Our space is not simply our space. While Santa Cruz Zen Center gratefully acts as steward at the 113, 115, and 119 School Street lots on Mission Hill in Santa Cruz, we are actually guests at a space with a much larger history.
Santa Cruz Zen Center is located in the middle of what used to be the 12th California Mission complex, Misión la Exaltación de la Santa Cruz, founded by the Franciscans in 1791 and moved to its hilltop location in 1792. At this time, Ohlone tribes, Native Americans who lived on the coast from San Francisco Bay to Monterey Bay, had already lived in and cultivated the area for millenia, probably first arriving in the central valley around 4,000 years ago.
Within just twenty years of the establishment of the mission, the Ohlone population was decimated. By 1810, many of the local Ohlone had entered Santa Cruz Mission and most of them had died of diseases.
Near the place where we now sit at Santa Cruz Zen Center, there had been adobe structures that served as Native workers quarters. Repurposed roof tiles from mission structures have been found on Zen Center grounds, along with discarded clam and mussel shells - remnants of a food source likely brought up the hill from the ocean by Native residents.
After the secularization of Santa Cruz Mission in 1834, use of the Mission Hill area has been continuous. The original land map that came with the deed, with the entire “Mission Orchard Tract” in red, is seen at the top of this page (our grounds would be at the lower left of this tract, near the alley). The horseshoe and gate hinge pictured above, with the hinge attached to a hand-cut nail, are likely from the late 19th century post-mission time period.
After the secularization of Santa Cruz Mission in 1834, use of the Mission Hill area has been continuous. The horseshoe and gate hinge pictured here, with the hinge attached to a hand-cut nail, are likely from the late 19th century post-mission time period.
Many artifacts were found in 2003 during digging on Zen Center grounds for the placement of a foundation for the structure that now serves as our zendo. The structure, our zendo, hadn’t previously had a foundation at all and bears similarity to other houses that sat on the east side of the mouth of the San Lorenzo River and comprised the earlier of Santa Cruz’s four lost Chinatowns. It is a possibility that the building was moved up the hill from the Chinatown to its current location and simply placed, with no foundation, around 1898. Less than a foot below ground, at the edge of what is now the zendo courtyard area are the remnants of a basin and trough leading out to the street, which suggest the premises could have served as a laundry. Note that the sidewalk in front of the zendo has a mark indicating that it was poured in 1912.
Digging along the fence near the dokusan hut revealed that the space was used as a trash area for either our lot or for many of the lots on Mission Hill, after the mission period. The many artifacts found here include dishes, animal bones butchered for consumption, discarded containers, and much more. Pressed glass bottles like those pictured above, clearly bearing inscriptions of former Santa Cruz businesses, are from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Other items, such as the dish stamped, “Made in Occupied Japan” at left, indicate that the area served private households continuously through the time of Jim Goodhue’s ownership, until he donated it to Santa Cruz Zen Center in 1973.