As you travel around Santa Cruz, chances are, you have crossed the San Lorenzo River. In the City of Santa Cruz, there are four street crossings over the San Lorenzo River and each of these four bridges have a unique story.
The Riverside Avenue Bridge and its forerunner the “Cut Bias” Bridge, created an important crossing point between downtown Santa Cruz and the booming Riverside Hotel across the river in the late 1800s. After damage to the Riverside Bridge in the 1955 flood, a levee structure was built surrounding the lower San Lorenzo River, forever changing its course.
Just across the river, the Riverside Hotel used to stand as a fine destination for the many tourists who flocked to the San Lorenzo riverside and Santa Cruz beaches. In 1877, Fred Barson, a Santa Cruz resident, saw the rising influx of tourists in the city, and the relative lack of high-end hotels to house visitors. He remodeled his house into a three-story mansion hotel, and landscaped the grounds with ornamental beds, statues and fountains. The hotel was very popular throughout the late 1800s and boasted a clubhouse, tennis court, archery range, trails and a ballroom, among many other luxurious amenities.
THE CUT BIAS BRIDGE
Once his hotel became well-known throughout the state, Barson realized the need for a bridge across the San Lorenzo near the Riverside Hotel. At this time, the only bridge across the river was the Soquel Bridge, and temporary footbridges that were constructed during the busier seasons. In 1888 Barson spent $4,769 to bring a truss kit bridge to connect his fine hotel to downtown Santa Cruz. The bridge he bought turned out to be too long for the spot it was to cross, so they moved the southern portion west and it had a weird angle to the river.
The new street was named Riverside Avenue, and the original bridge was referred to as the “Cut-Bias Bridge” because of its unusual angle. In 1930, the “Cut-Bias Bridge” was replaced with the concrete Riverside Bridge, which was built to the correct length. This bridge was severely damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and was subsequently replaced. So today’s bridge is the third bridge to grace this crossing.
Riverside Gardens Park, located on the site of former Riverside Hotel, is the newest addition to the recreational areas in Santa Cruz. Walking distance from downtown, this park has a children’s playground, picnic benches and exercise equipment. The park is also host to the first public fruit orchard in the city.
Back in the day Riverside Hotel was famous for its extensive fruit orchards producing the best pears in the country. Hundred years later locals bring it back following the growing trend of community city gardens. The public garden is a collaborative work of the non-profit Santa Cruz Tree Project, Andy Moskowitz, David Shaw and citizens of the Lower Ocean Neighborhood. In addition to the free fresh fruit, the garden provides educational resources for the community on food cultivation and sustainable living.
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- Beach Hill: 1883-1899. W.C. Casey. January 15, 2014. Santa Cruz Patch.
- Bridges Span Santa Cruz’s Past: From Felton’s Covered Redwood Span to West Cliff Drive’s Iron Landmark. Ross Eric Gibson. Santa Cruz Public Libraries website.
- Bridges to Somewhere: Eastside Santa Cruz in the 1870s. W.C. Casey. October 30, 2012. Santa Cruz Patch.
- Neighbors Break Ground on Riverside Community Orchard. Fruitcruz.org website.
- An Orchard Blooms: Community Members Create Community Orchard in riverside Gardens Park. Nala Rogers. February 5, 2015. Santa Cruz Sentinel.