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[The 1909 Chamber of Commerce booklet on San Luis Obispo County is full of wildly optimistic boosterism and wonderful old photos.
The text in the booklet reminds us that, until quite recently in San Luis Obispo County’s history, “bigger is better,” and “the more, the merrier” were the taglines that permeated all thinking about development. Ninety years ago, no one saw a downside to growth, and the County’s rich lands called out to be farmed, mined, settled, developed, and touristed.
Sandwiched among the predictable rhapsodizing about record-breaking crop yields, amber waves of grain, and oversized vegetables, there are snippets of all-but-forgotten information: that San Simeon bay was once known as the “Bay of Sardines”; that Oceano and surrounding areas were once slated to be named “Pacific City,” in the hope of creating a west coast rival to New Jersey’s Atlantic City; that lots in the city of San Luis Obispo were selling for an average of $500. The text evokes Linne, the North County settlement of Swedish immigrants; the Las Tablas Mennonite colony; the “Indian petroglyphics” of Painted Rock in the Carrizo plains; and the mighty Oilport, constructed up the coast from Pismo Beach at a cost of $1.5 million, and blasted away just one month after its inception by the unrelenting fury of a Pacific storm.
The photos in the booklet remind us of what we have lost in the way of historic buildings—structures like the El Paso de Robles Hotel, the Marre Hotel at Port San Luis, the San Luis Obispo high school building designed by architect William Weeks, the Norton house to the southwest of the Carnegie Library building in San Luis Obispo. But the photos also remind us that many structures have been saved, and some even restored—among them, the two Missions, the two Carnegie library buildings, the Oceano depot. Here and there in the photos, we can spot ghosts from the past—an early-morning photo in which the silhouette of the (former) cupola of the Commercial Bank building is projected across the street onto the Paloma building at the corner of Chorro and Higuera; Morro Rock in the days when it was an isolated sentinel ringed by surf and tides; the riders and their mounts in a long-forgotten horse race on the sands of Pismo Beach; a threshing crew pausing for photographer Frank Aston’s lens; men and horses working among huge blocks of granite being quarried from the base of Bishop’s Peak; and a clutch of ducks lazily paddling beneath the bridge that once spanned San Luis Creek near the present-day Sycamore Mineral Springs.
In 1909, when the Chamber booklet was published, the entire assessed valuation of the County stood at $16.5 million ($270 million in today’s dollars). At present, that valuation exceeds $22 billion. In 1909, the City of San Luis Obispo had four banks, six churches, and 6,500 residents. Today, the city is home to at least a dozen banks, scores of churches, and over 43,000 people. The numbers of today dwarf those of 1909. We can only speculate as to what ghosts are being recorded in the current promotional literature, and what the reaction to present-day statistics and boosterism will be, 90 years hence. --Lynne Landwehr, 2001.]
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"THE MISSION of this booklet of San Luis Obispo County is to furnish a concise and faithful representation of the Resources, the Industries, the Attractions, and the Possibilities of this unique region; portraying, by the aid of the camera and the pen, its Fascinating Scenery, its Broad Plains and Charming Valleys, its Grand Harbor and Picturesque Shores, its Famous Mines and Mineral Wealth, its Unrivaled Health and Pleasure Resorts, its Magnificent Farms and Vast Stock Ranges, its Beautiful Orchards and Prolific Vineyards, its Fertile Soil and Productive Gardens, its Boundless wealth of Flowers and Tropical Plants; showing, also, its Progressive and Enterprising People, its thriving Towns and Prosperous Communities, its Public buildings and Substantial Business Blocks, its Sumptuous Residences and Pretty Homes.
…Land of Promise…
An Undeveloped Empire in Central California
"It was by no accident that Father Junipero Serra established here in 1772, the Mission of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The main building is used today for worship, and the original bell calls the faithful to sunrise mass. Interesting portions remain undesecrated by the attempt of restoration, which has so marred the original structure.
SAN LUIS OBISPO
"Independent of the object of a visit to California whether for pleasure, health, or home-seeking, a few days spent in that picturesque coast section surrounding San Luis Obispo will prove a profitable investment of time; not alone in compelling a realization of the amazing productivity and the marvelous variety of resources displayed by California within a limited area, but because this region conveys to the imagination a vivid expression of the true California atmosphere and the perennial enjoyment of conditions so conducive to happiness and contentment.
"This atmosphere of “Old Mission Days” is being rapidly displaced by the same spirit of enterprise which is stimulating the entire state to phenomenal growth and progress. But while it remains, it lends a distinct charm to San Luis Obispo, which is taken advantage of by the shrewd investor who quickly discovers unappreciated and unappropriated opportunities which he converts into sources of wealth undreamed of by the native Californian.
