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    Zaro’s politics of freedom | Ross Eric Gibson, Local History – Santa Cruz Sentinel

    Marco Zaro was born in 1853 on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic Sea, a fruit-growing region of Croatia. It was part of the Austrian Empire, which became the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Compromise of 1867.  Then in 1868, the “Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia” was created within the empire, having supposed internal autonomy. Yet it was under the strict control of Hungary, who allotted them half the taxes collected, while requiring compulsory military service to Austro-Hungary.

    Zaro married Dominica Sapunor, who gave him daughters Dodie and Hortense, and sons Peter, George and Hortensia.  After four Austrian wars in eight years, life was hard.  Especially compared to 40,000 prosperous ex-patriots who’d settled in Croatian colonies located in California’s fruit-growing valleys of Santa Clara and Pajaro.

    So Zaro departed with his family, his sister-in-law, and his brother Stephen, landing in San Francisco around 1875. They felt instantly at home in a city with 10,000 Croatians, as well as 500 Serbs, who (as the San Francisco Post reported) only differed from Croatians as members of the Greek Orthodox faith instead of Roman Catholic.

    The Zaros settled South of Market Street. Marco established a “Coffee Saloon” at 161 Stuart Street, while Stephen went into partnership with Peter Mickovelovich, in a restaurant at 11 East Street.  In 1878, the Austro-Hungarian military occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina to put down an independence movement, and Marco’s brothers George and Peter, joined him in San Francisco, working as machinists.

    Santa Cruz

    Some of Zaro’s relatives settled in “the Garden City” of San Jose, at the time regarded as the leading quality fruit capital of the United States. In 1879, the Zaro brothers moved to Santa Cruz and opened the “Garden City Restaurant & Bakery” facing the Lower Plaza. The building was just a one-story utilitarian shed, but with a white-washed false-front added, plus two box-bay windows to bring in natural light, it became a popular venue. There was a separate entrance for ladies, and a private banquet hall through a door into an adjacent building. The downtown could be rather dark at night, and even with the plaza’s only lamp post just across the street, it didn’t always highlight ruts and puddles in the unpaved road, so Zaro installed his own lamp post, whose lighted panels read “Oysters In Every Style.”

    The Zaro brothers loved their new country and its freedoms, and quickly assimilated, shortening their names to Mark and Steve, and obtaining their American citizenship. Marco’s sister-in-law married Santa Cruz restauranteur Frank Zamlich (who later ran a restaurant in Capitola), and daughter Dodie married Watsonville’s Charles Micich. The Zaro brothers joined the Odd Fellows Club, which supported businessmen, engaged in community improvements, provided an old age home in Saratoga, plus burial services at the Odd Fellows Cemetery on upper Ocean Street.

    They were members of local Slavonic-American clubs. They were also strong backers of the dozen local fire companies. When the Hook and Ladder, the Alerts, and the Pilot Hose, brought home first prize in the regional firemen’s olympics in San Jose, Marco threw a banquet for the three companies of  21 men, with their foremen seated at the head of the table. Zaro said he had such faith in their response times, that he’d never insured his restaurant! In addition to unending food, toasting, and speeches, there were songs from Henry and Charles Kelly, Ben Patterson, Sheriff Frank Alzina, and Con Crowley, the last singing a song composed by himself and Lulu Wolbach: “A Farmer’s Daughter Who Lives Near Soquel.” The three-hour banquet didn’t end until 11:30 p.m.

    Song performed at Garden City Restaurant, written by Con Crowley, and the former Lulu Hall, credited with naming “Capitola.” (Mary Louise Whitehead collection).

    Santa Cruz County was fast-gaining a large population of Dalmatian exiles, with the Pajaro Valley having the largest population in America. Dalmatians felt Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties were a far superior growing region than the rocky soil of Dalmatia, and Croatians were on the verge of turning the Pajaro Valley into America’s apple-producing capital.

    In Santa Cruz, the river flats between Branciforte Creek and the San Lorenzo River is a well-watered basin with a high water table, soon planted in flowering fruit orchards, nurseries and flower farms, to be dubbed “the Flower Basin.” The Zaro brothers lived on Sandy Lane, the remains of a creek bed that became Ocean Street. Here Marco raised apples and leased orchards in the nearby area.

