Beautified Staircase to Santa Cruz Mission Now Open

For its 25th birthday, Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park got a tile mosaic mural and a reopened staircase to the heart of downtown.

Story by Traci Hukill; photos by David DePasquale

June 9, 2016—It took two years of planning and 232 volunteers putting in more than 3,000 hours of loving labor, but the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park—once threatened by closure and for years unknown even to longtime locals—now has a beautiful gateway to downtown Santa Cruz.

A brilliant tile mosaic mural along Mission Street announces the park's presence and follows a staircase up the bluff to the 192-year-old Mission Adobe, the last remaining building from the original Mission complex. The mural, depicting the adobe and designed by Mission Hill Middle School students Flora Chatwin and Kathrine Tkoch as part of a contest sponsored by Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, was completed two weeks ago. At a June 8 dedication ceremony at the park, speakers praised the project's innovative and participatory qualities.

"[Last week] I happened to see a young family obviously seeing the mural for the first time, and I was struck by the wonderment and awe I saw, especially in the youngster's face," said Chris Spohrer, Santa Cruz district services manager for California State Parks. "It reminded me of the connection I see people make when they see the natural beauty of our state parks. In this case the connection is made through artwork—and participatory artwork.

"It's creating relevancy to the public for state parks, and that is a huge part of what we do."

The project was spearheaded by Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks as part of the park's 25th anniversary celebration, marked this summer with events and lectures. Friends took over management of day-to-day operations at the park in 2012, after budget shortfalls threatened the closure of it and some 70 other state parks. By leveraging public and private donations with grants, the nonprofit group has not only kept the park open but held music events, movies and art openings there.

"In 2012 this park nearly closed," said Bonny Hawley, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. "Now it's become a really vibrant center for events."

The mural project was supported by the city of Santa Cruz and the Arts Council of Santa Cruz County. While volunteers assembled parts of the mural in situ under the direction of artist Kathleen Crocetti, other sections of the mural were completed by students working at schools throughout Santa Cruz County and transported by Friends staffers back to the staircase for assembly.

The staircase, designed by Pacific Garden Mall architect Roy Rydell and built in 1976 by the Santa Cruz Rotary Club as part of a community effort to restore and build civic connection to the adobe, will be open during regular park hours (Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 10am-4pm; Sundays noon-4pm).