The pearl of beach apartments
The Hannahs and Todds have been integral to the development of Beach Flats into a family-friendly tourist neighborhood, located between the boardwalk and the beaches of the San Lorenzo River. Its narrow streets slowed traffic, encouraged walking and allowed children to play safely. The front sitting porches near the street facilitated social interaction with strangers, while the garden atmosphere and small-scale architecture ensured the sun. The on-site owners have become friends of the family, generating recurring business for years.
During the Civil War, Captain Levi Hannah was only 61 nautical miles from San Francisco on a voyage from Boston, when he had to make a brief stop in Santa Cruz for ship repairs. He soon returned to make Santa Cruz his home, marrying local Margaret Liddell and becoming president of the Pacific Coast Steamship Co. He received statewide tributes upon his death in 1896.
The Hannah boys were outgoing Levi, tough Frank and quiet John, popular athletes at Dolphin Ball Park and the Miller-Leibbrant Plunge, where they excelled in diving and trapeze stunts. Levi became a swimming instructor, while his brother Frank went to sea instead of attending high school, then fought in Samoa and the Philippines in 1899. Returning to Santa Cruz, Frank also became a swimming instructor in 1904 During a baseball game in 1906, Levi had left the game after receiving a blow to the head. Over the next few months, the pain from the concussion only got worse, until Harry and John moved in to help Levi’s wife take care of him. In 1907, Levi died of a blood clot at the age of 33.
Frank Kittredge Hannah gained a reputation as a marksman in the Marines and performed his marksmanship at the Beach Flats Camp of the San Francisco Schuetzen Verein (German Shooting Club). Frank joined the force in 1907, became chief of police in 1914, and eliminated rum runners and speak-easys when Prohibition began in 1920. But at 4 p.m. each workday, Frank took a break to go swimming with two friends, journalist. Ernest Otto and Pete Pappas, developer and restorer of Boardwalk.
Frank and Lottie
In 1914, 35-year-old Frank finally settled down when he married 29-year-old “bachelor” Lottie May Teeney (also spelled “Tenney”). Lottie was an accomplished artist and porcelain painter, selling her work first at Abram’s store and then after 1911 at the Women’s Art Exchange on Walnut Avenue. When Frank and Lottie married, they moved into a Victorian on Riverside Avenue called Acacia Villa, with Frank’s widowed mother, Margaret, and her brother Jack. Frank’s love of fishing and swimming has kept him attached to his Beach Flats neighborhood.
Frank and Lottie had a strong bond between them, which one parent bitterly thought it should be, given Frank’s threat to leave Lottie if she had a baby. This deeply hurt Lottie, who felt she had let Frank down by not producing a child. Her doctor had warned them that due to her weak heart, childbirth would likely kill her. Lottie would have willingly taken the risk, were it not for Frank’s threat not to keep the child.
In the days leading up to birth control, Frank sought to avoid stressing Lottie’s health by indulging her carnal desires in brothels. Lottie had to satisfy her urge to create through porcelain painting, which became more of a refuge as failing health limited her activities. She became bedridden in 1920, then was admitted to Seabright Sanitarium and died of heart failure on April 2, 1921, aged 36.
Habits formed during Lottie’s illness led to Frank’s downfall in 1926, when he was caught “at the scene” during a Watsonville brothel raid. Although exonerated, the scandal became fodder for critics who questioned his commitment to upholding prohibition laws. Frank’s allied police commissioner, Fred C. Royse, was removed from office by a majority of one vote, forcing Hannah to leave as well.
So Frank filled his lot at 312 Raymond St. with a number of guest cabins called “Hannah’s Sea Cottages”. These were managed by carpenter Cabel J. Todd and his wife, Fanny Fern Todd, who had built the corresponding Victorians at 312 Raymond and 213 Uhden in the 1890s. Todd once helped build a house in Salt Lake City for Brigham Young and his wives. Todd’s daughter, Pearl, was born in Utah on July 24, 1892, then they moved to San Jose because the mother disapproved of polygamy.
