The Awaswa and pre-contact period
Prior to the arrival of Spanish soldiers, missionaries and colonists in the late 18th century, Santa Cruz County was home to the Awaswas Natives. The misnomer Ohlone, while often used to describe the native people of the Santa Cruz area, is a generalized name for the many diverse groups that lived in the region stretching from San Francisco to the Monterey Bay. The diverse and numerous tribes of this region were also earlier referred to by the Spanish as Coastanoan. The term "Ohlone" has been used in place of "Costanoan" since the 1970s by some descendant groups and by most ethnographers, historians, and writers of popular literature. Awaswa was one of the eight Costanoan languages and made up a tribe of Native Americas living in Western Santa Cruz County, stretching slightly north of Davenport to Rio Del Mar. The Awaswas tribe was made up of no more than one thousand people and their language is now extinct. The only remnants of their spoken language are three local place names: Aptos, Soquel and Zayante; and the name of a native shellfish – abalone. The majority of Ohlone or Coastanoan tribes had no written language, and lived in small villages scattered around the Monterey Bay and San Francisco Bay regions. Within fifty years of the Spaniards' arrival, the Ohlone or Coastanoan culture and way of life had virtually disappeared in the Bay area. Today, two of the Coastanoan tribes, the Awaswa people 'missionized' in Santa Cruz and the Mutsun people 'missionized' at San Juan Bautista, have joined together as the Amah Mutsan Tribal Band in an effort to protect and maintain the authentic and distinct cultural history and practices.
The first European land exploration of Alta California, the Spanish Portolà expedition led by Gaspar de Portolà, passed through the area on its way north, still searching for the "port of Monterey" described by Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602. The party forded the river (probably near where the Soquel Avenue bridge now stands) and camped nearby on October 17, 1769. Franciscan missionary Juan Crespí, traveling with the expedition, noted in his diary that, "This river was named San Lorenzo." (for Saint Lawrence).
Next morning, the expedition set out again, and Crespi noted that, "Five hundred steps after we started we crossed a good arroyo of running water which descends from some high hills where it rises. It was named "El Arroyo de la Santisima Cruz, which translates literally as "The Stream of the Most Holy Cross").
In 1791, Father Fermín Lasuén continued the use of Crespi's name when he declared the establishment of La Misión de la Exaltación de la Santa Cruz (also known as Mission Santa Cruz) for the conversion of the Awaswas of Chatu-Mu and surrounding Ohlone villages. Santa Cruz was the twelfth mission to be founded in California. The creek, however, later lost the name, and is known today as Laurel Creek because it parallels Laurel Street. It is the main feeder of Neary Lagoon.
In 1797, Governor Diego de Borica, by order of the Viceroy of New Spain, Miguel de la Grúa Talamanca y Branciforte, marqués de Branciforte, established the Villa de Branciforte, a town named in honor of the Viceroy. One of only three civilian towns established in California during the Spanish colonial period (the other two became Los Angeles and San Jose), the Villa was located across the San Lorenzo River, less than a mile from the Mission. Its original main street is now North Branciforte Avenue. Villa de Branciforte later lost its civic status, and in 1905 the area was annexed into the City of Santa Cruz.
In the 1820s, newly independent Mexico assumed control of the area. Following the secularization of the Mission in 1834, the government attempted to rename the community that had grown up around the Mission, to Pueblo de Figueroa (after a former governor). The pueblo designation was never made official, however. The new name didn't catch on and Santa Cruz remained Santa Cruz. Mission farming and grazing lands, which once extended from the San Lorenzo River north along the coast to approximately today's Santa Cruz County border, were taken away and broken up into large land grants called ranchos. The grants were made by several different governors between 1834 and 1845 (see List of Ranchos of California).
Only two ranchos were totally within the boundaries of today's city of Santa Cruz. Rancho Potrero Y Rincon de San Pedro Regalado consisted mostly of flat, river-bottom pasture land north of Mission Hill ("potrero" translates as "pasture"). Rancho Tres Ojos de Agua was on the west side. Three other rancho boundaries later became part of the modern city limits: Rancho Refugio on the west. Rancho Carbonera on the north, and Rancho Arroyo del Rodeo on the east.
After secularization put most California land into private hands, immigrants from the United States began to arrive in steadily increasing numbers, especially in the 1840s when overland routes like the California Trail were opened. In 1848, following the Mexican–American War, Mexico ceded the territory of Alta California to the U.S. in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. California was the first portion of the territory to become a state, in 1850. Santa Cruz County was established the same year, and Santa Cruz was incorporated as a town in 1866.
The Santa Cruz mission, along with the other twenty-one Franciscan missions, was secularized within a few years after 1833. Even before secularization, the Indian population had declined, and the adobe buildings slowly began to fall apart from wet weather and lack of maintenance. The chapel tower fell in 1840 and the entire front wall was destroyed in the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake. In 1858 a "modern" church was built next door to the remaining rear portion of the chapel. That remainder was demolished in 1889, when today's Holy Cross church was built on the site, in a gothic style.
The Native People
The Native Americans of Santa Cruz are known to be the Ohlone people, who occupied the area from Monterey to San Francisco. The Spanish called them "Costanos". Costanos is derived from the Spanish word costa (coast). "Ohlone" is a more recent name for the same language group. The Costanos (anglicized as "Costanoan") people spoke eight known dialects, each defining a different tribelet area. During the mission era, the number of native people in the Bay Area, including Santa Cruz, began to rapidly decrease. Many natives brought to live at the missions (neophytes) died from European diseases to which they had no resistance. As the missions closed, most of the remaining neophytes living at the missions became laborers on the ranchos that inherited the former mission lands.
