Could Abbott Square Become the New City Center?

Could the space behind the Museum of Art & History be a new outdoor cultural center?

In all the talks about what to do with traffic downtown – one way, two way or no way –  one thing agreed on was that downtown Santa Cruz needed a performance and gathering space.

It has been talked about since the rebuilding from the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, but still nothing has been done.

Now, the director of the Museum of Art & History is proposing that the space behind the museum be revitalized into a place that could host performances, much like the town squares in cities across the Midwest.

"Our goal is two-fold: to create a welcoming, interactive space for families, and to create a platform for cultural activities, festivals, and art events downtown," wrote Nina Simon who has already made the museum a beacon for culture downtown. "We expect a revitalized Abbott Square to energize artists, increase retail activity, and draw County-wide residents Downtown for exciting family-friendly experiences."

Simon is working with the Project for Public Spaces to consider possibilities. The organization's goal is to develop public spaces where communities can come together.

The museum is holding two public workshops to get input. One is 4:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 and the second is 9 a.m.-noon Feb. 2.

Before the 1989 earthquake, the closest to a gathering space was near the museum at the Cooper House, with its cobblestone patio that had live music every day.

Simon has used the space behind the museum already for gatherings that included a fire show from Burning Man performers and cooking demonstrations by India Joze chef Jozseph Schultz.

Abbott Square was named for Chuck and Esther Abbott, a couple who moved to Santa Cruz from Arizona in the 1960s and launched a campaign to make downtown more attractive. They were inspired by the garden-like downtown in Grand Junction, Colo. and convinced the city to make the downtown into what became known as the "Pacific Garden Mall," known back then as "the Mall."

Before the earthquake, Pacific Avenue was lined with 200 trees, had plenty of benches, a snaking center street and cobblestones all over. For a good history of the Mall, check this Sentinel article by Wallace Baine.

What would you like to see the space look like? Do you agree Santa Cruz needs a new outdoor gathering spot?

John Martin January 21, 2013 at 06:07 PM
Sounds great! But I remember the idea floating around some years ago about doing a public plaza in the vacant lot where the ridiculous Rittenhouse building is now. That would have been awesome. I know it's expensive real estate, but that building has to be losing money every minute, sitting as vacant as it is. And it's an eyesore. Too late now, so the Abbott idea seems like a good one


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