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From the Archives: Santa Cruz Bans Rock and Roll?

Posted by on June 13, 2018

For today’s blog post I am going to talk about an event that isn’t really spoken of in 2018, but to me it has great historical significance. As we all know, Santa Cruz is one of the most progressive left leaning towns in the United States. Since its just 75 miles away from San Francisco, I guess you could say that the cultural movement that grew from San Francisco made its way to Santa Cruz in the mid-1960s. Before that time however Santa Cruz was the tourist destination built on a foundation of lumber, tanning, and limestone. Some of the most famous people in California would come to Santa Cruz just to get away from it all. Over time Santa Cruz became known as the jewel of the west coast with its extravagant beach views and sunny weather.

Although Santa Cruz was a place to “get away,” politically the county was according to Albert J. Mendez a “conservative stronghold” (Menendez 152-155). For almost a century beginning in 1860 to 1972, Santa Cruz County only had a Democratic majority three times. Santa Cruz like most of the country threw their support toward Woodrow Wilson in 1916, Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 and 1936, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (Mendez 152-155). Other than those three instances, the county of Santa voted overwhelmingly republican. For most of its patrons, Santa Cruz was a sleepy tourist town that was set in its ways. With the tourist industry booming in Santa Cruz change seemed like an afterthought. Why change something that is going so well? Why would anyone ask for any “negative” national attention? Santa Cruz was the “Jewel of the West Coast” remember?

Well that all changed on June 3rd, 1956 when the Santa Cruz Police Department decided to ban a new music fad called rock and roll. Earlier that night many Santa Cruzians packed the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium to see Saxophone sensation Chuck Higgins play his hit “Pachuko Hop.” During the concert police entered the venue at 12:20 am and witnessed music that according to Richard Overton “excited the crowd to passion at times and it was feared that the crowd would become uncontrollable” (“Authorities” 1). Although it was only a few dancers at the venue, Overton and the police department took action under the belief that the dancing was “detrimental to both the health and morals of our youth and community” (“Authorities” 1). The day after the story appeared on the front page of the Santa Cruz Sentinel with quotes from the officers and support from the police chief. As of June 4th rock and roll was officially banned from all public events.

Given the political climate of Santa Cruz at the time, most Santa Cruzians didn’t bat an eye. Everyone wanted to move on with their lives and remain the premiere tourist destination but an amazing thing happened. Santa Cruz had the distinct honor of being the first town to ban the type of music. On June 5th, the story went viral with “Newspapers and radio and television commentators across the country reacted with applause or amusement to the halting of a Civic Auditorium ‘Rock n Roll’ dance last Saturday night” (“Santa Cruz” 1). Once all of this negative attention hit Santa Cruz, government officials became concerned with a possible loss in visitors. As a result they sent city manager Robert Klein on a damage control tour. According to Klein, “There is no ban on the harmless swing known as rock and roll” (“Klein” 1). Klein also went on to say that “We (Santa Cruz) encourage dancing by juvenile groups all summer long. We frequently have dances in the auditorium and as long they’re conducted properly they’re welcome.” (“Klein” 1) By these statements it is clear that the city of Santa Cruz tried to sweep this story under the rug. Tourism was a huge part of the economy and the City of Santa Cruz didn’t want to lose its place as the teenage “weekend getaway.” Even after Klein came out and explained himself, the event continued to be national news with newspapers in Orlando, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Kansas, and Washington. I am assuming here and more research needs to be done, but I believe that Santa Cruz was the first city in the United States to ban Rock and Roll. This is due to the story gaining so much national attention and the lack of evidence of a prior ban anywhere else.

