BY MAT WEIR
(This article was posted Aug 21, 2021) – Don’t miss Midtown Fridays this year! Starts June 3 and runs through September 30.
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 FROM JUNE 30 to September 30. 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.
I grew up in Santa Cruz and lived there for 67 years, having just moved to Mendocino. When I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, it was always called the “Eastside”. The bar on Soquel, now called 1007 was ” The Eastside”. Seabright was a community down at the end of Seabright below Murray St.. Somehow the entire Eastside of town began to be called “Seabright”. Seabright Beach was called “Castle Beach” by us kids, after the castle like structure that stood there for many years.
I was raised in SC since 1976 and the Seabright neighborhood (from Soquel to the beach, yes, Castles) has always been referred to as Midtown. We’d meet in the old parking area at Days Market to find out where the parties were on the weekends. Had to show up in person since cellphones didn’t exist, lol. We’d pile into the back of our friend’s trucks and head out on the town. Fun times 😃
First, I would suggest that you survey some Live Oak residents in order to determine whether they want to be known as Eastside Santa Cruz. Doesn’t that seem a little presumptuous and even arrogant on our parts, to label them so?
Who gains by calling eastside Santa Cruz “midtown”? Follow the money. Ready?
Calling us midtown obscures the parallels we share with the west side — we each have a high school and junior high, we each have vintage neighborhoods near the coast with large lots (ours was laid out in 1880), they have New Leaf, we have Whole Foods (and Staff of Life), they have Avanti, we have La Posta, etc etc.
And when these parallels are obscured, then maybe people won’t ask why the two sides of town have been treated so differently by the city planning processes. Why are 3 of the 4 “corridor” zones on the eastside? Why is so much of Seabright zoned for intense infill and density, while west side neighborhoods of the same vintage would never allow a duplex to be built next door?
If the Seabright area really is midtown, then maybe it would be okay to build 4- or 5- or 6-story multi-family residential projects on Hanover or Windham or Caledonia. $$$$. Watch the speculators and developers from over the hill feast on our special part of town!! It is already starting.
Midtown is in the Seabright area, located just before you hit the East Side (Morrissey). I’ve been in town 41 years and that’s how it’s always been differentiated and identified.
Google has been known to rename neighborhoods (“The company declined to detail how some place names came about, though some appear to have resulted from mistakes by researchers, rebrandings by real estate agents — or just outright fiction”) Historically, Seabright was a resort beachside community established in the 1880’s and later annexed into Santa Cruz City, extending between the San Lorenzo and Wood’s lagoon, originally just 12 acres. The commercial strip along Soquel Ave east of Ocean St. is described, again historically, as the eastside of Santa Cruz. The sign that said “Welcome to the East Side” was located on the triangular piece of land at the intersection of Morrissey, Water, and Soquel as you headed west. This was removed not that long ago, 2000’s for sure. Don’t know who decided that should be removed and who got to keep that sign. Makes sense that the westside and eastside of Santa Cruz would orient around the river. But if you want to go way back, east of the river at Soquel wasn’t even Santa Cruz till 1905. It was the township of Branciforte. And east of 7th Ave isn’t in the city of Santa Cruz, it’s unincorporated. “People who use the term midtown to include the entire eastern portion of Santa Cruz, and sometimes even beyond the city limits, over-extend the logical use of the term to include areas outside of the ‘town’.”