HISTORY IN
    
SAN LUIS OBISPO
        COUNTY
 
  Site  by Lynne Landwehr © 2001
     www.historyinslocounty.org

 

 

 

 


Features and Information:

Photo Documentation:
Historical Photos in
SLO County Government Annex

(The 20 historical photos cited below, along with explanatory texts, are displayed in the San Luis Obispo County Government Center at the corner of Monterey and Santa Rosa Streets.  The background texts were written by Lynne Landwehr for a project which was begun when she was a staff member of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum and which was completed thanks to the efforts and support of Peter Jenny of SLO County Parks, and of Rich Kopcki, General Services, County of SLO).

The texts are reproduced here on one long page, so that they may be easily printed out by teachers wishing to use the them as a study aid for students touring the County Government Center.   --Lynne Landwehr)

***

Photo Texts:

Billy Yates, 1905
Bennett-Loomis Archives

Billy Yates ran his clamming business at a time when the supply of Pismo clams seemed inexhaustible. But six years after this photo was taken, state legislation imposed a daily limit of 200 clams per person, specifying that clams taken "must not measure less than 13 inches around the outer edge of the shell." Judging from this photo, Yates's clams would have met the size requirement.

The name for the "Pismo" clam was derived from the Chumash word "pizmu," which referred to the tar that occurs in natural seeps along the County's beaches. The Pismo clam was an important item in the diet of the Chumash people of the coastal area, as well as for the California sea otters. After the European and Yankee-based fur trade nearly wiped out the sea otters, the clam and abalone populations exploded. The region's early settlers would attach plows to their wagons, drag the beach, and rake up plentiful supplies of clams which they took home and used for chicken feed or fertilizer. 

The Pismo clam is relatively short-necked and therefore burrows close to the surface. This meant that in the days when the clams were still so abundant, riding in a wagon along the sand at low tide felt very much like riding on a cobblestone street. 

***

Cal Poly, New Construction, About 1903
University Archives, Robert E. Kennedy Library 
California State Polytechnic University

Cal Poly's first campus consisted of three main buildings--the Household Arts building (at left), the Administration building (at right), and (in the background), a boys' dormitory that also held shop and agriculture classes. These buildings overlooked the railroad tracks from the hill where the university's education and business buildings stand today. 

Designed by well-known architect William Weeks and constructed by the firm of local builder Joseph Maino, these buildings were the first in the County with outside walls of lath and plaster. Maino's son Charles later wrote that one of the Cal Poly students, on the first day of school, carefully inspected the corner of one of the buildings, then gave it a hard kick: "When he found that he had knocked off a portion of the corner, he ran as fast as he could…." 

In the Household Arts building, at left, were classrooms for the Domestic Science program, which stressed cooking and catering; dressmaking and millinery; house construction and furnishing; household economy; housekeeping and laundering; and sewing. 

***

Cal Poly Wood Shop, 1908
University Archives, Robert E. Kennedy Library
California State Polytechnic University

By 1908, the California Polytechnic School had been holding classes for five years, and 139 students were enrolled. At this time, the students had to be at least 15 years old, graduates of the eighth grade, and able to pass tests in English, history, and mathematics.

This was the only trade school west of the Mississippi River supported by state aid. One early announcement proclaimed, "The purpose of this school is to furnish to young people of both sexes mental and manual training in the arts and sciences, including agriculture, mechanics, engineering, business methods, domestic economy, and such branches as will fit the students for the non-professional walks of life." Over the years, the curriculum has vastly expanded, but Cal Poly's programs still emphasize a "learn by doing" approach.

This early photo of the wood shop reflects the school's practical orientation. Photographer Frank Aston noted that the students shown here wore ties for the occasion of the photograph, but that their attire was usually more casual. And rightly so, since these students were busy building all the school's wood wares, from chairs and tables for the classrooms to poultry pens for the agricultural program.

***

Cambria, 1870s
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

Cambria boomed in the 1870s, and for a while, people believed the town might surpass San Luis Obispo in size and importance. Cambria's pine trees provided plenty of first-growth timber, and cinnabar (mercury ore) was being gouged out of the nearby quicksilver mines at places with names like the Oceanic, the Pine Mountain, and the Polar Star. The nearby farms and ranches were planted in corn, wheat, and barley, and they reportedly yielded sixty bushels per acre. Dairy cattle grew fat grazing in the nearby hills, and fruits grew "to perfection." 

