SOME OF YOU COMING TO THE “LA NOSTRA COSTA DAY’ BOOK SIGNING AT THE SWANTON BERRY FARM ON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14, may not be all that familiar with the Davenport area. Therefore, posted below is a historical mini-self tour of the local “Cement Capitol of the World”. This, of course, is not all inclusive of the sites, however; it will give you a start and you will not even have to leave Hwy 1. (LNC: Chapter 10 – “Davenport”, pgs. 105 - 115 has pictures and covers most of what is described below. Also, a member of “La Nostra Costa” gang is working on a map which will designate other places of interest su per la costa. It may be ready for the book signing date.)
Davenport is located approximately 10 miles north of Santa Cruz on Hwy 1. (Those of you coming from the San Jose Area, take Hwy 17 to Santa Cruz and then Hwy 1 to Half Moon Bay.Those who may be coming from the Bay Area, take Hwy 1 south towards Santa Cruz.) The little town was founded in the mid-1800s by John Pope Davenport, who sailed around the “Horn”, and built himself a 450 foot long pier at El Jarro Point, now known as Davenport Landing. The pier was used to export lumber, fuel and lime. The “Landing” also became one the most important whaling stations on the West Coast. In the 1900s, the Portland Cement Company started excavating limestone (the main ingredient for cement) from the hills just east of Davenport. About one mile south of the “Landing”, the Company built the Hotel D’Italia and later, the Ocean View Hotel to accommodate its workers. A “Cash Store” was also built next to the Ocean View Hotel to supply domestic goods and services.(This area was to become the little town of Davenport.) Just north of the newly established Cement Plant, the Company built a subdivision known as “New Town”, to house management personnel and other “upper-end” workers. In the 1920s and 1930s, “New Town” became the home of many Italian Immigrants who worked at the Cement Plant or on the coastal ranches.
Thus being duly informed of the local history, let us begin our tour.
Nearing Davenport from Santa Cruz (about 9 miles up), you will see that Hwy 1 takes a noticeable dip. As you are descending the grade, look to your right (east side of the Hwy) you will notice a rather large “clump” of trees mixed in with other green shrubbery. This was the location of the famous Hotel D’Italia, which burned down in 1945. “Carabiniere”, the gentle giant on the front cover of “La Nostra Costa” and my God-Mother Pina Micossi with her husband Frank Micossi, owned and managed the hotel. The Italians who worked on the rancios or at the Portland Cement Plant, used to gather her to socialize and play bocce ball.
As you approach the top of the grade at the intersection of Hwy 1 and Davenport Ave., you will see the “New Cash Store”. (It has just re-opened as "The Roadhouse at the Cash Store". Please see comment#6 for further info.) This was the location of the “Old Cash Store” which burned down in 1954. This is where my father, “Bronco” would drive my brother and me in the “Old Carrettone” (1934 Lafayette Auto) every Saturday afternoon to pick up our groceries.Right next to the “New Cash Store” (still on the east side of Hwy 1) you will see a parking lot. This was the site of the “Ocean View Hotel” which burned down circa 1962. (According to Davenport Historian Alverda Orlando, this hotel and the Hotel D’Italia were never re-built because of insufficient fire insurance coverage.) The Ocean View Hotel was own by Charlie and Carmelina Bella, and was famous for its “Wild Game Feasts” involving the local cacciatore (hunters.) The Poletti Packing and Shipping sheds (no longer there) used to be located directly across the street on the ocean side of the highway. Artichokes, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli , and other vegetable grown su per la costa were shipped to the East Coast from this location.
Continuing on to the intersection of Hwy.1 and Ocean Avenue, you will see the Whale City Bakery Bar and Grill on the south-east corner and the Arros Restaurant (now changing its name to “La Costa”) on the north-east corner. The Whale City Bakery used to be the Miramar Café and Gas Station (where my God-Mother, Pina Micossi used to work after the Hotel D’Italia burned down), and Arros (La Costa) used to be Gregory’s Market and Gas Station. (There is a small building directly behind the market, but it is unknown if this is the same building where my boyhood friend, Reno Cantarutti , then age 4, says he was offered an ice cream cone if he would only “give the Fascist Salute”.)
Proceeding north on Hwy 1, you can not miss the CEMEX Cement Plant, which is quite noticeable on the east side of the road. This used to be called the Portland Cement Plant and it was the point of origin of all those cement trucks that went up and down the Coast Road. In the old days this plant used to spew copious amounts of cement dust from its smoke stacks, painting the buildings (and also the lungs of the inhabitants) in Davenport ‘snow white’ and enabling coastal swallows to build their ‘custom cement harden’ mud nests. Almost directly across from the Plant, (Ocean side of Hwy 1) you will see a cement block building. This was the Cement Plant Hospital (not in use now) where many injured plant workers were taken (at least initially).
Up the road from the Cement Plant (on your right), you will see what appears to be a subdivision of older houses. This is “New Town” which can be accessed by taking the frontage road directly from the Cement Plant. Joe “Pino” Brovia, the future Pacific Coast League Baseball Hall of Famer (LNC: Chapter 11), used to perplex his father Pietro, by constantly playing baseball on First Street. It was also here on First Street where the “famous” author of the book “La Nostra Costa”, Ivano Franco Comelli , lived with his family during the first six months of his life.
Continuing north on Hwy 1, you will come to the intersection of Davenport Landing Road and Hwy 1 (Ocean side of the highway). Davenport Landing Road will take you to Davenport Landing, where it all began. John Davenport’s pier is no longer there, however, you may still view a very nice beach where (perhaps) rancher-whale hunters ran across the sands, harpoons in hand, yelling “Ecco la sofiatta va” (“Thars she blows”.)
The next intersection you will come to on Hwy 1 is the Swanton Road T-intersection (east-side of Hwy 1). This is probably the most infamous intersection in Davenport History. It is here (1947) that the DeLucca family vehicle (A 1941 black Buick) collided with a Department of Forestry Fire Truck. Five passengers in the DeLucca vehicle, including a 4 year old girl and a 9 year old boy, were killed.
Just north of that intersection on Hwy 1, (still on the east side) you will see the Swanton Berry Farm Sign. You have arrived at the “Bigga Ranch” where my father used to work in the 1920s. Drive to the “cookahousa” and partake in the festivities, --- “Soups On”. Ivn0
Ivano Franco Comelli, is the author of "La Nostra Costa" (Our Coast) published by Authorhouse. Order on line at: www.authorhouse.com or by telephone 1-888-280-7715 .