There have been stairs going up Mission Hill from here for over 100 years. The stairs here today were built after 1964. The retaining wall, however, is considerably older. The original stairs extended straight down to Chestnut Street.
To the left are another set of private, gated stairs. These were built recently. They merge with an old retaining wall where another stairway once ascended to the hill above.
The Extension Cuts Through It
Prior to 1964, the busy road known as Chestnut Street Extension did not exist. The street was cut into the hill to make easier access downtown from the freeway. Unfortunately, as you saw when you tried to cross the street, the traffic flow is rather disruptive to the neighborhood. Prior to the extension, Chestnut was a quiet residential street, curving along the base of Mission Hill. You can see the remnants of the retaining wall on both sides of the hillside cut.
It Used to be a Beautiful Spot
Where today the Locust Street stairs curve at a landing, before Chestnut Street Extension removed them, the steps when straight down from Locust Street. First built in 1897, the Locust Street steps were one of the first local landmarks people saw when arriving on the train.
The Locust Street steps were commissioned by the neighborhood’s homeowners who raised the $300 necessary in small donations. The steps were of white stone and paved with “bitumen” which a kind of blacktop mined locally. “On each side of the steps a lawn will be laid out and the hill which has been an unsightly thoroughfare will be one of the most beautiful places in town. A movement is on foot to put steps up Union street hill.”
Several newspaper stories subsequently report that the City allocated money to plant flowers along the landmark. Their white stone was complemented by lantana and other bright, long-blooming borders.
Unfortunately, widening of Chestnut extension in 2013-14 even worsened the former landmark and public garden into a kind of prison walkway, with a chain-link fence obscuring the view from the landing at the top of the stairs.
Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour
This piece is part of the Mission Hill Staircase Tour made possible by local history researcher Linda Rosewood. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.
- Stone Steps, Santa Cruz Daily Surf, June 1, 1897.
- Up Locust Street Bluff, Santa Cruz Daily Surf, June 16, 1897.
- City Council, Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel, Dec 23, 1876.
- Work Starts on Newest of Apartments, Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 1, 1937.
- Some Little-Considered Side-Effects Created by Chestnut Street Projects, Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 23, 1964.
- New Business District By-Pass is Opened for Traffic,” Santa Cruz Sentinel, Nov 28, 1956