Santa Cruz County History - Places

Coast Dairies Property: A Land Use History

[Excerpt from Coast Dairies Long-Term Resource Protection and Use Plan: Draft Exiting Conditions Report for the Coast Dairies Property, Section 1.0.
Figures and photos referenced in text are not included in this online version.]

1.3 - The Coming of Coast Dairies: Transformation


Meanwhile, as the Ocean Shore was building its railroad to the San Vicente, the cement plant was rising on the treeless terrace. Using horses and an army of laborers, the San Francisco construction company of Healy and Tibbits leveled the site. The camp for the construction company was in the valley of the San Vicente upstream from the proposed Ocean Shore Railroad grade. Hauling granite from the creekbed and sand from the beach, the company made cement to build the factory. During a visit in February of 1906 Taylor described the rising cement factory "a scene of extended walls, open arches and massive battlements [that] reminded one of pictures of ancient ruined cities." (Surf 2/3/1906)

The 1906 earthquake may have been a problem for the Ocean Shore line, but it accelerated the demand for concrete construction. Brick and mortar construction was rendered unacceptable by the earthquake, and wooden buildings by subsequent fires, driving most architects toward what became known as "fireproof" concrete construction. Dingee and his associates worked toward the completion of the cement plant secure in the knowledge that there would be a strong market for Portland cement (see Photo 1-5, and Photos 3 through 11, Appendix 1.3). By the end of 1906, the plant was ready to begin limited operation, and six months later was producing 3,000 barrels of cement per day (Surf 8/14/1907).

If the work the Ocean Shore Railroad was doing with its trestles and fills along the coast was impressive, the broad gauge railroad laid up the San Vicente Canyon to the limestone quarry site was almost equally so. The "snake-like" railroad was cut into three miles of the north wall of the canyon. The grade required almost continual blasting, and in one impressive instance, rocks thrown by an 8,000-pound blast landed over three miles away from the explosion. The cement company built eight trestles to bridge side canyons along the way, with one 300 feet long and 137 feet above the canyon floor (see Photo 1-6) (Surf 12/11/1905).

The tough, dangerous work was done mostly by crews of Greek laborers brought in by Healy and Tibbits just for that purpose. Several hundred Greeks cut the road into the canyon wall undertaking what one official termed "the hardest class of work"(Surf 9/23/05). The San Vicente gave up the railroad grade grudgingly, and injuries to the workers were a daily occurrence. Boulders crushed arms and legs and there was a steady stream of injured men taken into Santa Cruz for care. Confronted with what, to them, were unpronounceable Greek names, the newspapers often reported the injuries simply by giving the number that the man wore on his overalls: "Two Greeks injured by falling rocks. Greek No. 573 and Greek No. 25, employed at the Santa Cruz Portland cement quarry, were treated lately by Dr. P.T. Phillips for injuries received by falling rocks. These Greeks all have numbers, a brass tag around their necks distinguishing them. No 573 received the most severe injury and had his leg badly cut open and No. 25 had his collar bone broken." (Surf 12/2/1907)

Simultaneously with all of the other construction, the quarry was opened and a huge rock crusher installed to knock the limestone and shale down to a uniform size. The stone was then hauled down to the cement plant on the railroad to be processed. Another large crew of Greeks worked in the quarry, and a small town named Bella Vista was built downstream from the quarry to house the workers. Arthur Taylor visited the town in 1910: "The quarrymen's boarding house perches against the cliff like a swallow's nest under the eaves. It is stable-like in appearance, but as moss grows on the decaying log, sentiment clings to the human heart, and amid these desolate surroundings the Greek grub house is blazoned with the name of 'Bella Vista Hotel." (Surf 8/1/1910) The irony of having a town with an Italian name housing Greek workers was not lost on Arthur Taylor.


Casual visitors often assume that the company town that grew up south of the cement plant belonged to the cement company, but it did not. Bella Vista and San Vicente, as well as all the supporting infrastructure for the cement operation, were owned and managed by Coast Dairies & Land Co. The Standard Portland Cement Company made cement; Coast Dairies did everything else.

