By John Hibble, of the Aptos History Museum
One of the many gems that make Aptos different than anywhere else is Redwood Village, hidden in a redwood grove across Highway One from Deer Park Shopping Center. Today it is a small commercial center but it started out as one of California’s first motels.
In the early 1870s, Claus Spreckels, the sugar millionaire, built his summer home where Huntington and Soquel drives come together. Barns, corrals, bunkhouses and other structures were constructed where Rio Del Mar Boulevard and Soquel Drive intersect. They were used to support Spreckels’ ranch operations and the Thoroughbred horses he raised for his sulky race track located where the Polo Grounds Regional Park is today. A large flock of sheep was kept in the redwood grove.
After Spreckels’ death, in the later half of the 1920s lots in Seacliff Beach and Rio Del Mar were being offered for sale. Prospective buyers were provided lodging at the former Spreckels’ mansion. The Rio Del Mar Golf Lodge was open, the concrete ship entertainment pier and a $100,000 hotel were planned and polo was being played at the polo grounds, (Spreckels’ former racetrack). In 1928, William Parker, a carpenter, purchased the redwood grove from the developers of Rio Del Mar to build a motel for the vacationers who came to enjoy the local beaches. He cut down some of the Redwood trees for lumber and constructed 13 hand-hewn, rustic cabins with fireplaces and Dutch doors.
The County of Santa Cruz Historic Resources Inventory describes the architecture as vernacular, which means native. Each cabin is unique. There are deep overhanging pitched roofs, banded windows and a variety of exterior treatments including shingles, clapboard, board and batten and unpeeled logs. The redwoods are an integral part of the complex. Entryways appear between two large trees. Redwoods protrude through decks, reach through roofs and hold up porches. Clinker brick chimneys and a variety of inventive masonry including wishing wells, towers and a fish pond added to the craftsman flavor of the place. Alas, the 1989 earthquake destroyed the wishing well and the chimneys, making the fireplaces unusable, but the single-walled construction of the redwood buildings held up very well.
The motel was popular even through the depression. William Parker died in 1939 and his wife sold to Mr. Weston who sold to Mrs. Albertson in 1940. During the war years, gas rationing and blackouts virtually wiped out the vacation business so the cottages were rented to families of Navy men who were training in Watsonville to be aircraft carrier pilots and to officers from Fort Ord.
In 1943 The Village sold to Paul Vilhauer who remodeled the cottages and added two more. The clientele included regulars who came every year, honeymooners, people celebrating anniversaries and weekend tourists. Highway 1 replaced Soquel Drive as the main thoroughfare in 1948 and a “Motel” sign was put up to attract business.
In 1962, Vilhauer sold the Village to his nephew, Arnie Sievers and his wife Esther. A “1965 Accommodations and Price List” shows all the cabins were named after trees. They were Maple, Madrone, Pine, Sequoia, Log, Spruce, Lilac, Laurel, Alder, Redwood, Cypress and Cedar. The daily rate ranged from $7 to $18 and included cabins for two to seven people. All cottages included baths with stall showers and kitchens completely furnished with all cooking and eating utensils. Baby sitters were available upon request and portable TVs could be rented for $1 per day. Offseason rates would be furnished upon request by mail.
In 1974, The Village was sold to Tony Oliveira who turned it into a retail center with boutique shops and restaurants. The rezoning and remodeling took about a year and cost $60,000. The buildings were rewired and the old entrance bridge was replaced with the covered bridge you see today at 9099 Soquel Drive. It was dedicated on Jan. 15, 1975. Oliveira converted a circle of trees into a “Redwood Cathedral” for weddings. His promotions included an annual 4th of July Antique Show and wandering minstrels on weekends.
Frank and Virginia Booz fell in love with the Village and bought it in 1978. They increased the number of events and made the Village more visible from the street. They built a new building to house the locally famous Piggie Market and opened up a new road into the Village. A sign in the market reads:
“This key to the new Piggie Market was presented by building owners Frank and Virginia Booz to merchants Norm and Mary Ann Kaplan at very impressive ribbon-cutting ceremonies on June 8, 1980. Unfortunately, Frank Booz is a very good cabinet maker, but a terrible key maker and the key did not fit. After a 20-minute delay, the Piggie Market doors were successfully opened by a locksmith, never to be closed again.”
The market became Redwood Village’s most famous landmark and has gone through several renovations by newer owners. It is now known as Palm Deli.
Frank and Ginny sold in 1989 to a partnership represented by Ron Whiting of Whiting Foods and Van Slatter of Slatter Construction. Improvement funds for the Village went into repairs from the 1989 earthquake. Redwood Village is increasingly rented as office space and the covered bridge has been closed to cars. The main entrance is now on Valencia Avenue.
My wife and I moved our stained glass business out of our house and into Redwood Village in March of 1985. We began managing the Aptos Chamber of Commerce shortly thereafter and moved the Chamber into our office. After almost 10 years we relocated the Chamber office to 7605 Old Dominion Court, across from the Seacliff Inn. We miss Valencia Creek running out our back door and the beautiful trees. Redwood Village is a special place that reminds us of our unique past.