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Early Greek Settlers in Santa Cruz County

Once Greeks began settling in Santa Cruz County, it became a matter of time before they would be able to have their own church. This took many decades, however, because their numbers were not nearly enough to found and support a church.

The earliest Greek settlers established themselves in Davenport, some nine miles north of the city of Santa Cruz. Practically all of them came from the region of Chania, Crete, Greece. They included the Cuclis (Kouklakis) brothers, Demetrios and Kyriakos, who arrived in 1913; Vasilis Dimotakis, Anthony Vomvolakis, Anthony Stratos, Leonidas Boulitsakis, who arrived in 1920; Nicholas Arvelas and many others. One notable exception was Tony Kollias from the island of Poros, known as “Tony the Greek.” Basically, all of them began work at the Santa Cruz Cement Company, and as they were all single men, they stayed at the Bella Vista Boarding House managed by Demetrios Cuclis.

As the “Roaring Twenties” marched on many of the Davenport Cretans went back to their homeland and brought new brides. Meanwhile, they expanded into other occupations: L. Boulitsakis, N. Arvelas and V. Dimotakis became ranchers; A. Stratos a farmer; the Cuclis brothers became first ranchers and then Demetrios a butcher and Kyriakos a dairy farmer. During the depression years of the 1930s they all managed to survive and create families.

In Santa Cruz, the Scontriano brothers, William (Vasilis) and George, arrived in 1929 and opened a restaurant. However, they and a handful of others, including a lone lumberjack in Capitola named Chris Betsakos, were the only Greeks in Santa Cruz until the beginning of the 1940s. In 1942, Leonidas Marinos moved from Davenport to Santa Cruz and opened a beach restaurant. By the mid-40s many others, including the Cuclis, Boulitsakis, Arvelas and Vomvolakis families had followed suit. In 1944, Theodore Spagopoulos (father of Elaine Stratos) from Kalamata also settled in Santa Cruz.

The result of this influx was that by the end of the Second World War Greeks in Santa Cruz numbered 20-25 families. Shortly after the war, in 1945-46, John and Georgia Sandas arrived from Port Angeles, Washington, and Fotis and Evelyn Mellis, from Stockton, California. The former opened a bakery and the latter a grocery store, which were destined to be continued for many years by their sons Paul Sandas and Spiro Mellis. As the 1940s were beginning to wane, Gus and Bessie Georgouses arrived in 1947.

A small number of Greeks also settled in south Santa Cruz County. With the exception of Louis Athas and his brother Harry Xanthus, who settled in the area between Aptos and Watsonville in 1922 and practiced ranching-farming, the rest established themselves in Watsonville during the 1940s. They included Evangelos and Amalia Hoularis, who arrived in 1944, Sam Davis, Peter Poulos, Nicholas Gramatis, and George and Catherine Lerek with their sons Nicholas and John, who opened a bakery. Much later, in 1959, James and Anthony Petroutsas arrived and entered the restaurant business. They were followed by two other brothers in the 1960s – Peter and Tasos.
All of the Greeks of Santa Cruz County found themselves very far from Greek Orthodox churches in these early years. The nearest were Holy Trinity and the Annunciation in San Francisco, where they attended services from time to time, and especially during great feast days and on the occasion of weddings and baptisms. When the church of the Saint Nicholas opened in San Jose in 1945, many became members and regular churchgoers of that community, and some, like Spiro Mellis, served in the parish council for several years. The few Greeks of Watsonville began churching themselves at Saint John the Baptist church in Salinas once that community opened in 1956.

Until the late 1970s no attempt was made to organize either socially or ecclesiastically. An informal group of Santa Cruz ladies involved themselves in some charitable work in the ‘40s and ‘5Os, but that’s as far as it went. In the late ’40s and ’50s and early ‘60s, intermittent services were held at the Calvary Episcopal Church on Center Street, in Santa Cruz, by priests from San Jose’s Saint Nicholas, and at least on three occasions the Paul and Ellen Sandas home was used for Easter Agape services.

— Excerpted from The Silver Anniversary of Prophet Elias: Parish History, by Nicholas G. Itsines, Ph.D.

History of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church

1913 – First Greeks began settling in Santa Cruz, California.

1978 – “Yasou” letter was sent out about organizing a church. Orthodox Christians, numbering 125, were identified. The first meeting held. Monies were collected under the name “Greek Orthodox Missionary Church Fund of Santa Cruz County.” The first service held at the Seventh Day Adventist Chapel on November 26th.

1979 – Steering Committee organized and a budget of $12,750 was adopted. The community was chartered as a non-profit organization. On July 1th, the parish adopted By-Laws. On December 15th, Fr. John Karastamatis was appointed as the first full-time priest and served the community until his death in 1985. Church services were held at the Monterey Bay Academy.

1980 – On February 4th, Bishop Anthony visits. That same day a Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos was established in Santa Cruz. Soon afterward, the parish adopted Prophet Elias as its patron saint. In May, the community began holding services at the Chapel of the Poor Clare’s Monastery in Aptos. On October 18th, a Sunday School was established. On October 25th, a Greek School was established. On October 23th, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America granted a charter and the community was officially recognized as a parish.

1981 – On November 15th, a General Assembly voted to purchase the Wessendorf and Holmes Mortuary at 223 Church Street in Santa Cruz. The Douglas Family, on behalf of the community, purchased the property on December 22nd. Renovations began transforming the building into an Orthodox house of worship.

1982 – On Sunday, February 21st, the first liturgy was celebrated at the 223 Church Street edifice. In April, Greek dancing classes were offered.

1983 – On July 17th, icons were installed on the iconostasion. On July 21st, the ownership of the 223 Church Street building was transferred from the Douglas Family to the parish.

1986 – In September, the installation of stained glass windows began in the church.

1989 – Church survived the 7.1 earthquake on October 17th with no structural damage.

1994 – Very Rev. Fr. Meletios Webber appointed as priest and served until 2005.

1996 – A narthex was constructed. Iconography by Tatiana Grant was commissioned for the protheseis, the platyera and the doors of paradise.

2004 – Major renovation began on the church building and ended May 2005.