Occasionally on the blog we post employee profiles illuminating an individual’s role within the Santa Cruz Seaside Company and the contributions they make. Today we turn that focus to a select group of prevalent characters from the past 107 years: the seven presidents of the Santa Cruz Seaside Company. Join me as we take a quick stroll through the history of Boardwalk leadership and see how their influence shaped the park we know today.
S. Waldo Coleman
When Fred Swanton’s Beach Company went bankrupt in 1914, S. Waldo Coleman led a group of investors who took over. In 1915 Coleman took the helm as the founder and first president of the newly formed Santa Cruz Seaside Company; a move that transitioned Swanton out of all beach operations.
Coleman served as president from 1915 to 1928 and remained the primary stockholder until 1946. During this time he oversaw the construction of the Casa Del Rey Apartments (La Bahia), the operation of the Casa del Rey Hotel and growth of concessionaire operations. He is also responsible for bringing in future presidents as members of the Seaside Company board of directors.
Robert L. Cardiff
In 1928 Robert L. Cardiff succeeded Coleman. Cardiff came to Santa Cruz to attend business school and worked his way up the ranks at Coast Counties Gas & Electric Company. During his 5 years as president and manager, Cardiff traveled to beach resorts on the east coast to study them and brought back what he learned to implement at the Boardwalk. He tirelessly promoted Santa Cruz during the uncertain and tough times of the Great Depression and was able to keep the company afloat until he retired in 1934.
James R. Williamson
James R. Williamson was selected as the 3rd president because of his reputation as a ‘Santa Cruz man.’ A Santa Cruz Sentinel article described Williamson as conscientious, far-sighted and cooperative, he lived by the golden rule and had the respect, admiration and devotion of those around him. The minutes of a stockholder meeting in February of 1943 note that President Williamson expressed his “usual optimism” for the coming 1943 season, while Vice President Jenkins expressed his “usual deep concern” for the 1943 season. Williamson’s optimism got the company through the end of the Great Depression and into WWII when Louis Jenkins took over in 1944.
Louis Jenkins Jr.
Louis Jenkins came from a background in banking and investment. At the invitation of Coleman, Jenkins began serving on the Board of Directors of the Seaside Company starting in 1928. He not only served as VP but was appointed General Manager in 1943. In 1944, during his first year as president, he gave every company employee a turkey for Christmas. His “usual deep concern” regarding the operations of the Boardwalk indicated his dedication and motivation to make intentional and strategic business decisions to improve the Park. In the post-war era, Jenkins focused on modernizing the Casino and Boardwalk to compete in the resurgence of California’s tourist and vacation market, after decades of making do.
In 1952, after the sudden death of Jenkins, Laurence Canfield left his Santa Cruz insurance business in the hands of his son-in-law and took over as president of the Seaside Company. This marked the beginning of the era of the Canfield family that continues to this day. Before becoming president, Laurence had served on the Board of Directors since 1928 and as VP starting in 1945. His long history with the company provided him valuable insight and experience in his new leadership role. Laurence continued his predecessor’s plans for modernizing the Casino, introduced major new rides, strengthened management, and set out to make the Boardwalk a fun and safe place for families to visit. This higher standard of guest experience was a direct result of Laurence’s desire to remain competitive in the amusement industry once Disneyland opened in 1955. Laurence elevated the park’s image within the local and national community and always looked to the future.
Charles, Laurence’s son, grew up in the business. He accompanied his father on trips to amusement parks throughout the world, where Laurence always asked, “What’s the best thing you ever did, and what’s the worst mistake you ever made?” In 1984 Charles became president when his father passed away. They had just completed a massive renovation of the Cocoanut Grove, positioning it as a top-of-the-line event facility. He continued to reinvest in the park through various infrastructure projects, bringing in new rides, developing a strong schedule of events and promotions and diversifying business holdings.
Charles led the company through strong and weak economic times, the aftermath of a major earthquake and the park’s centennial. During the centennial in 2007 Amusement Today awarded the Boardwalk the Golden Ticket for Best Seaside Amusement Park, an award the park won ten more times before they retired the category and named the Boardwalk a Golden Ticket Legend.
Karl Rice, the seventh and current president, is the great-nephew of Charles Canfield. He continues to uphold the family legacy of “leaving it better than you found it”. He took the lead on the Main Entrance plaza project in 2017 and worked tirelessly to see the La Bahia reconstruction project, decades in the making, become a reality. Karl’s leadership guides the team that makes the world’s best seaside amusement park run seamlessly so that guests can create memories that last a lifetime.
The numerous awards and accolades the park has received over the years are a direct reflection of the hard work, dedication and leadership of these seven presidents and the teams of employees they guided through it all.
Stay tuned to hear more stories of the people who keep the Boardwalk running!