For the next few days and even weeks the story of the ban on rock and roll became a thing of the past. Everything went back to normal, city officials were happy, and there was no news of the ban on rock and roll or Santa Cruz. Then just two weeks later on June 18, 1956 similar bans were reported in Ashbury, New Jersey and San Antonio, Texas due to concerns involving rock and roll and its undesirable elements ( Staff “Rock and roll”). To make matters worse an event just a mere 26 miles away from Santa Cruz made teenagers and parents question the validity of Rock and Roll. On July 6, 1956 there was a riot reported at a Fats Domino concert in San Jose California. On what seemed to be a historic night, Fats Domino, one of the biggest acts in the country, was late for his first appearance in San Jose at nine o’ clock. After an hour and a half of waiting a fervent audience finally watched the first band members walk on stage followed by the large piano playing sensation. Once Fats began to play it didn’t matter what time it was, because people were getting their money’s worth. All of that began to change once the band went on their intermission. While everyone was recuperating from a wild set a beer bottle was thrown causing a loud crash in front of the stage. After a few more beer bottles were broken, more people joined in the fight that started by the bar. Once the overhead lights were hit and broken the small fight turned into chaos. When all of the dust settled, people had ran to the restrooms for an exit and 11 of the rioters were arrested by San Jose Chief of Police Ray Blackmore. After the show the city council was left with a situation on their hands, do they ban rock and roll or do nothing? In the end Robert Doerr, the mayor of San Jose sided with Blackmore who stated that the riot was caused by beer bottles, not rock and roll music (Engelmann, “Ain’t that a Shame”). After Blackmore’s decision the city of San Jose decided to ban bottles from public events and use paper cups.

Although it was considered evil music, rock and roll had officially become a genre and it came in the form of a ban on rock and roll. Because of the ban issued by Santa Cruz City Police, rock and roll and Santa Cruz had gained national attention. In what was thought to many as a “fad” it turned out that rock and roll music was here to stay. City governments didn’t know what to do about the music promoting immoral values so many cities banned rock and roll. To get a sense of what teenagers and parents thought about the music and its effect, the Santa Cruz Sentinel tasked head of the Gilbert Youth Research Company Eugene Gilbert, to interview both parents and teens all across the country on the impact of rock and roll. His findings reported that parents thought it was “primitive” “lewd” and possibly damaging to their children. In the article one parent said “It looks like a Roman orgy when those kids get together” (Gilbert 4). The teens on the other hand wanted to let their parents know that they shouldn’t worry. Most of the teens interviewed wanted to have fun with one saying “You’re just not with it man. Why is this so different from the Charleston or the lindy-hop? We’re only having some fun before we get too old to enjoy ourselves” (Gilbert 4). After the interviews, Gilbert stated that the teens asked the parents to let rock and roll run its course until the next fad comes along.

As it turned out rock is still alive and well. With that said I will say that it[s amazing that cities went on to ban rock and roll and in Santa Cruz no less. To reiterate, Santa Cruz on the surface is to some the leftmost city in the country. As of now in my opinion it is, but it took us a while to get there. I am finding that the history of a small beach town 75 miles outside of San Francisco is as rich as a town that has been in existence for more than 150 years. It is in events like the ban on rock and roll that we find small nuggets that make history exciting. I hope you enjoyed this blog and will tell people that Santa Cruz was the first city to ban rock and roll.
Thank you,
Kameron Bell, MAH Archives Volunteer

Works Cited

“Authorities Impose Ban On ‘Rock And Roll’ Dances Here.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 4 June 1956, p. 1,, Accessed 21 March 2018.

Engelmann, Larry. “Ain’t That a Shame: Thirty Years Ago, America Experienced Its First Rock ‘n’ Roll Riot.” The Los Angeles Times, 6 July 1986, Accessed 21 March 2018.

Gilbert, Eugene. “Rock And Roll Sends Teen-Agers; Most Don’t Feel It’s Dangerous And Suggestive.” The Santa Cruz Sentinel. 9 Aug 1956, p. 4,, Accessed 21 March 2018. Staff. “Rock and roll banned in Santa Cruz, California.”, 2009, Accessed 21 March 2018.

“Klein Says Rock ‘n’ Roll Not Banned.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 6 June 1956, p. 1,, Accessed 21 March 2018.  

Menendez, Albert J. The Geography of Presidential Elections in the United States, 1868–2004. Mcfarland, January 2009.

“Santa Cruz Gets Nationwide Attention For Dance Ban.” Santa Cruz Sentinel, 5 June 1956, p. 1,, Accessed 21 March 2018.


Youtube Chuck Higgins Link:

Early 1950s photo inside the Auditorium:

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Community Builder Highlight: Sam!

