History Pages: 45 - Remembering (some of) the Presidents

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When I was in 5th grade, one of our U.S. history assignments was to memorize the names of all of the presidents. Most students got to about Jackson before memories became fuzzy. Santa Cruz street-namers did somewhat better than that, but many presidential names are missing here. We have the obligatory Washington, Lincoln and Grant and,if you know where to look, you can find Jackson Street. You’ll search in vain, however, for Jefferson (try Watsonville instead), Adams, Madison, and Monroe (look in Aptos). Then, after Jackson, there’s a 24-year local president-name gap until you get to Lincoln. You’ll have to go to San Francisco to find Van Buren, Polk, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan.

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The only national political figures from that time period to be honored with street names in Santa Cruz are seen in the composite image to the left: President Zachary Taylor (left) and Congressman Henry Clay (right). Why those two? Taylor won the presidential election of 1848 but died in office in 1850 – only 15 months into his term. During that brief tenure, however, he had one significant (to us) accomplishment - admitting California to the Union as the 31st state (although he died before our Admission Day). Henry Clay also contributed to our statehood by crafting the “Compromise of 1850” that allowed California to enter the union as a free state. Here's a good trivia question: Taylor's VP was his successor, and was president on September 9, 1850, signing the legislation that made California officially a state. What was his name? Hint: no Santa Cruz street is named for him.

Thanks to Steven Spielberg, we’ve all been reminded recently of Abraham Lincoln’s accomplishments as president, along with those of the next elected president - Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant. We’re covered in Santa Cruz for those two, Lincoln Avenue and Grant Street are in prominent locations. After Grant, another memory gap occurs, from 1876 through the end of the century. Quick, can you name something important that happened during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-81)? How about Chester A. Arthur (1881-85)?


In between those two forgettable terms, however, was the too-brief presidency of James A. Garfield (right). Garfield, another successful Civil War general, won the 1880 election and became president in March, 1881. On July 2, 1881, less than four months later, he was shot by an assassin and died in September. Vice-president Chester Arthur took over and finished the term (Arthur got no love here, although Watsonville remembers him, unless Arthur Road was named for some other Arthur - I haven’t done any research on that question).

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Garfield’s memory was honored in Santa Cruz with not one but two street names and a whole subdivision. The Westside neighborhood developed by a church group in the late 1880s and now known as “the circles” used to be called Garfield Park. More recently (1971), a new neighborhood park near that area was given the name Garfield Park. The central street radiating out from the center of the circles to West Cliff Drive was once Garfield Avenue (now Woodrow - another president!) Also remaining are the Garfield Park Library and the Garfield Park Village housing complex.

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Closer to downtown, the former Bausch Street (so-named probably because from Water Street it pointed toward the Bausch Brewery across Branciforte Creek) was re-named Garfield Street. That street disappeared altogether in the 1957 San Lorenzo Park Project redevelopment plan. Another presidential casualty of that plan: one-block-long Harrison Street.

Changing the names of streets to honor first one luminary, then another, was a common local idiosyncrasy in the last quarter of the century. A Westside street originally named Lincoln Avenue became today’s Cleveland Avenue (presumably to honor president Grover Cleveland (1885-89).

Just to be fair, though, the man who lost to Cleveland (a Democrat), James G. Blaine, also got a street. The image at top is a local campaign ad, featuring both candidates. There probably aren’t many streets named for losing presidential candidates outside of their home states, so Blaine is pretty special. Another bit of irony: Blaine Street was originally called Hayes, in honor of nearly-forgotten president Rutherford Hayes.

Note: don’t look for Blaine in Spielberg’s 2012 film - he was a first-term Lincoln supporter in the House of Representatives, but was apparently not notable enough at that time to appear in the cast.

Naming Santa Cruz streets after national political figures mostly went out of fashion after 1900. A stub of N. Pacific Avenue that dead-ends into El Rio Mobile Home Park was once called McKinley Street, but no longer. There’s dead-end Roosevelt Terrace off Broadway, and Kennedy Drive in Capitola, but I suppose it's too late for a Truman Street. Reagan's opportunity has probably come and gone in Santa Cruz County. LA now has a Barack Obama Boulevard, and it's possible he will get a mention here, but I doubt we'll be seeing any other recent presidents memorialized on street signs. Sorry, 5th-graders, you’re on your own.

Next: History Pages: 45 - The Italians