Panorama 2: Trousset oil painting, 1876

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For a table of contents, see History pages.

The Panoramic views of Santa Cruz, 1870-1907:

The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH) has a permanent exhibit room devoted to local history. One of my favorite items on display there is a large oil painting called "View of Santa Cruz", 1876, by Leon Trousset. The large painting is a panoramic (nearly 180 degree) view of Santa Cruz, looking west from the bluffs on the east side of the San Lorenzo River near its mouth (approximately at today’s corner of Buena Vista and Riverview, but Trousset’s view is now obstructed by houses). It’s a testament to the painter’s skill that, when viewing the painting, you don’t realize the field of view is so wide. It’s probably not possible to capture the same scene with a camera.

The first article in this series looked at a “bird’s eye view” of Santa Cruz from 1870. A lot happened in our town between 1870 and 1876, and you can see many of those changes by comparing the two pictures. After about 1877, new construction in town slowed down quite a bit until about 1884.

1876 Trousset detail 1.png

One prominent feature of the Trousset painting missing in the 1870 view is the Santa Cruz Railroad (1876), with its new trestle over the San Lorenzo River. It can be found at lower left in the painting.

Follow the railroad tracks along the beach and there are the first beachfront bathhouses, precursors of today’s Beach Boardwalk. Still farther along the beach, you’ll find one-two-three wharfs. The first is the Powder Company wharf; the middle one is the brand-new railroad wharf (1875). Above the Davis & Cowell wharf (farthest) is the big red-roofed lime warehouse. Mostly hidden by a vertical damage scar at far left is the 1869 lighthouse, which is out of frame left and so not shown in the 1870 view.

1876 Trousset detail 2.png

At the far right of the painting is Ocean View Avenue, which opened in 1871 atop the bluff. Prominent at street’s end is the Ocean Villa resort, which stood where Ocean View Park is today. Beyond Ocean Villa to the right is Martha Wilson’s 2 ½-story house, which still stands today (extensively remodeled in the late 1880s).

1876 Trousset detail 3.png

Beyond Ocean Villa to the left is Mission Hill. The distance makes details harder to pick out, but (right to left) the 1857 Holy Cross Church is recognizable, then the Sisters’ School. Both structures can be seen in greater detail in the 1870 lithograph but, to the left of the Sister’s School is the brand-new white, 3-story Mission Hill School with its tall cupola. That 1875 building replaced the original school shown in the 1870 view.

To the left of the school is the Methodist Church with its tall, pointy spire. Below and between those two is the 1866 County Courthouse with its cupola. To the left of the courthouse and new since the 1870 view is the Oddfellows Building (1873) with the mansard roof and the Town Clock on top. Below both of those structures is the Soquel Avenue covered bridge, which opened in 1874.

At far upper left, with the smokestack, is the Boston and Jones tannery, still apparently in operation. The building with a tall pyramidal steeple below the tannery is possibly the Unity Church on Walnut Avenue, just off Pacific.

1876 Trousset text detail.png

Caveats, if you go to see the painting at MAH and read the informative text "Looking for Clues" posted next to the painting, note that:

  • First, the Wilson house is not, and never was a "Mansard style building" (for more on mansards, and the mansard style in Santa Cruz, see History Pages: 31 – Paris on the San Lorenzo: Second Empire style).
  • Second, the Wilson house did not burn down in 1877. It's still standing on Ocean View Avenue, just as it does in Trousset's painting.

More about the painter, Leon Trousset: in the same year of 1876, he also created (from verbal descriptions only), the painting of Mission Santa Cruz that served as the basis for the scaled-down mission chapel replica that now stands on the east side of Mission Plaza (Trousset’s mission painting is on display there).The original chapel stood where Holy Cross Church is today.