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June 27-July 3, 2007

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'The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: A Century by the Sea'

The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk: A Century by the Sea
(By the Santa Cruz Seaside Company; Ten Speed Press; 164 pages; $18.95 paper)

Once upon a time, you could make like the song and go "under the boardwalk" in Santa Cruz. That opportunity got boarded up a while ago, circa the mid-'70s, judging by the photo on page 135 of this fascinating collection of photographs about the famed beachfront amusement park. The story begins in the 19th century; in one evocative photo from 1889, a lone horse trolley clops alongside a nearly empty stretch of sand—but already in the distance, a steam-powered merry-go-round hints of things to come. After a blaze in 1906 destroyed the first casino, the Boardwalk as we know it (the one that just turned 100) sprung up. The text to this celebratory volume is boosterish (no mention of that pesky tidelands controversy), but the historical photographs, hand-colored postcards, posters and arcade-game signs make for priceless viewing. A Casino Grill menu features a fully clad bathing beauty riding a giant tuna. The covered Natatorium overflows with splash-happy swimmers (it could handle 2,500 bathers at a time). A miniature train steams along the Boardwalk in 1907. Another lost treasure, the 1911 Casa del Rey Hotel, with large, tropical gardens and a covered pedestrian bridge linking it to the Casino, lasted until the earthquake of 1989. Concessions, Miss California, the Sun Tan Special, visiting big bands (Benny Goodman, Kay Kyser's College of Musical Knowledge), the Cave Train and Autorama, the Giant Dipper roller-coaster—they all turn up in images redolent of better, or at least more carefree, times. For my money, nothing, however, beats the Slide for Life, in which the Mighty Bosco Patterson performed acrobatic stunts while zipping down a cable stretching from the Casino roof to the Pleasure Pier—nothing that is except the Fire Slide for Life, in which Patterson and other daredevils did the same trick at night and on fire! Those were the days.

Review by Michael S. Gant


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