Lime Kilns, Beer and Art in Santa Cruz

Through no particular foresight or planning on our part we recently stumbled onto some interesting discoveries in Santa Cruz, involving a few of our favorite topics—history and the natural landscape. It started when we went looking for the headwaters of a creek that had created a large, steep ravine near the house where we were staying during a short getaway. (So, throw hydrology into the mix and we were in geeky grrl heaven.)

Molly has posted about the watershed discoveries (see previous post). After roaming around looking for the headwaters of Moore Creek we returned to the house, switched on our laptops and began investigating what we could learn online about the reservoir and water tower we’d found adjacent to the arboretum, not far from the UC Santa Cruz campus. In the process we came across information about the lime quarries and kilns that formerly dotted north-western Santa Cruz County.

The largest was owned by industrialist Henry Cowell, who acquired the land in the late 19th century. The Cowell Lime Works quarried limestone, and produced lime and other limestone products. Lime was used in mortar, plaster and stucco and was essential for all the building that was going on in California, particularly San Francisco, at the time. They also manufactured barrels in which to store and ship the lime. Eventually Cowell’s vast estate passed to the S. H. Cowell Foundation which in turn sold part of the ranch to the University of California to build UC Santa Cruz. The university opened in 1965.

So there is an intertwining of the Cowell Lime Works legacy and the UC Santa Cruz campus, and our experience of the juxtaposition was interesting, if by interesting we mean a little odd.

There is a Cowell Lime Works Historic District, which according to the city’s website, encompasses “some 30 acres” at the entrance to UCSC. We found a brochure online for a self-guided tour of about 20 old buildings or other structures that made up the lime works on the UCSC campus. The odd part was that none of the people we talked to who were associated with or employed on the campus had any knowledge of the self-guided tour or the history of the buildings—some of which are being used by the university and appear quite well maintained. The Admissions Office is in what used to be the cook house, and the Women’s Center is temporarily occupying what used to be the granary, where seeds and grains were stored. The people in the information and parking kiosk knew nothing. The young woman who greeted us when we walked into the Women’s Center knew nothing. When Molly told her we were there for the tour, she seemed a little surprised but proceeded to give us an impromptu tour of their space and told us about the programs they offered. (I eventually had to drag Molly away so we could continue on our intended tour.)

The former granary, now the temporary home of the Women's Center.

The former granary, now the temporary home of the Women’s Center.

The former cook house, now the Admissions Office.

The former cook house, now the Admissions Office.

We checked out the old stone building that used to be the paymaster’s headquarters, a beautiful old barn, and the remains of the cooperage—which awaits further restoration—and one of the kilns, in addition to the cookhouse and granary. All these buildings, as well as some limestone outcroppings, are just inside the entrance to the university. The various sites were situated on both sides of the road with no cross walks so one had to dodge some fast-moving traffic to get back and forth. It was almost as if they don’t expect anyone to take the self-guided tour. Odd.

There was more to see but our stomachs were growling so we headed off for lunch and a beer at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery. They only offered one IPA but it was nice and bitter, just the way we like it.

Santa Cruz Moutain Brewery gets festive.

Santa Cruz Moutain Brewery gets festive.

We then took in the Museum of Art and History downtown. My favorite exhibit was the one that chronicled the history of the Santa Cruz area, from natives to surfers, including three Hawaiian princes who first introduced the sport of surfing to California. We learned about a painter neither of us had heard of, Henrietta Shore. She was a Canadian, born in Toronto in 1880, who lived primarily in Southern California. At one time she was quite well known and hung out with the likes of Edward Weston and Georgia O’Keeffe but her work fell out of favor and she died in poverty and obscurity in 1963. We walked a few blocks to the main post office where four of her murals grace the walls. They had been funded by the WPA and we thought they were quite impressive. She was influenced by Diego Rivera and worked with him for a time. The art features local laborers in the fields and fisheries and, yes, the lime quarries.


One of Henrietta Shore’s murals.

Museum of Art & History outdoor sculpture garden.

Museum of Art & History outdoor sculpture garden.

We’re looking forward to returning to Santa Cruz and making more discoveries as there is much more to explore.

Written by Holly Holbrook


2 thoughts on “Lime Kilns, Beer and Art in Santa Cruz

  1. This is amazing! I’m wondering if Evan, our recent UC Santa Cruz grandson grad, knows about all this? I will forward it to him and find out! Happy Thanksgiving. Love, Yvonne


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s