The area now home to the Tannery Arts Center once housed a thriving leather industry. Three tanneries, including the Salz Tannery, operated where Pogonip Creek meets the San Lorenzo River. The tanneries fueled the economy of Santa Cruz County and the Central Coast.

Jacob Kron, a tanner from Prussia, who had been raising cattle in Napa County purchased the tannery at the site in 1866. The Kron family lived in the building known which is now the office of Arts Council Santa Cruz County. They operated the Tannery until it went into receivership in 1915, and in 1918, the Tannery was acquired by Kullman, Salz & Co., who had a tannery operation in Benecia, CA. Following the 1929 economic crash, with the future of the Tannery in doubt, Kullman, Salz & Co. was liquidated, and Ansley K. Salz contributed personal funds to keep the Tannery open, incorporating the business as A.K. Salz and Company. The Salz family owned and operated the business until it closed in 2001 due to the lower-cost leather production in China and Asia.

People from all over the world worked here, transforming raw hides into strong and durable leather. Today, their stories, the history of the tanning industry and social and economic impact on the region of tanning are told through a variety of exhibits on the campus. Visitors can touch animal hides and finished leather while viewing the outdoor History Wall, featuring photo murals, an illustrated timeline and life-size cutouts of images from the past..

Five of the original buildings, constructed in the mid-1800s, were preserved as part of the Tannery Arts Center redevelopment project, including the Kron House, Hide House, Beam House and Tanyard Buildings.