The all-wood construction of Cambria's first buildings created a constant fire danger, and in the early morning of October 1, 1889, the town's entire business section burned down in just over two hours. The blaze could be seen all the way to San Simeon. The only water available for fighting the fire was in a 6,000-gallon tank connected by one spigot to an old and damaged water hose. 

All that was left after the flames died away were piles of ashes, and brick chimneys standing starkly in the middle of the devastation. Despite heavy financial losses, most merchants stayed on to rebuild, and to organize a volunteer fire department with new and better fire-fighting equipment.

***

Courthouse Officials, June 1904
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

County officials and employees posed on the steps of the Courthouse for this 1904 photograph. The imposing figure at front left is Yancey McFadden, then 48 years old and a Deputy in the Sheriff's department. McFadden would become Sheriff in 1906 and would serve for four years. 

One of the County's most colorful officials, McFadden was the last Sheriff to regularly jump on a horse to pursue robbers, bandits, and cattle rustlers. On one occasion, he received word of a robbery, ran to the livery stable, mounted a horse bareback, and took off up Monterey Street in the dark. The horse "dashed into a pile of bitumen which was lying in the road without a danger lamp being displayed," and McFadden was thrown to the ground. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and a fractured arm bone, but, reported the paper, "He bore the painful injury with his usual cheerfulness." (San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, January 10, 1910)

Others pictured include County Clerk H. H. Carpenter (top, center), Under Sheriff Charles Ivins (just above McFadden, to the left), District Attorney C. A. Palmer (just above McFadden, to the right), and Coroner G. B. Nichols (front row, white beard).

***

Dedication of Camino Real Bell, San Luis Obispo Mission
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

The Native Daughters of the Golden West hosted this 1909 Thanksgiving Day ceremony to present the Camino Real bell and marker seen at center. This was part of a larger project to help the public recognize the historic route of the Camino Real (Spanish for "Royal Road"), which connected Spain's 21 missions in coastal California. 

The placement of bells along the Camino began in 1906 with a dedication ceremony in Los Angeles. By 1913, a total of 450 bells had been put up, one in front of each mission, and the others at mile-long intervals along the route. Currently, the bell markers are placed and maintained under the California Department of Transportation's Adopt-A-Highway Program. 

The Mission appears here in its New England-style incarnation, which was begun in the 1870s and lasted some 50 years. This Anglicization of the original Spanish design was lamented by many visitors, such as the one who wrote that "The main building of the Bishop's Mission is still used for mass, though its physiognomy has been utterly spoiled by an over-lay of boards and the substitution of shingles for the mellow red of the pottery roof."

CaminoBellLadiesScannedAt200.jpg (330668 bytes) Photo at left, of dedication of Camino Real Bell, courtesy of Gene Reis. (Click to enlarge)

***

General Merchandise Store, Downtown Oceano 
Turn of the Century
Bennett-Loomis Archives

This photo marks the last days of the horse-and-buggy era, with F. R. Philbrick's general blacksmith shop keeping the horses shod and the buggies and farm equipment in running order. But the "Iron Horse," as the railroad was called, had already brought major changes, and the "horseless carriage" was soon to arrive on the scene. 

The commercial signs reflect the growing influence of national advertising. "Adriance" was an East Coast farm supply company known for its "buckeye mower." Hamilton-Brown was a division the St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Company, famous for its promotions based on popular cartoon character Buster Brown and his dog Tige. The advertisement for American Fences indicates the popularity of commercial fencing in an area that had once relied upon corrals and fences made with stones, tule reeds, or even cactus. 

Oceano's growth was based on the abundant crops grown in the rich soil of the Arroyo Grande Valley, and on the town's proximity to the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. The Oceano Post Office, between the general merchandise store and the blacksmith shop, was opened in 1895.

***

4th of July Parade, Higuera Street, Turn of the Century
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

This July 4th parade was probably the one staged in 1908; it drew a crowd of thousands. In the foreground at left is a fire engine pulled by the pair of white horses named Frank and Rowdy, who were known as "the pride of the San Luis Firemen." Frank and Rowdy, said to be "as intelligent as human beings and as gentle as kittens," made yearly appearances on the stage of the old Pavilion Theater in plays that benefited the firemen's Sick Fund. 

