The 70’s in Santa Cruz California was a magical time for those who protested the establishment by creating alternative dwellings and bohemian lifestyles rather than attend protest rally’s harassing the cops. We had better things to do.
I arrived in Santa Cruz in 1969 and needed a cheap place to call home. I was a painter and sculptor so a home would also be a studio. In my wanderings around I came across a guy who owned a ramshackle nursery on the outskirts of town. He sold plants and made redwood planter boxes. In the back of the nursery were several shacks that he rented out to artists and musician’s for very little money. He didn’t have anything available at the nursery but where he lived a few miles down the road was an old shack and a large rambling chicken coop in the back of the property. I fired up my old ’52 ford pick-up and went to take a look.
The shack was around 10’X12′, had a concrete floor and was fairly weathertight. The chicken coop was 20’X40′, with a completely open front but there were sides and a back wall. The front opening was 8′ high and an old tin roof sloped down to the 5′ high back wall. The worn concrete floor was serviceable and there was an electrical line that went from the guy’s house to the coop. There was even a working hose bib by the front opening. He would rent me the chicken coop for $30 a month, water and electricity included.
I had permission to remodel and live there hassle free. The rent for an average 800 square foot house in Santa Cruz back then was $350 a month, $30 a month for an old chicken coop was a good deal but for an artist studio with living quarters it was the opportunity of a lifetime. I worked one night a week at a small cafe as a janitor where I made $75 a month plus four free meals. I saw the cost of renovating the coop as doable, in the end I spent a total of $23.
The first thing I did was raise the rear roof up 2′ from the back wall using my trucks jack. This left a better ceiling height but also a 2’X40′ open section.
While pursuing my favorite pre-occupation of cruising the cities back alleys for anything thrown out that could be useful. I noticed that several glass shops in town threw out their empty glass packing crates, they were made of wood, and many were 6’X8′. Along with the crates were old wooden sash windows of varying sizes from 2’X2′ to 6’X7′ with the glass intact. It was a time when people had their old wooden sash windows replaced with modern aluminum sliding windows. When I asked about the windows and crates I was told I’d be doing them a service by hauling them away, an incredible resource. After hauling many truckloads of creates and windows back to the coop, I was ready to remodel. I carefully took the crates apart and used the wood along with the small windows to close in the narrow rear opening and the large 6’X7′ windows to close in the front opening which gave me an 8’X40′ glass wall with various colored wooded frames. In my alley wanderings I found an old steel frame bed with an almost new mattress (another perfectly good item thrown out to be replaced with a waterbed), a porcelain sink, a flowered carpet, an easy chair and love seat, a broken but repairable wooden dining table, two wooden chairs and an old wooden glass paned door. I traded a few of my paintings for an old Westinghouse electric refrigerator and small water heater. After a month’s work I had a front door, a walled off sleeping area with clothes closet, kitchen counter, shelves, kitchen sink with running water, a Coleman camp stove, a refrigerator and water heater. With the addition of an old parlor wood stove the place became a comfortable cheap home and studio for many years.
Here are some of the eclectic dwellings the artists were building at the time. This was long before the tiny house craze of today.
“We must find the things that make our heart soar and when we do, go there and linger into the eternities.”