Santa Cruz County History - Architecture



Early History of the Carmelita Cottages: The Tenants
by Rick Hyman

Early Tenants of the Carmelita Cottages

Why and exactly when the name Carmelita Cottages emerged has not yet been discovered. The name was first applied in the singular to the Dame property. An undated turn of the century (no earlier than 1890) photograph shows the Carmelita Cottage name plates on the fence posts at the front of the Main Street site, which remained until renovation. The earliest mention of the Carmelita name found in print - from 1890 - coincides with the earliest indications of visitor rentals. (31) That summer (and actually into December) and the following one, Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin Marshall of San Francisco rented Carmelita Cottage. The Surf reported that they made their summer home "so picturesque and tasteful and surround themselves with such a pleasant coterie that they are always welcome visitors." (32) Incandescent lights were installed in their cottage in June 1890. It would follow that the referenced Carmelita Cottage would be the remodelled rear unit, although it is possible that the Marshalls occupied the front house (solely or sharing it with the Dame women). The 1890 City Directory (possibly reflecting a period before summer) shows the rear unit rented out to W. T. Morton, an assistant bookkeeper for the F. A. Hihn Company.

The Marshalls, often independently, travelled frequently between San Francisco and Santa Cruz. Mrs. Marshall was usually accompanied by her friend Mrs. Batt (Jeanette) Queenan, who stayed with her on Beach Hill. Other visitors included J.W. Husband of the Modesto firm of Husband and Turner for a few days in mid-September 1890 and Mrs. Lizzie Verden, Mrs. John Cosgrave, Miss Millicent Cosgrave, and Miss Irene Cosgrave of San Francisco. The latter's visit ended tragically as the 14 year old took ill at the Cottage and died shortly after returning to the City.

Despite their visitor status, the Marshalls appeared to be well ingrained in the Santa Cruz community. In addition to their remaining in town during the off-season, newspaper accounts describe them as being "of Carmelita Cottage," note their local friends, and report the gratitude that Mrs. Marshall received for assisting the local Catholic Ladies Aid Society. (33)

Nevertheless, the Marshalls were also world travellers. They were ill in New York in October 1891, but returned to Carmelita Cottage in better health for Thanksgiving. Mrs. Marshall and Mrs.Queenan continued to frequent the Cottage in early 1892, and the Marshalls were reported to have again rented it for the summer. Instead, they embarked on a European cruise, and the Cottage was rented by Evan C. Evans. In April 1900, Mrs. Queenan was reported back visiting Santa Cruz after a six-year stay in England.

Beach Hill Spruces Up

In the late 1880s other construction was also occurring in the neighborhood, transforming Beach Hill into a prestigious address. Previously, the Powder Mill Wharf extended from the warehouse behind Johnson's Ocean View House to the Bay. Thus, it was hard work to get to the beach from the vicinity of the Dame and Johnson homes. According to a newspaper account, one either had to take circuitous route or "climb fences, open gates, scramble down a dusty hillside, well grown with wild grasses that 'stick closer than a brother,' cross a field that was a foot deep with either dust or mud, and sometimes both in spots, and finally emerge through an opening in the fence" at the beach. (34)

This adventure became unnecessary at mid-decade with the removal of the wharf (1883) and the extension of Main Street to the beach. As a result several new attractive homes, as well as the aforementioned Sea Beach Hotel, were constructed on Main Street.

Behind the Cottages property, the former Kittredge estate was being remodelled into the Sunshine Villa (later the Hotel McCray). The Surf reported in October 1890 that, due to the road improvements being made fronting the Villa, "it is expected that all the property owners of the entire block bounded by Main, Second, Third, and Pacific will straighten boundary fences and lay bituminous sidewalks so that the whole will be uniform." (35) Not specifically mentioning Carmelita Cottages, the article continued, "with two handsome houses added by Joseph Roberts and the possibility of still further improvements to the fine property of Mrs. Martha Wilson, the block bids fair to be one of the most attractive of the City of Santa Cruz." The prediction for sidewalks soon was realized, but it was several years before Main Street was paved.