The isolation that Dingee needed for his noisy, dusty industrial creation meant that all of those working on the plant and later employed in it would have to live nearby. In 1905, when the construction on the plant began, there was nothing nearby save the small community at Davenport Landing. So, under the guidance of Coast Dairies manager Louis Moretti, a town grew up on the slope between the cement plant and San Vicente Creek. Since most of the workers were single men, the main feature of the little town was its hotels. Eventually there were two hotels to house the workers, along with buildings to house the other businesses necessary to support the men. By 1908, the town had two hotels, a general store (known as the "cash store"), a post office, butcher shop, barber shop, blacksmith shop, livery stable, public hall and public school. The businesses were either managed directly by Moretti or fellow Swiss or Italian immigrants. Initially called San Vicente (or San Vicente-by-the-sea) in 1905 to distinguish the town from Davenport's Landing just up the coast, the town soon came to be known simply as Davenport, a name that everyone used by 1908.

In 1909, to provide the cement plant managers a place for their families to live that was away from the predominantly male culture of Davenport, Coast Dairies & Land company laid out a small sixteen lot town on the north side of the factory. Skeptics also noted that the little subdivision was upwind from the cement plant and thus suffered less cement dustfall than the larger town to the south. Originally called Morettiville in honor of the manager of Coast Dairies, the town eventually came to be known as the "New Town" to distinguish it from the older Davenport, and today it has been shortened to NewTown (Clark, 1986; Orlando pers. comm., 2000).

The Coast Dairies & Land Co.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, the company continued to operate five distinct dairies on their property, with an aggregate total of about 800 cattle. The progressive impulses that the company exhibited in its relationship with the cement plant were also evident in the dairy business. In 1902 they opened a direct-to-the-consumer retail outlet in downtown Santa Cruz with the most modern equipment fully visible through windows facing Pacific Avenue. However, selling butter and cheese in San Francisco supported the bulk of their business, and the completion of the Ocean Shore Railroad brought convenient transportation for their products (although "convenient" in North Coast terms meant via Santa Cruz). The company also raised hay and other farm products, in addition to renting the groves at Laguna and Liddell for picnics.


The cement plant, quarry and attendant railroad weren't quite enough to satisfy the turn-of-the-century entrepreneurial spirit, and there is still one more industrial story line to emerge from events early in the twentieth century. In the late 1890s, the Santa Cruz Lime Company purchased approximately 7,500 acres immediately upstream on the San Vicente from the land owned by Louis Moretti. The company then built and operated a lime kiln on the San Vicente and freighted their finished product down the creek and over to the old Davenport Landing. Not long after purchasing the site for their cement plant from Coast Dairies, the Standard Portland Cement Company purchased the entire property and kiln operation from Santa Cruz Lime, and it was there (adjacent to the current Coast Dairies Property) that they then established the limestone quarry for the cement plant (Surf 8/15/1906). William Dingee was not in the lumber business, however, and in 1907 he sold the timber rights (but not the land itself) to a group of Mormon lumbermen from Salt Lake City. By the spring of 1908 the group was incorporated as the San Vicente Lumber Company and had purchased a total of 16,000 acres of timber rights in the upper San Vicente and Scotts Creek drainages (Hamman, 1980).

Blocked by the cement plant limestone quarry from access to the upper San Vicente, the San Vicente Lumber Co. used the Scotts Creek-Little Creek drainages as their access, coming around to the timber from the northwest. The company then decided to locate their mill on the northern edge of Santa Cruz beside Moore's Creek, and after some wrangling with the town council they received the necessary permission and began building the largest lumber mill in the history of the county. The mill had a daily capacity of 70,000 board feet. Moore's Creek was dammed to create their millpond (today's Antonelli's pond).

Over the next 14 years, the San Vicente Lumber Company built over nine miles of broad gauge railroad into the mountains behind Davenport, felled the trees and brought the logs down to their Santa Cruz mill on the Ocean Shore Railroad. The grades and switchbacks that enabled the San Vicente railroad to achieve 1,400-foot elevation rise were breathtaking, and would be even in 2001. In some places the railroad grade reached eight percent. Since the winter rainfall on that side of Ben Lomond Mountain could be prodigious at times, few of the long, spider-web trestles were ever filled in. It has been estimated that the San Vicente Lumber Company cut over 400 million board feet of lumber before it ceased operations in 1923 (Hamman, 1980). Several other timber operations worked smaller areas during this time, including the Loma Prieta Lumber Company that started a relatively small operation on Mill Creek in 1907. Since the Loma Prieta had a mill on site, they shipped finished lumber out on the Ocean Shore Railroad, while the San Vicente shipped raw logs (Surf 1/14/1907) (see Photo 1-7).


The dry winters of 1897-1898 and 1898-1899, plus increased silt build up in Santa Cruz's Laguna Creek water system, compelled the city to undertake a series of studies between 1903 and 1912 to find an alternative or supplemental source of water.