In 1907, 15-year-old Pearl and her sweetheart Earl Harris traveled to San Mateo to get married, where marriage laws were more relaxed. She gave birth to her son Milton on November 16, 1908, but less than 12 months later her husband Harris had died of tuberculosis. To care for her son, she married Welsh singer Jack Evans and toured the country with him. But marital discord over her feminization caused him to return to Wales without her, and she was divorced on the grounds of desertion.
She went to work in a candy store in San Francisco (according to Laurie Slathower), but unable to support her son, Milton was placed in an orphanage. Anxious to get his son back, a wealthy widower, J. George Smith, married Pearl in 1916, adopting 8-year-old Milton. Smith was the opposite of the faithless Evans, adoring Pearl to the point of oppressive jealousy. She became a virtual prisoner of his exclusive attentions, as he hired detectives to follow her and make sure she had no friendships. Pearl took Milton and escaped to her parents at Hannah’s Sea Cottages (312 Raymond).
Here, the boardwalk was their common “front yard” and Milton became addicted to booth games on the boardwalk. In Pearl’s favour, Jack Clark, who owned some of the claims, looked after Milton for her, and a friendship developed between the three of them.
Jack would drive Milton home some evenings and stay at first just for dinner. This became permanent when they married in 1919–20, residing at “Clark’s Cottages” (108 Uhden), which included his tenting grounds at Poet’s Park. Jack had a warm and endearing personality. Jack, Pearl and Milton traveled the carnival circuit across the country, exploring America firsthand. In 1925, they were working at a carnival near New Orleans when Jack had a heart attack and died.
Pearl returned to Santa Cruz and moved in with her parents, in order to sell “Clark’s Cottages” to Mrs. Caroline Stanley in 1926. It was then that Frank Hannah’s career disintegrated, forcing him to build “Hannah’s Sea Cottages” at his parents’ home. . . Pearl helped her parents run the Sea Cottages, living in her own cabin behind Frank’s house at 207 Uhden Street. Frank cared for the Todds like family, and then his mother died in 1936. Frank sought solace in Pearl’s compassion, and the two were soon married. Or tried. It came as a surprise to both of them when they found out that Pearl was bigamous in her marriages to Clark and Hannah, as her sultry marriage to J. George Smith had never been legally terminated. Frank helped her with the divorce proceedings, and when it was granted, they had a second marriage to make it legal.
For a man she married twice, it was not a happy union. Pearl found her alley cat lifestyle had become too entrenched. “It was terrible,” Pearl said. “He was crazy about women. One of the neighbors once came up to me and said, ‘Your husband just gave my daughter a $2,500 fur coat!’ The only moderating influence in the whole affair was Frank’s brother, John. A serious man, John both comforted Pearl and tried to get Frank to behave. By 1938, Pearl was back in her little cabin, remaining married, but physically separated. Frank died of a heart attack in 1939, leaving his estate of $10,000 to Pearl and John. Pearl and John were then married in Reno on April 16, 1940.
Silent John was never polite in social dealings, being outspoken or gruff when he spoke. But Pearl loved her serious bear, a great source of comfort and stability. Both built the additional single-walled cabins in the yard themselves, in a kind of architectural experiment before zoning laws. The original shapes and styles were given names such as Seashell, Bob-In, the Nest, Mother Goose, Patio, Pent House, Wee House, River View, etc. Their clients were largely wealthy business families from the San Joaquin Valley. John could be harsh, but regulars knew how to talk to Pearl after he left, for a lower price.
Beach Flats declined due to the 1957 levees, which destroyed river sport fishing and closed the view. Yet in 1983, 92-year-old Pearl described her funky neighborhood as the “Mellow Ghetto.” People knew their neighbors and were his extended family after the deaths of John in 1976 and his son Milton in 1982. Portraits of his son and his five husbands filled the living room. She always had candy for the kids and refreshments for the visiting neighbors.
Pearl wouldn’t raise her rents to the max, because she didn’t want to lose the tenants she loved. The tenants therefore grouped together without his knowledge and voluntarily increased their rents. Pearl passed away on May 13, 1985, a fine example of the spirit of Beach Flats!