The Musical Thompson Family

In June 22, 1892, Lottie Paulina Thomson, approaching her twenty-first birthday, married James Henry Thompson, then thirty-four years old. She was described as "tall, slender, chataine, blue-eyed and fair." (36) Over eight-hundred guests crowded the Calvary Episcopal Church for the "stylish" celebration. The details of the wedding are described in a lengthy Surf article. (37) And, according to the Sentinel, it "will always rank as among the most elaborate in the city." (38)

The groom, with a fine bass voice, was born on August 8, 1857 to Mr. and Mrs. Uriah Thompson, who owned a 180-acre ranch on the Lower Soquel Road (now Capitola Road) at Rodeo Gulch. Mrs. Charlotte Thompson's father was Judge Henry Rice and her mother was a professional singer. Henry attended public school in Soquel and then St. Augustine's College in Benicia. He began to study law and secured a clerk's job in the Secretary of State's office in Sacramento in 1879. "But a musical inspiration, added to a phenomenal voice, made it [law] distasteful to him, and he left for studies in Italy under the famous Lamperti." (39)

Thompson became an international opera figure. He spent most of the first seven years of the 1880s in Italy and other European countries. He performed under the names Enrico (sometimes di or de) Tomaso, and Enrico Branciforte. Several letters from and tales of his European adventures appeared in the papers. (40) For example, in October 1883, a platform on which he was performing in Milan collapsed. He suffered a broken leg and two broken ribs. Earlier that year he refused offers to tour in the Far East and South America. Later he travelled to various cities in the United States with Haverly's Minstrels and the McCaull Opera Company.

After his return home to Santa Cruz, in 1889, Thompson enjoyed popularity and admiration not only for his performing fame, but for extensive civic activism. He was a respected leader in musical aspects of the church, politics, social events and cultural promotion. "Hardly a church or a public project in this city but has profited by his musical talent and fine voice, given without money and without price." (41) Among his volunteer activities, Thompson led the Calvary Church choir. One of his attractive choir members, herself a fledgling music teacher, had an almost identical last name, Lottie Thomson. They found themselves together at many other musically-related events.

Thompson was the honored guest at two functions in 1890. On June 24 the Santa Cruz Choral Society staged a reception for him at the Lincoln Street home of Mrs. Jesse Cope. Over seventy-five Society members and friends attended, including Lottie Thomson who performed "Take A Letter to My Love," and two other numbers. Henry used the occasion to promote musical culture:

I want to see societies like these all over this grandcountry.
I want to see more conservatories of music,
I want to see opera at popular prices.
I want to see a greater disposition on the part of the people tocontribute toward the support of institutions such as this. (42)

Then, on September 19, a great number of leading citizens arranged a testimonial in Henry's honor at the Opera House, showering him with floral arrangements. Among the well-received musical selections were "Who's at My Window?" sung by Lottie and "Tomaso and I," an original laudatory composition by J. H. Bailey. (43)

In addition to continuing his professional performances, such as concerts in Hollister and San Jose, Thompson engaged in public service by directing a Glee Club, which performed at Democratic Party political rallies. Newspaper accounts suggest that his singing of such ditties as "Mariner's Grave," "Larboard Watch," and "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep" - and his speech making, too, were tremendous hits, overshadowing the other political messages. (44) Indeed, despite the popularity of these free October, 1890 gatherings at Soquel, Sandy's Corner (Five Mile House),Loma Prieta, Corralitos, Felton, and Santa Cruz, the Democrats were badly shut out in all their local election day contests. Responding to another cause, Henry and Lottie lent their musical talents to a free, packed meeting in favor of reducing hours that stores were open. Sponsored by the Clerks' Association, the rally was not entirely successful in securing its objectives. (45)

Thompson continued to be instrumental in promoting music culture. He presented a Kindersymphony concert and lecture in Santa Cruz and Capitola. His speech promoted better music teaching in the schools, better stage performances, and voice training. (46) He also wrote a lengthy eulogy of opera star Emma Abbott for the newspaper. (47) He helped establish Philharmonic Societies in Watsonville, Soquel, and Santa Cruz in 1892. The latter presented a well-attended social session in early February where Lottie and Henry both sang. (48) In June 1892, he organized a three day musical festival at the Opera House featuring all three county Societies. Thompson was praised for their progress. (49) Part of the bill featured a comic opera, "Doctor of Alcantara" with spirited Tomaso in impressive costume playing Don Pomposo and Lottie as Isabella (who objects to an arranged marriage).

In addition to these appearances at her future husband's events, Lottie's name was prominent in accounts of other musical and social events in the early 1890s. At a benefit for the Women's Aid Society, her vocal rendition of "The Maid of Dundee" was encored. At neighbor Joseph Roberts' daughter Anita's wedding, Lottie played the "Wedding March of Mendelssohn." At a grand concert at the "Y" on September 29, 1890, admission 25 cents, she sang a solo number. Lottie received a number of votes for the prettiest lady at the County Rose Fair in May 1891, but not the highest total. On August 26, 1891, she presented a most "delightful" garden party for the St. Agnes Guild.

