As a crane hoisted four sections of a large mosaic-covered water dragon into place Sunday atop a colorful concrete gateway at an entryway to San Lorenzo Park, new life was pumped into a forgotten chapter of Santa Cruz history.
Renamed the Chinatown Bridge by the Santa Cruz City Council in 2019, the dragon archway is stationed at the Front Street entrance to the popular pedestrian and bike bridge that crosses the San Lorenzo River and leads into San Lorenzo Park. It was created to recognize and honor the final Chinatown in Santa Cruz that once thrived along the west side of the San Lorenzo River.
“I think it looks fabulous,” said George Ow Jr., a supporter of the project who said he lived in Chinatown as a young boy with his family. “I can hardly take my eyes off it. So many thanks to artist Kathleen Crocetti and concrete artist Tom Ralston. He wrote the book and artistic concrete work. This is truly a great way to show off their talents.”
Crocetti constructed the 21-foot dragon in the backyard of her Watsonville home. Ralston, over several months, built the ochre-colored archway.
“I’m ecstatic,” Ralston said Sunday as he stood back to view the freshly-installed dragon. “This is a vision come true. So much energy and special care went into this, like the bronze work of Sean Monaghan and the solar panels by Tony Amor at Day One Solar.”
The Coastal Watershed Council championed the project.
In a statement, the CWC said: “The CWC views the bridge renaming and the public art piece as a key step in realizing Santa Cruz’s vision of a healthy, welcoming and fun San Lorenzo River.”
Crocetti’s mosaics are installed in numerous locations around the county, from the massive ongoing Watsonville Billiante project in downtown Watsonville to the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz and on area bridges and riverwalks.
“I was very nervous about the installation today,” Crocetti said. “It sure helps to be married to an engineer. It came off without a hitch thanks to this amazing crew. It looks simply beautiful. It’s an honor and a privilege to have been asked to take this project on. This is 10 steps up for me in my artistic career.”
Kathy Mintz, public arts manager of the city of Santa Cruz, was on hand Sunday for the event.
“This is the best gift to our community right now, especially in this trying time when we need something positive,” she said. “So many people don’t know of this important part of our history. Hopefully, this is the sort of thing that will invite the public to explore and learn about Chinatown and the history revolving around it.”
Ralston added that the archway will also feature poems in Chinese characters in stainless steel plaques that will be powder coated in red in addition to brass plaques that will read in Chinese script: Chinatown Santa Cruz. The lettering will be lit by solar-powered Chinese-style lanterns. Photos created in brass of Ow’s family and the story of Chinatown will also be mounted on the archway.
“These lanterns will light up every night,” Ralston said. “I think this monument is worthy of any city in the world.”
A formal ribbon-cutting ceremony will be staged in the spring.
Historians and authors Sandy Lydon and Geoffrey Dunn, Michael Corcoran of Moonshine Cabinetry, Arts Council Santa Cruz County and the Department of Economic Development also added to the project.
UPDATED 11:20am, Nov. 9, 2020: This story has been updated to reflect the correct location of the former Chinatown. We regret the error.