The ancestors of the Costanoan people are thought to have originally migrated to the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River system sometime around A.D. 500. With the arrival of the Spanish, the Costanoan people experienced a cultural disruption. During their time with the missions the Costanoan people experienced cultural shock, mistreatment and diseases brought from Europe. In 1834, 14 years after Mexico won its independence from Spain, the twenty-one California missions were secularized. The vast lands they were supposed to be holding in trust for converted natives went instead mostly to friends and relatives of the Alta California government (including some foreign immigrants who had married into Californio families). The remaining Costanoan/Ohlone mission residents struggled to survive, and many became servants or agricultural laborers or vaqueros (cowboys). Some small communities were formed after this which promoted old ways but in different locations from their homelands.
Early years of industry
Elihu Anthony (1818–1905) arrived in Santa Cruz, California in 1847 and opened many firsts for the city of Santa Cruz; including the first Protestant Church, the first blacksmith foundry, he built the first wharf and was the first postmaster. He developed the first commercial blocks in downtown Santa Cruz with his early blacksmith foundry located at the corner of Pacific Street and Mission Street. Anthony with Frederick A. Hihn, built the first private water supply network in the city and serving nearby communities. The establishment of railroad lines in Santa Cruz in 1876 until 1881 with the Santa Cruz Railroad, brought workers to Santa Cruz and provided market access for the city's timber, leather and limestone industries.
California Powder Works began manufacturing blasting powder for California mining when normal supplies were interrupted by the American Civil War. A powder mill built on the San Lorenzo River upstream of Santa Cruz used charcoal and powder kegs manufactured from local forests. The mill later manufactured smokeless powder used in United States Army Krag-Jørgensen rifles and guns of the United States Navy Pacific and Asiatic fleets. The mill was heavily damaged by a series of explosions on the evening of April 26, 1898. The explosions caused flaming debris to fall on Mission Hill and caused fires threatening the city. The powder works employed 150 to 275 men until operations ceased in 1914.
Santa Cruz was hard hit by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that killed three people. It was also hit by ocean surges caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, wherein the Santa Cruz Small Craft Harbor sustained an estimated $10 million of damage, with another $4 million of damage to docked boats there.
Founded in 1976, The Resource Center for Nonviolence is one of the oldest and most centrally located non-profit organizations committed to political and social activism in Santa Cruz County. The center is "dedicated to promoting the principles of nonviolent social change and enhancing the quality of life and human dignity". In 1998, the Santa Cruz community declared itself a Nuclear-free zone, and in 2003, the Santa Cruz City Council became the first City Council in the U.S. to denounce the Iraq War. The City Council of Santa Cruz also issued a proclamation opposing the USA PATRIOT Act.
As a center of liberal and progressive activism, Santa Cruz became one of the first cities to approve marijuana for medicinal uses. In 1992, residents overwhelmingly approved Measure A, which allowed for the medicinal uses of marijuana. Santa Cruz was home to the second above-ground medical marijuana club in the world when the Santa Cruz Cannabis Buyers Club opened its doors in April 1995. Santa Cruz also became one of the first cities in California to test the state's medical marijuana laws in court after the arrest of Valerie Corral and
Mike Corral, founders of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, by the DEA. The case was ruled in favor of the growers. In 2005, the Santa Cruz City Council established a city government office to assist residents with obtaining medical marijuana. On November 7, 2006, the voters of Santa Cruz passed Measure K by a vote of 64–36 percent. Measure K made adult non-medical cannabis offenses the lowest priority for law enforcement; this does not apply to cultivation, distribution, sale in public, sale to minors, or driving under the influence. The measure requests the Santa Cruz city clerk send letters annually to state and federal representatives advocating reform of cannabis laws.
Notable feminist activists Nikki Craft and Ann Simonton resided in Santa Cruz, where they formed the "Praying Mantis Brigade". This collection of activists organized the "Myth California Pageant" in the 1980s protesting "the objectification of women and the glorification of the beauty myth." Myth California was staged concurrently with the Miss California pageant held in Santa Cruz since the 1920s. The protests ran for nine years and eventually contributed to the Miss California pageant leaving Santa Cruz. Simonton founded and coordinates the non-profit group "Media Watch" which monitors and critiques media images of women and ethnic minorities. Beginning in 1983 Santa Cruz has hosted an annual Take Back the Night candlelight vigil, rally, march, and protest focusing on the issue of violence against women.
Riots occurred on May 1, 2010, sparked when leftist extremists threw jugs of paint at police cars and painted anarchist symbols and anti-capitalist phrases onto buildings. Property damages are estimated to top roughly $100,000. Prior to the riot, a May Day rally was being held for worker and immigrant rights. According to police, the rally was infiltrated by a local anarchists group, who used the rally as a cover for attacking corporate premises. The riots started when the protesters started vandalizing nearby buildings; by 10:30 pm, approximately, a dozen buildings were already vandalized. It then intensified when a group of about ten people began breaking storefront windows at approximately 11:05 pm. Several police officers were stationed downtown, but retreated after protesters threw stones at their vehicles. After calling in backup resources from around the county, law enforcement reached the riots at 11:23 pm, over 45 minutes after it began, due to a large number of phony 911 calls, which diverted the police force all around the county.
Occupy Santa Cruz formed as an autonomous organization in solidarity with the worldwide Occupy movement, a broad-based protest against perceived economic and social inequality. Occupy Santa Cruz was most active in the fall of 2011, and included over a thousand active members at its peak. The organization gained most of its publicity when members entered an empty bank building owned by Wells Fargo. and occupied the building for 72 hours. 11 criminal charges were filed, at least seven of which have since been dropped.