This photo was taken from the mid-point of Higuera Street's 800 block. Just behind the horses and the fire engine, but not visible in the photo, was the Classical Revival-style City Hall building (at #867). This housed city and police offices on the second floor, while the ground floor was reserved for the fire engines and for stalls for Frank and Rowdy. 

In the next block down, on the left (at the Higuera/Chorro intersection), is the building originally known as the County Bank building; it became the Commercial Bank in 1901. The building is still there, but its diagonally-placed tower is long gone. Catty-corner across the intersection is the Warden building (1904), distinctive for its clock tower, which was removed in 1955 due to earthquake safety concerns.

***

H & H Bar, Monterey Street, San Luis Obispo, Early 1900s
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

Located at 862 Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo, the H & H Bar was named after its owners, Clarence and Anna Hunsacker. In 1911, it was one of 23 bars in a six-block area, sustaining the town's early reputation as a hard-drinking place. The decor in these saloons ranged from elegant to rudimentary--at the H & H, the roof was of corrugated metal, the walls were unfinished, and an ordinary pail served as the second spittoon.

The colorful character in the studded chaps and belt is John Baptista Romo, a Hearst Ranch vaquero (cowboy) who claimed to be the No. 1 enemy of the ranch's squirrel population. Romo enjoyed dressing up in Western-style outfits even when he wasn't working-note that he's wearing ordinary street shoes, rather than cowboy boots. Later in life, he took to sporting a chestful of medals and trinkets, saying, "I wear them for looks. People ask questions, and the more they ask, the more I put on." 

The H & H bar was a victim of Prohibition; it disappeared from the San Luis Obispo telephone directory listings after 1919.

***

Hotel El Paso de Robles, 1913
Young Louis Archives

The Hotel El Paso de Robles advertised itself as one of the finest resorts on the Pacific Coast. Many of its guests, including the world-famous pianist Ignace Paderewski, came for the curative waters of the area's hot springs and mineral baths. The building at left in the background was the hotel's new Bath House (1906), designed by architect William Weeks.

The hotel featured a plush lobby, a 300-person dining room, a five-story solarium, reading rooms, a barber shop, a billiard saloon, and even a separate "Ladies' Billiard Room." More than a million bricks were used in the hotel's 22-inch-thick walls, and each guestroom had a chimney, so that the place became known as "the hotel of a hundred chimneys." 

Ironically, the building was touted as "absolutely fireproof," a claim disproved when the grand old hotel burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze the night of December 12, 1940. The present-day Paso Robles Inn is built of bricks salvaged from the ruins; it sits, phoenix-like, on the site of its larger and more elegant predecessor.

***

Jernigan Real Estate Office, Arroyo Grande
Turn of the Century
Bennett-Loomis Archives

John Jernigan's business approach, combining real estate and insurance sales, was typical of many early commercial ventures, which had to be versatile in order to survive.

The German American Insurance Company (see sign), founded in 1872 by German immigrants, was so successful that just five years later, it employed 1,000 agents throughout the country. In 1918, the company changed its name to the Great American Insurance Company, yielding to anti-German sentiment during the Great War. 

The word "red" preceding the telephone number is a reference to one of four categories of phone line: red, main, suburban, and farmer. This way, each phone number could serve in four separate contexts. 

The 1906 telephone directory listed 817 telephones for the entire County; this included 615 in San Luis Obispo, 108 in Paso Robles, and 68 in Arroyo Grande, with the remaining 26 spread out among Cambria, Cayucos, "El Pizmo," San Miguel, Santa Margarita, and Templeton. 

***

July 4, 1917, Atascadero
Young Louis Archives

Atascadero's 1917 celebration of July 4th was held against the backdrop of the huge enclosed shopping center/hotel known as La Plaza. There was a grand parade, a speech by California Governor William D. Stephens, and a pageant with over 200 costumed actors depicting California history "from the days when the Indians used to roam at will through the country." The grand finale was an Atascadero Lake production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore with a chorus of 100 voices and a real ship on the water. 

The counterpoint to these festivities was war in Europe-the U.S. had officially entered the Great War (World War I) just three months earlier. However, it would be many months before U.S. troops would enter combat in Europe in large numbers. In his speech to the Atascadero crowd, Governor Stephens urged that California do her part "in men and supplies, and in meeting every demand from Washington." (San Luis Obispo Tribune, July 6, 1917)

Coincidentally, it was on this same July day that, in Paris, Colonel Charles E. Stanton of the American Expeditionary Force proclaimed his famous "Lafayette, we are here!" at the tomb of the French general who had lent his services to the American colonists in their struggle against England. 

