Bachelors and Trolleys and Bears, Oh My! A History of DeLaveaga Park and Golf Course

As visitors make their way down the hill, a trolley waits at the end of Pacheco Avenue near the grand entrance to DeLaveaga Park in Santa Cruz. From 1910 until 1926, electric trolleys served the park, now known for its golf course, disc golf links, and Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival.

In the summer of 1894, Jose Vicente DeLaveaga attended a meeting where Santa Cruz city leaders aired their hopes of one day building a city park with a baseball field and picnic areas. A lifelong bachelor and loner who had come to Alta California as the child of aristocrats during the Gold Rush and prospered in finance, DeLaveaga had developed a love of nature, gardening, winemaking, and all things bucolic after moving to Santa Cruz in his twenties. He had also, it seemed, imbibed the aristocratic notion of noblesse oblige, or helping those less fortunate.

When DeLaveaga fell ill and died two months later, just shy of his 50th birthday, people were stunned to learn that he had left his 640-acre hilltop estate to the City and County of Santa Cruz for a park, along with a $125,000 trust fund to build a home for the elderly and disabled and an estimated $2 million to charity. The family challenged the will, and the city never got the trust fund, but it now had the makings of an incredible park.

Jose Vicente DeLaveaga in a photo thought to have been taken in the 1870s, when he was in his twenties.

Then, as now, the park’s hilltop perch offered spectacular views of the countryside and Monterey Bay, but it had almost no infrastructure and was hard to find. That quickly changed over the next few years. By 1910, landowner Patrick Morrissey had widened the road to the park and constructed a grand entry with stone gateposts, streetlights, an archway, and rowboats planted with colorful flowers, while one of the founders of the electric company PG&E electrified a trolley line running all the way to the entrance.

The grand entrance to DeLaveaga Park included a graceful archway intended to bloom with wisteria. The Rose Pergola, built-in 1912, is visible on the crown of the hill.

By this time the park had a duck pond and a race track, and in 1911 it got its baseball field thanks to the Odd Fellows. Not to be outdone, the Saturday Afternoon Women’s Club funded and built a rustic Rose Pergola and tea house on the hill overlooking the grand entrance in 1912.

The Saturday Afternoon Women’s Club at the May 4, 1912 dedication of the Rose Pergola, which took inspiration from the Moorish designs popular at the time.

The park grew in popularity as a destination for families looking to relax and take in the views of the Bay. Soon the park even had a zoo with a small herd of tule elk, bison, bears, peacocks, and monkeys. Historian Eric Ross Gibson, in his fascinating history of the park, describes a scene where the silent film star Mary Pickford hand-feeds caramels to one of the park’s gentle bears, which had been selected to appear in one of her movies.

An electric trolley ferries passengers to and from the base of the park in this 1913 photo while other visitors walk or travel by horse and carriage. The Rose Pergola is visible at the top of the hill.

When the trolley tracks were torn up in 1926, park attendance fell off. The zoo closed during the Great Depression, and in the late 1940s a Navy training center was built on the property and the grand entry closed. The park lost its luster and popularity. It wasn’t until 1960 that help arrived in the form of a park master plan that included such public benefits as a shooting range and a golf course.  

DeLaveaga’s rifle range was open to the public for nearly 40 years starting in 1960. After that, it was used by the Santa Cruz County Sheriffs Department until lead contamination forced its closure in the 2000s.

In 1970 an 18-hole championship golf course designed by course architect Bert Stamps opened as the park’s crowning glory. The city-owned DeLaveaga Golf Course offered a reasonably priced alternative to some of the spendier links found around Monterey Bay and featured the stylish DeLaveaga Lodge restaurant, which overlooked the course and served up “good food, man-sized drinks, and a cordial atmosphere,” according to one 1972 magazine article. The course’s first head golf pro was Gary Loustalot, whose son Tim Loustalot, along with his wife Jamie, now runs the golf concession along with the newly redesigned restaurant, the Grille at DeLaveaga.

Fans watch a drive at a tournament in the 1970s. DeLaveaga hosted the California State Open tournament three years in a row (1972-1974) shortly after its opening.

In the 1980s, a disc golf course opened at the park. Designed by legendary disc golfer Tom Schot, DeLaveaga Disc Golf Course, affectionately known as “DeLa,” is regarded as one of the best courses in the world and hosts the World Championship every year. The course is located in Upper DeLaveaga Wilderness Park, a pine and oak tree-covered ridgeline that overlooks the Monterey Bay, with expansive ocean views including the most famous: “Top of the World” (Hole 27).

Today, the park is also home to a network of hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as the Santa Cruz Shakespeare Festival held each summer at the Audrey Stanley Grove overlooking the bay.  DeLaveaga Park features two softball fields, two bocce ball courts, a sand volleyball court, horseshoe pits, a children’s playground, picnic areas, and a large turf area called The Meadow. An Archery Range offers a course consisting of two one-way trails (14 targets on each), 28 outdoor field targets, and a practice range with five targets huts.

Read more about DeLaveaga Golf Course.