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San Luis Obispo life as it should be

Story and Photos by Kristy González

San Luis Obispo (Spanish for St. Louis, the Bishop) is a city in California located midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on the Central Coast. Founded in 1772, San Luis Obispo is one of California’s oldest communities. The city, referred to locally as “SLO”, “SLOtown” and “San Luis,” is the county seat of San Luis Obispo County and is adjacent to California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). As of the 2006 Census Bureau estimate, the city population was 42,963 (down 2.8% from 2000). Earliest human inhabitants of the local area were the Chumash peoples,

who settled in the vicinity circa 5,000 to 10,000 years BC. One of the earliest villages lies south of San Luis Obispo, and reflects the landscape of the early Holocene when estuaries came farther inland and sea levels were higher. These Chumash people exploited marine resources of the inlets and bays along the Central Coast and inhabited a network of villages including sites at Los Osos and Morro Creek. San Luis Obispo once had a burgeoning Chinatown in the vicinity of Palm Street and Chorro Street. Laborers were brought from China by Ah Louis in order to construct the Pacific


Coast Railway, roads connecting San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles and Paso Robles to Cambria, and also the 1884 to 1894 tunneling through Cuesta Ridge for the Southern Pacific Railroad. SLO’s Chinatown revolved around Ah Louis Store and other Palm Street businesses owned and run by Chinese business people. Today, Mee Heng Low chop suey shop is all that remains of the culture, although a revitalized Chinatown development is being planned. A display of some of the unearthed relics from this period can be

seen on the first floor of the Palm Street parking garage, which was built over the location where Chinatown once stood. The San Luis Obispo Historical Society (adjacent to the Mission) also contains rotating historical exhibits. San Luis Obispo was also a popular stop on both U.S. Route 101 and California State Route 1 with the rise of car culture. Due to its popularity as a stop, it was the location of the first motel, the Milestone Mo-Tel. Among San Luis Obispo’s historical buildings is the former San

Luis Obispo Carnegie Library, located at 696 Monterey Street. The San Luis Obispo Carnegie Library was built in 1905 with a grant of $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie, who funded the establishment of 142 California libraries in the early 1900s. The Romanesque style building was designed by architect W.H. Weeks of Watsonville, California and was built by contractor Joseph Maino of San Luis Obispo. As one of numerous California public buildings designed by W.H. Weeks, it shares features with Carnegie libraries in nearby Lompoc and Paso Robles. The San Luis Obispo Carnegie building served as the city library until 1955, when a new public library was built at the corner of Palm and Morro Streets. It has been home to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum since 1956. The Carnegie Library building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown San Luis Obispo is centered around the carefully restored Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The downtown area also has many eclectic shops and boutiques. New downtown shopping centers have been added in recent years. The Court Street Center and Downtown Center house stores that belong to nationwide chains. One of the primary draws of this area for both students, visitors and residents is the plethora of outdoor sports, such as hiking, kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, diving, sailing, and kite boarding. Scenes from the 1990 film “My Blue Heaven” were filmed in Above (Left to Right): Fremont Theater, First Presbyterian Church of SLO, Mission Plaza bear, Morro Bay, SLO antique shop, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Left: Rolling hills in Templeton, approximately 15 miles from San Luis Obispo.

