Monday, March 18, 2013

A little history

Some of us have been trolling around to find out what it was like here before Schwan Lake was developed. Here's a thumbnail sketch by Santa Cruz history buff Phil Reader, originally posted here.


TO 1769.    For several thousands of years, the area now known as Live Oak was was a fertile resource area for a nomadic stone-age people called the Ohlone. The region between Arana Gulch and Soquel Creek was held by a tiny subgroup of the Ohlone which was later identified with the Awaswas Indians. They lived in primal splendor; stalking game across the grasslands and in the arroyos, fishing the rolling surf and trapping water fowl in the marshy lagoons that divided tablelands of ancient Live Oak. But the basic staple of their diet was the much prized acorn which sprouted from the squat, gnarled of Oak trees which dotted the landscape. These gentle natives answered only to the timeless nature of their sacred ways.

1769 to 1822. THE COLONIAL PERIOD.    On October 17, 1769, the first Europeans set foot in the Live Oak region, they were a group of explorers, priests and soldiers from the Spanish colony of New Spain in the central part of the Americas. Two members of this party kept diaries in which they mention an area to the east of the San Lorenzo River “in sight of the Sea” that was crisscrossed “steep gulches containing running water” and three “reed-lined” lagoons. In 1791, mission Santa Cruz was established on a bluff west of the San Lorenzo for the purpose of converting the Ohlone to christianity. Six years later, 1797, saw the creation of a pueblo or villa on the cliffs east of the river. It was populated by retired soldiers and poor settlers from New Spain. It was named Villa de Branciforte after the little known governor of New Spain. Using the European system of village settlement the Live Oak area became the “common lands” of Branciforte. Meaning, the settlers lived in adobe houses located in the villa, but farmed and ran their herds of cattle and horses in the commons. In 1822, New Spain revolted from the mother country and established itself as the modern country of Mexico. Suddenly California (or Alta California) became a remote, poverty stricken frontier province of Mexico. Much ignored by Mexico, it was left to survive on its own devices. As result there evolved a system of cattle ranching which was both unique and successful.

1823 to 1846. THE RANCHO PERIOD.     During this happy and idyllic era, the governors of Alta California parceled out huge sections of land to the settlers of Villa de Branciforte. Out of these land grants developed an aristocratic lifestyle where a “Don” and a “Dona” ruled over their domain from an adobe ranch house, staffed with Indian servants and were the coin of the realm was cattle and horses. Land ownership boundaries were vague and fences, unheard of. Cattle hides and tallow provided the means of barter for all the necessities of life that could not be generated on the rancho. Once or twice a year, the Don and his vaqueros held a rodeo, or roundup at which time all the horses and cattle were herded together for branding. It was a time of great fiesta where the Dons competed to excel each other in displaying their hospitality. Life for these “Californios” was full of leisure and the pursuit pleasure.

At this time, the Live Oak district was comprised of two ranchos owned by a pair of brothers, “Don” Alejandro Rodriguez and “Don” Francisco Rodriguez. In 1834, Governor Jose Figueroa granted the 1,500 acres of land between Soquel River and Rodeo Gulch to Francisco Rodriguez under the title of “Rancho Arroyo del Rodeo” and two years later, in 1836, Then Governor Juan Alvarado granted Alejandro Rodriguez, a sister rancho of 1,500 acres bearing the name “Los Esteros” because of the three large estuaries or salt-water lakes contained within it boundaries. (The three are currently known as Schwan Lake, Corcoran Lagoon and Wood’s Lagoon - now the Small Craft Harbor.) The grant ran from Rodeo Gulch on the east and Arana Gulch on the west. Both were bounded on the north by the Santa Cruz Mountains and the south by the Pacific Ocean. Together quite often these two large cattle ranches were call the “Rodriguez Ranchos” or the “Rodeo Ranchos.”
The later designation stems from the fact that during the rancho period, the yearly rodeos for the Villa De Branciforte were held in a natural arena which was located in a low laying area along Rodeo Creek. When Highway 1 was built the old rodeo grounds was covered with fill left over from construction. Portions of the old arena can still be seen deep in the gulch directly across the highway from the Drive-in theater.
Don Alejandro and his wife Dona Concepcion owned most of the land which now makes up the Live Oak district. They built their adobe ranch house along what is now Paul Sweet Road so that they could look out across their land holdings toward Monterey Bay. Alejandro later changed the name of his ranch to “Rancho Encinalito del Rodeo” which means the ranch of the little live oaks, it is from this rancho that the Live Oak district derives its name.

