Chinatown Bridge

What’s happening with the Chinatown Bridge?

There was a Chinatown right next to the river until 1955, but too many Santa Cruzans have forgotten or perhaps never learned this chapter of our local history. Learning or remembering our past is a key part of realizing Santa Cruz’s vision of a healthy, welcoming and fun San Lorenzo River that connects our diverse community to nature and that’s recognized as an attractive and desirable destination for recreation and reflection.

Along with informing local residents and visitors about Chinatown history, the Chinatown Bridge Project will beautify the Santa Cruz Riverwalk — the City park that surrounds the lower San Lorenzo River and connect us with this historic river that was the reason Santa Cruz initially formed as a community beginning in the 1780’s. The project will also be a reminder of those who lived in Chinatown and the ways they contributed to and shaped this town, our region and even California. They faced fierce discrimination, including an active anti-Chinese movement, yet endured that harsh treatment and made positive contributions to Santa Cruz.

The project includes the City of Santa Cruz formal naming of the pedestrian bridge as the Chinatown Bridge and the creation of a public art piece that consists of a yellowish gold non-traditional Chinese-style gate made of concrete, with a twenty-four-foot water dragon, covered with mosaic tiles, atop the gate. Community-created art elements around the gate and dragon are also being planned with consideration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who’s involved?

Two local artists have conceived a work of public art that includes a modified traditional arch with a mosaic water dragon at the apex. Tom Ralston of Tom Ralston Concrete is building the gate and community artist-art teacher Kathleen Crocetti is the lead designer and creator for the water dragon, which is associated with rivers and holds significance in Chinese culture. Additional artists and contributors include Michael Corcoran, Sean Monaghan, Tony Armor of DayOne Solar, Geoffrey Dunn and Sandy Lydon.

The Coastal Watershed Council is the project lead on the effort. The majority of the funding comes from Ow Family Properties, with additional funding support by Arts Council Santa Cruz County and the City of Santa Cruz Arts Program. In addition to financial support, George Ow, Jr. has shaped the creative process and overall project, an effort that means a great deal to the local Chinese-American community.

When is this happening?

Project timeline:

January 2015 – Bridge naming concept conceived.

2016 & 2017 – Community partners shape the idea and refine what could be.

June 2018 – City of Santa Cruz City Council approves of the bridge renaming and art piece, in concept, advising that the project should return to City Council after going through the Historic Preservation, Arts and Parks and Recreation Commissions.

Spring & Summer 2019 – Community meetings.

August-October 2019: City commissions and City Council approval secured.

January-November 2020: Artists commence offsite work, with onsite construction beginning in May 2020.

November 2020: Targeted completion date and installation of water dragon.

Future, TBD: Unveiling ceremony and celebration, to include community art projects.

How can I learn more?

Contact project lead Greg Pepping, CWC Executive Director, at gpepping@coastal-watershed.org or (831) 226-0304.

Background about this project include CWC’s blog posts here and here, media coverage by GoodTimes, Santa Cruz Sentinel (here and here), Patch and KSQD’s Jean Kratzer’s radio interview with Kathleen Crocetti. Here is an October 27, 2020, media press release.

“When I was a boy roaming the banks of the San Lorenzo River in the 1940’s, I remember lots of salmon swimming up the river. This gate and the dragon honor those Chinese people who helped raise me and whose ghosts have blessed me and still guide me. I hope the dragon will bring the fish back and restore the health of this river that means so much to me and to Santa Cruz.”

— George Ow, Jr.

“We did extensive research to get all of the important details just right and we assembled a dream team of hard working and creative artists who really rocked it. We really jammed on this thing and every single person was inspired to work hard and beat deadlines to make this happen. It’s truly been a labor of love and I’ve so enjoyed working with George Ow again, just like we did on the Evergreen Cemetery project. I have family connections to this work and I’m so happy to be a big part of this gift to Santa Cruz.”

— Tom Ralston

“Art helps people connect to a place and I’ve loved working on this project to reconnect Santa Cruzans to this forgotten chapter of our local history. It honors those Chinese Americans who lived here, endured and overcame oppression to contribute so much to early Santa Cruz and our region. I’m proud to play a role in honoring them and in inspiring Santa Cruzans to learn about Chinatown’s history and the river.”

— Kathleen Crocetti