Posted by on November 20, 2017



Sam recently moved to Santa Cruz from the UK and is never going back! After getting his BA in Philosophy from University of Southampton, he moved to Barcelona to teach English for a year, but now he’s in California to stay. Sam is a Community Programs Intern at the MAH, as well as being a Community Builder Volunteer, and is always eyeing up new opportunities to get even more involved at the MAH. His favorite activities include: shopping at Goodwill and chatting to Venus at the info booth on Pacific. What he likes most about Santa Cruz are the public community events like First Friday, and the people that he meets every day.  He dreams of one day starting a mid-00’s emo revival band and maybe his own clothing label.



COMMUNITY BUILDING AT THE  MAH: A volunteer position that engages with Youth.

We are Community Builders! A rag tag team of artists, dreamers, weavers and believers, who all share a passion for community and empowering youth.

As community builders we:

  • Lead interactive field trips for youth
  • Meet monthly to discuss community issues, field trip reflections, brainstorm activities and pursue personal passions & discussions
  • Learn about local history and art exhibits
  • Brainstorm ways to activate spaces in creative ways
  • Set up activities in galleries and the classroom
  • Train chaperones to facilitate activities during field trips
  • Lead art and history explorations and activities
  • Push students imagination to create ideas for the future

If you want to become a community builder fill out the application!  Click here to apply!


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How you can share art and history with 250,000 people in 2018

Posted by on November 2, 2017

Where do you go to feel connected to our community? This year, thanks to your support, over 82,000 people found their place in the MAH.

You helped us build community with the launch of Abbott Square and the ground-breaking Lost Childhoods exhibition. Twice as many people visited the museum this summer than last year. Visitors of all ages and backgrounds are making art and making history together.

I’m thrilled to see so many new faces at the MAH. we want to do more for them— and for you. We are planning ambitious exhibitions on death and dying, the Central Coast, and Beach Flats history. We want to expand programming, offering free events all week long in Abbott Square and the museum. All these activities cost money. When you donate, you fuel hands-on art activities, history talks, live music, movement workshops, and bilingual exhibitions. You fuel our community, coming together around the history we share and the art that inspires us.

Please join us as a donor this year. Let’s build community at the MAH together.

Nina Simon, Executive Director

Donate today

With your help, we’ll connect 250,000 new people with art and history experiences in our community.

Expanding from 2 events per month to 5 events every week

And 99% of them will be free. Get ready for weekly talks, salsa classes, live music, hands-on workshops, and games. These events will ignite new connections with art and history for everyone.

Sharing powerful untold stories in new exhibitions

Hear inspiring stories from hospice patients nearing end of life in Spoken/Unspoken. Explore our coast like never before through prints by Tom Killion and local poetry in California’s Wild Edge. Experience Beach Flats through the eyes of its community in a new History Gallery pod.

Sparking more connections and creativity in Abbott Square

Museum attendance has doubled since Abbott Square opened. In 2018, there will be even more community events and powerful creative experiences. Plus, two new delicious chefs in the historic Octagon building.

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Artifact of the Month: Banking on History, Photograph of County Bank of Santa Cruz, c. 1900

Posted by on September 20, 2017

My name is Kameron Bell and I am an archives intern at the MAH. While at the MAH, I come across some amazing stories and artifacts with Collections Catalyst, Marla Novo. A few weeks ago Marla showed me a large photo of the Santa Cruz County Bank that was donated to the museum. My mission for this particular project was the interesting task of dating the photo. After taking a breath and cracking my fingers, I got to work. While taking a first glance at the photo, I noticed there were two buildings with visible signs on them, the Old County Bank of Santa Cruz and the Saddle Rock Restaurant. After that, I noticed three people in the photo, with one man clearly wearing a suit and a bowler hat. Then I noticed a few horse drawn carriages or horse drawn carriers and power lines running in front of the building.

