Panoramic views of Santa Cruz, 1870-1907

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1870 litho detail.png

An important period in the early growth and development of Santa Cruz can be seen through a series of “bird’s eye” and land-based panoramic views of the city, produced using a variety of media and methods. The earliest non-photographic pictorial panorama dates from 1870 - the last from ~1907. A few early ground-based photographs are also panoramic, notably those taken from School Street and from Highland Avenue (above High Street). The era of aerial panoramic photography began with the 1906 Lawrence aerial photo, achieved using kites.

The early Santa Cruz panoramic pictorial views:

The 1870 and 1877 “bird’s eye” views use an imaginary aerial viewpoint offshore from the main beach, and a considerably distorted perspective (especially through foreshortening) to achieve a more inclusive view. There are also some visual factual errors, but these two views are very useful for identifying structures and other features.

The 1888-89 Steinegger “bird’s eye” view uses a slightly lower imaginary aerial viewpoint above West Cliff Drive. It shows more detail than either of the other two lithographs, especially for nearer features, so at first it looks more realistic. There are, however, some major perspective and factual errors.

The ~1907 Swanton imaginary “bird’s eye” viewpoint is very high off Lighthouse Point, and shows Santa Cruz from Natural Bridges to the mouth of the San Lorenzo River. Online resolution is not very good, and the zoom viewer is lacking. Further study and, especially, finding a higher-resolution image is necessary.

The Trousset and Heath oil paintings are landscape views from positions on the ground, and seem to be fairy accurate. But, because they were made from locations on the ground and show distance perspective as seen by the human eye, much less detail is visible for all but the closest subjects.

Together, these panoramic views provide some of our best visual information on the growth and development of central Santa Cruz during that period.

The pictorial views are important historical resources for a number of reasons:

  • In some cases, they may be the only surviving pictorial views of long-vanished buildings and other structures – even of entire streets and neighborhoods.
  • In other cases, especially for the later pictorial views, there are corroborating photographs, but they generally do not show neighborhood context as well as the panoramic views.
  • Many natural and built features of Santa Cruz were constructed, altered, removed and/or replaced during the time span covered by the pictorial views. That evolution can be traced by comparing views composed in different years.
  • In a few cases, early structures, streets and physical features have survived, but in greatly altered form.
  • In nearly all cases, historical features’ surroundings have changed to such an extent that the original context cannot be easily imagined.

Before the 1870 pictorial view, the best graphical image we have is the 1854 U.S. Coast Survey Map (download here). Although only two dimensional, the map does show locations of streets and structures (but with very little identifying text). Santa Cruz changed greatly between 1854 and 1870, but the basic shape and main streets of Santa Cruz were already established at that time. The map received a few updates with a colored ink, but the newest structure shown appears to be the Gharky wharf, built in 1855. The 1867 lighthouse was not added.

After 1877, the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps make it easier to identify and corroborate street and building locations and, in some cases, names. Santa Cruz main library has all (1877-1950) Santa Cruz area maps on microfilm (reels 64 and 65). UCSC Library Digital Collections has many of the Sanborn maps digitized, but they are not currently (Sep. 2021) viewable online without a campus account.

One other important graphical resource from this time period should also be mentioned. W. W. Elliott's Santa Cruz County Calif. Illustrations (1879) contains a wealth of detailed sketches of houses, commercial buildings and other features. The 1879 timing of the publication is very helpful in corroborating and identifying features seen (or replaced, or not yet existing) in the 1870, 1876 and 1877 panoramic views. The 1997 indexed edition, published by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and history, is especially useful because of all the additional research material it contains.

Timeline of panoramic views and other graphical resources

  • 1854 - U.S. Coast Survey Map: extends inland about a mile; shows water bodies and landforms via topographic contours, roads & building outlines (most unlabeled)
  • 1860 – or shortly thereafter. Oldest photographic downtown panoramic view, looking south from bluff at end of School Street and showing the newly constructed Flatiron Building. Later photos from this spot, High Street and others (SCPL photos - 'Panoramas and Aerial Views--Santa Cruz City').
  • 1866 – First Santa Cruz street map, commissioned soon after first town charter: many streets have names changed, or are officially named for the first time; no buildings shown
  • 1870 – (August-November) First pictorial panoramic “bird’s eye” view (Gifford-Bancroft), with numbered key
  • 1876 – Trousset panorama painting, from east side of river mouth
  • 1877 – Second pictorial panoramic “bird’s eye” view (artist unknown)
  • 1877 – First Sanborn Fire Insurance maps of Santa Cruz, showing streets and buildings (some named)
  • 1879 - W. W. Elliott's Santa Cruz County Calif. Illustrations
  • 1888-89 – Third panoramic “bird’s eye” view (Steinegger, pub. 1889)
  • 1893 – Heath panorama painting, from Pasatiempo hill
  • 1906 – First aerial panoramic photograph (Lawrence)
  • 1907 - ~1907 - Swanton pictorial panoramic “bird’s eye” view (Britton & Rey lithographers, artist unknown)