***

Oceano Train Depot, 1913
Courtesy of Bennett-Loomis Archives

Oceano's position at the mouth of the fertile Arroyo Grande Valley and on the Southern Pacific railway line made it an important shipping and freight center. Its depot was constructed in 1904 to replace an earlier, identical one that had burned down. As explained by historian Norm Hammond in his 1992 book The Dunites, the deciding factor in building a Southern Pacific depot in Oceano was the soft water lying just below the sand in this location. This water left very little scale residue in the boilers of the railroad's giant steam locomotives, thereby reducing equipment and maintenance costs.

In the background is the Nipomo Mesa, with its Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees planted by lumber companies counting on huge profits in the hardwood market. As it turned out, the wood from this species of eucalyptus warped and cracked and could not be used as planned, and so the eucalyptus industry on the mesa collapsed. 

The Oceano depot was closed in 1973, and has since been moved 100 yards north to its present location, where it serves as a historical museum focusing on transportation and Oceano history.

***

Old Courthouse, Prior to World War I
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

County court proceedings were first held in Mission San Luis Obispo and later in Captain William Dana's two-story adobe near the corner of Monterey and Court Streets. By the early 1870s, the Dana building was being criticized as "a model of repulsiveness," and when the State legislature authorized the issuance of bonds up to $40,000 for County construction, the way was opened for construction of a new Courthouse. The Greek Revival-style building was completed in 1873. In his 1971 historical overview of the Courthouse, Harold Miossi anticipated later debates over dominance and ethnicity, noting that this building was "a monument to Anglo-Saxon ascendancy. Its erection came at the end of a decade that had seen the Mexican land grants drift into American hands….The Hispanic image was effaced, and American domination complete." 

Note the Sheriff's office at ground level, to the left of the main steps. The jail, too, was in this part of the building. The Hall of Records, at left in the background, was built in 1888 to house the mountain of paperwork connected with a growing county. Both the Hall of Records and the old Courthouse were demolished in the late 1930s to make way for the present Courthouse.

***

Pismo Beach, July 4, 1912
City of Pismo Beach Collection

The July 4th celebration at Pismo Beach in 1912 represented a local triumph for the "horseless carriage." This was the largest gathering of automobiles ever seen in San Luis Obispo County up to that time. Despite the numbers, "No accidents of dangerous consequence were reported from the beach, and with the large aggregation of machines, the day passed remarkably well." (San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram, July 5, 1912) 

By the time this photo was taken, California's love affair with the automobile was already underway. Statistics in 1912 showed 1 in 30 Californians owned an automobile, whereas in the state of New York the ratio was only 1 in 100. 

The large building shown in the photo was the El Pizmo Inn, which at the time rented rooms for $2.50 a day, or $12.50 a week, claiming to give "more for your money than any other beach resort on the coast." To the right are some of the 18' x 14' wood-frame tents that made up the popular "Tent City." These tents came equipped with beds, tables, chairs, and electricity; at a rate of $8 per week, they were an affordable alternative to El Pizmo and other resort hotels.

***

Port San Luis
Courtesy of Bob Bachino

Port San Luis, the Pacific Coast Railway's shore terminus, was first known as Port Harford after John Harford, its builder. He chose the location because it was "the only place where vessels can lay in the bay of San Luis Obispo in all weathers." (San Luis Obispo Tribune, September 6, 1873). The narrow-gauge railway track was laid all the way to the end of the pier, where goods could be transferred to or from the ships that were the County's only reliable connection with the outside world. 

Chinese laborers for this project were contracted by pioneer Ah Louis, who himself made the transition from laborer to businessman while working with Harford. 

The Marre Hotel (at left), completed in 1885 at a cost of $30,000, was a popular destination of the Pacific Coast Railway's excursion trains, which gave County residents a previously undreamed of mobility.

The tanks above the town of Avila, in the background, were built in 1906 by the Union Oil Company to store oil pumped from the Santa Maria oilfields. Twice in 1908, lightning struck the tanks, starting fires that burned for days. In each case, light from the blaze could be seen all the way to San Luis Obispo.

***

San Luis Obispo, 1880
San Luis Library

This early photo shows open fields stretching from the base of Terrace Hill all the way to the center of the city of San Luis Obispo. In 1880, there were only an estimated 2,500 people within the city limits, and it wasn't until the arrival of the Southern Pacific railroad in 1894 that this southeastern portion of the city would be built up. 

