Francisco Alzina House today.
Interior of the Mission Replica.
Mission Plaza & Holy Cross Church.
Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park.
Mission Hill, Santa Cruz
Just uphill from Downtown Santa Cruz is the plaza and surrounding neighborhood called Mission Hill. This is our neighborhood. The plaza today is a lovely rectangle of grass with a central fountain and shade trees. On the east side of the plaza is a one third-size replica of the Santa Cruz mission. On the north side is Holy Cross church and school. On the south and west sides of the plaza are stately Victorian homes. Mission Hill is one of the only neighborhoods in Santa Cruz that retains its Victorian homes almost entirely intact today.
Early Homes. Of special interest on the west side of the plaza is the red salt-box home at 109 Sylvar St. This is the oldest wood framed home in Santa Cruz. It was built for Francisco Alzina in 1850. Another wood frame building was built on Mission Hill in 1850, the First Methodist Church. In the 1860's it was picked up and moved one block to 123 Green St (next door to us), where it sits today in its glory, one of the prettiest old homes in Santa Cruz.
The Origins of a Spanish Outpost. Spanish Captain Gaspar de Portolá led an overland expedition into Alta California (today's California) from the Spanish mission in San Diego in July 1769. He and his men were searching for the Monterey Bay. An earlier Spanish marine explorer, Vizcaino, recommended the Monterey Bay as a possible port for Spanish ships. In October they viewed the Monterey Bay from the mouth of the Salinas river. The view did not match Vizcaino's glowing description of a perfect harbor, so they marched on. Still in search of the bay, the party moved north through present day Watsonville where they named the coast redwood tree: palo colorado. On October 18th they reached Santa Cruz and surveyed the surroundings from atop present day Mission Hill. The party pushed further north to San Jose and returned to San Diego believing they never saw the Monterey Bay.
The Orders From Spain. On October 31st, 1791 an order was signed to establish a Spanish mission at Santa Cruz (Holy Cross in English). Is it any wonder that today the biggest holiday of the year in Santa Cruz is Halloween? Missions had been established at Soledad, Santa Clara, Carmel, San Francisco, and Monterey. The mission at Santa Cruz was designed to protect Spanish-held Alta California from potential expedition forces from Russia who founded a settlement at Kodiak Island, Alaska in 1784.
The Start. In September of 1791 the Spanish priests assigned to Santa Cruz pitched their tent on Mission Hill and with donated animals and supplies from the nearby missions began building the Santa Cruz mission on the banks of the San Lorenzo river below Mission Hill (on River St. where ProBuild is today). Dedicated in 1792, it was built with adobe brick, redwood logs, thatch and rawhide. Before too long, the river swelled with winter rains and the mission was washed away. A second mission was built up on mission hill, in the location of today's Holy Cross church. A pair of earthquakes in 1840 and 1857 tore this structure apart and a new church was built along side the old adobe church.
The Decline of Spanish Influence. The new church built in 1858 was not an adobe. It was not designed in the mission style. It was a New England style wooden building. It served the Catholic community in Santa Cruz until the new church was built in 1889. The new brick gothic church is what stands today as Holy Cross Church. It is a traditional New England style church with a tall steeple that can be seen from just about anywhere in Santa Cruz. In the 1880's and 90's Victorian architecture filled in the lots around the plaza so that today it looks today much like a New England town square.
The Town Center Moves. Meanwhile, in the 1860's the commercial center of Santa Cruz moved off of mission hill and down onto the flood plain. Specifically, the intersection of Front, Pacific and Mission streets (in front of the current post office) became the central plaza of the new downtown.
Today's Mission Replica. On the east side of the Mission Hill plaza stands a handsome one third-size replica of the original adobe mission built on the hill. This is what most people refer to as the original Santa Cruz mission. It was built in 1931 based on the only painting that exists of the old building. Sounds good until we realize that the painting was made many years after the building was destroyed by a traveling artist who never actually saw the building he painted. Although the best artifacts and ceremonial pieces from the Santa Cruz Mission went to the Carmel and San Francisco Missions, the mission replica today does have artifacts on display and a lovely courtyard out back.
The Real Historic Mission Building. On the east side of the plaza, at the end of School Street we find the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. Here one of the original 32 mission buildings survives intact. It is an adobe building designed as apartments for high status Indians associated with the mission. It was built in 1822 and its original 17 rooms were reserved as a reward for Indians who worked hard within the mission system. This building is the only surviving structure of its type in the state of California. In 1838 the building was sold in sections to local families and eventually the entire building was covered in wood siding which disguised it's adobe heritage. The final descendant of the original families died in 1983 at the age of 104. The State of California spent 8 years researching, excavating, and restoring the 7 rooms that remain today and opened the State Park in 1991. Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park is today the real find on Mission Hill and deserves a visit from anyone interested in the historic beginnings of Santa Cruz. Their phone number is 831-425-5849.