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Psycho in Santa Cruz

Wide picture of Sunshine Villa formerly Hotel McCray
Sunshine Villa

Sunshine Villa
Sunshine Villa

Entrance to Sunshine Villa
Original entrance to Sunshine Villa (Hotel McCray)

Plaque in front of Sunshine Villa
Plaque in front of Sunshine Villa

There is no doubt that Psycho was a seriously scary movie but did you know director Alfred Hitchcock based the Bates Mansion and Motel on locals right in our own backyard? Yep, the infamous Bates Mansion and the Bates Motel were inspired by actual buildings in Santa Cruz.

Hitchcock came to California in 1940 with his family and settled in the Vine Hill area near Scotts Valley. While he kept a small home in Bel Air he considered the Scotts Valley area his home. It's no coincidence then that by Psycho's 1960 release he was well aware of the historic, if not sometimes creepy, buildings of Santa Cruz. In fact in an 1962 interview, Hitchcock had this to say about his choice of location:

"The mysterious atmosphere is, to some extent, quite accidental. For instance, the actual locale of the events is in northern California, where that type of house is very common. They're either called "California Gothic," or, when they're particularly awful, they're called "California gingerbread." I did not set out to reconstruct an old-fashioned Universal horror-picture atmosphere. I simply wanted to be accurate, and there is no question but that both the house and the motel are authentic reproductions of the real thing. I chose that house and motel because I realized that if I had taken an ordinary low bungalow the effect wouldn't have been the same. I felt that type of architecture would help the atmosphere of the yarn."

So which specific buildings were his inspiration? Well for the setting he chose the dilapidated Hotel McCray which stood on Beach Hill at the intersection of Front and Third Streets. Since the 1960's the Hotel McCray has been fixed up and expanded and exists today as the Regent Sunshine Villa Assisted Living Retirement Home. You can see pictures of Sunshine Villa to the right of this article. The actual building which inspired Hitchcock's vision for the Bates Mansion was the Bernheim House. Sadly this structure has long since been removed but it once stood at the intersection of Broadway and Ocean Streets.

Architecture wasn't the only Santa Cruz inspiration for Hitchcock. A particularly unusual event in the early 60's became the basis for one of Hitchcock's most famous films. In his 1963 movie, The Birds, Santa Cruz is mentioned as the location where the bird attacks first began.

This was actually more fact than fiction. In August 1961 an enormous flock of sooty shearwaters, fresh from a feast of anchovies, became confused by the city lights and heavy fog and collided with shore side structures from Pleasure Point to Rio del Mar. Startled residents awoke and rushed outside at 3AM to find the dead, stunned, and confused birds filling the area. Residents quickly ran back inside as the disoriented birds disgorged their catch of anchovy over their lawns and rooftops and flew toward those with flashlights. Many reported being hit or pecked at by the birds.

Santa Cruz, scary inspiration.


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