A Walking Tour: Mission Hill — Santa Cruz, California

A Walking Tour: Mission Hill — Santa Cruz, California

Kimber Watson
Nov 11, 2010

Last year, around the same time of year, I took us on a walking tour of Asheville, North Carolina. Whether biking or walking, this is one of my favorite things to do when visiting a different place. A way to immerse oneself in the unfamiliar surroundings — fully taking in the sites, sounds, people, and smells at a much slower pace. For my walking tour on this trip, I'll be showing you some of the historic homes of Santa Cruz, California — Mission Hill to be exact.

Finding the best streets to explore this time around was quite easy. Our lovely B&B was situated in Mission Hill and had a wealth of information about this historic neighborhood and the houses that are found there. Located just uphill from downtown Santa Cruz, sits Mission Hill, the birthplace of Santa Cruz (established in 1791). The plaza, a sprawling rectangle of grass with a fountain and shade trees, sits in the center. Located on the east side of the plaza is a half-size replica of the Santa Cruz mission. On the north side is Holy Cross church and school. Walking to the south or west sides of the plaza, you'll find the grand Victorian homes — one of the only neighborhoods in Santa Cruz that retains its Victorian homes almost entirely intact today.

According to the National Register of Historic Places Inventory, "perhaps the greatest asset of the Mission Hill Area is its undisturbed character. Except for the construction of a few structures, the area is relatively unchanged from the early 1900's. Few cities in California have a mission district which is as unchanged. Architectural styles range from the Mission Era to the Colonial Revival. This variety is even more unique when you consider the relatively small area in which they are located."

  • 1 A Gothic Revival home built in 1867. The home has a lovely pediment window in the front gable and distinctive barge boards on all the eaves.
  • 2 A magnificent Stick Eastlake mansion built for Calvin W. Davis in 1883-86 and designed by his brother, Charles Wellington Davis. The three and a half story tower with tiny dormers in the mansard roof makes this home unusual. The interior ceilings are painted with trompe l'oeil designs. The gold exterior paint scheme was new in 2005.
  • 3 A 1895 Queen Anne home with unusual timbered detailing on the forward gable.
  • 4 Designed by Calvin Davis and J.S. McPheters in 1886, this vernacular style home was built as the parsonage for the Methodist Church that was once next door.
  • 5 A Queen Anne Victorian with Colonial Revival touches designed by Edward Van Cleek in 1904. This house sits on the site of the original First Methodist Church building. That structure was moved one block away and was converted into a home that still stands (shown in photo 6).
  • 6 This Victorian building began life in 1850 as the Methodist Episcopal Church up on Mission Street. In 1863 the church built a new building. One year later this building was purchased and moved to its present site on Green Street. On the corner of Green St. and Mission St. you'll find a California State historical plaque marking the original site of this early church building.
  • 7 Located on the corner of Sylvar and Mission St, this 1887 Stick Eastlake home has a two story veranda that was added to the home around 1907. Built for Henry Wiley for $5,000, Wiley lived in the home until 1926. In the 1940's and 50's the Wiley House was a convent for nuns from the Holy Cross School up the block.

If you enjoy Victorian era homes and find yourself in Santa Cruz, I highly recommending taking in the streets of Mission Hill. To further expand your tour, you might also consider seeing the historic homes of Walnut Avenue downtown.

Images: Kimberly Watson

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