History Pages: 46 - The Italians

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Stagnaro Bros.png

When we think of the Italian immigrant heritage of Santa Cruz (and Monterey), the fishing families come first to mind. The first Cottardo Stagnaro jumped ship at the brand-new "railroad" wharf in 1875, followed by more Stagnaros, Ghios and others. Many of us still head out to the Stagnaro fish market on the wharf to see what's fresh. The long, skinny La Barranca city park along lower Bay Street has informative displays that commemorate the city's Italian heritage - including the fishing families, many of whom once lived in that neighborhood. Many of those families came from the same same town near Genoa, on the northwest coast of Italy. Another town in that area is now a Santa Cruz sister city - Sestri Levante.

Not all early Santa Cruz Italians were fishermen, however. The first Italian in Santa Cruz, and probably first anywhere in California, was Nicolas Dodero. The Rancho Tres Ojos de Agua Wikipedia article has more on Dodero:

"Nicolas Dodero (1804-1866) was an Italian sailor who left the Maria Ester at San Francisco in 1827. He was living in the Pueblo of San José in 1829, and married Josefa Patricia Higuera (1810-1883) at Mission Santa Clara in 1832. Naturalized at the Villa de Branciforte in 1840, Dodero was granted the 1,300 varas square Rancho Tres Ojos de Agua in 1844. There he built a grist mill on the creek formed by three springs from limestone formations on the hill above. Below the mill, the perennial creeks from these springs were the original water supply for Mission Santa Cruz. Dodero died in 1866; he and his wife are buried at Holy Cross cemetery in Santa Cruz."

Tres Ojos de Agua was among the smallest rancho grants in Santa Cruz County, but one of the most important, due to the presence of those life-giving springs. Locals with a nose for obscure streets may know of Dodero Lane on the Westside. I've been unable to verify the location of the grist mill, and suspect that the story may have become confused with the later Majors mill.

Trescony farm (Elliott).png

Up the coast, several Italian-speaking Swiss families settled into the dairy business in the Davenport area. Pio Scaroni (1868) and Ambrogio Gianone (1869) were two of the earliest arrivals. You can still find Scaroni Road angling off from Hwy 1, but an old-time Swanton local might be needed to point out Gianone Hill. Much of the former Coast Dairies land (which includes the old Scaroni and Gianone farms) has recently been acquired by the state of California for public use. Elliott's 1879 Santa Cruz County Illustrations includes an article on north coast dairies, by dairyman L. K. Baldwin

An original source of inspiration here was the "names on the signs". Street names can be a rich source of local history connections. One such is Trescony Street, off of Mission Street. The name commemorates an Italian immigrant named Alberto Trescony, who moved to Santa Cruz in the 1870s (in a UC Davis oral history interview, son Julius says it was 1876), and remained for several years before returning to Monterey County, where he died in 1892 (while staying at a hotel in Salinas). Clark (Santa Cruz County Place Names) mentions that Trescony lived in Monterey as early as 1841.

It appears that Alberto Trescony's small farm/estate on the Westside (which was still rural in those days) was perhaps originally intended at least partially as a semi-retirement move. The drawing shown above of the Trescony place (from Elliott's 1879 Santa Cruz County Illustrations) shows what looks like an enclosed garden/orchard, so it's fitting that some of the estate is now a community garden at Trescony Park. Either by design or because of changed circumstances, much of the Trescony Santa Cruz land was soon subdivided. Sentinel real estate transaction notices of the 1880s and 90s contain numerous references to "Trescony's Addition" or "Trescony Building Lots".

2018-06-08 Trescony (600x800).jpg

There's a short bio of Trescony on the Monterey County Historical Society site. He had quite an extensive career in the Monterey-Salinas-Salinas Valley area, including ownership of Rancho San Lucas, and later other lands in the same area - the upper end of the Salinas Valley. Today, there's a turnoff from Hwy 101 to the small town of San Lucas. In 1891, Trescony donated land for a cemetery in San Lucas, where he was buried the next year. His monument in that cemetery is shown at right.

Beginning in the 1860s, another group of Italian immigrant farmers settled north of downtown Santa Cruz along the San Lorenzo River, in what became known as the Italian Gardens neighborhood. Small farms there grew produce and wine grapes.


  • Bancroft, H. H., Oak, H. L., Nemos, W., & Victor, F. F. (1890). History of California. San Francisco: History Co.
  • Local author Geoffrey Dunn is a Stagnaro descendent, and has written about his family and other Santa Cruz Italians.
  • (see the Wikipedia article for other sources)

Next: History Pages: 46 - Santa Cruz gets an Octagon: downtown in the early 1880s