the east, half of the cottage city remained intact, intermixed with a few private dwellings, a bakery for the hotel, a steam laundry for the park, and a substation of the Coast Counties Light & Power Company. Swanton also purchased land from the Henry Cowell Company at the northern edge of the city for the construction of the Casa del Rey Golf Links, which he connected to his hotel via another Southern Pacific Railroad stop located below the clubhouse.

Colorized postcard showing passengers waiting to board the train outside the Plunge Natatorium at the Casino flag-stop, 1910. [Santa Cruz MAH]

All of these projects cost a lot of money—personal money of Swanton's as well as the money of the company's other investors. And building everything in 1911 was not a fiscally responsible action since the country was in the midst of a recession. A financial panic in 1910 prompted by a crackdown on corporate monopolies by the federal government had already led to the collapse of the Ocean Shore Railway project. Swanton's amusement park almost met the same fate. By the end of 1912, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy and most of its investors had pulled out. In late 1914, it did finally go bankrupt and Swanton personally went bust. The City of Santa Cruz operated the park through the summer of 1915 and at the end of the year, several former investors and city officials joined forces to found the Santa Cruz Seaside Company. 

Colorized postcard of the beach outside the colonnade, 1920. [Derek R. Whaley]

One of the first tasks of the new company was to divest itself of liabilities. It sold off the Casa del Rey Golf Links, which became the Santa Cruz Golf & Country Club. It leased out the Casa del Rey Hotel, the Plunge, the Carousel, and most of its other attractions and entertainment to concessionaires, who would be responsible for running these at a profit in the future. World War I made this transition of responsibility all the easier, and by 1920, the Seaside Company only directly managed the Casino and served more in a role of property manager than amusement park developer.

People walking along the wood-plank boardwalk at the Pleasure Pier plaza, 1930s. [Santa Cruz Seaside Company – colorized using DeOldify]

Nonetheless, the Boardwalk continued on into the 1920s without much central direction. In 1924, the park's lead attraction and most iconic structure was built: the Giant Dipper. Based on a design by Frederick Church and built by Arthur Looff, the son of Charles Looff, the wooden roller coaster replaced the Scenic Railway and opened to the public on May 17, 1924. It proved popular immediately and has won numerous awards in the years since. It was run as a concession by the Looff family into the 1950s. Also in 1924, the first Miss California Bathing Beauty Contest was held at the Boardwalk, bringing statewide attention to the park that would last until 1965.  In the summer of 1927, Southern Pacific began sending idle passenger trains from San JosĂ© to the Boardwalk on Sundays as a special excursion service. The service was later expanded to San Francisco and Oakland and christened the Sun Tan Special beginning with the 1931 season. The Seaside Company also approved the expansion of the Boardwalk to the end of the beach and under the railroad tracks, where a towering Shoot-the-Chutes ride was erected in 1928 on what was called River Park.

The tracks of the Sun Tan Jr. miniature railroad running between the beach and the boardwalk near the entrance to the Giant Dipper, 1930s. [Santa Cruz Seaside Company – colorized using DeOldify]

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw the closure of the River Park development and only a few new rides and attractions opened during this period. The most popular events, other than the usual big band performances and nightly dances, were the water carnivals held in the Plunge. From feats of spectacular diving prowess to world record underwater swimmers to fiery dives off the roof of the building into the Monterey Bay, there was always something to keep people entertained. Lawrence "Skip" Littlefield ran the Plunge in these years and oversaw Seaside Company promotions more generally through the 1930s and 1940s. His charisma and vision helped keep the park afloat when many other parks across the country shut down. Indeed, even as regular passenger service along the Santa Cruz Branch ended in 1938 and through the mountains in 1940, the popularity of the Boardwalk ensured that weekend specials in the summer months continued.

Colorized postcard showing an aerial view of the Santa Cruz Main Beach, with the Boardwalk, the Casa del Rey Hotel, the Pleasure Pier, and the San Lorenzo River mouth, 1946. [Derek R. Whaley]

World War II put a pause on the Boardwalk's nighttime activities and these years proved especially difficult since most younger men were overseas and rationing made park operations difficult to sustain. The remainder of the cottage city was abandoned during this time and the Casa del Rey became a military hospital and convalescence home. The Sun Tan Special was suspended from 1942 through 1946. Nonetheless, the Seaside Company continued on. A lack of corporate guidance throughout this period continued the haphazard development of the park, which once again resumed a slow progress toward the river mouth.

