Of hummingbirds, redwood giants and a small, stone owl.

Travelling as tourists in foreign cities is fun, but having a friend there is much better – even more so when that friend lives in a most remarkable house.

In Santa Cruz, we stay with our friend, Helen. She lives in an apartment building called Piedmont Court, one of this small city’s Historical Trust Landmarks (the Court, not Helen). We stay in the Court’s special private guest room.

Built in 1912 by architect, William Bray as a hotel for the elite of Santa Cruz, it’s had a interesting history.

Piedmont Court - built 1921
Piedmont Court - built 1912

Piedmont Court was the finest apartment house in town in the 1920s – described as  “Moorish in design, with an elaborate interior court with fountain,” and Santa Cruzans sat up and took notice when they heard that a 50-room apartment house was to be built with steam heat, electricity, and hot and cold running water througout. This was in the days when homes were heated with wood fires and water pumped by hand.

Inside historic Piedmont Court
Inside historic Piedmont Court

In the red-carpeted entrance hall, with its white columns and staircase, the building still holds the presence of those long-gone. Let the imagination loose and that could be Ernest Hemingway puffing on a cigar in that velvet, upholstered armchair by the window.

The building has been home to an assortment of Californians – a plush, but comfortable hotel for years, and then in 1952 it was bought by the California Retired Teachers Association. They gave it the name “Calreta Court”.

When Helen moved in in the 1980s it was home to Quakers, Left-Wing, Humanists and other progressive people. Imagine the conversations between the ghosts of the past when this new lot moved in.

Nowadays, it’s one of Santa Cruz’s retirement condominiums. The only requirement to living here in a 1-bedroom apartment is to be over 55 and have around 295 thousand dollars US.  Each apartment has its own kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom – communal laundry and garage.

Oh, by the way, our friend, Helen is selling hers if you’re interested.

An added extra if you have a thing about owls … there’s one up in the Court’s rooftop turret – a stone-carved owl, designed by the architect to scare away nesting pigeons? Definitely designed to startle an unsuspecting human in the moonlight.

Piedmont Court's open courtyard - where I see my first humming-bird.
Piedmont Court's open, interior courtyard - where I see my first humming-bird.

More excellent things about Santa Cruz:

  • it’s a smaller city – lovely cosmopolitan malls with great shopping
  • excellent second-hand bookshop in main street
  • great clothes in the Goodwill store (el cheapo)
  • close to a forest full of redwood giants
  • beautiful coastline
  • best burritos shop ever – now, what was its name?
Amongst the 2000+ year-old Redwood giants.
Amongst the 2000+ year-old Redwood giants.


4 thoughts on “Of hummingbirds, redwood giants and a small, stone owl.

  1. Hello Bill and Lisa
    It surely is a small world, isn’t it! Yes, Helen is a long-time friend of ours and we so enjoyed staying at Piedmont Court on our trip through the US late last year. I especially loved Santa Cruz and the area around there.
    I will pass on your comments to Helen. She’ll be thrilled to know you found my blog site.
    best wishes
    PS Wish I’d taken a photo of the small owl up in the turret, so if you think of it one day, could you email me one? That would be great.


  2. Hello,

    Today is/was Helen’s first visit back to Piedmont Court since she moved to Santa Rosa (as you know, of course) in April, 2010.

    Oddly, although we weren’t able to see Helen today, I happened upon your images of PC, looking for one that did justice to this beautiful building, and behold, you are fast friends.

    Having Helen move out and on has been the one and only dark chapter for us here at Piedmont Court. In the nearly 5 years since moving in, we’ve met so many lovely, generous and interesting people.

    None, though, compare with Helen. This is the woman who came to a wine and cheese (as we call them – monthly socials) with a large reinforced ziplock bag containing the “bucket (nearly) of bolts” which had recently been harvested from her extensive back surgeries containing this hardware over many years.

    So many more very small and very magnificent ways Helen has touched our lives and so many many others.

    On this day, we were saddened to miss Helen, but know she is certainly bringing her bright light and love wherever she is.


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