While the contributions of Chinese immigrants have shaped the historical, economic and social development of California and the Monterey Bay region, few monuments or memorials help us remember that story. Too many residents have forgotten or never knew this important history.
The last of multiple Chinatowns in Santa Cruz, wiped out forever during the December 1955 flood, was located near the river where the Galleria currently stands. Santa Cruzan’s refer to the pedestrian bridge spanning the river where the city’s final Chinatown once stood as the bridge across from the Trader Joe’s parking lot. It lacked a name, failing to honor the important history of its location.
That’s all about to change. On October 8, Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to approve the renaming of the pedestrian bridge that crosses the San Lorenzo River where this final Chinatown once stood as the “Chinatown Bridge.”
Along with the re-naming, the Council approved the installation of a new public art piece, consisting of a non-traditional Chinese-style gate with a mosaic-tiled water dragon, to be constructed at the west end of the bridge spanning the river where this last Chinatown stood. The art piece will beautify the Santa Cruz Riverwalk, draw attention to the renamed bridge and educate and inspire passers-by with the story of Santa Cruz’s diverse history.
The project is led by the Coastal Watershed Council (CWC), who views the re-naming and the public art piece as a key step in the physical transformation of the lower San Lorenzo River and Santa Cruz Riverwalk into a vibrant community space where Santa Cruzan’s can connect to the city’s cultural and natural resources.
CWC is working with local artists Kathleen Crocetti and Tom Ralston and Santa Cruz philanthropist George Ow, Jr., to develop the public art to commemorate Chinatown.
Kathleen Crocetti’s mosaics can be seen adorning the Santa Cruz Riverwalk, from the large-scale river depictions at the Tannery Arts Center to the student-installed mosaics along the Riverwalk path, among other places in town.
Tom Ralston created a 17-foot Chinese memorial gate, installed at Evergreen Cemetery in 2014 to honor Santa Cruz’s early Chinese immigrants–fishermen, railroad workers, servants and farm laborers. The gate, like the Chinatown Bridge public art piece, was supported by former Chinatown resident George Ow Jr.
Mr. Ow lived in the Chinatown along the San Lorenzo River as a young boy. George and the entire Ow family are a link to this history and have kept this history alive by supporting this project highlighting, honoring and chronicling local Chinatowns.
They also supported prior works by authors, photographers and historians to document and share the story of Chinatown through several books on Santa Cruz and regional Chinese history.
The Coastal Watershed Council, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in 1995 in response to the declining health of watersheds connected to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. CWC’s mission is to preserve and protect coastal watersheds through community stewardship, education and monitoring.
Over the past 24 years, CWC has trained thousands of volunteers and educated thousands of students to monitor water quality, enhance habitat and preserve and protect the natural resources along California’s Central Coast. Today, CWC uses this expertise to help to empower youth and adults to revitalize the San Lorenzo River.
CWC invites the community to get involved today by calling (831) 464-9200 or visiting the CWC website at www.coastal-watershed.org.