BY MAT WEIR
Summer might be winding down but that isn’t stopping the Midtown Fridays Block Parties. Thrown by Event Santa Cruz in collaboration with the city government, the weekly party celebrating local artists, food, music and the truly unique neighborhood in the middle of town has been the weekly outdoor go-to for locals looking for a good time.
However, as partiers get down with the festivities one controversy has cast a long shadow on the joyous event all summer long. It’s one mired in extreme beliefs, steadfast standards and can quickly tear local families, neighbors and friends apart in bouts of disbelief, shock, awe and anger.
That’s right. I’m talking about the “Is it Midtown, Seabright or the Eastside” controversy.
Every Santa Cruzan knows what I’m talking about because everyone has an opinion. Scour the local groups on social media and you’ll see just what I mean.
“Where the hell is Midtown?” one local sardonically asks.
“This ‘midtown’ isn’t a thing,” writes another. “It’s Seabright neighborhood.”
“It will ALWAYS be the eastside to us LOCALS” yet another persists.
However, maybe the Midtown name isn’t as new as some would like to believe.
“We always called it the midtown,” one poster admits, solidifying their localness with “You can call it Seabright Beach but it will always be Castle Beach to me.”
I might not have been born and raised in Santa Cruz, but after two decades of living here, I’d like to think I know a little something. For what it’s worth, I’ve always heard it referred to as the Seabright area, with the Eastside being more in the Live Oak area.
And Google Maps seems to back me up.
According to their site, Seabright is everything between the ocean and roughly around Mission Printers (halfway between Ocean Street and Ocean View Avenue) to the Walgreens on Soquel.
However, no matter what you call it, it seems the Midtown moniker is here to stay. The latest rebranding push dates back to 2014 according to a Santa Cruz Sentinel article by Jessica York. That’s the year the now defunct Midtown Cafe opened, heralding a new era for the name. Since then, Midtown Optometry, Midtown Montessori, Lulu’s Midtown, Midtown Guitars and Midtown Surf Shop & Coffee Bar have all proudly flown the name. There was even a website launched in 2017 by local graphic designer, Peter Fink.
“We at the city have definitely heard–and experienced–much of the controversy,” says City of Santa Cruz Economic Development Manager, Rebecca Unitt, half-jokingly. “We’re really following the businesses in that area.”
And the businesses, it seems, are manic for Midtown. As for the block parties, those can be traced to the Midtown Business Association (MBA), a close-knit group of roughly 30 neighborhood shops and restaurants that wanted a way to help promote their cozy area and each other. The group started at the end of 2019 and proved an essential and needed community for participating businesses as they weathered through the 2020 Covid-19 storm.
“As a business owner you could feel lost trying to navigate in this new world,” remembers Sonia McMoran. Since 2015 she has owned and operated the interior design shop, Home/Work, located in the historic Cayuga Vault building on the corner of Soquel & Cayuga.
“So it became a really great support system where we could talk to each other about health and safety protocols and the PPP loan.”
They have worked closely with Event Santa Cruz, the Economic Development Department and the Santa Cruz Police Department to transform the empty parking lot at 1111 Soquel Avenue into a thriving, fun-filled event.
A year and a half later, McMoran says it feels like “a new breath of life” has come through the neighborhood. And to her, that neighborhood is Midtown.
“To me, it’s confusing for tourists to understand ‘Seabright Neighborhood’ entails everything that’s happening on Soquel all the way down to the beach,” says the MBA member. “So a lot of us felt that this little section here, that’s walkable, let’s call it ‘Midtown.’”
Summer Duppen, owner and proprietor of Tomboy Clothing on Soquel, agrees.
“In the early ‘80s it was always Midtown” remembers Duppen, who has lived in the neighborhood since birth. “And it’s always been the heart of Santa Cruz.”
MIDTOWN FRIDAYS RUNS THROUGH OCTOBER 29. CLICK HERE FOR A FULL CALENDAR OF EVENT & VENDORS.
So what do you think? Is it Midtown, Seabright or the Eastside? Put your comments below.