History Pages: 22 - The Institutions

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For a table of contents, see History pages.

Holy Cross 1880.png

Santa Cruz officially became a town in 1866, but it still had a long way to go. A proper town needs some institutions: schools, churches, government, civic and social organizations. Those institutions, in turn, need public and government buildings, meeting halls, parks – places for the townies to do town things.

From 1791 to about 1834, Santa Cruz had exactly one institution – Mission Santa Cruz. The mission was never very successful and, by the time the California missions were secularized in the mid-1830s, the mission complex was in pretty sad shape. The adobe buildings that performed so well in the hot, arid southwest couldn’t take our area’s rainy winters and occasional earthquakes. First the chapel’s bell tower collapsed in 1840, to be followed by the rest of the front facade in 1857. A wooden front replaced the fallen adobe and stone in 1861, and the truncated structure was put back into service – but never again for church services.


A new wooden church was built next door in 1857 and given an English translation of its old name – Holy Cross. (You can see both structures in the photo – the wooden façade of the old chapel is visible through the trees to the right of the newer building). The letters D.O.M. stand for a Latin phrase borrowed from ancient Roman temples of Jupiter: Deo Optimo Maximo (God, the best, the greatest).


Jail 1865.png

The other pre-statehood institution, also located on the mission plaza, was the juzgado, previously discussed on page 13 - The County. The two-story juzgado building was an administrative center for the pueblo of Branciforte (including Santa Cruz after mission secularization). The offices of the alcalde and other pueblo officials, the courtroom and the jail were all located there. After statehood, the first county court hearings were held there.

Just to the east of the old adobe chapel was the county jail. The stark little windowless building, made of granite blocks, had four cells and a central hallway (photo at left). The 1864 stone jail took over county incarceration duties from an earlier structure of about the same size, built of wood, which was damaged by fire.


Calvary church.jpg

In addition to Holy Cross, several other churches were established in Santa Cruz during the 1850s and 60s. The Methodist church on the corner of Green and Mission Streets was the first (page 15 - Uptown and Downtown). It was followed, in 1858, by the First Congregational Church, built on what became known as Church Street. The oldest church building still standing in Santa Cruz is Calvary Episcopal, which opened its doors in 1865 (photo at right).

The old juzgado found a new use when Holy Cross parish bought it from William Blackburn in 1862 and a group of nuns called Sisters of Charity converted the Eagle Hotel into a girls’ school. Just around the corner was Temperance Hall, built in 1860 and located on Mission Street across from Mission Hill School. The Hall, funded by a local temperance society, aimed to provide an alternative to the town's many saloons as a public gathering place. Temperance Hall is visible in the photo of Mission Street on page 21 - The River. It’s the tall building on the right with the little cupola.

Several other schools opened during the 1860s to serve the growing Santa Cruz population. Branciforte School opened in 1860, originally located on Soquel Drive where Branciforte Plaza is now. Bayview School (today’s school is in the same location), Laurel School at the corner of Laurel and Washington, and Grant School (where Grant Street Park is now) followed in 1865, showing that the residential areas were spreading out along the main roads out of town. All of those early schools except Grant can be seen in an 1870 "bird's eye" lithograph. Notes on that image can be found on another History Page.

1866 courthouse.jpg



The town had to wait a few more years for a City Hall, but the first purpose built County Courthouse opened in 1867, on Cooper Street (photo ca.1880). By the end of the decade Santa Cruz had its first lending library. A group of citizens collected donations to buy books and Frank Cooper volunteered some space in his store, across from the new courthouse. The old rowdy cow town began to look more and more like a genteel eastern village.

Next: History Pages: 23 - The Map and the Trees