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[whitespace] Corner of Pacific and Cooper
Covello & Covello Historical Photo collection

Corner of Pacific and Cooper, April 1894: This was taken after the fire that destroyed all the wooden buildings on the block between Pacific and Front streets. They replaced the wooden buildings with brick-and-mortar construction, and many of those came down with the earthquakes that followed. The Leonard Building on Front and Cooper was built in 1894, but you can't see that corner from here.

Bruce Bratton

PERSPECTIVE ON THE DOWNTOWN PLAZA. I'm still confident even after a meeting that Mayor Beiers, Realtor Harriet Deck and I had with Louis Rittenhouse last week that Louis will become a willing seller and part of a planning group to decide what will go into the new downtown plaza. Louis said such things as "no deal," "you'll see my plans for the new building very shortly," "I'll still answer your phone calls," "the new building will look even better than my flatiron building," and he said re: future discussions, "anything's possible." We need to realize that in the past 30 years, Santa Cruz City and County have dealt with unwilling Realtors, unwilling developers and unwilling teacher investment groups. Despite those unwilling people, we've created Wilder Ranch State Park and Lighthouse Field, and we've stopped the Wingspread development, a nuclear power plant and plenty more.

When the people have come together and decided that what we want is more important than what the developers want, the people have won. We can do that again, because I'm convinced that the majority of the people who will benefit from a plaza at the corner of Pacific and Church streets outnumber the folks who want a five-story building there. This is the most visible, and will be the most used, piece of property in the county. Architect Hugh David Carter has made an absolutely stunning set of drawings of our proposed plaza, and our Downtown Plaza Committee just saw them Monday night for the first time. They show the location of the Downtown Host office, a great possible site for a second-floor restaurant with a view, a performing space and other revenue-producing ideas--you'll see the drawings soon.

The Downtown Plaza will be used, seen and appreciated by local residents every time we go downtown. Of course, our visitors will love it, too, but the plaza is the very heart of our community. This all may mean a vote; it could become a big issue in the next City Council campaign; it could mean some hardball restrictions on how much of that property could be used for commercial development. It could mean a lot of things, but right now it means we need to organize even more and get the City council to pay very close attention. Call 475-9172 to help create a plaza for our future generations--and us, too.

OPEN STUDIOS. You'll hear a lot about how great it is to tour our local artists studios the first three weekends in October. The artists bring out their most salable material and you get to see where and how they work. First, you buy the calendar catalog, and that's your ticket to the studios, as well as the maps of how to get there and little pictures of the works so you can decide if you want to see the real thing. There's a preview exhibit at the Santa Cruz Art League Sept. 25 to Oct. 17. What they forgot to tell you was that the studio pictured on the cover of the calendar is Phoebe Fisher's, or number 212 as we call her (you'll see why when you buy this year's catalog/guide). Call 688-5399 to find out more.

A PROPOSAL TO STOP DOWNTOWN DULLNESS. How about if every time a new structure, privately or publicly owned, is finished (including parking structures, public toilets, affordable housing, retail buildings, whatever) a plaque is attached in a prominent spot where everyone can see as long as the edifice exists all the names of the Santa Cruz City Council members who first approved the building and the names of the council members who were serving when the project was finished? I have never been able to find anyone who would take responsibility for any of the terribly boring, dull and drab new buildings we now have to live with in our downtown. I was going to call them ugly, but defining ugly is too difficult. Somebody, somewhere, had to approve the Redtree Building, somebody had to approve and know what the dull, boring and antiseptic University Town Center was going to look like at Cathcart and Pacific.

I've heard blame placed on Roma, the design group in San Francisco that the city of Santa Cruz pays to approve these designs. I've heard it stated many times that "Gee, we didn't have the budget to make it nice looking." I've always been under the impression that the architect's main challenge is to make a building nice looking and make it beautiful within any budget. If they can't do that, don't hire them! The parking structure on Locust Street is just as bad. I'm afraid to bet on what the Front and Soquel parking structure will look like. We need to make sure the proposed five-story building at Cathcart and Pacific where Gateway Books sits has some aesthetics to make up for the size. This isn't a new problem, as you know. Our Museum of Art and History building hasn't won many awards either. Maybe it did, but every new building gets some kind of award. We need awards from the people who have to live with those buildings. We can't entirely blame any City Council group for our creeping ugliness or terminal boredom because they change every couple of years. But maybe they could at least check out the plans before applying them.

OTHER MOVIES. Kevin Costner's For Love of the Game is a finely told Hollywood baseball movie. Just pretend you don't know how it turns out. Love Stinks stinks, as most critics have probably said by now. My Life So Far is an excellent film. It's a true story, the acting is perfect, the casting is perfect. Just sit through the goody-goody Hallmark Playhouse-type opening few minutes; it's worth it.

BORDERS AND VENGEANCE? Author, vocalist and string bass player Jim Houston told me about the article in Publisher's Weekly on Bookshop Santa Cruz (Sept. 13), and old friend and retired librarian Neil Barron sent me a copy the same day. The full-page article sez that Neal Coonerty and others believe that because Neal was vice president and secretary of the American Booksellers Association, which sued Borders last year, and because Neal was a supporter of the Capitola battle against Borders, opening down the street from Bookshop is "vengeance." The article did quote Borders as saying, "Santa Cruz's business district is clearly experiencing a renaissance." It goes on to say that there's a campaign afoot to have people hand out anti-Borders leaflets outside their front door during all business hours during the entire first year it's open. I'm anxious to see (if it opens) which authors will appear there for the "free in-store events." I can't imagine any local authors doing it, but anything's possible.

THE LEONARD BUILDING, PART THREE. Phil Reader is the reigning authority on all things Irish in Santa Cruz because he's working on a book with almost that same title. Phil sez Michael Leonard, who built the Leonard building, previously mentioned as Metro Santa Cruz's new home, was a "typical Irishman." He ran Leonard's Saloon on the corner of Cooper and Front before the fire (see photo above), and above the saloon were rooms where women stayed (tee hee). After the fire he built the present building, and the story continues from there.

ONE LAST THING ABOUT BORDERS. Jim Houston also told me that Borders lost $1 million in the first quarter of '99. He said that Amazon.com is losing millions per month. Borders is opening 50 new stores this year. The question is if Borders opens here and "competes" and closes some local bookstores, what's to stop Borders headquarters from closing the Santa Cruz store ... regardless of how successful it was? It happened to Crown Books here and it happened to McWhorter's after closing Poor Richard's (and after McWhorter's wiped out one of our finest murals). We just have to look ahead, that's all.


Bruce critiques films on KUSP-FM 88.9 every other Thursday at 12:50pm. Reach Bruce at bbratton@metcruz.com or call him at 457-9000 ext. 400.

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From the September 22-29, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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