Yes, A Library Was Really There!

El Portal Park 2015. It's hard to imagine this tiny triangle surrounded by traffic as home to a library.
El Portal Park 2015. This tiny triangle surrounded by traffic, was home to a library for 46 years.

Did you know the tiny little triangle intersection between Water Street, Soquel and Poplar Avenues in Santa Cruz has a literary past? When I think of this busy intersection, visions of traffic chaos come to mind. It’s definitely an area to avoid during the peak commute and with cars coming from many directions, pedestrians put their lives at risk crossing over to the triangular plot of land. So who would have thought this was a place to go to improve the mind? Indeed, it was the home of the Eastside Branch of the Santa Cruz Library from 1921 to 1967.

A Carnegie Library

In Santa Cruz, four of our early libraries were built with funds from Andrew Carnegie. A Scottish-American businessman, Carnegie funded over 2,509 libraries built world-wide between 1889-1929. At first he just funded libraries in Scotland and the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area; places central to his life and past. Later, around 1899, his foundation started funding libraries across the world.

The City of Santa Cruz Eastside Library circa 1960. Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Cruz.
The City of Santa Cruz Eastside Library circa 1960. It was a small frame Craftsman bungalow built by H.W. Weeks. The builder was George W. Reid. Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Cruz.

In the United States, women’s clubs which had formed widely after the Civil War, took advantage of the Carnegie funds. In fact it was the work of women’s clubs in combination with Carnegie funding that allowed establishment of 75-80% of the local community libraries across the country by 1930. Almost every town that asked for funding, and met his conditions (demonstrated need, ability to provide the building site, 10% of construction costs, 100% of operating costs, and commitment to providing free service to all) received funding.

The city of Santa Cruz received a total of $29,000 in Carnegie funds. The main library received $20,000 in 1902 and, later in 1913, $3000 was received for each of three branch libraries. All four buildings were designed by W.H. Weeks. The 1904 Romanesque Santa Cruz/Main was Weeks’ first Carnegie library commission and the 1921 Craftsman Eastside was his last. Fitting the Carnegie pattern, women were instrumental in the building of the Eastside Branch. Through their fundraising efforts in 1915, ladies from the Eastside area raised $1500 and successfully secured a branch library in their neighborhood.

The library opened September 24, 1921 and was very popular. By 1931, it overflowed with books and additional shelves were installed. Starting in 1951, it was clear a bigger library was needed and in 1967 the Branciforte Branch Library was opened on Gault Street. In 1968 The Eastside Library was demolished with residents from the Eastside insisting that a park be put in its place. A park with a fountain was created and the area was called East Side Triangle Park.

City of Santa Cruz East Side Triangle Park circa 1970. Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Cruz.
City of Santa Cruz East Side Triangle Park circa 1970. Photo courtesy of the City of Santa Cruz.

Almost Eclipsed by Traffic!

Thanks to local East Morrissey resident and passionate history buff, Daniel Model, the literary past behind the triangle will not be forever obscured by backed up automobiles! Through extensive research, Model uncovered the triangle’s historical significance and found that it was dedicated as “El Portal Park” back in 1910 and deeded to the City in 1914. These were probably preparations for creation of the public library. “Gateway” in Spanish, the park was named El Portal to signify it as an important entrance point to the city of Santa Cruz.

The East Side's Triangle Park has been renamed to El Portal Park.
The East Side’s Triangle Park has been renamed to El Portal Park.

In 2014, Model presented the idea of putting a memorial plaque on location to commemorate the Eastside Library. Once approved by the Santa Cruz City Council, Model spearheaded neighbors and community members to raise $1500 for the new marker.

Come to the Unveiling!

The unveiling of the memorial plaque will be held on September 27th at 2:00 pm at El Portal Park. It will be unveiled by local historian and a librarian of the original Eastside Library, Alverda Orlando. The ceremony will also acknowledge the changing of the East Side Triangle Park back to it’s 1910 name of El Portal Park. Come and meet Santa Cruz Mayor Don Lane, Daniel Model, local dignitaries, historians and members of the Eastside neighborhood!

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About The Author

I really enjoy field trips. I love being in a cool place and having someone tell me about it. The problem is, you can’t always find a professor or park ranger-type to tell you all they know about the local rocks, plants, and history. So I decided to combine my love of things natural with mobile technology.

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