Sculpture of the civic auditorium of Santa Cruz


In 1938, the government gave Santa Cruz a PWA grant to build the civic auditorium and fire station, providing $ 2,000 at their request, to cover unforeseen expenses. From that point on, avoiding the extra costs became a roller coaster ride of tightening budgets, cutting projects, or finding other funding.

Mark Daniels was one of the architects of the 1939-40 San Francisco World’s Fair on Treasure Island, drawing inspiration from the arches of the Flower Court and the central carillon tower, seen to the right of the large arch. (Contributed)

The first challenge was to clear the land on Center and Front streets, owned by the city and four others. Two houses were moved, and then a barn and a metal shed were padlocked by homeowners who wanted a higher price, using the PWA loan deadline as a negotiating tactic, which nearly cost the city its grant. The barn and shed were demolished, but a later lawsuit awarded the owners three times what the city had paid.

On September 27, 1938, the water department carried out nine holes 10 feet deep covering the five lots. These showed mostly sandy loam, with water filtration at the 6 to 8 foot level on all but three holes. Based on this, it was determined that the auditorium should be built on 380 piles driven up to 30 feet to reach the bedrock. Mayor CD Hinkle said the additional $ 15,000 was an emergency expense, which was to be cut from the auditorium’s budget, but not from the fire department’s budget. [Sentinel Nov. 29, 1938].

The post contractor found tree and willow roots 18 feet below the surface, “the location that would have been the bed of the San Lorenzo River at one point.” [News Jan. 5, 1939]. The pile driving company found 296 piles sufficient, reducing the cost to $ 12,163.

It was the general impression with the touted 73-foot theater stage that this would be the best performance space in the county. It wasn’t until around the November bond election that someone noticed that the stage had been reduced from 29 feet to 20 feet deep. The original list of city essentials called for no less than eight conference rooms, 2,000 seats, a basketball court and a suitable conference stage. Since modifications to the fire station were prohibited, the architect assumed he had the discretion to reduce the scene to a “conference platform.” Two days after the election, the auditorium committee announced that it would revamp the design of the auditorium with the aim of “saving” several thousand dollars, with which to fund the creation of a deeper stage and. the purchase of additional lots for parking. Based on these assurances, the city council officially hired Mark Daniels as the architect of the auditorium on September 27, 1938.

Early revisions to the auditorium called for a 17-foot setback from the street, similar to the adjacent Town Hall and Carnegie Library. The horseshoe balcony proposed for the auditorium was replaced by an amphitheater, which increased the seating capacity to 2,300 and provided better visibility than the San José auditorium. The loss of the meeting rooms and bathrooms on the second floor eliminated two staircases.

An $ 8,000 adobe-like plaster finish to match City Hall was dropped in favor of painted concrete. But more cuts were needed to attract offers from union contractors. The $ 3,000 of fancy fixtures was ditched in favor of no-frills recessed lighting.

The pipe organ was replaced by a Hammond organ, replacing the pipe stands and organ screens with a panoramic mural of Monterey Bay. But the cup most people regretted was the $ 15,000 chime tower, a feature that had won over some undecided voters. Daniels said many lost items could be added later, leaving the organ stands as cupboards for later upgrades.

Union Jobs

The lowest of the eight bids was Miller Construction of San Francisco. PWA has announced that there will be no increase in the grant allocation in the event the project exceeds the estimate. Miller agreed to the October 26 completion deadline and a condition of paying $ 50 per day if construction continued after that date. The council set the going wages for the 30-man construction crew, from an eight-hour workday to 50 cents an hour for laborers and up to $ 1.50 an hour for craftsmen, and a minimum of $ 11 per day for steel workers, with 1½ for overtime and double for Sundays and holidays. [News Feb. 14, 1939 and March 20, 1939].

Because it was 100% unionized work, trucks were turned down unless they joined a union, which cost an initial feed of $ 31 plus monthly dues. Several owner-operated sand and earth companies were reluctant, as $ 31 was 20 days ‘pay at the upper union scale, or 62 days’ pay at the lower union scale. As a result, the project struggled to secure a supply of sand and soil. Subcontractor Irvin M. Smith of 9 Cayuga Street was awarded the largest local electricity contract to date, totaling $ 12,000. Additional local contracts went to the Santa Cruz Portland Cement Company of Davenport; Central Supply Company of Watsonville for aggregate, gravel and sand; and Santa Cruz Lumber Company.