Arthur Taylor, whose observations we have quoted before, was something of an amateur hydrologist and over the years he explored a number of North Coast streams and reported about those explorations in his newspaper, the Surf. In 1903 he wrote a series of articles describing the shortcomings of the Laguna Creek system. In one article he told of standing above the Laguna Dam and looking upstream: "From this point there is little timber in sight above the dam on the Laguna and for some distance, half a mile or more the canyon is quite broad and open. Beyond the canyon sides rise from fifty to two hundred feet above the bed of the brook and are tolerably well covered by second growth redwood and pine, with about the average amount of shrubbery.." (Surf 11/10/1903) The upstream logging had taken its toll on the ability of Laguna Creek to provide water to the city system:

"There is very little tall timber left on any part of the Laguna, but the channel of the stream is choked and filled in many places with huge masses of debris, left by the lumbermen and the woodchopper, and which in times of high water has floated down stream and lodged at convenient and inconvenient spots. Fire has swept over much of this, and in other places the redwood timber is lying in the bed of the brook and slowly decaying...The site of the old Grover Sawmill, is a sorry sight. There is a mass of badly burned, broken, tangled timbers, and a huge pile of sawdust still left by the bank, gradually decaying and percolating into the stream. From the mill site coastward the fall is more rapid, the banks crowd each closely, and big boulders, clog the channel..." (Surf 11/16/1903)

Taylor had heard of a famous spring on Liddell Creek, but had never seen it. One day he met Louis Moretti, the manager of the Coast Dairies Property, on the street in Santa Cruz and asked him if the spring was as big as it was rumored to be. Moretti said yes and offered to take Taylor on a guided tour. Taylor's first sighting of the spring was an epiphany: "...Would to God, I could share with every citizen the thrill of joy which was felt when I caught sight of that huge volume of water gushing, bubbling, pouring out of this spring hundreds of gallons per minute." (Surf 11/14/1903)

It took another nine years for the city to share Taylor's joy about the spring, but finally, after several more studies, the city purchased the spring from Coast Dairies & Land Co. for $20,000 (Surf 12/24/1912). By early 1913, the spring's estimated daily flow of 950,000 gallons was added to the city water system, and in the following winter it was noted that when Laguna Creek's water was muddy as it entered the city system, the water from the spring flowed crystal clear (Surf, 1/28/1914). The Liddell spring at Laguna Creek continues to be a part of the Santa Cruz City water system to this day, providing 20 percent of the city's supply.

In a recent interview, Robert Bosso, long-time attorney for Coast Dairies and past president of the corporation, discussed the impact of the 1912 sale of the spring on the later history of the Coast Dairies Property: "I'm sure that Moretti and Respini thought they were getting a good price for the spring in 1912, but we sure could have used that water later on. That spring is priceless." (Bosso pers. comm., 2000)


It has been estimated that well over half of all the European immigrants who came to the United States returned to their native countries (Takaki, 1993), so the fact that the Swiss owners of the Coast Dairies & Land Company went back to Switzerland is not unusual as such. What made it curious was that they had been so successful during the decades they lived in Santa Cruz County. A number of theories have been advanced over the years about why the Moretti and Respini families returned home, but Robert Bosso was told that the Swiss returned to Switzerland to avoid costly penalties, should they be drafted into the United States military. According to the Moretti descendants in Switzerland, Swiss law, based on that nation's firm notions of neutrality, forbade Swiss nationals from participating in another country's military, and if they did, they faced stiff financial penalties should they ever return home. As the war in Europe heated up after 1914, it appeared that the United States might become involved and, once it did, that a draft might be instituted. Thus, according to Bosso, the Swiss returned to avoid being drafted into the United States military, with the loss of what had, until then, been virtual dual citizenship (Bosso pers. comm., 2000).

The most poignant departure was that of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Moretti in the summer of 1915. Without question, Moretti had been the energy and vision behind the industrial revolution on the North Coast. Moretti stayed until the dedication of his last project-the concrete Catholic chapel on the knoll above San Vicente Creek, in May of 1915. The church can be seen not only as a symbol of the cooperation between Coast Dairies, the cement company, and the community, but also as a personal legacy of Louis Moretti himself. He designed the church to replicate the churches he had seen as a young man around his native Locarno, and it was fitting that he would leave that symbol of Switzerland before he went home (Surf 5/17/1915). The landmark chapel still stands today on Church Street in Davenport (see Photo 1-8).