County Bank of Santa Cruz, c. 1900

With this information I then went into research mode and began trying to piece together as much information I could. The first clue that I found was about the Old County Bank of Santa Cruz. Prior to becoming a bank, the site originally housed a saloon. After a fire in 1894 burned down the saloon, the Bank of Santa Cruz County then purchased the site and built a brick building that would be known as the County Bank of Santa Cruz (Ahha! Clue #1). So for Clue #1 we now know that the photo can’t be older than 1894, because the bank was erected in that year.

Once I had found information on the bank itself, I turned my attention to the Saddle Rock Restaurant. The Saddle Rock Restaurant turned out to be something of a Santa Cruz institution in the early days of the city. After being first opened by George Dobelich in 1895, the Saddle Rock was then taken over by young chef Peter Carstulovich in 1901, who came to Santa Cruz from the country of Damaltia. Four years later, Peter’s brother George joined him in the café business and the café remained at 73 Pacific Avenue until it moved locations in 1930 (Aha! Clue #2). With this information we now know that the photo can’t be older than 1895 due to the fact that the Saddle Rock Restaurant in the photo was erected in 1895. To further drive home the main clue, I believe the earliest that this photo could be is 1895.

After my excitement at nailing down a starting year, the only question that remained was what is the latest year this photo could have been taken? Well to answer this question, I feel that we need to go over some previously known facts about what is in the photo. 1. One man in the photo is wearing a bowler hat. 2. There is a large powerline running down the street. 3. There are no cars in the photo, only horses. When examining the first fact, I used a book entitled Hats: Status, Style and Glamour to find more information on the bowler hat. In the book, the author Colin McDowell explains that the bowler hat was in style from 1900-1914 (Aha! Clue #3). For the next fact, I did a little research on electricity in Santa Cruz. After gas was established in Santa Cruz in 1867, the city then pushed for electricity in 1884. By the early 1900s, most of the major buildings in Santa Cruz received electricity. Once powerlines were established at the Boardwalk in 1904, other lines were installed down Pacific Avenue to light the St. George Hotel (Aha! Clue #4). For the final fact pertaining to cars and horses, this one was a little harder to pin down. Cars didn’t really come to Santa Cruz around the same time as other places like New York mainly due to the fact that it was just harder to get them here. With that said however, Marla later informed me that well off families in Santa Cruz had cars as early as 1903 based on diaries housed in the MAH archives (Aha! Clue #5).

Before we get to a conclusion here’s a recap of what we know 1. The bank building was built in 1894 2. The Saddle Rock was established in 1895 3. Bowler hats were fashionable from 1900 to roughly 1914. 4. Power Lines down Pacific Avenue, from what I found, were established in 1904. And 5. Cars came to Santa Cruz as early as 1903 based on diary entries. With this information, I believe that the donated photo dates from 1895-1905. This conclusion however can be up to debate of course and I welcome it! It is always fun to learn more about history and the history of Santa Cruz.


To Know My Name: A History of African Americans in Santa Cruz County

Posted by on August 16, 2017

Phil Reader was a treasured local historian. His research revealed the stories of marginalized people and communities. He inspired the theme of MAH’s recent publication, Do You Know My Name? Phil was “a champion of the working stiffs, those who were born, lived, and died out on the edges.” (from the book’s preface by another local historian, Sandy Lydon)

 This morning I spoke with Phil’s widow, Lorraine. She will donate a large part of Phil’s research to the MAH archives. What follows is an excerpt of Phil Reader’s writings from 1995. Let’s not forget their names.

-Marla Novo, Collections Catalyst


Americans of African lineage are a people whose historical legacy is of bondage. Men and women stolen from their homes, stripped of their human rights, enslaved, imbruted and subjected to every imaginable form of exploitation. Yet under these most undesirable of circumstances, they have not only persevered, but expanded as a social, economic and cultural group.

At the very same time, however, assimilation into the “mainstream” of American life has been slow and fraught with difficulty–that is even if assimilation is a desirable goal in the first place. For this, the reasons are many and varied, and would require a voluminous amount of space to elucidate upon. But for the purposes of this study, suffice it to say quite simply that all to often, African Americans have found themselves the subject of racial and economic prejudice.

