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History

Thu, Feb 14, 2019

Marla Novo

Marla Novo - Archives & Collections Catalyst

Artifact of the Month: Found in the Street, Esther Abbott’s painting, late 1960s

Many gems find their way into the MAH’s collection by way of our community members. They may discover these nuggets of local history in an old family album. Tucked away in a neglected steamer trunk in the back closet. Or while rummaging through the garage looking for gardening tools. Recently we received a fantastic painting found in the street. That’s right. A painting of a Santa Cruz street found in a Santa Cruz street. You can’t make this stuff up.

A museum guest gave this pastel watercolor to my colleague, Melissa. She said she found it in the street, near Soquel Ave. She thought Esther Abbott painted it. Sure enough, the signature in the right-hand corner checks out. It would be a perfect story if she found the painting on Pacific Ave. But this story doesn’t have to be perfect.

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If you have ever hung out in Abbott Square (or lived in Santa Cruz for a while), you know the name rings a bell. Esther and her husband, Chuck, were photographers and social reformers. They moved to Santa Cruz in the 1960s. The Abbotts advocated for historic preservation and encouraged a pedestrian-centered downtown. They created slideshows illustrating how an attractive urban center could revitalize a community. They pitched their vision to local businesses and the City's Redevelopment Agency. The now revamped Pacific Garden Mall opened in the early 1970s because of their advocacy.

This watercolor has to be part of the many Chuck and Esther Abbott presentations. The tree-lined Pacific Avenue is a view from Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street. It’s close to Abbott Square and the MAH. The old County Bank building is a familiar landmark (now the home of Pacific Wave). The original St. George Hotel is farther up the street. The watercolor’s held up pretty well considering it's about 50 years old and was in the street. It has some smears, smudged through time and place. Now the pigment casts a rainbow of beams onto Pacific Ave. It’s perfect.

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Groove to live music out in Abbott Square every Friday and Saturday.