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History

Thu, Oct 24, 2019

Maria Walsh

Maria Walsh - Guest Services Coordinator

8 Sides and 9 Lives: The History of the Octagon

In its 137 years, the historic Octagon located on the corner of Front and Cooper Street in downtown Santa Cruz has worn many hats. When fire and earthquakes turned nearby buildings to rubble, the Octagon prevailed. Over the years it has been the County Records Building, a history museum, the museum store, a coffee shop, a puppetry institute, and soon it will be home to two new Abbott Square Market restaurants.

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Designed by Oakland architect J.W. Newcum, the Octagon is considered one of the last examples of Italianate architecture in Santa Cruz. You can spot the Italianate style by its windows and decorative cornices jutting out along the rim of the roof.

Constructed in 1882, the Octagon first functioned as the County Hall of Records for almost a century. Then in 1960, it was converted into the Santa Cruz County Historical Museum, known informally as the Octagon Museum. Supported by a federal preservation grant, restoration of the building began in 1970 before it was dedicated in 1972. It is now one of the MAH's historical offsite locations, like Evergreen Cemetery or the Davenport Jail.

Soon after the McPherson Center for Art & History opened in 1993 (now the MAH), the Octagon reopened as its museum store, lasting 10 years. It then fulfilled another important community role - a coffee shop. Lulu Carpenter’s opened in the Octagon in April of 2007. With small outside tables that lined the geometric brick walls, it added a dash of European ambiance to downtown. After a successful 9-year run as a beloved neighborhood cafe, Lulu’s consolidated into its current location on Pacific Avenue in 2016.

Soon, the Octagon will go through yet another transformation with two new restaurants making their home in the unique space. Beignets, po’-boys, and jambalaya? Yes, please. Family-run Roux Dat Cajun will be serving up that fearless and tasty New Orleans flavor, while Daisuki Sushi brings yummy fresh hand rolls, bento boxes, plus more. (And you know it’s gonna be good because New Leaf already carries their delicious sushi.)

For a small space, the Octagon has had a big life (or more accurately, several lives). None of us know what the future holds, but it’s easy to believe the Octagon will be around to see it all.