The first Sun Tan Special to run following the end of World War II, June 1947. [Jim Vail – colorized using DeOldify]

The final change in the park's dynamics occurred in 1952, when one of the Seaside Company's directors, Lawrence Canfield, obtained a controlling interest in the firm. Canfield immediately initiated a major renovation of the Casino and Casa del Rey, modernizing them and updating their styles to match current trends. It was at this time that the aerial bridge connecting the two buildings was removed. Canfield brought big bands back to the renamed Coconut Grove ballroom and began the process of reacquiring rides and attractions that sprawled across the sands. The end of the Sun Tan Special after the 1959 season did nothing to reduce the number of customers visiting each summer, and by the early 1960s, Lawrence's son Charles began the process of consolidating many of the Boardwalk's carnival games under his Canfield's Concessions company.

The Wild Mouse at the end of the Boardwalk with two cars operating, late 1950s. [Santa Cruz Seaside Company – colorized using DeOldify]

The closure of the Plunge due to falling interest and increasing costs in 1963 saw the building become a miniature golf course and the Pleasure Pier demolished. Lawrence renovated the riverside portion of the park, as well, installing a seawall and building the Grand Prix and Cave Train rides, as well as the Wild Mouse roller coaster. In 1971, the Fun House—the oldest attraction at the beach—was demolished and replaced with the Jet Star roller coaster and bumper cars. Above the boardwalk, the Skyglider was installed, an aerial ski lift-style ride. The Wild Mouse was eventually replaced with Logger's Revenge, a gravity log flume ride, in 1977. Meanwhile, the Coconut Grove slowly became primarily a venue for hire with fewer public events held there. A new ballroom—the Sun Room—was added between the Casino and Plunge building in 1980. Across the street, the Casa del Rey was abandoned as a hotel and turned into a managed retirement community, a stopgap measure until a better use for the facility could be found.

Ed Hutton with Seaside Company directors and other VIPs speaking on opening day of Neptune's Kingdom, 1991. [Santa Cruz Seaside Company]

Charles Canfield took charge of the Seaside Company in 1984. The next year, the first run of the Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway from Roaring Camp in Felton ran to Santa Cruz, marking a new era for the Boardwalk and local railroading. Despite a rise in violent crime and poverty in the Beach Flats neighborhood across from the park, the Boardwalk continued to revive under Canfield's management. The 1989 earthquake actually helped this along. The Casa del Rey was severely damaged in the quake, leading to its demolition and conversion into a much-needed parking lot. Meanwhile, the Plunge building was converted into Neptune's Kingdom. Canfield's Concessions also was merged into the park and became the Games Department, while several of the restaurants were taken over by the Seaside Company.

The Coasters performing at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk bandstand, 2001. [Santa Cruz Sentinel]

Throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, the park continued to consolidate with several concessions merging into the Seaside Company and the bureaucratic structure of the company evolving and shrinking to more centrally manage the park. Free Friday Night Bands in the summer became a regular event during this time, drawing tourists from across the Bay Area. A fairly regular policy of refreshing one significant ride each year also became standard, with major renovations made to the Cave Train area in the 2000s, the Haunted Castle building in the early 2010s, and the Entrance 2 plaza in the late-2010s, the latter of which saw the demolition of the Dolphin Baths building, the oldest building at the beach. Canfield passed on the presidency of the Seaside Company to his grandnephew, Karl Rice, in 2017 while his son, Tom, serves as Vice President of Operations.

The Holiday Lights Train in front of Neptune's Kingdom, 2010s. [Roaring Camp Railroads]

Today, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk remains a major tourist attraction on the Central Coast of California and is the longest-living seaside amusement park on the West Coast. It draws tourists from around the world every year, including via Roaring Camp Railroad's Santa Cruz Big Trees & Pacific Railway (the Beach Train). Indeed, the Boardwalk continues to be a major target for railroad passenger projects and attempts in 1996, 2012, and more recently have all focused primarily on bringing seasonal tourist traffic to the Boardwalk via rail. The current owner of the Santa Cruz Branch, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, has a vision for passenger service in the county, and the common carrier, Progressive Rail, included restoring the Sun Tan Special as a part of its sales pitch in 2017. While Casino Station may be long gone, the idea of such a station at the Boardwalk lives on in the memory and minds of many.

Geo-Coordinates & Access Rights:
36.9643N, 122.0195W

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is still a thriving amusement park sitting beside the original location of the Casino flag-stop. The location of the flag-stop sign itself is at the end of the island across from the loading dock between the Casino and Neptune's Kingdom. A flag pole and garbage marks the location almost perfectly.

Citations & Credits:

  • Beal, Chandra Moira and Richard A. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: The Early Years—Never a Dull Moment. Santa Cruz, CA: Pacific Group, 2003.
  • Dalbey, Michael. "The Co-Operative Electric Company Santa Cruz, California 1904-1908." Santa Cruz, CA: Researchers Anonymous, 2017.
  • Dunn, Geofrey. "The Boardwalk Empire." Good Times, 27 June 2012. Accessed 6 July 2012.
  • Machado, Gay. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: A Century by the Sea. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2007.
  • Whaley, Derek R. Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Coast. Santa Cruz, CA: Zayante Publishing, forthcoming.