History Pages: 56 - The Big Rebuild of 1894
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Following the disastrous fire of April 14, 1894, downtown Santa Cruz property owners wasted little time before starting to rebuild. Within a year, the Pacific-Front-Cooper triangle had a brand-new set of stone and/or brick-faced buildings. In addition, a new courthouse arose across Front Street, and a new (and last) Chinatown was created on a newly-laid-out street called Bellevue Place (later renamed China Lane). Chinatown was erased by the December 1955 flood and the following redevelopment, but all of the post-fire commercial buildings survived until they all were damaged-then-demolished after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The prominent northeast corner of Pacific and Cooper got the new Santa Cruz County Bank building (right), replacing Mike Leonard's saloon. The top-right photo shows the original version of the building. Later remodels changed the corner entrance, and expanded the facade to the left along Pacific. The buildings seen to either side of the bank were also newly built. On the left is a narrow building named "The Gem", and farther to the left a small slice of the Staffler building can be seen. Both of those buildings were later absorbed by the expanding bank building. To the left of the Staffler was the rebuilt Hotaling hotel which later became the St. George. A photo of the St. George can seen on the previous History Page.
To the right of the bank on Cooper Street were a matched pair of buildings owned by Staffler and F. A. Hihn. Out of frame to the right is the 1894 Leonard Building, owned by the same Mike Leonard whose saloon was replaced by the bank. Leonard's newer building survived the 1989 earthquake and remains today at the corner of Cooper and Front.
The lower-right photo is of the same corner, taken from the same direction, right after the fire. At far right, it can be seen that some of the rubble across Front Street (probably from Chinatown buildings) is still smoking. The hollowed-out brick building in the center of the photo faced Front Street, and is noted on the 1892 Sanborn Map as "Female Boarding". Later writers suspected that the building was as least partly a "house of ill repute".
Across Cooper Street from the bank, a new larger courthouse replaced both the previous courthouse and the Ely Block. The photo below-left shows the building before the 1906 earthquake destroyed the upper section of the tower. The 1882 Hall of Records (Octagon), which survived the fire (and remains today), can be seen at far left. The decision to build the courthouse with a full basement for records storage (the little Octagon had filled up) proved unwise when the 1955 flood left that level entirely underwater. To save the waterlogged paper records, documents had to be separated so that individual sheets could be air-dried.
- A Legal History of Santa Cruz County (2006 book)
- The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture (4th ed. 2023) (descriptions of these buildings in Chapter Five: Downtown)
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