Distinguishable buildings include the County Courthouse, the Mission, the nearby convent school, and Court School (on the corner of Mill and Santa Rosa Streets). Court School wasn't far from the County Courthouse, and behind the Courthouse was the lot where the circuses used to set up. Palm Street resident Richard Chong, who was born in 1903 and who attended Court School, explained in a 1977 oral history interview: "I used to look out the second story window from Court School, that's where the [City] Recreation Hall is now, and we'd look down and watch them pitch tents and all that, and then the [circus] parade starts at 10:00 o'clock sharp and that's when we have recess, we all come out...and when we heard the band and calliope coming out on Osos Street, we'd [take off]...and later on, the truant officer would pick us up."

***

San Luis Obispo Mission de Tolosa
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

This photo shows Mission San Luis Obispo as it appeared from the 1880s through the 1920s, in its New England-style incarnation. Visitors and tourists in these times frequently noted the poor condition of the Mission. This photo shows its crumbling plaster walls, its columns standing with no roofing over them, its shutters askew and falling away, and even the lamppost at the corner in precarious condition. 

A fire in the early hours of March 27, 1920, forced some repairs, and prompted thoughts of restoration. Under the guidance of Father John Harnett from 1933 to 1939, the Mission was gradually restored to its original, Spanish-style appearance. 

In the foreground of this photo is the part of the Mission that was used as a jail in the 1850s. Here, too, the Vigilance Committee of 1858 carried out some of its hangings. In an 1898 newspaper account, old-time resident Mrs. Charles Dana recalled that, as a girl, she had lived in a house just across Broad Street from the Mission, and that "she and her sisters woke at four o'clock one morning and looked from the upper window to see the dark form of a man swinging from the protruding rafters of the mission….the lynching[s] continued until fourteen men had been hung there." (San Luis Obispo Breeze, December 26, 1898)

***

South County Beach, Turn of the Century
Bennett-Loomis Archives

The swimwear pictured here was standard at a time when "decent women" could not appear in public in anything revealing. In that era, "bathing costumes" for girls and women included long sleeves, ruffled pantaloons, and sometimes even corsets. 

Recommendations for "bathing" were just as restrictive: the newspaper reported it was essential to avoid bathing within two hours after a meal, to leave the water immediately if there was "any sense of chilliness in the hands and feet," and to refrain from bathing "if under the influence of any great emotional excitement." While these recommendations may seem ridiculous to us today, they were made at a time when relatively few people actually knew how to swim; this makes the extreme precautions more understandable. 

Despite such recommended precautions, the waters of San Luis Obispo County beaches were an irresistible attraction. They drew local residents as well as the early settlers of the Fresno-Bakersfield corridor, who escaped the blistering heat of the Central Valley by trekking to beach campsites strung out from Oceano to Pismo, and from Morro Bay to Cayucos. Then, as now, the Pacific shore was a major factor in the tourist formula.

***

South County Harvest
San Luis Obispo County Historical Society/Museum

Custom thresher George Kilbern ran this early harvesting operation. The main machinery consisted of a threshing machine (at left) linked by belt to the steam-engine power source (at right). After laborers gathered shocks of grain into regularly spaced stacks, the threshing machine would be positioned next to a stack, and the shocks would be loaded onto a conveyor belt and taken into the machine's cylinder, where they were beaten until the grain separated out and fell through a spout to the bottom of the machine. There the grain was collected in sacks which were hand-sewn shut by laborers who could do up to six sacks per minute. 

The chaff and dust generated in the threshing process were blown out of the machine by a fan. To help prevent what was called "the chaff rash," the members of this crew all wore long-sleeved shirts, despite the heat of late summer. 

Threshing crews had to work up to 15 hours a day--and quickly. One report noted the speed record of the Corral de Piedra Threshing Company's laborers, who moved all their machinery in "just three and one-half minutes…from the time the belt was disconnected in one spot until the grain was passing through the machine at the next stack 175 yards away." (San Luis Obispo Semi-Weekly Breeze, August 1, 1905)

***

The search button below
can be used to search all pages within this site
for a word or phrase.

PicoSearch

***

 

 

 

 


Copyright © 2001 Lynne Landwehr.  All rights reserved.
www.historyinslocounty.org