"Two hundred and fifty-three miles south of San Francisco and two hundred and twenty-four miles north of Los Angeles, is San Luis Obispo, next to San Jose, the most important city on the Coast Division of the Southern Pacific. Ten miles from the coast, its water-shed drains into the Pacific so that it has full benefit of the pleasant trade winds and of the warm interior air, the combination of the two making a perfect and distinctive climate. Handsome mountains are up-reared on the east and on the west. San Luis Mountain and Bishops Peak on the west are singularly graceful. Port San Luis, ten miles distant, is the landing place for the city’s ocean traffic, with which it is connected by the Pacific Coast railway, which passes through the city and extends ninety miles into the interior southward.
"The business part of the city occupies the floor of the valley and the residence sections roll gracefully up the gentle slopes of the bordering foot-hills. Urban, suburban and rural life in California finds here an exceedingly graceful expression, prosperity and refinement being visibly impressed upon all.
"San Luis Obispo is the business center of a large and productive agricultural and mining section, the county seat of a rich and fertile county whose products comprise the widest range of variety. It is the Division headquarters of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the terminal of the Pacific Coast Railway, both of the companies maintaining large shops in the city. Its population of over 6000 is increasing rapidly.
"A midwinter arrival from the east usually exhibits symptoms of fear that San Luis Obispo weather is practicing some deception upon him, and he has a tendency to spend his days out of doors, meal hours and all, lest the magic sunshine vanish. The call of mountain and shore invites abandonment to recreation and to the enjoyment of nature and business is forgotten in this first burst of enthusiasm. He consults meteorological records to establish the reality of almost perpetual sunshine. And reality it is. “Two hundred and nine clear days, eighty-seven partly cloudy days (which means a few hours of refreshing ocean mist in the morning); sixty-nine cloudy days with forty-six days of rain.” This is the story told by the latest charts of the Weather Bureau man, and he adds, with reference to temperature, that ninety-three degrees (August) was the highest, and twenty-seven degrees (January) was the lowest showing of the City of San Luis Obispo, the mean temperature for the same months having been sixty-seven degrees and fifty-three degrees respectively; an equability unsurpassed by the climates of Santa Barbara or San Diego.
"It is surprising that the fascination of climate and scenery should at first absorb the interest of the stranger, to the exclusion of other features.
"President Roosevelt, in an address delivered at San Luis Obispo, May 19, 1903, said: “I know of this county in connection with certain eastern agricultural producers, for, unless I mistake, those who offered prized for the largest vegetable and fruits of certain kinds have had to bar the products of this county because they invariably won the prizes." This statement is correct. San Luis Obispo county holds the world’s record for prize vegetables, and in 1895 was barred by seed-growers from competition.
"The recently completed Free Public Library building, located on historic ground, near the Mission, with its thousands of well cared for and well read volumes, speaks for the culture of its people.
"The State of California has established in this city a free Polytechnic School, where all the trades will be practically taught, the only institution of the kind on the pacific Coast, and which is destined to attract pupils from all over the United States. Its curriculum embraces three regular courses of study. AGRICULTURE—soils, crops, and fertilizers; fruit-growing, vines, insect pests; milk-testing, butter and cheese making; breeding, feeding, and care of animals; irrigation, gardening and surveying; MECHANICS—Carpentry and building; freehand and mechanical drawing; architectural drawing; forging and blacksmithing; applied electricity; DOMESTIC SCIENCE—Sewing, dressmaking and millinery; household economy; cooking and catering; house construction and furnishing.
"English, history, economics, mathematics, botany, entomology, chemistry, physics, and other academic subjects are mingled with each of the above courses.
"The school is situated in a beautiful valley, surrounded by picturesque hills and mountains. The climate is so equable as to make work and study a pleasure at any season of the year. The school farm comprises 280 acres installing a pumping plant or dams with necessary flumes. The school is of secondary grade, admitting pupils who have finished the grammar grades and are fifteen years old. It is filling a long-felt want in giving an education in practical lines of domestic science, agriculture and mechanics, to the many who cannot attend the universities.
"The public schools compare favorably with those of any city on the coast. The school buildings are ample and commodious, the teachers are the best that can be procured, and the excellent High School, whose home is in a new $30,000.00 stone building, prepares its graduates for direct admission to the University of California, which ranks with the best universities in the world.
"One or two recent examples of church architecture would be notable in a city of many times the size of San Luis Obispo.
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Copyright © 2004 Lynne