Santa Cruz County History - Architecture



Early History of the Carmelita Cottages: The Owners, Part 1
by Rick Hyman

The Owners, part 1

Widows, sea captains, relatives, music, jilted wives, and long-tenure describe the famous owners of the Carmelita Cottages. The property is located at 315-321 Main Street in the City of Santa Cruz near the famous Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. The two front houses, constructed circa 1872, are among the oldest surviving buildings on Beach Hill. (1)The complex includes six principal structures, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and being renovated into a hostel. Their history has yet to be fully revealed. The information presented in this article is based on extensive documentary research.

The First Owners were Prominent Citizens

The property on which the Cottages stand has had thirteen different owners (table) . Ownership has come full circle back to the City of Santa Cruz which, as a town, was also the first recorded owner in 1847.

The initial subdivision of Beach Hill and sale of the Cottages property are interwoven with the history of the fledgling Anglo control of the Town of Santa Cruz. In order to establish the town and gain revenue from land sales, the Town Council (the Ayuntamiento, which included an Alcalde - similar to today's mayor) hired Jacob Rink Snyder to prepare a survey. The result was the 1847 subdivision map, Town of Santa Cruz. (2)

Historian Leon Rowland noted,

Under their interpretation of Mexican law the alcalde made grants of "house lots" and "sowing lots" of the lands about the mission until every man in the village was owner of three or four.(3)

Uniform prices were $10 and $20 respectively. The state Supreme Court later ruled that some of these titles were void because they had not been submitted for confirmation by the United States Land Commission, created to resolve ownerships granted during Mexican rule. (4) Therefore, in 1866 Santa Cruz persuaded the U. S. Congress to enact special legislation to give the probate court authority to confirm titles.

The Cottages sit on what was designated as Lot 8 of Block 6, which measured 50 by 50 varas (137.5 feet by 137.5 feet). It fronted on what was then called Jefferson Street. This, as well as the rest of the Beach Hill streets shown on Snyder's map, was probably a "paper" or undeveloped street. The lot was simply described as being "on the beach." (5) In 1846 the Beach Hill area was the site of construction of the first ship named Santa Cruz with timbers being hauled there by oxen. (6)

Thomas Fallon

The first private owners of the Cottages property were all important figures in the early establishment of Santa Cruz. On May 22, 1848, Thomas Fallon purchased the vacant Lot 8 and the adjoining Lot 7 to the rear from the Santa Cruz Town Trustees, through Alcalde William Blackburn, for the standard fee. A native of Ireland, Fallon came to Santa Cruz in 1845 via an army scouting party including Kit Carson and John Fremont. In the summer of 1846, he led a group of Americans who rode to join up with Captain Fremont and capture San Jose from the Mexicans (Blackburn had been a lieutenant in Fremont's California Battalion.) After further fighting in Los Angeles, Fallon returned north, splitting his time between San Jose and Santa Cruz. He was engaged in various enterprises including saddletree making. Fallon also leased the Santa Cruz Mission orchard and built a combination residence, store and hotel facing the Mission plaza. In 1852 he sold it to the County for $3,500 for use as the first court house. Fallon married Carmelita Lodge, daughter of Martina Castro Lodge, in 1849. He was involved in various legal disputes, especially over the orchard lease, and decided to leave for Texas.

The properties that Fallon sold before his journey included Lots 7 and 8 on Beach Hill. Subsequently, he returned to the area, settling in San Jose, where he served as mayor.

Fallon was later divorced from Carmelita (and later from a second wife), thus becoming the first of three Cottages property owners to suffer a broken marriage.

John Arcan

On New Year's Day, 1853, John Baptise Arcan, a Frenchman, became the owner of the Cottages property upon payment of $75 to Fallon. Arcan and his wife Abigail arrived in Santa Cruz three years earlier by a hot, dry, inhospitable route reportedly dubbed "Death Valley" by the party.(7) He established a combination shop and residence on the corner of what is now Pacific Avenue and Soquel Avenue, then known as Arcan Street. Although he owned the Cottages property the shortest amount of time, he influenced future ownerships.

Theron R. Per Lee & George W. Crane

In February 15, 1853, Arcan sold Lots 7 and 8 to Theron R. Per Lee and partner George W. Crane for $225, making quite a profit.

Per Lee was the first assemblyman from Monterey Bay, elected in 1849, to serve in the new California legislature. From 1851 to 1853, he was Santa Cruz County judge. He later returned to New York to practice law. Crane also fought with Fremont and spent time in the gold mines. He ran for offices several times, apparently winning assembly seats, only to be replaced by opponents who found additional votes to overtake his totals. In the early 1850s, Crane came to Santa Cruz to practice law and was selected County Treasurer in 1853.

Joseph Roberts

In November 13, 1858, Per Lee, through his attorney John Elden, sold Lots 7 and 8 for only $140. The purchaser was Joseph Roberts, one of the earliest Anglo inhabitants of Beach Hill. Roberts was a sea captain who arrived in Santa Cruz in late 1851 after some harrowing adventures:

In the year 1848 Mr. Roberts was on board an English merchant ship, cruising among the South Sea Islands. The vessel had been at sea a long time, and the captain concluded to go ashore at the first land sighted and obtain fresh water, wild fruits and vegetables, and possibly some game. It was not long before an island was discovered which was not shown on the charts and which was evidently very fertile. Mr. Roberts and five sailors accompanied the captain, but Mr. Roberts was compelled to return to the ship, as he had come away without his shoes, and, therefore, could not walk across the jagged coral reef that lay between the landing-place and the mainland of the island. The lack of his shoes was doubtless the means of saving his life, for the men who did go ashore were eaten by a tribe of cannibals who inhabited the island. The next year, Mr. Roberts went ashore by himself on another of the South Sea Islands, whose natives he knew to be a peaceful tribe. The ship sailed away and left him, and for eight months he lived among the untutored children of nature. (8)

He then took refuge on a passing American ship which brought him to San Francisco. Coming to Santa Cruz, Roberts purchased a small, one bedroom house overlooking the San Lorenzo River at Alvarado and Polk Streets (now Third Street and Riverside Avenue) in January 1854. By that date, according to the 1854 Coast Survey chart, a rudimentary street pattern with only one access road from town had been developed on Beach Hill. In October 1856, Roberts purchased two lots from William Hardy on Jefferson Street, the half block north of the Cottages property. Here he immediately constructed his house, reported to be the second plastered home in Santa Cruz. It survived a fire in June 1894, only to be razed three years later in October 1897. (9)

After settling on Beach Hill, Roberts was variously described as a contractor, painter and house mover. Moving buildings was a common practice in the late 1800s involving long tedious work. For example, Roberts estimated that it would take seventeen days to move a saloon from Pacific Avenue to Front Street. A house mover's yard typically contained long and short timbers, a roller, jacks and huge ropes and chains. (10) Indeed, the earliest Sanborn maps (1888 and 1892) for the area show the rear portion of Roberts' land adjacent to the Cottages property as "storage-house mover-painter". Roberts died in 1895 and is buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery (Santa Cruz).


This article is a revision of the article originally published in Every Structure Tells a Story: How to Research the History of a Property in Santa Cruz County. Santa Cruz, CA, Santa Cruz County Historical Trust, 1990. Copyright 1990 Santa Cruz County Historical Trust. Revised material copyright 1996 Rick Hyman. Reproduced by permission of the Santa Cruz County Historical Trust and the author.


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