cowells-beach-350In the summer of 2012 Santa Cruz local designer Karen Toole approached me and asked if I could help create her vision of a park on West Cliff Drive. The park was to be funded by private donors. The purpose for the park would be two-fold: One it would serve to eliminate the riff raff that had been hanging out at this area above the Cowells surf break; and two, the land could be used to make a dynamic park by incorporating artful concrete stepping stones to meander through a botanical garden. The stepping stones would use the colors of the ocean's colorful cliff sides nearby by using multi-colored acid stains and would also create a tide pool feel to them by adding sea shells, beach glass, aquarium sand.

To give the stepping stones a natural and authentic look we at Tom Ralston Concrete made molds using 13 different stones collected at the Granite Rock Company which is located about 300 yards from the Tom Ralston Concrete Office. The stones were gathered by forklift and taken around the corner to Sean Monaghan's Bronze Works Foundry and molds were made from the most interesting sides of each stone. After the molds were made we began beta testing how the stones would be fabricated at our Fern Street show room and yard.

stripping-rubber-from-molds-350Once the fabrication for the mock up was completed at the yard, construction began at the West Cliff Drive site which is located between Manor and Pelton Streets. The molds ended up being very expensive to make and used up approximately 25% of the entire budget for the project. The number of molds made fell far short of what would be required to pour all of the stepping stones at once. As it turned out we only had enough molds for 2-stones could be poured at one time and the project required 17 stones to go from one side of the 1700 SF garden to the other. As a result of that there were nine individual concrete truck deliveries from Granite Rock made in order to complete the concrete work for the project. Some of the concrete stepping stones had holes made in them for planting succulents and the holes went from the sides of the stones down into the ground to promote good drainage.

After the concrete was poured the Santa Cruz Parks and Rec team came in to prepare for planting by excavating, importing top soil, tilling the ground etc. Karen Toole organized volunteers from the community to help with planting the plants. It was a wonderful collaboration.

Ultimately there was a symbiotic orchestration of the yin and yang: Beautiful softscape melding with unique and dramatic hardscape. The project culminated with a wonderful ribbon cutting celebration that included Mayor Hilary Bryant, Vice Mayor Lynn Robinson, Historian and MC Geoff Dunn as well as members from the Tom Ralston Concrete Company, members of the once famous Killer Cowells Surfing Affiliation of which I  belonged as well as over 100 guests and various people from the Santa Cruz Community.

tom-ralston-speaks-at-cowells-garden-ribbon-cuttingThe Ribbon Cutting was followed by a fabulous celebration in the Surf View Room donated by the Dream Inn which overlooks our new Cowell's Pocket Park. Kevin Vogel and his wife Bev attended a wonderful celebration made special by delicious gifts of wine from Beauregard's Vineyards; Oysters from Stagnaro's; Fruit from the Swanton Berry Farm; Chocolate from Donnellys; Sandwiches from the Staff of Life Deli; Sushi from Mobo's.

Special Thanks go to Karen Toole for her vision, energy and tenacity to see this project through, to the Granite Rock Company for their humble generosity, to the Santa Cruz Parks and Rec as well as the many community volunteers that brought this project to fruition.

View more images of the Cowell's Garden Project in Specialty Items.