By Kevin Newhouse
May is a special month for Santa Cruz County museums as it is officially National Museum Month. It is also a happy coincidence that the Aptos History Museum celebrates the anniversary of its grand opening every May. This year, in particular, is very special for the Aptos History Museum as it will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary! The celebration will take place on May 15 from 3 – 5:30 p.m. at the Seacliff Inn with an event titled “Swing into Spring.” It will be a “Roaring ‘20s” themed silent auction with jazz music, prizes for the best costume (dress-up optional… but encouraged), hors d’oeuvres, and a no-host bar. The Aptos History Museum, which is right across the street from the Seacliff Inn, will also be open for docent or self-led tours during those hours for anyone to witness local history up close and personal.
Although the Aptos History Museum officially opened its doors 10 years ago, the beginning of the story dates back to 1985. It all started with a photograph of the Aptos railroad station that was donated to the Aptos Chamber of Commerce by Bob Bailey. John and Karen Hibble, who were managing the Chamber at the time (and still do today), proudly hung the photo in their office. That photo sparked many conversations and before long, other folks began to donate their historical items.
The Aptos Chamber moved to its current location in 1994 and once again the historical items were proudly displayed in their office. Over time, the collection grew to a point of needing its own space! So in 2005, when additional office space next to the Chamber became available, John and Karen decided to take advantage of the opportunity to give life to the Aptos History Museum.
It took a lot of help from the community in order to get the museum ready for its grand opening and after many months of hard work, the museum was officially opened on May 24, 2006.
One of our biggest donors over the years has been Karl Mertz. Karl’s great-grandfather, Claus Mangels, was a business partner with Claus Spreckels. Both men played significant roles in our town’s early development. One of the items donated by Karl was the old guest register from Claus Spreckels’ Aptos Hotel (on Spreckels Drive). Karl also donated numerous photos from his family’s collection, shared stories that have been handed down over multiple generations, and has hosted presentations at the famed Mangels House (currently owned by Dr. Fisher but was built for Karl’s Great-Grandfather in 1888.)
Mangels was born in 1832 in the independent kingdom of Hannover, before Germany became a country. The Mangels’ farm was neighbored with the Spreckels’ farm. In 1846, Mangels and Peter Spreckels (Claus Spreckels’ brother) came to America and worked in the grocery business. Claus Spreckels soon followed and eventually ended up owning the business.
Claus Spreckels married Claus Mangels’ sister, Anna, in 1852. Claus Mangels and Peter Spreckels met and married twin sisters Agnes and Anna Grosse. Claus and Agnes had five children together, Philip (who died as an infant), John Henry, Agnes, Anna, and Emma.
In 1863, the three couples started the Bay Sugar Refining Company in San Francisco and were very successful. Agnes Mangels died in 1875 and Claus was remarried to Emma Zweig in 1876.
In 1888, Claus Mangels built his summer ranch house near the entrance of the Forest of Nisene Marks, after acquiring about 550-acres of land from his brother-in-law Claus Spreckels and Vicente Castro. The house was built with clear heart redwood from the Loma Prieta Mill. Its 15 rooms include 10 bedrooms, a kitchen and butler’s pantry, two parlors, a dining room, a card room, a full basement, 3000 square feet of living space on each of its two floors, 14-foot ceilings on the main floor and a full attic topped by a “widow’s walk”. The style is called “Carpenter’s Gothic.”
The Mangels house was built as a summer residence for Claus and Emma and was the last of four homes built by the Spreckels/Mangels clan. All of the houses were built to look similar. Claus Spreckels, who built his home where Huntington Drive, Monroe Avenue and Soquel Drive intersect today, built the first of the four. Later, a similar home was built for John Mangels (a nephew) and his wife, Emeline, on Bayview Court off of Aptos Beach Drive. John managed Spreckels’ Aptos Hotel on Treasure Island Drive. A third home was prefabricated and shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii, for Spreckels to oversee his sugar business in the Sandwich Islands. The only house remaining today is the Mangels’ house.
The estate stayed in the family through four generations until 1979 when it was sold to Dr. Ron and Jackie Fisher. The Fisher’s operated a beautiful bed-and-breakfast with Jackie acting as a charming hostess who prepared wonderful breakfasts that always exceeded one’s expectations. After Jackie’s passing in 2004, the bed-and-breakfast ceased operations. The house is now the private residence of Dr. Fisher.
We were very excited to help Karl celebrate his 100th birthday as part of the museum’s anniversary party but unfortunately he passed away on March 30. He would have turned 100 years old on May 17. Karl definitely lived up to this motto: “The idea is to die young — as late as possible.”
Without Karl Mertz, The Aptos History Museum would not be what it is today. We are forever grateful to have had him in our lives as part of our community, our museum, and our friend. Come help us celebrate Karl’s legacy and the Aptos History Museum’s 10-year anniversary on May 15. For tickets or more information, please call 831-688-1467.
For more information about the Aptos History Museum, upcoming events, or becoming a member of the museum, please visit www.aptoshistory.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @aptos_history_museum.