1846 to 1850. THE TRANSITION PERIOD. The tranquil existence of the Don’s and their people was short lived and the only inheritance they were able to leave their descendants was one of great change. During the 1840s, a few white trappers trickled over the Sierra Mountains in quest of beaver and otter pelts. Joining them were a numbers of sailors, tiring of life at sea, jumped ship at Monterey. These newcomers found their way into Branciforte and onto the ranchos. Most of them put down roots, became citizens of Mexico, married Californio women and were assimilated.
However the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 brought a different kind of white man into California - they were bent on change. They did not want to take part in the old ways, but they wanted to replace it with their own way of life. In time they were to prevail. Following the death of the Rodriguez brothers in the late 1840s, ownership of the land passed from Mexico into American hands. The era of the great ranchos drew to a close with the coming of statehood in 1850.

1850 to 1890. THE PIONEERS.     The new owners of Live Oak were strong young men who had trod across a continent or sailed around the Horn in search of fortune. Others had fled the evils of the old world leaving behind the lands of Ireland, Germany and Portugal. None of them found great wealth, but the all found a future for themselves and their children. Their names can be read on all of the maps. written across the faces of lagoons, beaches, hills and gulches. Their names adorn street signs, apartment complexes and businesses. Their legacy remains.
All were practiced farmers in the old country and brought their trade to America with them. The land was unspoiled and took easy to the plow producing decade after decade of fine harvests. During these years, the major crops were wheat, oats and barley. Neat rows of well-kept picket fences divided the quarter section farms. At first the built rude homes, some of adobe and others of rough-cut lumber, but before long, Victorian and Queen Anne style farm house began to appear near the fields.
These young farmers prospered and soon found themselves to be among the leading citizens of Santa Cruz. They took part in local politics, established a Farmer’s Club, held fairs and were early supporters of the Granger Movement.
In 1872, as their children reached the age for education, the built a small school house on the Kinsley Ranch and gave it the name Live Oak School, after the old Mexican land grant of Don Alejandro Rodriguez. The school has continuously remained at the site for the past 130 years. The Live Oak’s first teacher was Miss May Cooper who received $65 a month plus room and board for her services. The first class consisted of seven students ranging in age from six year old Charlie Kinsley to twenty-four year old Michael Conroy, a farm laborer and railroad worker.
Meanwhile, in 1874, a tourist complex named “Camp Capitola” was developed at the river mouth of the Soquel Creek. It was designed as a summer resort but quickly became a year-around settlement.

1890 to 1910. A TIME OF CHANGE.    The turn of the century quickly changed the face of Live Oak. Thirty years of large wheat crops harvests began to break down the nutrients in clay based soil of the region. By 1900, farming of specialty crops such as grains had given way to a more diverse a type of general farming. Crops of wheat consisted of only a small portion of the harvest. The production of fruit, vegetables, as well as cattle and horses became the major source of farm income.
But time was beginning to takes it toll on the old pioneer generation. Some of them died while others retired from farm life and moved into town. Their sons and daughters sold off the family holdings and followed their parents to the city. The break up of the large farms gave rise to two new “home industries” - the commercial marketing of poultry and bulbs.
Credit for the establishment of the poultry industry in Live Oak must go to a man with the unlikely name of Henry Henney. The Ohio born Civil War veteran came to Santa Cruz in 1897 and bought 1 1/2 acres of the corner of Capitola Road and Soquel Drive. He established the first commercial hatchery in the district and later helped establish the Santa Cruz Poultry Association which was for many years a guiding light in the growth of the industry. The association began to sponsor an annual egg-laying contest, the propose of which was to point the economic advantages of poultry production. It was quick in gaining a foothold in Live Oak.
The growth of commercial floriculture in the area was equally as swift. It began in the Del Mar district (17th Avenue and East Cliff Drive region.) when Colin McIsaac, William Currier and John Fritz set up nursery plots to raise a variety of bulbs. The area soon became famous for Callas, Narcissus, Freesias and Begonias. The bulb growers also organized to increase methods of production and distribution of their products.
Poultry and egg-buyers went from door to door in search of products while mail order catalogs distributed Live Oak bulbs across the nation. Slowly Live Oak expanded its economic basis and began to take on an identity of it’s own.