commercial areas of San Luis Obispo. Southwest of the town center, several large shopping centers have developed since 2003. The Madonna Inn is a famous landmark. Established by Alex Madonna in 1958, the inn is famously eccentric. The Fremont Theater, a historic Art Deco theater from the 1940s, still plays first run movies on the huge screen. Murals adorms the walls of the main theater while neon swirls light the ceiling. Another destination is Bubblegum Alley. Since about 1960, people have been sticking their chewed gum on the walls of this alley. The doctor’s office on the corner of Santa Rosa and Pacific streets is one of very few commercial buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. San Luis also has a Carnegie Library, which is now home to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum. One of the largest Mardi Gras parades West of the Mississippi used to be held in San Luis Obispo, but it has been canceled recently because of difficulties related to crowd control and alcohol consumption. Cal Poly’s open house, Poly Royal, was held annually from 1933 to 1990. It was canceled in 1945 due to war rationing. It began as a showand-tell for students to display their projects. It traces its origins to the 1904 Farmer’s Institute and Picnic Basket. By the 1980s, as the college became the “most popular…university in the 19-campus CSU system,” Poly Royal began drawing over 100,000 people from throughout the state, including 126,000 people in 1985. Concerts, parties, and other entertainment were added and it earned $3 to 4 million in revenue for the city every year. Following a “mini-riot” in 1989 at an off-campus apartment during Poly Royal, the events in 1990 would cancel the event “indefinitely.” Two nights of

Above: Sunset at Morro rock in Morro Bay, California. Morro Bay is situated approximately 20 miles north of San Luis Obispo. Morro Bay, along with Pismo Beach, San Simeon, and Paso Robles are some of the most popular tourist sites near San Luis Obispo.

rioting on April 28-29 led to 127 arrests, over 100 injuries and 14 police injuries on top of “several hundred thousand dollars” worth of damage. A liquor store near campus, Campus Bottle, was destroyed by revelers demanding alcohol. The second night was much larger than the first as people were leaving a concert on campus and parties off-campus were broken up and revelers flooded the streets. Mayor Dunin called the events “the worst experience in the history of San Luis Obispo.” After a meeting between Mayor Dunin and University President Warren Baker the following Monday, Poly Royal was canceled from that point

forward. The name Poly Royal returned in 2001 as “Open House Presents Poly Royal,” a scaled down version that was designed for students and parents. San Luis Obispo has been home of several other events, including a stop on the way of the Olympic Flame Relay, the Tour of California bicycle race, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, an annual Mozart festival, held every July, and a long-standing Christmas Parade. Another attraction is the development of Edna Valley into a well-known wine region. Just south of the city, people can spend an afternoon wine tasting several wineries in the area with a very short drive. The wine region extends

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One of the cultural focal centers north beyond Paso Robles (30 miles every month is The Bike Happening of San Luis Obispo is the Christopher north) and south to Santa Ynez (70 (also known as Bike Night) in San Cohan Performing Arts Center built miles south). Luis Obispo. People gather after the on the Cal Poly campus, which was During summer months, local Farmer’s Market at the Mission Plaza constructed utilizing the donations residents and visitors congregate in with their bikes. The bikers then go of local businesses and individuals. the Mission Plaza for a free outdoor around on multiple circuits on the The Performing Arts Center consists concert every Friday main streets of downtown adhering to of multiple venues, including evening. The event is the original Spanos Theater. called Concerts in the Plaza. Other noteworthy Downtown San Luis Obispo is The largest venue, Harmon seats 1,300. Many high events include the San centered around the carefully restored Hall, school and college programs Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Festival Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. are scheduled. Local artists Mosaic, and the Plein Air The downtown area also has many perform plays, music and dance. The addition of the Festival. San Luis Obispo eclectic shops and boutiques. Performing Arts Center attracts hosts a Farmer’s Market many touring performances, every Thursday night at which are usually not found in 6 p.m. on Higuera Street, between the traffic laws. The ride is considered communities of comparable size to San Osos and Nipomo Streets. During this a fun/social ride meant to encourage Luis Obispo. The summer of 2007 was weekly event, the street is closed to people to get back on their bikes and the opening concert of the Forbes Pipe vehicle traffic while vendors sell food to have fun. Each Bike Happening Organ, which was built elevated into a and goods and various visual and has a theme and a large portion of the sidewall of Harmon Hall and required music artists perform for the crowds. crowd is in some costume adherent the donation of a further $3 million. Since June 2000, the first Thursday of to the theme.

TOP 5 PLACES TO SEE IN SLO 1.Hearst Castle

2. Edna Valley Wine Country 3. Cal Poly

4. Montaña de Oro 5. Pismo Beach

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