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The 52-acre Downtown Neighborhood Historic District was established in 1979 by the City Council and placed on the National Register in 1989. The district is the oldest residential area in the City and contains an exceptional concentration of older homes that typify the City’s social and architectural diversity over the period of its early growth, from the 1860’s to the early 20th century. All major architectural styles that were adopted locally during these years can be found in the area. The area began to develop in the 1850’s when Santa Cruz was profiting from the gold rush. The neighborhood was also home to many of the community’s commercial and cultural leaders. Much of the area was laid out by businessman and developer Frederick A. Hihn and many of the elegant homes were built for his family members.

District homes illustrate succeeding trends of architectural popularity, both ambitious and humble examples of styles that were used locally from the 1860’s when the area was settled through the 1930’s when it was essentially built out. These styles include Salt-box, Greek-Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Stick, Eastlake, Queen Anne, Shingle-style, Colonial-Revival and Craftsman. The most notable 19th century style in Santa Cruz is the Eastlake, found in very simple cottages and large elaborate houses, often in combination with Stick style. Most of the residences were built of redwood, a local building resource.

The area is generally plotted on a grid pattern. Early maps indicate that in some instances streets have been pushed through to form new blocks. Front yard setbacks are generally shallower than those required today, but side yard setbacks appear to be about the same as today. When created, the district included 173 contributing buildings, 32 non-contributing buildings, and four vacant sites.

In addition to the historic continuity expressed in architectural styles and building materials, features that contribute to the districts’ integrity include original street widths and lots sixes, planning and street trees, street furniture (lamps, hitching posts, sidewalks, imprinted with date and contractor’s name), and a railroad track bisecting the area. Overall, the pedestrian scale of this neighborhood has remained unchanged. Architects whose work is found in the area include John H. Williams (Santa Cruz), C.W. Davis, Edward L. Van Cleek, the local firm of Damkroeger and Saunders, and W.H. Burrows.
Last updated: 10/21/2009 4:49:22 PM