It was called the “Lower Plaza”
The triangle area formed by the intersection of Pacific Avenue, Mission, Front and Water Streets has been the heart of Santa Cruz since the town was established shortly after the arrival of Americans with the Gold Rush. This area was known as “Lower Plaza.” Across the street and up the hill was “Upper Plaza” which had been the center of the Spanish Mission.
In the 1860s the Lower Plaza was without cars, and instead was full of pedestrians, carts, wagons, horses, and mules. Hay spilled halfway across the thoroughfare. All the shops and hotels had covered board sidewalks because the streets were either muddy or dusty.
There has been a prominent triangle-shaped building at this intersection since 1860 when Hugo Hühn built one. The Hühn building was lost to the 1989 earthquake but Louis Rittenhouse retained the shape when he built a new building there in 1995. In fact, earthquakes and business development have removed all but one building from pioneer Santa Cruz: Lulu Carpenters.
Photo Time Series: 1860 to 2015
California had only been a state for ten years when this photo was taken. You can use the triangle-shaped Hühn Building in the center to locate where the post office is now. Elihu Anthony’s blacksmith shop and other buildings are in the foreground. In the distance, there is a livery stable at the corner of Front and Cooper. In those days, Cooper street continued to the riverbank.
By the early 1890s, the Lower Plaza was a transportation hub where passengers could board the electric street car east for Capitola Village or west to Garfield Park (in the Circles neighborhood). The Lulu Carpenters building is visible next to the grand Pacific Ocean House. The clock tower was located on the IOOF building and is just visible behind the telegraph wires (I will cover the movements of the clock tower in a future post). The piles of hay in Front Street indicate where livery stables and barns were located behind the businesses of Pacific Avenue.
The tower on the courthouse indicates the photo was taken before the 1906 quake. Just beyond it is the clock tower on the IOOF building. “Williamson and Garrett” was a general store. It was torn down in the 1970s to make room for a bank. Its loss catalyzed the local historic building preservation movement. In the foreground is the St. Charles hotel, and to the left of it is the Elihu Anthony Block. The entire Anthony Block was removed in 1909 to allow Pacific Avenue to continue north. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
In this modern photo, the Hühn building, lost in the 1989 earthquake, has been rebuilt by Louis Rittenhouse and keeps the iconic triangular shape. The roof of the new “Cooper House” is visible on the site of the old court house. The bank that replaced the old general store is thankfully obscured by a pine tree. The crowd of gold-rush era buildings of the Anthony Block are gone. Pacific Ave continues north through the intersection and the clock tower is also located at this intersection.
Many thanks to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History for use of the historical photos.
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.
- Anthony Block To Be Removed Next Week, Santa Cruz Sentinel, March 19, 1909.
- The City the Gainer, Santa Cruz Sentinel, October 13, 1906.
- Elihu Anthony was God Fearing Man and Santa Cruz’s First Progressive Business Leader, Leon Rowland, Santa Cruz News, January 22, 1937.
- The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture. John Leighton Chase, edited by Judith Steen, Pasatiempo Chapter by Daniel P. Gregory. The Museum of Art and History; 2005.