Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

Resort and Recreation Development: Surfing, other recreational sites
by Susan Lehmann

Surfing: Although the Boardwalk was the primary commercial endeavor to capitalize on tourism at the beach, no history of Santa Cruz would be complete without a discussion of the city's most well known sport, surfing. Surfing, as far as anthropologists can trace, is estimated to be a thousand years old in Hawaii and three or four thousand in Polynesia. It was bound to all aspects of religious life and was surrounded by rituals that began with the selection of the tree that was to be used for the board. The recitation of chants and prayers by the priest, or kahuna, accompanied the shaping of the board which was carved of solid wood with stone or bone tools. Surfing festivals and meets were an intrinsic part of the culture and gambling on the outcome was common.

The practices associated with the activity were abhorrent to the religious missionaries who came to the islands in the nineteenth century. Polynesian historian Ben Finney noted that the Europeans were alarmed to find that when the surf was up: "the thatch houses of a whole village would empty," and "daily tasks as farming, fishing and tapa-making were left undone while the entire community -- men, women and children -- enjoyed themselves in the rising surf and rushing white water." In spite of the concerted efforts of the missionaries to obliterate surfing, the sporting, if not the religious, aspects were to return after the missionary period ended.

The annexation of Hawaii to the United States in 1898, brought American tourists who became interested in the native Hawaiian culture. Among them were writers Mark Twain and Jack London. It was London who published a magazine article on the "Royal Sport" of surfing and is credited with aiding the movement to revive the sport. In 1908, along with other enthusiasts, he founded the Outrigger Canoe Club whose purpose was to preserve surfing on boards and outrigger canoes.

A native Hawaiian, Duke Kahanomoku [sic], was the chief practitioner and promoter of modern surfing. Born in 1890, he was a teenager at the time when a resurgence of interest in the sport was just beginning. He and a group of friends known as "the beach boys" found that they could make money teaching tourists and members of the Outrigger Canoe Club how to surf. Kahanomoku [sic] won the gold medal and set a worlds record in the 1912 Olympic Games in swimming and used his fame to promote surfing throughout the United States. He visited Santa Cruz in the 1930s and performed at the Plunge, an event that is still remembered by local old time surfers.

According to some historical accounts, surfing came to the California coast in 1907 when George Freeth, an Irish Hawaiian, was hired by the Pacific Electric Railroad as a promotional stunt to encourage ridership of their new line between Redondo Beach and Los Angeles. Practitioners of the sport outside of Hawaii were few in the 1920s but in 1932, Tom Blake, a Californian, patented a design for the "Hawaiian Hollow Surfboard," a hollow paddle board, that became standard rescue equipment for lifeguards. It had the advantage of being lighter (at about 60 pounds) than the classic solid wooden boards and encouraged more participation in the sport.

Surfing in Santa Cruz, began about 1936 when a group of the local teenagers learned the basic techniques in board building and surfing from young men who came from Southern California. Their first boards were made in wood shop class at Mission Junior High. In 1938 they started a formal surf club and began keeping their boards in a member's barn on Bay Street, three blocks from Cowell's Beach. With the help of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, they built a board house which was located on the beach at the foot of what is now the Santa Cruz West Coast Hotel. The club remained active until World War II when most of the members left for military service. Those who returned after the war were soon involved in jobs and families and the club was never revived.

Little remains of the club's original facilities except for the clubhouse. It has [an] interesting history in itself and is a lesson in adaptive reuse in miniature. The structure was originally built by Surf Club member Harry Mayo's grandfather as a fruit stand where he sold watermelons in the summer. It was moved to the beach and became a refreshment stand selling hamburgers and cold drinks. Since it stood adjacent to their board house, the club rented it for use as a clubhouse but with the breakup of the group, it was abandoned. In 1952 the building was moved once again, this time to Frederick Street where it is presently used as a residential structure behind a house.

Surfing has now become a large commercial enterprise with international competitions held every year in all parts of the world including Santa Cruz. Those who were part of the Santa Cruz Surfing Club, however, have managed to keep its history alive by aiding in the creation and maintenance of an excellent surfing museum, a bronze statue that has become a local landmark and personal tales of homemade long boards and the ultimate wave.

Other recreational sites - Seabright: The center of tourism in the City of Santa Cruz has always been located in the wharf area. Other beachfront areas, however, both in the County and City grew up along the coast and catered to summer visitors. One of these is Seabright which was once a separate settlement with its own post office and railroad station. The small summer cottages, according to promotional literature, catered to "the finest kind" of people from San Jose and the Central Valley. Seabright had its beginnings in 1884 when F. M. Mott of Sacramento purchased 12 acres of land, that he called a farm, as a summer home for family and friends. After visiting Sea Bright, New Jersey, he borrowed the name, laid out streets and lots and Seabright, California was born. The development was not intended for sale to the general public but was only open, initially, to friends and relatives.

