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Mission Plaza SLO 1772 - 1979MISSION PLAZA San Luis Obispo 1772-1979 By Patricia J. Clark d� r� MARILYN LEVERICH r �g MISSION PLAZA San Luis Obispo 1772 -1979 By Patricia J. Clark Prepared for Mission Plaza Birthday Party September 16, 1979 Compliments of Neal Truesdale Insurance and Morris & Dee Insurance ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Grateful thanks to all of the following for their courteous cooperation in the preparation of this booklet: Diane Cook, Telegram- Tribune, for assistance and access to the newspaper's files and pictures. Virginia Crook, Reference librarian, San Luis Obispo City- County library, for assistance with use of the Library's local history collection. Louisiana Clayton Dan, Curator, San Luis Obispo Count), Historical Museum, for advice and information on early history, and for reviewing the manuscript. J.H. Fitzpatrick, City Clerk, City of San Lair Obispo, and his staff, for advice, encourage- ment, access to the City's archives, and for reviewing the manuscript. Blanche Fredman, my wonderful neighbor, for the emergen loan of a typewriter, without which the manuscript could not have been completed. George.). Hasslein, Dean, School of Arehitecturs and Fnviroamental Design, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, for access to his records and for reviewing the manuscript. Rose McKeen, for invaluable information, es Tally relating to the Soroptimist Club's early efforts to establish the Plaza, and for reviewing the manuscript. Linnaea Phillips, Mission Plaza Coordinator of Events, for information relating to Plaza events. Margaret Price, former Reference Librarian, San Luis Obispo City - County Library, for advice and for reviewing the manuscript. Eugene Reis, Reis Chapel, for access to his extensive historical collection. San Luis Obispo County Historical Society, for permission to reproduce the Vischer print. Betty and Jay Schetzer, for advice, criticism and review of the manuscript, and for involving me in a fascinating project.. Kenneth E. Schwartz, former Mayor of San Luis Obispo, for advice, access to his records, loan of valuable source material and criticism of the manuscript. Telegram Tribune, for permission to reproduce pictures from the newspaper's files. Mission Plaza Birthday Committee 300 Longview Lane San Luis Obispo, California Printed By Litho Art Shop San Luis Obispo, California A Bell and a Bullfight According to traditional accounts, on September 1, 1772, Father junipero Serra hung a bell in a sycamore tree an the bank of San Luis Creek. rang it numerous times to attract the Churnash inhabitants of the area, and proceeded to conduct the founding mass at Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. This also marked the beginning of the community of San Luis Obispo, with the Mission at its geographical, cultural and recreational center. Two of the original streets in San Luis Obispo were Monterey and Chorro. Monterey Street was so named because early travelers coming from the south passed in front of the Mission and continued north up La Cuesta on the road to Monterey. Those who chose to travel up the coast passed through El Chorro, hence Chorro Street. • t• r a Sketch made in the 18645 by Edward Vischer, showing bullfight in front of the Mission. Picture from the Pierce Collection, Los Angeles Public Library, reproduced by courtesy of the San Luis Obispo Comoty Historical Society. A sketch made in the 1860s by the famous painter of the missions, Edward Vischer, shows a bullfight in front of the church, the site of Mission Plaza. Contemporary accounts of the ninty -fifth anniversary (in 18617) of the Mission's founding say the plaza area was fenced for bullfights, and at least one other occurred in the plaza the following year. There is evidence this form of public entertainment was fairly common in the 1850s and 1860s, though the bullfights probably took place in other locations, especially since there was another open area on Monterey Street which also was known as "the plaza." The Plaza was used for public gatherings of various sorts from the earliest days. An 1850 drawing by William Hutton shows it open, but soon afterward the area was filled with adobe homes of prominent citizens. The 1870 Harris and Ward map of San Luis Obispo shows Monterey Street open in front of the Mission, much as it was until recent years, with the present Plaza land claimed in large part by Walter Murray, Over the years, various commercial enterprises located around the Plaza, including the Drench Hotel, an extension of the original barracks for the Mission soldiers, across the plaza from the church. Corner of Chorro and Monterey Streets about 1900. Clapboard covered the Mission from 1885 to 1935. Building at left later housed the Mission Garage. Lewin property is the building at right. Picture courtesy of Telegram - Tribune. In the late 1940s, many residents and visitors were distressed at the ugliness of the area surrounding the Mission, and one of those most unhappy was Margaret Maxwell, art teacher at San Luis Obispo Junior College. In 1950 Miss Maxwell assigned her art appreciation class a project on planned growth for San Luis Obispo, then a city of a little over fourteen thousand population. The class was divided into several groups, each working on ideas for a specific