Representation of Chumash Rock art, as shown on Neighborhood Arts Council mural, Mission Plaza, San Luis Obispo

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

 

 

 

 

 

Features and Information

The Sinsheimer Bros. Store
849 Monterey Street
San Luis Obispo

     The Sinsheimer Bros. store, established in 1876, served the early ranchers and farmers of the County.  Known for its trade in "gold dust, grains, beans, and cattle," it was also a center for dry goods, clothing, farm machinery and ranching supplies of all kinds.

     Brothers Bernard and Henry Sinsheimer, formerly of San Francisco, first established their general merchandise business in an adobe structure at the corner of Monterey and Chorro Streets, then moved the business to its present location in 1884.  The Venetian Renaissance-style building was designed by Veitch and Knowles of Oakland, and was constructed of bricks manufactured in the brickyards of Chinese labor contractor Ah Louis.  The front of the store was one of the first cast-iron facades in California. The facade, including its columns, was fabricated at the City Iron Works of San Francisco. It was shipped in sections by steamer to Port Harford (now Port San Luis), then transported to San Luis Obispo on the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast Rail Road that linked the port with the city. 

     In 1898, Aaron (AZ) and Jeannette Weill Sinsheimer took over the business when brothers Bernard and Henry returned to San Francisco.  Later, two of their sons, Louis and Otto, became the owner/managers.  By the 1950s, the store was less of a farming/ranching supplier and more of a retail store for the city's residents; it carried yardage, sports clothes, jewelry, hosiery, gloves, accessories, and notions. 

     Longterm residents of the city still remember the overhead "Lamson" money carrier system, a cords-and-pulleys network by which the salesclerks sent cash to the office located on the upper level at the back of the store.  In the office, a single cashier would make change and write out a receipt; the change and receipt were then sent back to the clerk on the floor using this "cash railway." 

     In the days before cash registers were widespread, systems like this were considered an innovation; in large stores, they replaced "runners" (often children) who went back and forth between the retail counters and the office where the cash was held. Although these systems (whether cord-and-pulley, gravity, or pneumatic) now seem "old-fashioned" to most of us, they still operate in some places.  For more on these "cash railway" systems, used from the 1880s onward, click here to go to the Cash Railway website

     The historic Sinsheimer Bros. building is still owned by the Sinsheimer family; it is leased to a retail business which specializes in the "old-fashioned" atmosphere of earlier times.  In recent years, special care has been taken to ensure that the paint colors on the facade of the store remain faithful to the original hues. Before re-painting, tiny picks were used to extract flakes of the original paint from between cracks, in order to guarantee an exact match.

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     For more on the historic Sinsheimer family of San Luis Obispo County,  see the following:
     "The Sinsheimers of San Luis Obispo," by Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer, in the Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, October 1973.
     Parade Along the Creek, by Rose McKeen, San Luis Obispo, 1988.
     San Luis Obispo Discoveries, by Paul Tritenbach, Excellence Press, San Luis Obispo, 1989.

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