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Online History Journal

Mon, Aug 20, 2018

An Alternative History of Santa Cruz County

By Frank Perry

This article is part of the MAH's Online History Journal, a collection of original research on local history. Dive deep into Santa Cruz County history in this ever-growing forum and start curating your own.

Imagine a 260-foot-high dam across the Soquel Valley, a submarine port at Santa Cruz, a 13-story apartment building on the beach at Capitola, or a giant nuclear power plant near Davenport. These are just a few of many projects that were proposed for our town, but never built.


Santa Cruz County history is littered with such unrealized plans as those listed above, though most are not so dramatic. Had even a few of the major ones come to fruition, our little patch of paradise on the north shore of Monterey Bay would be very different from the place we now know. In this alternate history, there would be more heavy industry, dams, freeways, railroad lines, and housing subdivisions. There would be entire towns that do not exist today. In some respects, what didn’t happen is just as important as what did.

In recent decades, the history of failed plans has increasingly become a subject for study by historians. In the fall of 2013, for example, the California Historical Society and the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) presented a five-venue exhibition titled, Unbuilt San Francisco: The View From Futures Past. According to exhibition curator John King, “Today’s urban landscape is shaped in profound ways by the buildings that never came to life, the plans that fell short.”

What didn’t come to pass nevertheless tells us how certain people envisioned the future. Such proposals frequently prompted not just decisionmakers but everyday citizens to seriously examine what kind of a future they wanted. In hindsight, some of the plans prompt chuckles, others horror. What were they thinking?

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Keep reading for a surprising account of what almost became part of the Santa Cruz County we know and love today.
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