1910 to 1930. GROWTH.     As these two new industries grew they gave rise to a third set of circumstances that would profoundly effect the history of Live Oak for the next half century. Two young Santa Cruz realtors, Frank and David Wilson joined forces with the Santa Cruz Investment Company and purchased and subdivided the several of the old 19th century wheat farms. The tracts were commonly called the Wilson Brothers Poultry Tracts and there were six of them, over all. They were of a unique size and shape - being long a narrow lots normally containing 2 1/2 acres. Each “poultry unit” came complete with a two bedroom kit house, as well as a one or two large chicken coops. Another special feature was that they were already stocked with a flock of 500 to 1,000 hens and roosters.
During this period, countless new home sprung up all across the district, new roads were cut and water towers installed. Bridges were built across streams and gulches, and natural gas and electrical lines found their way into Live Oak.
The old 1872 school was enlarged and several new wings were added. Three new teachers were hired as the total number of students topped one hundred. Bus service to school was inaugurated as was a hot lunch program.
Related businesses were established to meet the needs of this growing population. Small “front room” Mom and Pop grocery markets could be found in each of the new housing tracts. The year 1920 saw the construction of a large feed mill on 17th Avenue at the railroad siding. It was initially built by the Santa Cruz Milling Company but was soon bought by a group of local farmers and renamed the Farmer’s Cooperative Exchange. “The Co-op” featured ever thing for the farmer from hay and oats to baby chicks to livestock. As well as every type of farm implement.
That same decade witnessed the establishment of a branch of the Farm Bureau’s Farm Center in Live Oak as well as the founding of the Live Oak Grange. The area was nationally recognized as one of the leading poultry districts in the United States.
At the same time, the floriculture industry was given a boost and local nurseries prospered as they developed and patented a large number of hybrid bulbs. Live Oak district flora was featured in every major agricultural journal and was sold worldwide.

1930 to 1950. THE DECLINE. The Great Depression hit Live Oak and hit it hard. Egg and poultry prices which had rose steadily during the 1920 suddenly plummeted and the price of feed skyrocketed.Many poultry men planted what little acreage they had in grain for use as feed. Some even dug up their lawns and planted them in wheat and oats.
To further complicate matters a double plague of Pullorum Disease and Coccidiosis swept through the chicken coops of Live Oak in 1931. Flocks were greatly thinned out and a number of poultry men were forced out of business or lost their land.
The bulb market was depressed my economic conditions at home and competition from european growers who began to flood the U.S. with their products. Many small vegetable and fruit farmers, who had shown a profit for many years, were found it necessary to consume all of their crops merely to feed their families.
Real estate sales ground to a halt as mortgage money became hard to find.
As the war approached the general economy began to loosen up and look brighter. One effect of these hard times was that it did bring the people closer together. This sense of local community spirit reached a high point during the late 1930s and early 1940s when the local grange sponsored a series of Live Oak CommunityFairs.
During the depression and war years, the number of students in the Live Oak school system climbed to an enrollment of 225. This growth necessitated the addition of further classrooms and staff. This era saw the hiring of three educators who would greatly impact the students of the district. Teachers Beulah Phillips and Phyllis Thomas and principal Frank Bricker. However this period of growth was nothing when compared to the onslaught of the arrival postwar the “Baby Boom.” Between 1945 and 1950 enrollment tripled soaring to well over 600 - requiring a staff of 30. The school board met this crisis by scrambling to fund additional classrooms. They even imported “quonset huts” from a nearby army base known as Fort McQuade.
The war years also saw a vast improvement in the services offered the residents of Live Oak. The water and sewage systems were installed and enlarged at this time. The old farm roads which crisscrossed the region being paved and most of the deep gulches and arroyos were filled in and culverted. And in 1946, a volunteer fire department was created.
During the depression and war years, the economic base of Live Oak was withering. Poultry was definitely on the decline as new marketing and distribution methods made this “home industry” with its small coops and flocks less profitable. Gone were the days when anyone with a plot of ground could grow Callas, Freesias, and other bulb stock for sale on the commercial market. No new industries were established to prop up the sagging economic base.
In 1946, the old tourist resort of Camp Capitola incorporated as a city and expanded its limits beyond the beach front and river areas.

