One hundred and twenty years ago, you could walk down to the end of unpaved Main Street to the wharf and catch a ship to San Francisco. Captains built their homes overlooking the sea on Beach Hill, among them Timothy Dame. After piloting the first steamer to dock in Santa Cruz, Dame by 1872 had been relegated to dock work when he built his modest Carmelita cottage. Prior to renovation as a hostel the structure was a single wall construction, with interior wood siding (like a ships cabin) with newspaper insulation.
If you needed to stay overnight awaiting a ship, you lodged at Thomas Johnson’s Ocean View Hotel overlooking the wharf. Johnson built a two story, four room home next to Dame’s also around 1872, later adding a whole new section. His wife’s sister came to Santa Cruz from New York and married captain Dame. Her daughter, Lottie Sly, eventually inherited Dame’s Cottage and Johnson’s house as well as four other cottages that had been built in the rear of the property. Pianist Lottie married opera star Henry Thompson (aka Enrico di Tomaso), furnished her parlor as a music room and participated in local music events. Soon widowed from Henry in 1900, then later divorced after a brief second marriage, Lottie ran the cottages as rental units until her death in 1955.
Lottie willed the property to the City of Santa Cruz in order that all people could enjoy her gardens. It took ten years from the initial City approval in 1984 before the two front cottages were renovated and opened as a hostel. Prior to receiving the ‘go ahead,’ there was a debate as to whether the property should be cleared or used as low income housing or passed on to Stanford University or operated as a Bed and Breakfast or even transformed into a museum. After the decision was made supporting the Hostel, the long process of drawing plans, finding a suitable contractor, and convincing neighbors of the hostels benefits funding began—which was eventually received from the California Coastal Conservancy and other donors. Much dedication and effort was donated by the volunteers to convert Captain Dame’s and Thomas Johnson’s 19th Century homes into a beautifully restored, fully functioning hostel.