Throughout the two hundred year history of Santa Cruz County, however, African Americans are, without question, the invisible minority. Until recently their numbers were always comparatively small, and this, in a strange way, may very well have been a boon. Racism has always been a basic component in the socio-economic makeup of this community, but it has been the more visible minorities which have born the brunt of this mindless prejudice. Even a cursory examination of local history will reveal the reoccurring cycle of “scapegoatism” which has long plagued the non-white citizens of the region.

At the turn of the 20th Century and World War I, following wave after wave of European immigration, intense feelings of anti-foreignism and tendency towards isolation surfaced in America. The Great War, and the patriotic zeal which accompanied it, created the need for a new set of scapegoats and they were found in these newcomers with their strange languages, customs and ideas. Anyone espousing a so called “anti-American” ideology was suspect i.e. Trade Unionist, Socialist, or Anarchists.

Throughout every epoch of our local history, there was an African American presence in Santa Cruz County, but because of their small number, they were spared the intensity of the racial hatred experienced by other minority groups; no beatings, lynchings, or forced relocation. But this is not to say that the settlement of black pioneers in the Monterey Bay region was not without incident.

During the 19th century, the Watsonville school system was segregated for a long period of time and between the World Wars, Negro tourists were barred from hotels and auto camps in Santa Cruz. When the 54th Coast Artillery Company was stationed at Lighthouse field in 1942, numerous local businesses refused to serve the members of this all African American unit. In the decades following the Second World War, many of the new African American families moving into the area found housing difficult to obtain and on several occasions, white residents attempted to block the integration of their neighborhoods, sometimes resorting to arson. The only employment available to African American workers were in low paying service industries, including that of a barber, shoe shiner, or general laborer. So even here in Santa Cruz County, with its reputation for tolerance, the path of progress for citizens of African descent has not always been smooth.

Viewed as a whole, however, there is a singular thread of success and accomplishment which runs through the history of various African American communities which have existed in our region.

During the final decades of the 19th century, sizable African American settlements could be found in the Watsonville and Hollister areas. Both were vibrant and long lasting communities, which contributed much to the general populace. In some areas the race was represented by lone individuals, or single families.

There were Black sailors serving aboard the vessels that prowled the Pacific Ocean on voyages of discovery. Trappers and explorers like Allen Light and Jim Beckwourth were solitary men, who usually shunned the company of other men and saw the country while most of it was still quite new and unnamed.

But it was the gold rush of 1849, that great wave of western migration that brought a generation of African American pioneers to California. They came from both the North and the South, and were both free men and slaves. Many of them brought their families and, unlike their white counterpart, a surprising number of unattached females could be found in the groups. One noble lady, Miss Julia Cole, of the Gilmore Colony, was 104 years of age when she made the journey across the plains.

Jim Brodis obituary, Evening Sentinel, July 5, 1906

Once these intrepid pioneers established themselves in the Monterey Bay area, they went on to leave their mark on local history. Much has been said and written about London Nelson, the Carolina born ex-slave, who, through a generous bequeath, saved the floundering Santa Cruz School District. In Watsonville, Jim Brodis, a runaway slave, has made the history books and even had a street named in his honor.

Nobel Prize winning author John Steinbeck drew upon members of the local Black community as inspiration for characters in several of his major works. Crooks, the Black hired man in Of Mice And Men is patterned after Ishmael Williams, a club-footed teamster from the San Benito Valley. Steinbeck fondly remembered the Strother Cooper family as part of a section on civil rights activists in one of his later works, Travels With Charley.

Ida B. Wells

But beyond these few examples, the history of local African Americans has remained relatively unexplored. Virtually unmentioned in the annals of the Monterey Bay area is the fact that Ida B. Wells, one of the major figures in U.S. Black history, spent a large amount of time in Santa Cruz visiting with her family at their home on River Street during the 1890s. Also unheralded is the story of the first three Black graduates from local schools, all of whom went on to become the editors of large circulation newspapers.

This long hidden history is laced with stories of bravery and courage under the most adverse circumstances. Life under frontier conditions in early day California was difficult enough even for the relatively well-educated whites from the Northern and New England states. But add to this the double burden of slavery and discrimination and it is easy to see the outstanding quality of men and women who made up the pioneer African American communities along Monterey Bay.


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