area or function of the city. One of the objectives was to revitalize the center of town and make it more attractive. Two students, Ray Juarez and Pete Colombo, surveyed the creek and developed a plan for a plaza in front of the Mission. Their work is believed to be the first definitive plan for a Mission Plaza. Unfortunately, their drawings have been lost. The complete plans developed by the class were displayed in various downtown business win - dows, creating; much comment pro and con. About this time members of the San Luis Obispo Soroptimist Club became concerned about preserving and enhancing the city's historical core, thus improving the downtown business area as well as providing a pleasant prospect for tourists and residents alike. By 1953 there was a move by some downtown businessmen to remove several of the old buildings, widen Monterey Street in front of the Mission to provide for increased traffic, tear out the natural growth on the creek banks and cover the creek for parking. An off - street parking committee appointed by the City Council recommended that the City acquire the Mission Garage site at the intersection of Monterey and Chorro Streets for a parking lot. The Soroptimists opposed this plan and adopted the development of a Mission Gardens as their civic project. They enlisted the support of other service clubs and civic organizations in an effort to clean up the unsightly area and interest the City in the establishment of a real Mission Plaza. —2 -- Runaway Egg Truck Hits Mission Garage The key property for the realization of such a plaza was the Mission Garage. The building had been constructed in the 1870s as an adjunct to the French Hotel, which had burned to the ground in 1908. About this time (1953) an egg truck went out of control on the Cuesta, continued to race through town, and finally crashed to a halt inside the Mission Garage. In January 1954 the City of San Luis Obispo declared the badly damaged building unsafe and notified the attorney for the owner (the Mary S. Frederick Trust) to begin demolition within thirty days and to complete the job within ninety days. Legal delays prevented accomplishment of the order until late August, when the creek became visible from :Monterey Street, probably for the first time in nearly a century, and the mountains beyond the city could be seen from that corner —the result of the accident and the subsequent removal of what remained of the Mission Garage. With redoubled enthusiasm the Soroptimists pushed for City acquisition of the Frederick property. In January 1955 they held a public meeting to urge action for a Mission Gardens community park. Assistance was sought from San Luis Obispo Junior College are appreciation class, 1950, Margaret Maxwell, instructor. Back row, standing, left to right: Jim Mullis, Jim Evans. Ray uarez, Pere Colombo, Evelyn Doty. Seared, left to right: Lillie Tiesscn Strasser, Billi Williams, Rosita Hoffman, Frank Lindsay, Tom Gerst, Evelyn Joughin. In foreground: John Mare, Edith Wildboltz. Picture courtesy of Margaret Maxwell and Kenneth E. Schwartz. 3- George Hasslein, then head of the Architectural Engineering Department at California State Polytechnic College, and a design competition was an- nounced. On March 8, 1955, the Soroptimists awarded architecture student James A. Zisch a prize of seventy -five dollars for his drawing. Zisch's ideas included closing Monterey Street from Chorro to Broad, at what is now the Art Center corner, and re- routing Broad Street between Monterey and Palm to the west of the County Historical Museum. Off- street parking was to be provided behind the Museum. He also envisioned landscaping the area between the Mission and the rear of the businesses facing Higuera Street and proposed a large fountain in front of the Mission. Citizen Committees Created Two days later, at a meeting to coordinate the efforts and ideas of interested organizations and individuals, a "Citizens for Mission Gardens Plaza" was burn, with Rose McKeen as chairman. The group presented its plans to the City Planning Commission, which passed a resolution favoring the development of a park and establishment of a civic committee for a thorough study of the Mission Gardens proposal. On March 21, 1955, a petition with eight hundred signatures was presented to the City Council, which responded by creating a Citizens Committee for Mission Gardens, consisting of a thirteen - member General Committee headed by Mrs. McKeen and an eleven- member Finance Committee chaired by Robert Peters. The Committee included most of the individuals who had been especially active in the beautification campaign and representatives of cooperating organizations. At that same meeting Mr. Peters presented to the Council the Soroptimist Club's plans for the Plaza park, based on Zisch's proposal. In April 1955 . the Mission Gardens Finance Committee voted to recom- mend to the Council that the City acquire the former Mission Garage property. There also was discussion of possible joint acquisition by the Catholic Church and the City of the Irwin property on the northwest corner of Chorro and Monterey Streets, adjoining the Mission. This property con- sisted of a two -story adobe, one of the original buildings erected shortly after the establishment of the Mission, by this time in considerable disrepair. Later that year the property was condemned by the City and razed by the owner, leaving an unsightly vacant corner. At the same time, the Mission Gardens General Committee passed a resolution recommending to the Council that the City acquire the Mission Garage property for ultimate inclusion in the Mission Gardens Project. It also recommended that the property be used for a period not exceeding five years for off - street parking, or for whatever purpose the Council might designate, at the end of which time the parcel would become part of the Plaza project. A serious problem arose concerning acquisition of the site, since it was part of an estate held in trust. Time- consuming legal obstacles caused innumerable delays in negotiations between the City and representatives of the Frederick Trust. 