By 1880, there were few vacant lots in the core of downtown Santa
Cruz. One prominent spot remained: the corner of Front
and Cooper Streets. That changed in 1882 when Santa
Cruz County built
a new Hall of Records on the lot next to the courthouse. The Italianate style
of the front façade coordinated nicely with the sixteen-year-old courthouse. (BTW - the taller building dimly seen behind is the first City Hall)
The rest of the little building, however, was a surprise. Oakland
architect J. W. Newcum chose an octagonal shape, the only such building in
Santa Cruz (that I know of – help me out, readers, if you've seen others locally).
Another building with an unusual shape was built not far
away just a couple of years later. Perhaps inspired by the octagonal Hall of
Records, a hexagon-shaped house was built in 1884 down on Sycamore St. Note the
curved steep-pitched roof, borrowed from the Second-Empire style popular a few
years earlier (the porch and garage were added later).
About the same time, a much larger and more traditionally-shaped
house went up on Mission Street,
across from the plaza. Calvin Davis and his brother Wellington
were very busy designer-builders in Santa Cruz
during the 1870s. Calvin converted some of his sweat into a big house on the
hill, second only to the Hihn mansion (which the brothers also designed and
built). Still in excellent condition, the Davis
house is one of the finest historic homes in town.
Two other profitable businesses in Santa
Cruz in those years were livery stables and hotels. A.
P. Swanton had the first, then both, at the corner of Front and Water streets.
By 1884, he had done well enough with the livery stable to build a new hotel on the site (with
expanded stables on the ground floor). Hotel guests today would probably balk
at a room above a horse barn, but horses were a fact of life in the 1880s, so
noses were perhaps not so sensitive.
If the name Swanton sounds familiar, it’s because of A. P.
Swanton’s son Fred, who grew up into a most ambitious local entrepreneur a few
years later. Among Fred Swanton’s lasting contributions to the Santa
Cruz scene were the beginnings of today’s Beach
Boardwalk complex - more on that subject in the future.
It’s worth mentioning a couple of other locals whose endeavors can be seen in the photo showing Cooper Street and its ends at Pacific Avenue and Front Street - and who haven’t been mentioned previously in this blog. The two-story 1870s building at the far left corner of pacific and Cooper housed owner Mike Leonard’s saloon and other businesses. That domed tower should look familiar to Santa Cruzans – Leonard also put a domed tower on his second building, built in 1894 and still standing at the corner of Cooper and Front.
In the same photo, the boxy structure to the right of the Octagon and County Courthouse carried the prosaic name of “Ely’s Block”. Built in 1876, it was an eponymous enterprise of William Ely, a former 49er who moved to Santa Cruz in 1870 to become a developer and streetcar investor. Ely later built another “block” on the other side of the Oddfellows Building (that’s the building to the far right sporting our town clock). Stubbornly defying imagination, the two buildings became known as “Ely’s Block No. 1” and “Ely’s Block No. 2”.
Looking at that photo, I bet County officials were wishing
they’d bought more of that Pacific-Cooper corner property, to give the courthouse
more space. Following the fire of 1894 that destroyed both buildings, that’s
exactly what they did to build the second courthouse – later known as Cooper
One more note: look at the street paving in the Cooper
Street view and the Swanton House photo. These
were the years when Santa Cruz got
its first street paving,
using locally-mined bituminous rock. Edges of the new paving can be clearly
seen at the Pacific-Cooper junction, and at the Front-Water Street meeting in
front of Swanton House (Water Street is the muddy one to the left of the hotel).
- Chase, John L. Sidewalk Companion to Santa
Cruz Architecture (3rd ed. 2005)
- Elliott, W. W. Santa Cruz County Illustrations, with Historical Sketch (1879 - indexed edition 1997).