New book by UC Santa Cruz librarians captures visual history of Santa Cruz

The town of Santa Cruz has a legacy that goes far beyond its modest population and limited geographical area. Since its earliest days, Santa Cruz has drawn countless tourists, entrepreneurs, and visionaries to spend time at the beach, the Boardwalk, or their family cabin in the woods.

A new book by Sheila O'Hare and Irene Berry--both librarians at McHenry Library at the University of California, Santa Cruz--captures a visual history of this quintessential California resort town, utilizing more than 200 photographs from the University Library's Special Collections.

Published by Arcadia as part of its Images in America series, Santa Cruz, California, features a variety of rarely seen images that begin in 1860 and end with the tourist trade of the late 20th century.

"People tend to use the same images of Santa Cruz all the time," Berry noted. "I knew the collection at the UCSC library very well, and I knew there were photos that had never been used before. We even had collections of negatives that hadn't been developed."

The book includes photographs of the city's classic seaside amusement park, along with images of early silent-movie making, therapeutic baths and sanitariums, earthquakes and floods, the building of infamous Highway 17, and the early era of tourism. The cover is a shot of a 1950s crowded beach scene below the Boardwalk that has never been commercially reproduced.

"There's also a very interesting photo from the early '30s that was taken at the corner of Soquel and Pacific downtown--where the Gap store is now," Berry said. "It's an image of a street musician with a dancing dog. The Del Mar Theater is in the background and you have men in hats and women in cloth coats. Except for the clothing, it looks like it could have been taken this morning, but it was really from a different era. I wanted to show what it said about the town, that nothing changes really."

The authors did a great deal of research for the project, cross-referencing photographs with issues of old newspapers including the Santa Cruz Surf and the Sentinel. But they didn't shy away from the grittier aspects of the city.

"We wanted to present a view of Santa Cruz that is affectionate, but not smarmy," O'Hare explained. "We didn't want to whitewash the town, so we included material about crime, controversial urban-planning issues, and eccentric characters that lived here. Some of my favorite photos are from the mug books--the arrest records of Santa Cruz. They depict people you don't normally find in the traditional record. It's unusual, but it makes the book more historically accurate."

Both O'Hare and Berry agreed that Santa Cruz was an ideal subject for a book because it has such a varied past and UCSC has such an extensive collection of photos.

"Santa Cruz is very important because it has been the destination of so many people from so many places around the state," Berry noted. "People have a sense of ownership about Santa Cruz because of their fond memories of the area. Its economy is driven by these people."

O'Hare stressed that the book contains enough varied information to appeal to both visitors, locals, and those interested in California history. She added that it also reflects a wealth of material stored in Special Collections at UCSC that is relatively untapped.

"It's important to remember that these photographs in the library are available to the public," Berry said. "The materials we used in the book are from a working collection, not something that sits behind glass in a museum."