4 - 1 l s, ,l \F , Prize- winning proposal for Mission Plaza by James A. Zisch, February 1955. Picture courtesy of Telegram - Tribune. 1 � In May 1955 Zisch presented his ideas at a meeting of the Mission Gardens Plaza General Committee. The representative of the Old Mission Church, Monsignor Patrick Daly, expressed concern about the effect of closing Monterey Street on certain church functions, particularly weddings and funerals. The issue of closing the street continued to be controversial until it was decided by the voters in 1968. It is interesting that this meeting was attended by two men who later became mayors of San Luis Obispo, Fred Waters and Kenneth E. Schwartz, as well as the future President of Cal Poly, Robert Kennedy. Park vs. Parking During this period there was active opposition to the Mission Plaza plans by those who preferred parking and /or commercial use rather than development of a park. The Mission Gardens Plaza General Committee persisted, continuing to enlist the support of many organizations and private citizens. In October 1955 the Committee voted to request that the Cal Poly Architectural Engineering Department and local architects William D. Hol- dredge and John Badgley be asked to submit sketches and suggestions, at no cost or obligation on the part of the City. The Committee also discussed the possibility of having architecture students develop a master plan for the Plaza. When the feasibility of using the Mission Garage lot for parking was investigated, it was found to be less than ideal for the purpose, particularly considering the traffic congestion can Chorro Street. Alternative sites for off - street parking were suggested. In November 1955 the Committee recom- mended to the Council that the property be acquired for use as a park, and that if the City did not have sufficient funds available, assistance be sought —5— from the County. The Council's response was to announce plans to cover the creek and convert the area to a parking lot, financing the project from off - street parking reserve funds. This action created such a public furor that the Council decided in December 1955 to poll the registered voters as to disposition of the site, provided it could be acquired by the City. The Mission Gardens Plaza committees campaigned vigorously for a vote in favor of the park, and collected money to advertise their views. However, the proposed poll never took place, the money was returned to the contributors, and the Council disbanded both Mission Gardens Plaza committees. By this time the Council had concluded that legal complications made purchase of the Frederick property impossible, but that a lease might be negotiated. On March 19, 1956, the Council approved a resolution authorizing a five -year lease for the Mission Garage property, and for the development of a small park on that site. Thus the City finally took its first official step toward the actual development of the Mission Plaza. Less than a month later the City Engineer called for bids on the excavation and filling necessary to prepare the site. Enchiladas for a Park All during the years of investigation and negotiation for a park, the Soroptimist Club had been in the vanguard and had provided many of the leaders who persevered in the project. Many of the service clubs, women's and professional organizations also actively participated in the community campaign for a park. Among those most involved were the American Association of University 'Women, the Business and Professional Women, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs. The Soroptimists had raised $1,000 from an enchilada dinner and bazaar in December 1955, which was presented to the City on April 10, 1956, to be added to the City's budgeted $3,000 for the development of the park. These monies were spent for lease payments, improvements to the ,grounds and County taxes on the property. The City donated all the labor involved. Over the succeeding five years, there were repeated efforts to purchase the Frederick property, which was not possible until the death of the beneficiary of the Frederick Trust. In the meantime, in March 1960, the Old Mission Church and the Catholic Diocese acquired the vacant northwest corner land at Monterey and Chorro Streets from the Lewin Estate by virtue of a gift from J.J. Donovan. This historic event marked the return of the property to the Church, having been in private hands since 1843. It was also an important step in the development of the Plaza, even though the property did not and would not belong to the City. Again Cal Poly architecture students contributed plans for beautification of the area, that of Joyce "Mickey" Dolman being the one accepted by the Church and its architect, John Ross, in June 1960. The vacant land, which abutted the Church grounds, was soon landscaped according to the Dolman plan and the corner became an integral part of the enhanced park -like area. _. 