Can you guess how many different bridges have stood at this location? The Water Street Bridge was first built at this location in 1882. The first bridges were made from wood, and often collapsed during strong flooding events. To make the bridge stronger, it was rebuilt out of concrete in 1908 by Union Traction Company. It was a three-hinge, reinforced concrete arch bridge that was constructed to carry workers and visitors on trolley cars into downtown Santa Cruz.
A second arch bridge was constructed next to the original in 1914, but the center piers of the arch bridges restricted San Lorenzo flood flows, and were removed. In 1967, a new bridge was built adjacent to the older arch bridge, but this bridge did not meet the earthquake standards required for bridges, and the bridge was modified yet again. In 1996, the city began a ten-month, 5.9 million-dollar project to replace the northern half of the bridge. The city also added bike lanes, sidewalks and railings, levee path under crossings, decorative streetlights and pedestrian overlooks.
Bridging Environment and Art
If you walk across the Water Street, Laurel Street, or Soquel Bridges, you will notice the colorful mark left by Kathleen Crocetti and her students. Kathleen Crocetti and her students from Mission Hill Middle School have installed a variety of mosaic projects on the city’s bridges. The mosaics are themed on each bridge. Can you tell what the theme is for the Water Street Bridge?
The Water Street Bridge contains mosaics of the plants and animals of the San Lorenzo watershed. The Soquel Bridge features agricultural images from Santa Cruz crops like artichokes and berries. Last but not least, the Laurel Street Bridge contains local ocean lifeforms including tiny anemone to giant whales.
The mosaic work on the bridge was created from a meaningful connection between students, community, art, and nature. Projects like this connect the City of Santa Cruz to the San Lorenzo River and help foster connections between people and the river through art.
Another art project connecting the community to the San Lorenzo River is the Ebb & Flow River Arts Project, which culminated in a huge river arts celebration drawing hundreds of people to the San Lorenzo River and Santa Cruz Riverwalk on June 6, 2015. Learn more about it here.
Hanging On The Water Street Bridge
Water Street Bridge is involved in a less glamorous, more haunting aspect of Santa Cruz’s past. On the morning of May 3, 1877, the bodies of two men, Francisco Arias and Jose Chamales, were found hanging from the bridge. The night before, a lynch mob of 150-300 people had taken the men from the local jail, where they stood accused of murder, to the bridge to hang them. The prisoners were allowed a few last words, which they spoke in Spanish, and a final shot of whiskey before they were hanged.
The events at Water Street Bridge reflected a larger mentality towards Californios, or men of Mexican and Native American descent. Anti-Mexican hostility had been growing since the early days of the Gold Rush, and the hanging of Arias and Chamales was unfortunately just one of the acts of violence of this nature in Santa Cruz.
Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour
- Hanging on the Water Street Bridge. Geoffrey Dunn. Santa Cruz Public Libraries.
- Art in Action. Dave De Give. Santa Cruz Good Times. May 29, 2012.
- Santa Cruz in 1882: Water Street Gets a New Bridge. W.C.Casey. November 3, 2013.Santa Cruz Patch.