History Pages: 47 - Santa Cruz in 1882: Water Street Gets a New Bridge
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The northernmost San Lorenzo River pedestrian bridge (right) was installed in 2010, and its distinctive arched shape has historical roots. An old black-and-white photo (left) shows two horse-drawn carriages passing each other while crossing a wooden bridge (SCPL #0018). The bridge has that same arched shape. I'd like to think that the shape chosen for the modern steel pedestrian bridge was a tip of the cap to the wooden Water Street Bridge of 1882.
On the wall above the stairwell inside the downtown SCPL hangs a large oil painting by Santa Cruz artist Frank Heath (detail below left). Painted in 1893, it shows a panoramic view of Santa Cruz from a hill to the north (probably from above Graham Hill Road, or maybe from a bit farther east in what is now Pasatiempo). From that vantage, one of the most recognizable built features is a bridge: the Water Street Bridge. (Hint: if you go to the library to see for yourself, take binoculars. The painting’s position over the stairwell prevents a close approach.)
In the same year that saw construction of the County Hall of Records, which we know today as the Octagon Building, the Water Street crossing of the San Lorenzo River finally got a bridge that could stand up to the winter floods.
The Watsonville road, today’s Soquel Avenue, had already enjoyed a sturdy covered truss bridge for eight years – its construction very similar to the Powder Works Bridge that can still be seen today at Paradise Park. That bridge can also be seen in the Heath painting, farther down the river. Meanwhile, although it had the first bridge across the San Lorenzo in 1868, Water Street had seen a succession of wharf-style, simple-span bridges built – only to be swept away by the rushing waters of the next rainy winter.
The new bridge of 1882 was different. Built in an engineered style called an arch truss, it was capable of a much longer central span than earlier versions, allowing the flood waters and their normal load of downed trees to pass safely under. Santa Cruz finally had three well-designed, long lasting bridges over the San Lorenzo (including the Santa Cruz Railroad trestle - four if you count the Powder Works), in distinctively different styles.
In 1908, a "three hinge" concrete bridge was built next to the venerable wooden arches, to carry a new electric tram line (left). In 1913-14, the wooden wagon bridge was demolished and replaced with another concrete span, matching the appearance of the tram bridge. In the 1960s, those parallel spans were replaced with a 4-lane bridge, as part of the widening of Water Street.
- Ross Eric Gibson, "Bridges Span Santa Cruz's Past", SCPL Local History Articles.
- Charles S. McCaleb, Surf, Sand & Streetcars (1977 book): A Mobile History of Santa Cruz, California.
- Panorama 5: Heath oil painting, 1893