By 1920 the shareholders of the Coast Dairies & Land Company were all back in Switzerland, and the property was being managed by local employees of the corporation. The departure of the Coast Dairies leadership and the closing of the San Vicente Lumber Company in 1923 marked the end of a remarkable 20 years of industrial activity. The Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company continued to operate, but the emphasis in the region turned once again to agriculture.


As we have seen, the Ocean Shore and Southern Pacific Railroads had a profound effect on North Coast industrial development. The effects on agriculture came more slowly, but were no less transformative. The keys to the development of the twentieth century crops that are most identified with the North Coast-artichokes and Brussels sprouts-were refrigeration, dependable seasonal farm labor, and the development of national and international markets.


Artichokes were the first major specialty crop in the agricultural revolution on the North Coast. Though there is considerable debate about who was the first to grow artichokes on the Central California Coast, it seems that they were first grown in large quantities in San Mateo County on the coastal terrace south of Pescadero Creek. The following newspaper item appeared in the Surf in March of 1916: "F.H. Widemann of Pescadero has been here en route to King City. He has charge of the 10,000 acre Coburn ranch at Pescadero and has 1,000 acres in artichokes which are grown for the San Francisco and eastern market. The rest of the ranch is in beans and timber...Mr. Widemann states that artichokes are being grown in vast quantities there and that the entire country from Pescadero to Bean Hollow has been utilized for them and vegetables. It is now all irrigated from the Butano Creek..." (Surf 3/10/1916)

Another source indicates that Mr. A.E. Morelli first grew a small plot of artichokes near Davenport in that same year (Watkins 1925). Regardless of who was first, by 1919, local resident Tom Majors attested to there being 600 acres of artichokes under cultivation between Santa Cruz and Davenport: "At present there are about 600 acres leased to Italian vegetable men, along the coast between Santa Cruz and Davenport. About 100 acres on the Charles B. Younger ranch, 120 acres on the Pio Scaroni ranch, 120 acres on the Majors Brothers ranch and about 250 acres by the Coast Dairies & Land Co. These Italian gardeners find that the soil and climate are very well adapted to the raising of this fruit or vegetable. The artichoke plant wants a climate not too hot and not too cold, and the coast salt air keeps them free from bugs and lice...The Italian vegetable men are splendid gardeners, and very industrious workers. Besides the artichokes they raise peas, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and other vegetables. The artichokes will be raised and shipped in carload lots from Godola or Majors station direct to Chicago and New York City, where they are selling at present for $5 per box, consisting of three and one-half dozen in a box which goes to show that the artichoke business is all right when once established."(Surf 1/18/19)

The use of refrigerator cars for shipping vegetables long distances accelerated during World War I, and by 1920 several processing and packing sheds were established on the west side of Santa Cruz to handle the increasing amounts of produce being grown on the North Coast. A major Santa Clara County packing company built a cannery near Pigeon Point to handle produce coming from the Pescadero area in 1917 (Sentinel 4/8/1917). By the early 1920s the artichoke acreage began to spread southward onto the coastal terraces around Aptos and Castroville. Artichokes were enough of a commodity in Santa Cruz County that a 1923 newspaper article listed them among the three major agriculture products, the other two being apples and poultry (Sentinel 2/8/23).

Artichokes and Brussels sprouts are "niche" vegetables, and the markets are those places in the United States where large numbers of Southern Europeans have settled, particularly Chicago and the Northeast, or Europe itself. According to Ron Tyler, Farm Advisor emeritus of Santa Cruz County, the aging of the European immigrant community (and its replacement by immigrants from Asia and Latin America) has softened the market for both, particularly Brussels sprouts (see Appendix 1.2.4).

Farm Laborers

As the acreage of artichokes and other vegetables grew along the North Coast, so did the need for agricultural laborers. Filipino and Mexican farm laborers were the mainstay of the agricultural workforce on the North Coast from the 1930s well into the 1960s, and there are still several farm labor buildings located on the Coast Dairies Property that once housed Filipinos. Several informants specifically noted that the red-colored buildings on the ocean side of Highway 1 just south of Yellow Bank Creek once housed Filipino farm laborers.

The Dairies Decline

The North Coast dairies continued to do very well financially during the 1920s, but the coming of the Depression in the 1930s, coupled with new regulatory legislation, began to make it increasingly difficult to operate dairies on the coast. A 1938 law required testing of all dairy cattle for tuberculosis and the California Department of Agriculture's stringent sanitary inspections eventually put many of the North Coast Dairies out of business (Weldon, 1986).

Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company Pier - 1934

The one major exception to a North Coast economic downturn during the 1930s was an expansion of the cement plant at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. Even with its dependable Southern Pacific Railroad connection, the cement company continued to chafe at its inability to get its product out to market. Finally, after studying all the possibilities, the company decided to build a pier out from the bluff adjacent to the factory and pump dry cement into a ship anchored off shore. The cement company, which had thrown all of its technological muscle into operations at Ben Lomond Mountain, now turned toward the sea. In light of all the failed efforts to set up shipping facilities on the North Coast, it was an audacious plan. The cement was to be stored in a nest of silos atop the bluff. A massive compressor would then suck the cement down through a huge tunnel and into two twelve-inch pipes and out along a half-mile pier into the waiting ship.

The key to the plan was the pier. As no pier on the North Coast had ever weathered a winter season without being ripped apart, it could not be of traditional wooden construction. It was to be a metal pier with its steel pilings driven deep into the coastal bedrock. All the joints were to be welded, and the pier's end was anchored with huge concrete-filled caissons also driven deep into the ocean floor. Construction of the pier began in December 1933, and during the winter of 1933-34 the ocean tested construction and design, with waves in excess of thirty feet. On several occasions the massive swells swatted the pile driver into the sea, but the construction continued until, in early October 1934, it was completed. Extending 2,327 feet into the sea, it was the first all-welded steel pier built on the Pacific Coast.[21]

The company purchased a 400-foot freighter, aptly renamed it Santacruzcement, and on October 16, 1934, sent the first load of 45,000 barrels of cement to a special silo farm in Stockton (Sentinel 10/17/1934). The ship continued to carry cement from the plant into the 1950s, until the coast road was improved enough that trucks could take over transporting the company's product. Today, 67 years after the pier was built, several of the steel piers still defy the ocean off the Davenport bluff, marking one of the most brazen efforts to thwart the power of the ocean [22] (see Photograph 1-9).

Concerns About Cement Dust

One of the local signatures of the cement plant at Davenport was the coating of dust that radiated out from the plant onto the surrounding countryside. Since the prevailing wind came from the north and northwest, the dust was thickest on the hills and fields south of the plant, but there was enough wind variation to cast all of the immediate vicinity in a gray shroud of dust. Houses, cars and buildings were all coated with the dust, and over the years there had been numerous complaints about the effects of the dust on the local agricultural community. The fact that the cement plant was the major employer in the area made it difficult for many local citizens to complain, but in 1935, a coalition of local farmers and ranchers organized to "force the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company to eliminate the causes of damage to the coast field crops by the cement dust." Twelve growers filed suit against the cement plant and they were joined by 42 more growers and dairymen (Sentinel 3/28/1935).

One of the complaints came from those raising dairy cows and cattle on the North Coast. Range animals that ate large amounts of the dust "did not develop properly" according to one animal husbandry expert working in the University of California Extension office at the time. "They just looked skinny and didn't put on any weight." The University of California at Davis sent a number of scientists to the North Coast to study the matter, but results were not conclusive (Lydon pers. comm., 2000). The suit against the cement company worked its way through the court system for many years.

In 1955, Davenport residents gathered in a public meeting to air their complaints about the dust. Many of those that testified brought exhibits to demonstrate just how pervasive the dust was, including a cross-section of lawn showing that the dust penetrated six inches into the earth. One auto mechanic brought a fifteen-pound bag of cement dust that he had collected in just one day while servicing the dust-covered automobiles of Davenport residents. Residents complained of being unable to get the family laundry clean, and one testified that they could not keep a television set because the dust always seeped into the cabinet and shorted it out (Sentinel 3/18/1955). Several dozen lawsuits were filed against the company following the meeting (see Photo 1-10).

Eventually, after the cement plant changed hands, all of the suits were settled out of court in 1961 and the company agreed to install equipment to minimize the dust emissions (Koch, 1973).


19 Swiss-born Pio Scaroni established a dairy on part of the Rancho Refugio, just south of Laguna Creek, in 1868 (Clark, 1986). He and his descendants owned and lived on the property until 1998, when the property was sold to become part of Wilder Ranch State Park.

20 Cutting and filling was the process used by railroad and highway builders to achieve a level grade by digging a channel into a hill and pushing the loose material into the next depression to build it up. The resulting cavity through which the railroad or automobile runs is known as the cut, while the filled in area in the depression is known as the fill.

21 Company officials believed it to be the first all-welded steel pier in the world.

22 It is interesting to note that another similar ocean-defying monument, the "Cement Ship" Palo Alto that was sunk off Seacliff Beach (Santa Cruz County) in 1930 was built of Davenport cement.

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