The cottages were simple in design and construction, of board and batten -- the boards usually painted white with battens in bright blue, green or vermilion. The community had an active civic improvement group [led] by Miss E. C. Forbes who promoted a number [of] worthy causes. She was also the chief proponent of octagonal cottages, and lived in one herself. ...

About 1903, the Seabright improvement society proposed construction of a library and in 1915, a Carnegie library was built in Tyrrell Park at a cost of $3000. The library ... was closed in 1965 and became [a] city museum. Seabright is no longer an independent community having been annexed and became part of the city of Santa Cruz in 1904.

Oter recreational sites - Pogonip: The early success of Santa Cruz as a resort area was due, in large part, to the variety of activities offered to tourists and their accessibility by train. Visitors could visit the Big Trees and then spend time at the seashore. The hotels both in the Santa Cruz mountains and at the coast offered all sorts of diversions including: dancing and concerts, billiard parlors, bowling alleys, croquet, tennis courts, boating, swimming, riding and golf. As part of the development of the Casa del Rey Hotel at the beach, Fed Swanton created a club and golf links in 1911. He leased 145 acres of a large meadow on the eastern portion of the Cowell ranch. Financed by John Martin and the Southern Pacific Railroad, which promoted the Casa del Rey extensively, the facility included an 18 hole golf course and a clubhouse which officially opened on February 22, 1912. The course was touted as a working man's golf course with reasonable rates and was part of [an] advertising strategy that attempted to portray Santa Cruz as a winter, as well as summer, resort and recreation area. Swanton's bankruptcy in the same year forced a reorganization that placed the club under the auspices of the Santa Cruz Golf and Country Club which ran it until it closed in 1930. The closure was caused by a number of factors including the financial climate of the Depression and increased competition from Marion Hollins' Pasatiempo which had opened nearby.

In 1935, the facility opened again, this time as the Pogonip Polo Club. The revival was brought about by Dorthy Deming Wheeler, one of [a] group of area women including Marion Hollins, who promoted women's involvement in what had previously been considered men's sports. Wheeler, along with her husband, Deming Wheeler, enjoyed playing polo and hoped to make Santa Cruz part of the national polo circuit. As part of their $12,000 improvement program, they removed the fairways and leveled the land to make it into a field. In keeping with the club's previous aim of a working man's golf course, the [Wheelers] intended that polo club include women and children and that prices would be lower than other clubs. The co-ed polo games they sponsored were an unusual and popular feature of the facility. Dorthy Wheeler tried to promote this spirit of inclusiveness but when the men's National Polo association rejected creation of a women's association, she went on to found and administer the first U.S. women's polo association and served as its president for many years.

World War II brought [an] end to polo at Pogonip. As part of the war effort, however, Dorthy Wheeler became active in Red Cross Motor Corps. She used the Pogonip ponies and grounds to train a women's mounted corps whose purpose was to assist in rescue operations when motor vehicles could not be used. Although the club re-opened in 1948, the focus turned to social rather than sports activities for which it was formerly known. Over the year, the grounds have been used for Hollywood movies and proceeds from a fee charged in 1936 to the makers of the Maid of Salem paid for the building of a swimming pool. In 1986, the Pogonip Clubhouse was the location for the movie, The Lost Boys.

In 1986, the five redwood stable buildings located on the west side of Golf Club Drive about a quarter mile below the clubhouse were demolished. The tennis courts are no longer usable and the swimming pool has been filled in. Only the clubhouse remains. Although in deteriorated condition, the City of Santa Cruz, its present owner, is now undertaking a restoration study in the hopes that the building can be used again as a community facility.

Although it still makes a considerable contribution to the city's economy, tourism has changed dramatically since the 1920s. The growing use of the automobile altered the type of accommodations offered to travelers. Variations of the tent camps continued to operate and cabins with room to park the family automobile became increasingly sought after. These auto courts eventually gave rise to what we know at the motel. While highway improvements brought a different type of tourist to the mountains, tourism in general eventually dropped off as visitors were lured to more exotic locales such as Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. Those camps that survived the Depression were dealt another blow by gas rationing during World War II. Within the City, tourist accommodations are now generally served predominantly by chain motels located near the beach. Most of the seasonal cabins have been converted into year round housing and a few large old homes now operate as bed-and-breakfasts. Although tourism remains a major part of the city's economy, visitors for the day still make up the majority of the tourist population.

[From: Fully Developed Context Statement for the City of Santa Cruz. Prepared for City of Santa Cruz Planning and Development Department. Prepared by Susan Lehmann, October 20, 2000. Chapter 3, Context I: Economic Development of the City of Santa Cruz 1850-1950, pp. 16-19]

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Pogonip, Seabright, surfing, tourism


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