Lulu Carpenter’s: The Sign of the Seamstress

LuLu Carpenter's on Pacific Avenue, 2015. Photo: Paul Babb
LuLu Carpenter’s on Pacific Avenue, 2015. Photo: Paul Babb

Named for a local business owner and seamstress from the early 20th century, Lulu Carpenter’s, is the oldest building on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. Built in 1866, it has also been known as the Compass Rose Building because of the rose-shaped compass that used to be embedded in the adjacent sidewalk.

The building that houses today's Lulu Carpenter’s as it was circa 1892. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
The building that houses today’s Lulu Carpenter’s as it was circa 1892. Photo: Courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

In the 1920s and 1930s, Mrs. Lulu Carpenter, a local dress designer, operated “Lulu Carpenter’s Dress Shoppe” in the building. Her shop featured dresses, sweaters, suits, and hats made from patterns that she designed.

The building burned in 1936, and it seemed that all traces of her shop were consumed in the fire. It wasn’t until 1977, during renovation for a new bar, that one relic of the dress shop came to light. Beneath the stucco and plywood face of the building, Lulu Carpenter’s storefront sign was found, preserved. The new bar, also called Lulu Carpenter’s, displayed the original sign behind the bar until the business was sold in 1986. The sign was given to the last remaining descendant of Lulu Carpenter.

After the bar closed, the building served as a stockbroker’s office and an art house until the structure was seriously damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, California. The aftermath of the Loma Prieta Earthquake,1989. Photo: C. E. Meyer, U.S. Geological Survey
Extensive damage on Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, California, after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, 1989. Photo: C. E. Meyer, US Geological Survey

In 1992, the building was the first to reopen for business after the quake, when it debuted as Lulu Carpenter’s coffeehouse. The original Lulu Carpenter’s sign was on display inside Lulu Carpenter’s until 2015, when it was returned to the Carpenter family again.

Lulu Carpenters in 2015. It is the last surviving building from the mid-19th century. Photo © Linda Rosewood.
Lulu Carpenters in 2015. It is the last surviving building from the mid-19th century. Photo: © Linda Rosewood

The compass rose, which was once embedded in the sidewalk, was removed and framed. It was on display in the coffeeshop until the mid 2000s when it was removed to make room for a shelf. According to one of the current owners, the “very heavy” historic piece is in storage onsite, but they hope to put it back on display. The next time that you are on Pacific Avenue, stop in for a cup of coffee and maybe even impress a few customers by sharing a nugget of Lulu Carpenter’s history.

Updated August 9, 2016

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