Panorama 4: Steinegger Bird's Eye View of Santa Cruz, 1888-89

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This article is about the fourth of six Panoramic views of Santa Cruz, 1870-1907. For a table of contents, see History pages.

1888 online image.png

This hand-colored lithograph panorama is the third such "Birds Eye View" effort, following those published in 1870 and in 1877. The other earlier panoramic view was a more "photo-realistic" 1876 oil painting. This lithograph, published in 1889 from drawings made in 1888, and looking NNE from above Cliff (now West Cliff) Drive, was a collaborative effort. It’s not totally clear who did exactly what in the process, or what specific type of lithography was used, but we know at least some of the names and steps involved.

Our Researchers Anonymous colleague Stan Stevens studied the history of this work and deduced that the original artist was probably one E. F. Cook, employed by the publisher, A. J. Hatch & Co. Mr. Cook was presumably the one who visited Santa Cruz in 1888 to draw the scene, although some of the more obvious errors have led at least one local researcher to wonder whether anyone actually came here (more on that later).

Accomplished lithographer Henry Steinegger (1831-1917) then created the printing plate from the drawing. Steinegger’s signature appears in the picture, at lower left, but Cook apparently wasn’t important enough to get his name on the print.

1888-00 title.png

The title block tells us that lithographers Britton & Roy, based in San Francisco, did the printing and A. J. Hatch & Co. was the publisher. A copy of this work is in the collection of the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, and is published online through the Online Archive of California. The image at top is a screen grab of the fully-zoomable online image. It can be viewed at:

The lithograph was published in February, 1889, so the drawings for it were presumably done in the summer-fall of 1888. This “bird’s eye” view uses a slightly lower imaginary aerial viewpoint than the two earlier works of this type, and is from a point above West Cliff Drive rather than out over the bay. The clarity of line, level of detail and careful coloring also make this composition, at first glance, look more realistic than those earlier efforts.

Closer study, however, reveals a wide range of errors, both in perspective and in actual content. Some of them are difficult to explain, as we shall see. But the main interest here is in how this image captures Santa Cruz at a particular historical point in time, and how it shows changes since the previous panoramic image (1877).

In addition to the earlier images, the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of Santa Cruz are authoritative references for man-made features and their dates of existence. The detailed maps make it much easier to identify and corroborate street and building locations, and to identify features that are new from one map edition to the next. The 1888 and 1892 Santa Cruz editions are most useful as reference sources for this image.

1888-01 Lime warehouse.png

Many mid-and-background features are recognizable in this birds eye view, but few of them had changed since 1877. Also, the level of detail and accuracy of representation drops off rapidly with distance, so the focus here will be on the foreground areas near the waterfront.

Starting at lower left, we see a mounted couple riding away from the artist. They’re about to make a left turn from what is now West Cliff Drive to detour around a long, low warehouse building with a sign on top saying “Davis and Cowell Lime”. That detour follows today’s Cowell Street, Lighthouse Avenue and Bay Street. The venerable lime warehouse and the wharf below, both built between 1857 and 1870, are a constant in all of these panorama views, including the 1906 aerial photograph.

1888-02 man pushing tram car on Cowell wharf.png

Another question concerns that wharf - on the wharf itself, a man can be seen pushing a freight car running on rails. A horse, unhitched, waits nearby. The previous panoramic view (1877) also shows this rail tram system. In that view, however, the rails emerge directly from the lime warehouse onto the wharf, which agrees with written accounts. In this later view, the rails are not visible at the land end of the wharf, and the wharf does not appear to align with the warehouse door.

1888-03 Lynch House, top of Cowell wharf.png

Moving to the right from the lime warehouse, there’s the two-story Sedgewick Lynch house with a front gable and colonnaded porch. The house (which still exists) is recognizable, but not very accurately drawn, positioned or oriented (facing about 45 degrees too far to the south - toward the viewer).

1888-04 Sunshine Villa, RR warehouse.png

Moving right again, past the long, low Southern Pacific railroad freight warehouse and slightly up the side of Beach Hill, we come to Sunshine Villa. By 1888, the house had been expanded and remodeled into more-or-less the form it retains today.

1888-05 Sea Foam.png

Moving right again, and back down slightly toward the beach, there’s the Sea Foam Hotel. This hotel was just beginning construction in 1888, so the artist may not have seen it complete (later photos differ significantly). The building immediately to the left sports the name “Long Branch”. At lower left is the Southern Pacific Railroad freight depot, with a steam locomotive partly visible behind it. This building was later moved to where it still stands today in Depot Park.