By May, with the auditorium completed on the fifth floor, 450 cubic meters of concrete had been poured beyond what had been used in the pilings. Construction progressed slowly, which was normal for cement construction as it alternated between carpenters building wall molds, reinforcing bars and pouring concrete. Shortages of early materials, a late start, a week late for rain and late deliveries of steel had delayed all work.

Giles Miller said in a letter to city council he would not be responsible for delays due to natural disasters, fire or vandalism. Hinkle refused to accept these exemptions, which could be used as an excuse for rain and labor disputes. Hinkle said the building was the responsibility of the construction company, until it was delivered to the city in its complete form. [News May 15, 1939]. The only condition that would extend the completion date was a change of plans.

The last step

And it was the city that caused it. First, it was to include an additional conference room, resolved by building the base of the eliminated carillon tower at the corner of Church and Center streets. But the most drastic change involved an issue that was supposed to have been resolved in October; the size of the stage. The back wall of the stage and the halls flanking the stage had been sunk on May 26, and for the first time, many could see how small the stage was.

Santa Cruz’s performing arts groups protested to city council on June 12 that this “73-foot stage” had always been presented to them as large. But after being cut 20 feet deep, it was equivalent to 16 feet deep when the stage curtains are hung. The stage was essential equipment for the rental of the hall and should not have been the goat of budget cuts. Instead, the architect had preserved the capacity of the audience, but not the center of attention of the audience!

High school music teacher John Farrar said the high school group of 75 to 80 members had outgrown his school stage, but could not fit on the new Civic Auditorium stage. His group would need a stage at least 26 feet deep; and what about the long frustrated San Francisco Symphony plans to perform in Santa Cruz when adequate facilities existed to accommodate them? [News June 17, 1939].

Ms Phillip Bliss said: “The scene is…[smaller] and less usable than high school or new women’s club scenes. … Reputable performing authorities recommend a minimum depth of 30 feet. … The room in the wings is…[only] three feet on either side of the stage,… so narrow that there is hardly any room for props when changing stages, and no room for entrances for large groups. … The wing space should be half the size of the proscenium opening. [Sentinel June 13, 1939].

As a result, the city council held a meeting on June 16 to include local performing arts representatives and the architect. At that meeting, no words were spoken against a full-scale scene from the ever-opinionated Santa Cruz public, or generally cautious city officials. [News June 17, 1939]. The auditorium was intended to serve as a stage, arena and flat floor. The top-grossing venues at the time were the Miss California Pageant, conventions, boxing, and basketball, but theater groups also considered plays, concerts, and headliners to be big bookings. .

“I have never seen so much public interest in the cultural aspects of an auditorium,” said Daniel Fitskee, stage consultant to Mark Daniel.

HR Judah Jr. said they couldn’t afford to make construction errors because the auditorium was under construction, not for 1940, but for 1990 or 2015 when Santa Cruz was to have a population of 20,000 or more (actually 60,000 in 2010), and must accommodate reservations they never would have had in 1940. Others agreed that this was not a temporary structure, but ‘a quality legacy for the Santa Cruz Civic Center.

Mark Daniels said he could magnify the scene to 34 feet deep without affecting the fire station. Judah calculated that a scene of $ 12,000, plus $ 3,000 for the spotlights, light grid, and asbestos curtain, would require finding an additional $ 15,000. Finance Commissioner Fred Howe therefore drew up a third list of cuts, eliminating items like the organ, the $ 2,000 auditorium fresco, a covered orchestra pit, a projection / control booth above. of the lobby, flag poles on the roof and some of the folding chairs.

Roy Draiman complained that any deeper cut would eliminate door handles and window glass! In the event of a financial emergency, Judah recommended that city council request a modification grant of $ 15,000 from a reluctant PWA, to save the half-completed project. The council was hesitant, but Judah persuaded them that a professional step would increase the earning capacity of the auditorium, to pay off the city’s investment more quickly.

Ross Eric Gibson is a former history columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.


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