It was the unanimous opinion that it was one of the very prettiest parties given this year in Santa Cruz. Strings of Japanese lanterns made the garden all aglow, hammocks and marquees furnished cozy seats and plenty of flirtation corners, while the [Carmelita] cottage was profusely garnitured with flowers ablaze with lights. (50)

Mrs. Marshall assisted and, of course, future husband Henry was part of the musical program.

After their June 1892 wedding, the newlyweds honeymooned at Paraiso Springs and then resided at 28 Main Street. For a time they also lived in Sacramento, where Henry taught voice. Ellen Dame visited them in the capitol city for several months in early 1896. Shortly thereafter, they moved back to Carmelita Cottage, sharing #28 with the elder Mrs. Dame. They had no children. After an illness for several months, Thompson died on August 18, 1900, of consumption, leaving Lottie, like her mother previously, a young widow. Funeral services were at his parents' Rodeo Gulch home and burial was at Evergreen Cemetery. The newly formed Tomaso Male Quartet sang music written by Henry Thompson.

The Three Widows And Cottage Rentals

Mother Ellen and daughter Lottie continued to reside at 28 Main Street, with sister/aunt Mary Ann Johnson living next door at 22 Main Street. On May 8, 1897, Ellen and Lottie (and Henry) had sold the lower (southerly) five foot strip of their property for $5 to A.H. Wilbur, the adjacent property owner who was remodeling his home. This left their Cottages parcel with an approximately 83 foot frontage on Main Street (by 140 feet deep). On January 24, 1899, out of love and affection for her daughter, Ellen deeded her remaining interest in the Cottages property, along with all her possessions, to her daughter. The document is not explicit that this transfer should occur after Ellen's death, but it was not recorded until then.

The Cottages Are Completed

Photo of Pine Cottage
26 Main Street - now #317, the Pine Cottage

Additional construction occurred on the Cottages properties in the early 1900s. The progression of changes in the structures is shown on sequential Sanborn Maps. The rear Dame/Thompson cottage (26 Main Street - now #317, the Pine Cottage) was rebuilt or further expanded before 1905. In 1897, Fred Evans, a butcher, lived there. In 1900, William Stevenson, his wife, and her brother occupied it. In 1910 Mr. and Mrs. William Coburn are listed as its inhabitants.

Photo of cottage at 319 main
The Cottage at 319 Main Street

Additional construction also occurred by 1905 at the site of an earlier shed on the north property line. Here a rectangular cottage, 24 Main Street, was built. (Now 319 Main Street, pictured to the right.) In 1914, Perry Chamberlin, a telephone manager, was living there. Later the rear portion was remodeled into a two-story apartment, known as the "Crow's Nest" (24 1/2 Main Street, later # 319b). This addition was razed in the early 1990's.

Photo of the Middle Cottage
The Middle Cottage

Around 1894 the middle cottage on the Johnson property was constructed (22c Main Street - now #321c). (51) It was 609 square-feet with "very little articulation other than the gable roof." It was described as being "perhaps the most prototypical vernacular beach-cottage on the site." (52). It was razed and rebuilt in 1995.

Photo of the Rear Cottage
The rear cottage at 22d--now 321d Main Street

Between 1909 and 1917 the rear cottage was constructed (22d Main Street - now #321d). Similar to the middle one, it is 674 square feet with a summer porch and simple gable roof. (53) This completed the Carmelita Cottages as we know them today. In 1921 Lottie undertook some unspecified renovations worth $800.

1912 Visitor's Guide contains the first discovered mention in this century of the Carmelita Cottages (plural) as rentals. They are listed under "Furnished Cottages" at 22 Main Street for a monthly rent of $30 to $75.

A 1920s era postcard shows a "Carmelita Cottages" sign on a post in the current driveway between the two front residences. By this time, as seen on the postcard caption, the complex had become known as Carmelita Court. The sign was subsequently changed to read "Court" as well .