1892-05a Sea Foam Hotel.png

The 1883 Sanborn map (page 4A) shows the S.P.R.R. depot and the Long Branch hotel (including saloon). The 1892 map (detail above) also shows the depot and hotel, but labeled simply as "Lodgings" and "Sal." (saloon) Also shown in 1892 is the newer Sea Foam Hotel, which must have been built between those two dates. In the lithograph, however, the two hotels are shown much closer together than the 50’ specified on the Sanborn map.

1890-01 - foot of Railroad Wharf, looking east.png

This photo looks east from the foot of the railroad wharf, past the Sea Foam Hotel, to the newer Sea Beach Hotel on the hill beyond. The horsecar (seen heading away from the camera) dates this photo to the years between the completion of the Sea Beach (see below) and electrification of the horsecar line in 1893. The Long Branch, if it still existed, was out-of-frame to the left.

1888-06 Bowman, Pacific.png

Moving straight up Beach Hill from the Sea Foam Hotel, there’s the Bowman house (1885), not drawn accurately but recognizable by the many gables. It was on 3rd Street, next door to the still-standing Golden Gate Villa, which was not built until 1891.

The 1888 view of the Bowman house was drawn prior to the construction of a large, round corner turret, added after 1891 in imitation of the one on Golden Gate Villa. Later photos show both residences with turrets.

Beyond the Bowman house, Pacific Avenue stretches straight away from the viewer, a gross distortion of perspective which caused the artist all kinds of problems trying to get the streets to end up in the right places as they neared the beach. A realistic perspective would have the viewer looking directly up Center Street rather than Pacific, but that would have had far less dramatic impact.

1888-07 Sea Beach Hotel.png

Back down to the Sea Foam Hotel and heading right, we come to the brand-new Sea Beach Hotel, but it looks very different from what we know was actually built. Why? A fellow researcher suggested that the artist didn’t actually visit Santa Cruz, and was working mainly from the older artistic works. Other inaccuracies suggest the same conclusion, strange as it may seem. But how, then, did the artist have any idea at all what the hotel looked like? Maybe he obtained a preliminary design sketch that was later altered considerably. Maybe he had a more accurate sketch but got the building’s orientation wrong. Maybe all he had was a verbal description from someone who saw the hotel – it’s a mystery.

1888-07a Sanborn 11a Sea Beach.png

Another possibility is that the hotel may not have been built yet – or was still under construction – when the artist visited in the fall of 1888. A story in the Santa Cruz Surf, on Sep. 20, 1887, noted that construction had begun, but the expanded hotel did not officially open until May 1890.

The 1888 Sanborn map shows only the older upper wing of the hotel, with a note “nearly finished”. The 1892 Sanborn map shows the final form of the greatly expanded structure, as seen in well-known later photographs.

1888-08 Baths, free museum.png

Moving on to the right, past the steam locomotive pulling a string of passenger cars, we get to the heart of 1888 Santa Cruz tourism – the Neptune (left) and Dolphin (right) bathhouses, with the “Free Museum” in between (no information yet on what might have been inside). Competition between these two establishments led to constant expansion and, if the crowds on the beach are accurately represented – they were very popular.

The evolution of the bathhouses can be seen by comparing the “birds eye” views from 1870, 1877 and 1888. In 1870, it was all empty beach except for a small shack near the river mouth and a safety cable extending out into the surf. The 1877 view shows the Dolphin and, by 1888, the neighboring Neptune and a full-blown beach scene. The latest depiction may have been enhanced for promotional purposes, but the trend is clear. See also SCPL historical photos SCM002 (Dolphin), 0443 (Neptune) and 0432 (Neptune and "Free Museum").

1888-09 Cut Bias Br, Riverside Hotel, SP train.png

One more scene deserves mention. Move back to the left, look beyond the train to the river, and Santa Cruz’ newest bridge can be seen. It was called the “Cut Bias” bridge because it crossed the San Lorenzo River at an angle. Beyond and to the left of the bridge, the Riverside Hotel can be seen, with its distinctive “Second Empire” style dormered-mansard roof.

The drawing doesn’t accurately show either the "bias" or the iron truss construction of the Cut Bias bridge, which can be seen in SCPL photo 0163. As with the Sea Beach Hotel, however, the new bridge may still have been in the planning stages or under construction when the artist saw it (or had it described to him?).


John L. Chase, The Sidewalk Companion to Santa Cruz Architecture (2005 book).
Stanley D. Stevens, Names on the Map (2020 book). Available as a free download from Lulu; includes more information about the lithograph, and a biography of Steinegger.