Friday, July 15, 2016

Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Wharf

Originally constructed to help with the shipping of potatoes to San Francisco during the Gold Rush, the Santa Cruz Wharf was opened on December 5th 1914.  As roads improved and vehicles became more capable, the wharf primarily became the hub for the North Monterey Bay Fishing Industry.  By the 1950s, as the fish population in the area dwindled, families became more able to travel and were looking for recreation.  As a direct result of both of these factors, the Santa Cruz Wharf became a recreational destination. 

The opening of a public bath by John Leibrandt at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River resulted in other baths being opened and becoming a popular tourist destination in the area.  Many people journeyed to enjoy the natural, and what was also touted as medicinal, aspects of bathing in salt water.  The popularity of the public bathhouses resulted in other concessions including restaurants, photo stands and curio shops opening.  

Towards the end of the century Fred W Swanton, a famed entrepreneur and promoter, was commissioned to construct a casino and boardwalk beside the Santa Cruz Wharf.  It was promoted as being the 'Coney Island of the West'.  The first casino was built in 1904 but was destroyed by fire on June 22nd 1906.  Although the building was uninsured, Swanton was able to get investors and hired the well-known architect, Wiliiam H. Weeks, to design the new casino.  The new design included a ballroom, the Plunge, an indoor pool, a pleasure pier and a boardwalk.  Exactly a year after the first casino burnt, the new attraction opened on June 22nd 1907.  A huge ball with over 1,200 guests celebrated the opening.  Thousands of people came out to see the thousands of lights illuminated as the attraction was opened.  

In 1908 the first ride was opened.  It was the L.A Thompson Scenic Railway.  In 1911 famed Danish-born American, Charles ID Looff, delivered a new carousel to the boardwalk.  Looff hand carved his carousels, and he was responsible for building the first carousels at Coney Island as well as many other famed carousels and rides at various amusement parks.  The new carousel was fitted with a 342-pipe, 1894 Ruth Und Sohn band organ.  The carousel is still fully functioning on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. 

Looff's son, Arthur, suggested that the Scenic Railway on the boardwalk be replaced by a more modern rollercoaster.  In 1924 The Giant Dipper opened.  The ride is still very popular on the boardwalk. 

During prohibition in the 1930s, the casino changed its name to Cocoanut Grove, a play on the name of a popular 1929 Marx Bros movie "The Cocoanuts".  The Cocoanut Grove became a popular spot for famous performers of the time, including Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. 

In the 1950s several rides, including the Wild Mouse and Autorama, were added to the boardwalk, and more renovations were carried out on The Cocoanut Grove.  The Plunge indoor pool was replaced by a miniature golf course.  An overhead ride giving views of the beach below, called the Sky Glider, was added in 1967.  During the 1970s rides were renovated, and the Wild Mouse was replaced by a water ride called Logger's Revenge.  

In the 1980s The Cocoanut Grove was thoroughly renovated, adding conference rooms and banquet areas.  The Sun Room was built, providing a 6000-square-foot banquet room with a retractable glass roof that allows open-air dining and dancing.  More shops and restaurants were opened on the boardwalk.  In 1988, free summer concerts were held at the beach bandstand, a tradition that continues now.  

In 1989, on October 17th, an earthquake damaged the building that once housed the Plunge, and so resulted in the construction of an adventure centre in its place, known now as Neptune's Kingdom.  During the 1990s many rides were added, including Laser Tag in 1995.   

The boardwalk now has 35 rides and attractions.  The adjacent Santa Cruz Wharf offers restaurants and fishing, as well as gift shops.  Just a short walk from the boardwalk is a world-class surf spot.

The original Plunge pool building, which now houses Neptune's Kingdom, is said to be haunted by two boys that apparently drowned in the pool.  Staff at the boardwalk have reported "strange feelings" and the awareness of a "presence" in The Cocoanut Grove.  An apparition known as "The Lady of the Sea" is said to haunt the Santa Cruz beaches.  She is rumoured to have some involvement in the near drowning of several night surfers.  She is said to be pale and dressed in black clothing, and is most often seen at dusk.  It's been suggested that she drowned in a shipwreck, though no-one is sure which one.

There is also this strange video that shows someone standing on The Big Dipper as the ride is in progress.  Some people say it's a ghost; some say it's a workman, which seems really dangerous as the ride is running.  It's worth a look. 