Ownership Passes To Lottie

Ellen Dame died on January 9, 1918, following a slight stroke, listed as eighty years old. Services were at the Calvary Episcopal Church and burial was at the Odd Fellows Cemetery (Santa Cruz) next to Captain Dame. Lottie then cared for Aunt Mary Ann. On September 21, 1911, Mary Ann had prepared a deed transferring to her niece, for love and affection, her property. This document was not recorded until January 6, 1920. It resulted in singular ownership of the entire Carmelita Cottages property, for the first time since McDonald's sales in 1868. Mary Ann Johnson passed away on Sunday evening November 28, 1920, then in her eighties and suffering from senility, according to her death certificate. The newspaper more kindly reported, "She had been ill for only three weeks, almost recovering when, the day before Thanksgiving she had a severe stroke of paralysis, from which she never rallied.", (54) Funeral services were held at the Cottages. She, like husband Thomas, was also buried in an unmarked grave in the Dame plot at the Odd Fellows Cemetery (Santa Cruz).

The Lottie Sly Legacy

The name most associated with the Carmelita Cottages is Lottie Sly. In order to discover the name's connection, it is necessary to return to 1912. Then, Lucian Heath Sly, an extremely wealthy San Franciscan, purchased Golden Gate Villa. This most ornate Santa Cruz mansion is located a few doors away from the Cottages at 924 (then 56) Third Street. Built by Major Frank McLaughlin, Golden Gate Villa was the scene of McLaughlin's double suicide--stepdaughter's murder in 1907. Lucian Sly "was reported to have had the largest income of any apartment building owner in the State." (55) For example, after the 1906 earthquake Sly had purchased Leland Stanford's burned mansion property in San Francisco and erected the plush Stanford Court Apartments.

In a front page special of December 3, 1921 the Santa Cruz News reported:

A veritable host of Santa Cruzans will start with surprise at the news that Mrs. Lottie Thompson of Carmelita Court, Beach Hill, is reported to have been married at noon today in Sacramento to Lucien [sic] H. Sly of Santa Cruz and San Francisco... The couple are going on a European wedding tour, France being the chief objective. (56)

The city directories of 1924 show Lottie living with her new husband at the Villa and then at the 22 Main Street cottage. In reality the legacy of her step-father Captain Dame proved these entries untrue. For as the extended honeymooners landed in New York on July 7, 1923, Sly bid Lottie a permanent farewell:

Well, thank goodness, we have at last reach[ed] land, where I can get rid of you; you can go your own way, for I certainly have made up my mind to go my own way. Goodbye forever. (57)

She first sued for separate maintenance asking $1,500 a month. Then in January 1924, she filed for divorce on grounds of cruelty and desertion. Accounts indicate that she was locked out of their San Francisco townhouse, Sly sold their Santa Cruz villa, and he left the state to avoid judgement against him. (58) Lottie quickly received her divorce. She was awarded $100,000 in cash and title to the King Edward Apartments in San Francisco, with an estimated monthly rental income of $1,600. Lucian, divorced four times in total, had other legal dealings as well. One case he lost was before the U. S. Supreme Court in 1937 over payment received when he defaulted on a $85,000 note to the Prudential Insurance Company. He died at the age of 82 on October 9, 1944, in Palo Alto.

Lottie Sly remained at Carmelita Court as owner and manager and continued to be active in music until her death in 1955. By the end of World War II, the cottages were being permanently occupied. Some of the tenants of long-term included Mrs. Mary Fowle, Mrs. Helen Bracamonte, Mrs. Ada R. Lewis, and Mrs. G. Homer (Alice) Sigsby. Also living at the cottages for many years were Charles Hamilton, his three sisters -- Mrs. H. S. (Ida) Northridge, Lois McCurdy, and Minnie Hamilton, and their cousin Mrs. Abra Budworth. Abra was once a music student of Lottie's who helped manage the cottages as Mrs. Sly aged. Although Lottie willed her property to the City for eventual use as a park, she granted a life estate, along with the contents and rental profits, to Mrs. Budworth. The bulk of the remainder of her estate went to Stanford University, musical and religious institutions, and several friends and relatives, including the children of her Barton cousins in New Jersey. Abra moved from the "Crow's Nest" to the Johnson house (#321 Main Street), where Lottie had lived. Mrs. Budworth's brother and sister-in-law, Del and Matilda Bachelder, moved into 317 Main Street in 1962. When Abra died in 1976, ownership of the Carmelita Cottages property came full circle back to the City of Santa Cruz, 128 years after the town fathers had originally disposed of it. Initially continuing to rent the cottages, the City had other plans for the site, as recounted in "Saving Carmelita Cottages."

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