Old Santa Cruz was very different back then with islands in the river and gardens and parks along its edge.
A wharf used to load gunpowder from the California Gunpowder Works at the bottom of Bay Street, and a railroad wharf led out from the beach. A large hall called Temperance Hall was the center of sober social activities as well as the home of the temperance movement of the time.
A Fair Pavilion used to exist between Pacific Avenue and the river. It was also a social center and was lit by electric lights on New Years Eve in 1884 at the Pilot Hose company’s annual ball. The Flat Iron building faced two hotels where the Post Office is today, and if one were to stand on top of it and look out, the view would have included Chineselaundries, blacksmith shops, wagon shops and more.
The center of activity was closer to the river then. The first bridge was built in 1868 at Water Street, and a covered bridge was built in 1874 at Soquel Avenue. Trolleys ran at the turn of the century, but had disappeared by the 1920′s.
At 10:40 pm April 14, 1894 a great fire destroyed much of downtown Santa Cruz. It started in a grocery and burned most of Front Street and Pacific Avenue overnight. It destroyed the town banks, most of the business district and the red light district of the time.
All were rebuilt, bigger and better, but the brothels were moved to the new ‘Chinatown’ near Cooper Street. There were several areas at the time with large Chinese populations, New Brighton beach was originally called China beach, and there was an area outside Watsonville called ‘Brooklyn on the Pajaro’ that was mostly Chinese.
There were several earthquakes over the decades which caused various amounts of damage. In 1840 and twice in 1857, the Mission was damaged by temblors. Much damage was done in 1906, and downtown Santa Cruz and Watsonville were largely destroyed by the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. According to UCSC studies (Griggs 1973), an average of 5 to 10 earthquakes per year are felt by the residents of Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties.
The late 1800′s saw the logging of much of the old redwood forest. The lumber was used to build San Francisco, San Jose and others, was burned to cook limestone into lime, and was shipped around the world. The redwood forest is still logged, but more carefully than it once was. Now, most of the remaining old growth forest is in Henry Cowell and Big Basin State Parks.
By the turn of the century Santa Cruz had become a tourist mecca. There was a casino, a bathhouse, campgrounds, and an opera pavilion at the lagoon by the beach. Lavish entertainments and water born parades took place. The current wharf was built in 1914.
The modern history of Santa Cruz County will be filled in, a decade at a time, as time permits. Watch for past developments!
by Gary Starkweather
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