I stayed in Santa Cruz during very stormy weather, and it's a most beautiful place to spend some time.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

St. James's Park, London

Situated at the southernmost tip of the St. James area in the City of Westminster is a 23-hectare (57-acre) park called St. James's Park.  Named in honour of a leper hospital that had serviced the London populace in the 13th century, the marshland that was to become St. James's Park was acquired by Henry VIII in 1532.  The area, through which the Tyburn River flowed, was meant to complement York Palace, subsequently renamed Whitehall.  The palace had belonged to Cardinal Wolsey.  Henry VIII acquired the palace, and believed that the nearby parkland would make the palace a more fit dwelling for a King.

James I ascended to the throne in 1603, and had the marshland drained and landscaped.  He added many exotic animals to the park, including crocodiles and camels and even an elephant. 

St. James's Park underwent more changes when Charles II was returned to the throne after his exile in France.  While in France, Charles had enjoyed the elaborate gardens of the French Royal Palace.  He redesigned St. James's  Park, most likely with the assistance of French landscaper Andre Mollet, to reflect what he had seen in France.  A huge canal, measuring 775m by 38m, was dug through the centre of the park. 

King Charles II opened the park to the public and used it as a place to entertain guests and meet his mistresses, including his mistress Nell Gwynn.  The park became a notorious meeting place for all forms of lecherous liaisons.  An account of such goings-on was given by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, in his poem "A Ramble in St. James Park".

By the late 17th century and early 18th century, cows were allowed to graze in the park and milk was available from the Lactarian.  This place, where fresh milk was provided warm from the udders of cows, was described by the German scholar, Zacharias Conrad Von Uffenbach, in 1710. 

During the Hanover period in the 18th century, the canal was reclaimed for use for the Horse Guards Parade.  In 1826-27 the Prince Regent, later George IV, commissioned a remodelling of the park.  The modifications were overseen by architect and landscape artist John Nash.  The formal avenues were removed and replaced by more romantic winding paths.  The canal was made into a more natural-looking waterway.  In 1837, the Ornithological Society of London presented the park with birds and constructed a bird-keeper's cottage.  St. James's Park was opened to the public in 1887.

St. James's Park is bounded to the west by Buckingham Palace, the London residence and administrative headquarters for the reigning Monarch of the United Kingdom.  In 1761, Buckingham House was acquired for the use of Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.  Buckingham House was expanded to create the Palace, and Queen Charlotte, an avid patron of the arts and amateur botanist, lived in Buckingham Palace until her death in 1818.

To the north, St. James's Park is bounded by The Mall.  This road has Buckingham Palace at its west end and Trafalgar Square via Admiralty Arch at its east.

Horse Guards forms the east boundary of the park, and the south is bounded by Birdcage Walk.  This street is named after the Royal Menagerie and Aviary, which were located there during the reign of King James I.  Initially, when the street was created, only the British Royal Family and the Hereditary Grand Falconer, the Duke of St Albans, a title created by King Charles II for his illegitimate son with Nell Gwynn, Charles Beauclerk, were permitted access.

The lake in St. James's Park has two small islands; West Island and Duck Island.  The resident colony of Pelicans that still live at the lake are descended from a set of Pelicans donated to the park in 1664 by the then Russian ambassador. 

The Blue Bridge in the park affords spectacular views of Buckingham Palace to the west and the Swire Fountain to the east.  To the north of Blue Bridge is Duck Island, and to the south is the Tiffany Fountain on Pelican Rock. 

On the 3rd of January 1804, Col. George Jones of the Coldstream Guards “perceived the figure of a woman, without a head, rise from the earth, at the distance of about three feet before me”.  She was dressed in a red striped gown with red spots between each stripe, and part of the dress and figure “appeared to be enveloped in a cloud.”  The apparition is said to be that of a woman lured to St. James's Park and then murdered by her soldier husband.  While he was dismembering her body and disposing of it in the lake, the murderer was spotted and taken into custody.  This ghost has been reported walking along Birdcage Walk and also the Cockpit Steps.  She has been sighted emerging from the lake.  In 1972, a motorist reportedly hit a lamppost trying to avoid hitting a misty figure dressed in white with what looked like blood on her clothing.

I love visiting St. James's Park.  It is populated by a huge number of interesting birds and, most excitingly, by the gorgeous squirrels that have become so tame that they are happy to come and pose for a photograph.