The Mission Hill Historic District was established in 1975. It and the Downtown Neighborhood District to the south are also Santa Cruz Landmark Districts. The district is bounded roughly by the following streets: Mora, North Pacific, Chestnut, and Highway 1. The district contains approximately 75 buildings. The Mission Hill District was included on the National Register of Historic Places for the following reasons:
- It is the birthplace of Santa Cruz, the first permanent European settlement in Santa Cruz County;
- Until the gold rush, it was the religious, commercial, industrial, and agricultural center of the County.
- It was pre-eminent in the Spanish-Native American and Mexican periods and important during the American period of history.
It is important to note that the area of the mission complex was a prehistoric site of local Indian habitation some time prior to the construction of the mission. This part of the area has been given the California Sate Site Designation #Ca-Scr-114.
A list of important businesses and institutions that established themselves in the neighborhood in the three decades after statehood would include the following:
1849 Thomas Fullon’s hotel and saddelry building which was later purchased by the County and used as a school, courthouse and poor house
1850 Methodist Episcopal Church, first protestant church in Santa Cruz
1854 Jail building
1856 Mission Hill public school
1856 Holy Cross wooden church
1860 Temperance Hall, the early day community and social center
1860 James Leslie’s Store
1862 Sister’s of Charity Girl’s Academy
1872 Jackson Sylvar’s saloon
1884 Holy Cross brick church (present church)
The development of Mission Hill can be summarized as a gradual transition from the center of activity at the start of the Gold Rush to a predominantly residential district by the turn of the century. One the district’s greatest assets is its undisturbed character and central plaza park. The chief feature of the district is the 149 foot spire of Holy Cross Church seen above the lawns and trees of the former Mission quadrangle and also known as the upper plaza. It is this feature which lifts the district out of the ordinary, and creates an atmosphere of tranquility and timelessness.
The Neary Rodriguez Adobe at the eastern end of School Street was constructed between 1791-1833 in the Spanish Mission style. The current Holy Cross Church at 126 High Street was built in the Gothic Revival style during the 1885-1889 period. Design elements include a high masonry steeple and molded roof that enhance the building’s soaring verticality. Other details include brick buttresses, lancet windows and doors and a multifoil window over the entrance.
There are several houses along Sylvar, Mission and Green Streets which stand out for their large size and accomplished architecture. 207 Mission Street is a spectacular two-story Stick Villa with Stick-Eastlake ornament applied to Italian Villa form, constructed 1883-86. 217 Mission Street is a Colonial Revival/Queen Anne house. It was built in 1904-05 and designed by Edward Van Cleek for Louis Wessendorf, a German-born upholsterer. 222 Mission is a Gothic Revival style house built in 1870 with a unique decorative bargeboard design. 120 Green Street is a Spanish Colonial Revival style house constructed in 1922-24 and designed by William Weeks. 123 Green Street is a square-fronted, two-story Italianate style house with a low-hipped roof. This building started out as the first building for a protestant church in Santa Cruz, built in 1850 for the Methodists and originally located at the southeast corner of Green and Mission Streets. 134 Green Street is a Craftsman Bungalow built in 1915. 105 Sylvar Street is a two and one half story Eastlake house built in 1887 with an encircling veranda. 109 Sylvar Street was constructed by Francisco Alzina in 1850. It is a clapboarded saltbox, customarily referred to as the oldest frame house in the City. 125 Sylvar is a Prairie-Style Craftsman Bungalow built in 1915.