1950 to 1970. EVOLUTION.     Live Oak was losing its image as a separate community and slowly beginning to evolve into a suburb of the city of Santa Cruz. Housing developments were replacing the 5 acre family farms and 2 1/2 acre Wilson Brothers poultry units which had once dominated the region. All but gone were the poultry farms and bulb gardens which once had been the life’s blood of old Live Oak. A new element was injected into the district with the advent of the mobile home park. A number of these retirement parks were built particularly in the Pleasure Point and 38th Avenue area.
But in the early 1950s long time residents formed the Live Oak Community Club with the express purpose of helping the area to retain its uniqueness as a semi-rural district. Among other activities they held fundraisers for the fire department, Boy Scouts, 4-H, etc. They also extensively discussed the possibility of incorporating into a “City of Live Oak.” It was a popular idea, but after funding a study, it was dropped because the expense of bringing much needed service into the area. At this point, the city of Santa Cruz expressed no desire to to incorporate the region either. So Live Oak remained an incorporated area of the county.
During this time period small shopping centers began to appear along Soquel Drive and on Portola Road. Three new grocery stores were built in the central portion on or near 17th Avenue. But real estate development moved slowly into the 1960s. One by one housing tracts and paved roads popped up across the district.
To meet the demands of a growing school age population the board of trustees of the Live Oak School District attempted to float a series of bond elections for the construction of a new campus. In 1958 after several failed attempts and much political
maneuvering a bond was passed and on May 30, 1959, the Del Mar campus was dedicated. Seven years later in 1966, a third campus was added when construction was completed on Green Acres Elementary School.

1970 to 2003. THE PRESENT.     In 1956, when Highway One was punched through the middle of Live Oak, Forty-first Avenue was just a narrow dusty country road that during the winter was all but impassable. More then anything else it was a boundary line that tied together a series of strawberry farms and bulb gardens. However, this was about to change during the 1970s.
At the northwest corner of 41st Avenue and Capitola Road was a large pasture for the old Moo Cow Dairy where “dry” cows were allowed to graze. It had been a part of the Brown’s Bulb ranch. But such businesses were beginning to die as the demographics of the area changed, leaving the land open to development. This cow pasture, beginning with the founding of a branch of the Bank of America, was to become the center of a huge regional shopping complex which became known locally as the Capitola Mall. This expansion served as a pilot for the total commercial and industrial growth of the 41st Avenue area.
Also during this period the Dominican Hospital and attendant medical facilities were constructed along Soquel Drive near the juncture of Highway one. Several industrial parks and office complexes were to tie 41st and Soquel together.
To parallel all of this, clusters of housing subdivisions sprang up across Live Oak. These included not only single family dwellings and duplexes but large apartment units. Suddenly Live Oak became a dumping ground for a strange mixture of uncontrolled development.
As always, much needed essential services lagged behind this soaring growth. But two events came into play to narrow the gap between services and growth. One occurred when the city of Capitola reached up and incorporated the tax rich 41st Avenue area and the other when Santa Cruz extended it boundaries to include 7th Avenue and the medical complex on Soquel Drive. Also the Live Oak School District added another campus in the 1990s with the construction of Shoreline School on 17th Avenue. Another strong community resource came into existence with the founding of the Live Oak Senior Center on Capitola Road across from the original site of the old Live Oak School. The old Live Oak Fire Department has joined with neighboring fire departments to form the Central County Fire Protection District - consisting of five fire houses.
At present the County of Santa Cruz is engaged in a full scale rejuvenation of the water and sewage system in the district to meet the current demands of the population. Sidewalks, curbs and gutters are finding their way along old country roads.

The rural flavor of old Live Oak was quickly lost to all of this growth as the millennium approached and passed. Disappearing from view are the old Wilson Brother’s Poultry tract homes with their long chicken coops, the bulb and strawberry fields as well as the stately houses once occupied by the early pioneer wheat farmers.

It is obvious that over the next few years the cities of Santa Cruz and Capitola will continue to nibble away at the boundaries of Live Oak. On the fateful day that their borders finally meet, Live Oak will cease to exist as a separate entity.
Gone forever will the pathways followed by the ancient Ohlones, the rolling grasslands that saw the large herds of cattle of the Spanish Dons and the flowing fields of wheat tended by the emigrant Irish and German farmers. Also vanished will be the flowering bulb gardens and neat poultry coops of the displaced sons and daughters of a thousand midwest farmers. All of these hardy Live Oak Pioneers, with their special bond to the soil, well be relegated to the fanciful world of History.

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