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

 

 

 

 


Features and Information:

Watsonville Architect William H. Weeks
Left his Stamp on San Luis Obispo County

     Good  architecture is one of the components in San Luis Obispo County's blend of past and present, urban and rural, northern-California-woodsy-redwood vs. southern-California-red-tiled Spanish. In part this may be due to the Architecture Department of California Polytechnic State University, whose graduates often choose to stay in the County, thereby adding to our stock of attractive and functional buildings.  But the tradition of interesting architecture has deep roots in county history, starting with the Spanish-style Missions of San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and San Miguel Arcangel. The designs of the renowned architect Julia Morgan can be seen at Hearst Castle, at the storage and ranch houses on the Hearst property at San Simeon, in the Monday Club in San Luis Obispo, and even in a nearby child's playhouse designed by this most famous of California's women architects. The city of San Luis Obispo even boasts a building designed by the firm of Frank Lloyd Wright. And North-Coast eccentric Art Beal distinguished himself as the designer and builder of Nitt-Witt Ridge, now a State Historical Landmark. But the designer  who may have made the strongest imprint on San Luis Obispo County was a hard-working and incredibly prolific architect from Watsonville, California. His name was William Weeks.

 
William Weeks in 1907.
Photo courtesy of Betty Lewis,
author of William H. Weeks, Architect.

     Weeks was born in Canada, but his father, a designer and builder, moved his family to Denver, Colorado, then to Wichita, Kansas, then to Tacoma, Washington, and finally to Oakland, California. "Like father, like son," and the younger Weeks also became an architect. His earliest  project in Watsonville was the First Christian Church in 1892, and he liked the thriving community so much that he established his architecture practice there and stayed for 18 years, before moving his offices to the Bay area.

     Weeks would eventually design scores of stately Queen-Anne-style residences in Watsonville, as well as some 40 public and commercial buildings, including two high schools, a hospital, and the Apple Annual Hall, designed to show off the most famous agricultural product of the Watsonville area. This hall, with a theater seating 3,000 people, would host the Apple Annual, billed as "An Apple Show Where Apples Grow," and attended by thousands of apple lovers.    

     Soon Weeks was bidding on, and winning, contracts beyond Watsonville--in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Pacific Grove, and other towns throughout California. He designed schools, libraries, hospitals, banks, hotels, theaters, opera houses, courthouses, private homes, factories, and even jails. He became known as the foremost designer of Carnegie library buildings in California at a time when the Carnegie fortune was determined to put a library in every small town, just as France's King Henri IV had promised his people "a chicken in every pot." 

     Weeks also became one of the most sought-after designers of school buildings at a time when the traditional one-room schoolhouses in rural areas were giving way to larger, more solid structures in towns and cities.  He was painstaking about lighting, hallway layouts, and stairway access.  His emphasis on safety in school design was rewarded when his 1924 design for Santa Barbara High School survived the disastrous Santa Barbara earthquake on June 28 of the following year with only slight damage to the plaster.  In 1953, when officials decided to take down Weeks' 1916 San Luis Obispo High School building to create a "seismically safer" school, the wreckers could hardly complete the demolition.  (Click here to read a Weeks essay on "Architectural Style for School Building.")

     Some of Weeks' larger designs included massive courthouses for Yolo and Inyo Counties, the enormous Casino and Bath House/Natatorium (1907) on the beach in Santa Cruz, and the truly humongous Spreckels Sugar Factory (1898) south of Salinas.

Spreckels Sugar Beet Factory

     In our county, the cities of San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles were lucky to be in "growth mode" at a time when Weeks was at his most productive. Other towns in the county were not so fortunate--San Miguel's position as railroad terminus had been pre-empted by Paso Robles, and its commercial center was dying back as a result of the disastrous drought-years at the end of the 19th century. The beach towns had not yet benefited from the advent of the automobile, and Atascadero was still just a twinkle in the eye of entrepreneur E.G. Lewis.

 

Click here to continue reading about William Weeks
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Copyright 2001 Lynne Landwehr.  All rights reserved.
www.historyinslocounty.org