    Legal trouble

    Marco’s early passion for high-volume apple growing is demonstrated in his first legal action in Santa Cruz.  In November 1883, Elmer Daken gathered 636 boxes of apples and sold them to Wm. F. Burns and fruit-grower Wm. Short, who lived at Ocean Crest (Ocean and Broadway). But these were harvested from Zaro’s orchards, and so he obtained a writ of attachment, impounding the apples for five months, until a trial was held to determine their value on the local market.

    A turn of fortune started in 1887 with the explosion of the restaurant’s street lamp, which rained hot oil and glass on passersby, with a few cuts, and a slight burn to a ladies’ face, the only injuries. Zaro was shipping merchandise from San Francisco to Santa Cruz on the freighter San Vicente, when the ship caught fire near Pigeon Point, and burned to the waterline, with the total loss of his merchandise.

    Marco hired 60-year-old swill-hauler John Vice to dispose of the restaurant’s garbage, and both Vice and Zaro were arrested for violating Santa Cruz’s “Tin Can Ordinance,” intended to keep garbage out of the San Lorenzo River.  Neither men had ever been arrested before, and were determined to fight the charges. As Vice put it, “ ’Rubbish’ means something that stinks, and oyster shells don’t stink!” But in his habit of always landing on his feet, Zaro found fans among the jailhouse staff, and ended up the following year receiving the new contract to supply meals to the county jail.

    Zaro’s brother George died in 1882 in San Francisco of smallpox.  In 1888, word came from Dalmatia that his father was dying. Younger brother Stephen returned to Dalmatia to stay, taking care of his elderly parents, and managing their $20,000 estate. But Marco had put down roots in Santa Cruz, and in 1889 he bought an orchard on Market Street from F.A. Hihn, and built a beautiful home with a veranda, and “bird house” bay window. He bought “four sacks of hair” for $3, to make “horsehair plaster.”  He soon expanded his orchards to five other lots on Market Street.

    Marco Zaro’s beautifully restored home at 121 Market Street, with its “birdhouse” bay window. (Ross Eric Gibson photo)

    International trouble

    In April 1890, Marco learned Stephen had been expelled from Austria and needed cash to get home to Santa Cruz. Marco sent him money, while Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World” reported Austria had tried to force Stephen into military service until Stephen showed them he was an American citizen with a U.S. passport.  They told him either join the Austrian army or leave the country in three days. Otherwise, he’d be imprisoned for three months and fined 50 rubles ($25).  The American Consulate in Triest couldn’t help him stay, leaving him only cash enough to get to New York.

    Once back in Santa Cruz, Stephen complained to the consulate. His friends told Surf reporters that this wasn’t unusual treatment from the Austrian government against expatriates returning for a visit. The previous December, the proprietor of Pacific Avenue’s “California Restaurant,” M. Marinovich, visited his parents in Dalmatia, was arrested, and forced into three years’ service in the Austrian army, even though he had become a naturalized American citizen. After his three-year army service, he would have to remain in Austria nine more years on military call. Most knew to keep a low profile and say nothing against the Austrian government. But the local Dalmatians felt Stephen was too Americanized, forgetting that freedom of speech didn’t exist in Austria.

    That August, Marco’s aunt from San Jose, Mrs. E.M. Glubetich, stayed at his new Market Street house, then invited the Zaros to live with them in San Jose. Stephen did, but Marco loved Santa Cruz, remodeling his restaurant, until a fire put him $28 in debt. Selling his restaurant goods, he raised $3.67, and ended up moving to San Jose to live with his brother. Stephen bought his aunt’s restaurant, the Overland Grill in 1895, helped found a San Jose chapter of the American-Slovonian Society, and married a Sunday school teacher, who bore him five children.

    Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28, 1914, in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, and Serbs seeking liberation from Austro-Hungarian rule, starting World War I. The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco hoped for a more peaceful future, with Marco’s daughter Madeline nearly elected the fair’s “Slavonic Day” queen. Speeches showed the Dalmatians were proud of their heritage, but loyal to the U.S. Marco’s wife died in 1905, so after the war, Marco returned to Dalmatia at age 70 (1923), married a 42-year-old woman, and retired to the Odd Fellows Home in Saratoga, California.

    Marco Zaro's ad for his Garden City Restaurant. (Undated).
    Marco Zaro’s ad for his Garden City Restaurant. (Undated).

     

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