San Lorenzo Park: Bowling on the Floodplain!

The San Lorenzo River and San Lorenzo Park, Santa Cruz California. Image courtesy Google Earth.
Modern Day San Lorenzo River and San Lorenzo Park, Santa Cruz, California. Note San Lorenzo Park is the only point not hemmed in tightly by buildings, roads or parking lots. Image courtesy Google Earth.

All of downtown Santa Cruz is essentially built on the natural floodplain of the San Lorenzo River. Structures to control flooding along the river have been built since the 1860s. Bulkhead Street, just north of the clock tower, occupies the exact ground of an 1860s era bulkhead or dyke meant to keep water out of the Pacific/Front Street area. After very damaging floods in 1955, the Army Corps of Engineers built flood control measures (levees) all along the San Lorenzo River through downtown Santa Cruz.

San Lorenzo Park runs right along the San Lorenzo River and today, is the only stretch in downtown Santa Cruz not hemmed in tightly by a levee on both sides. The park opened in 1964, and is designed to allow for some storage of water in flood events. In fact, the park is built on flood deposits from the 1955 floods. The area did flood in the very large storms of winter 1982.

Aerial photo of downtown Santa Cruz, June 5, 1956. Black arrow points to the sands left behind by the San Lorenzo River in the 1955 floods and the present day location of San Lorenzo Park. Photo from the collection of Gary Griggs.
Aerial photo of downtown Santa Cruz, June 5, 1956. Black arrow points to the sands left behind by the San Lorenzo River in the 1955 floods and the present day location of San Lorenzo Park. Photo from the collection of Gary Griggs.
Looking downstream from the Water Street Bridge on January 4th, 1982. You can see the floodwaters covering the park. Photo from the collection of Gary Griggs.
Looking downstream from the Water Street Bridge on January 4th, 1982. The floodwaters are covering San Lorenzo Park. Photo from the collection of Gary Griggs.

Play Structures, Ducks and…Lawn Bowling!

As the largest open space along the lower San Lorenzo River, this park is a great place for music, recreation and events. It features a duck pond, large playground area, and a world-class lawn bowling green.

The duck pond at San Lorenzo Park. Photo courtesy Local Wiki Santa Cruz.
The duck pond at San Lorenzo Park. Photo courtesy Local Wiki Santa Cruz.
The play structure at San Lorenzo Park. Photo courtesy Local Wiki Santa Cruz.
The play structure at San Lorenzo Park. Photo courtesy Local Wiki Santa Cruz.

Lawn bowling began at San Lorenzo Park in 1964. The object of the game is to is to roll weighted balls so that they stop close to a smaller ball called a “jack” or “kitty”.

The Santa Cruz Bowls Club doesn’t play on just any field. Just like our local surfing community, they take it to the next level and have created a World Class Green. It’s a 120 foot by 120 foot grass surface, graded so that a bowl can be rolled upon the surface and will travel at specific speeds to meet world standards for tournament play. The Santa Cruz Bowls Club has hosted two national championships in recent years, sending winners to international competitions.

Santa Cruz Bowls Club in 1967. Photo © of Santa Cruz Bowls Club.
Photo © of Santa Cruz Bowls Club.

The artificial green that you can play on today replaced the grass green in 2007 and levels the playing field for men, women and players of all ages. The artificial turf allows focus on strategy and skill rather than the previously needed speed and strength to push over bumpy soil and unpredictable grass patches. This new turf also benefits the San Lorenzo River, as it eliminates the need for pesticide use to maintain the manicured green. For more information on how to get involved with the club, check out the Santa Cruz Lawn Bowls website [http://www.sclawnbowls.org/index.html] or head out to the green and see the action for yourself!

Events at the Park

Gay Pride

Look around the park. You’re seeing an important piece of the history of local gay pride. It was here in 1975 where the first Santa Cruz Pride event was celebrated with a potluck, workshops, music, a picnic and a giant tug of war. The event is the third oldest Pride Parade in California, and is marked by dancing, music, and high community spirit. The post-parade rally and festival continued to be held in the park until 2010 when they were moved downtown in an effort to curb costs.

2007 Santa Cruz Pride Festival in San Lorenzo Park.  Photo © Corlyce M. Olivieri.
2007 Santa Cruz Pride Festival in San Lorenzo Park.
Photo © Corlyce M. Olivieri.

Pop Up Museum

The Coastal Watershed Council and Museum of Art & History hosted a Pop Up Museum on the river in May 2014, where community members were invited to share their photographs, postcards, special objects and memories of the river and offer suggestions for the future of the San Lorenzo. Events like the Pop Up Museum, and community forums hosted by the Coastal Watershed Council open the conversation regarding how to address concerns with the river, and how to fully appreciate our local freshwater sources.

People contributing photos and comments at the Pop Up Museum at San Lorenzo park. Photo courtesy of the Coastal Watershed Council.
People contributing photos and comments at the Pop Up Museum at San Lorenzo park. Photo courtesy of the Coastal Watershed Council.

Water Music

San Lorenzo Park is a great place for community members to meet one another, listen to live music on the Duck Island Stage, and enjoy the views of the San Lorenzo River. And if you take a stroll over the pedestrian bridge leading out of the park and to downtown Santa Cruz, take a moment to stop and look down at the river. There’s birds on the river bank and sometimes fish in the water that you might be able to spot with this excellent vantage point.

Water Music celebrated the music of John Cage, September 2014, at the  San Lorenzo Park’s Duck Island Stage.  Photo ©  Coastal Watershed Council
Water Music celebrated the music of John Cage, September 2014, at the San Lorenzo Park’s Duck Island Stage. Photo © Coastal Watershed Council

Other notable events at the San Lorenzo Park:

Santa Cruz Rejuvenation Festival
Santa Cruz Bluegrass Fair
Santa Cruz Earth Day Festival

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of the San Lorenzo River Tour by the Coastal Watershed Council. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

takeTheTourbluetopoFontITC

Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Apple App Store
Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Google Play Store
  1. Sources Used

    • Devastating Disaster: Storm of 1982 left 22 dead and many more homeless. Donna Jones. Santa Cruz Sentinel. January 6, 2012.
    • The Diversity Center Santa Cruz County Website.
    • The San Lorenzo River. Wikipedia.
    • Santa Cruz Bowls Club Website.
    • Santa Cruz museum hosts mini exhibit at San Lorenzo Park. Calvin Men. May 10, 2014. Santa Cruz Sentinel.
    • Santa Cruz Pride festival has new home. J.M. Brown. June 1, 2012.
      Santa Cruz Sentinel.

    • Personal Communication via Phone Interview with Christine Palochak, Santa Cruz Bowls Member, December 1, 2014.
    • Personal Communication with Gary Griggs, Distinguished Professor of Marine Sciences, University of California Santa Cruz, December 14, 2014.



About The Author

Coastal Watershed Council

The Coastal Watershed Council is a nonprofit organization formed in 1995 in response to the declining health of watersheds in the Monterey Bay region. Our mission is to preserve and protect coastal watersheds through community stewardship, education and monitoring.

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.