6-- As the expiration date of the original lease of the Mission Gardens land approached, the City contemplated development of the parking lot originally proposed for the site and realignment of Monterey Street. An assessment district was proposed for the improvement of the Mission Plaza Parking Lot. The members of the original Citizens Committee for Mission Gardens had never given up hope for a permanent and enlarged plaza. Many of them met on March 1, 1961, to form a new organization, the Mission Gardens Association, with Robert H. Peters as president. This association, formed to preserve the existing Mission Gardens City Park, quickly presented to the Council plans for an alternative development, including restricted traffic in front of the Mission, a landscaped strip between the streets in front of the Mission and the proposed realignment of Monterey, establishment of a park on the creek, and more parking than was contemplated in the City's plan. Citizen input was again considerable and many suggestions were made for the ultimate development of the plaza. As a result, the parking assessment district was never formed. In April 1961 the Council, on recommendation of the Planning Com- mission, adopted the City's first comprehensive General Plan. This contained an important, but little noted, policy that eventually affected the Mission Plaza greatly. The General Plan designated the creek system as future park and stated a major objective of the Plan was "to protect and preserve natural amenities — scenic hills, creeks, view areas and other open space —by indi- cating areas that are to be withheld from private development." The Mission Gardens Association continued to campaign for a real plaza, and many specific proposals were made by local individuals and organizations. In the Fall of 1962, a Cal Poly architectural design class, under Kenneth E. Schwartz (then Chairman of the City Planning Commission), took Mission Plaza as a design problem. One student team proposed closing Monterey Street and restricting the site to a plaza and landscaped areas completely free of streets and parking; another proposed a subterranean parking garage over which a plaza would exist. City officials were invited to see and hear the ideas of the students, who urged the Council to seek professional assistance. In late 1962 the Council authorized invitations to various architectural firms to submit proposals for a Mission Plaza. On January 10, 1963, the City chose Smith and Williams, of South Pasadena, as the architects and Stone and Youngberg as financial consultants. It was not until September 12, 1963, that the Smith and Williams plan was finally presented to the Council and a group of civic and business leaders. The plan centered about the Mission Plaza, which was to be developed first, with the complete renovation of the historic area into a garden center of the community. This was to include recreational facilities, parking for four hundred cars, a water conduit system to raise the creek level, small shops and other features to enhance the downtown business district. The first develop- ment of the Plaza was to be followed by a general renovation of the entire downtown area and other parts of the city. Preservation of the downtown business area was a major goal. One of the keys to accomplishment of this end was the involvement and complete cooperation of the citizens of San Luis Obispo. -- 7 The Public Reacts! Reaction by the public was immediate and strong. Many of the pro - ponents of Plaza development endorsed the Smith and Williams plan enthusiastically. Others, who supported the idea of a Plaza wholeheartedly, believed that the Smith and Williams design was too expensive, too extensive and not in keeping with the historical nature of the area, especially the modern architecture proposed. Some even suggested that the Mission, which should have been the key element in the plan, had been ignored. Smith and Williams' plan closed Monterey, Broad and Palm Streets at the Plaza, but made no provision for re- routing traffic or for necessary accommodation of weddings and funerals at the Mission. Mayor Clay P. Davidson and Councilman R. L. Graves began an intensive tour of civic organizations, explaining the plan and enlisting support for its adoption. Letters to the editor of the Telegrapi- Trrbane appeared almost daily, expressing views on both sides of the controversy. A large crowd attended a public meeting on October 30, 1963, at which time the Smith and Williams plan and an alternative, developed by Councilman Donald Q. Miller, were presented. Both plans were applauded and there was much discussion by the audience. Although the decision was not unanimous, on November 11, 1963, the Smith and Williams proposal was officially adopted by the Council. A thirteen - member Mission Plaza Citizens Study Committee was appointed to explore means for actual development of the project, with Mayor Davidson as chairman. The Committee was later increased to fourteen members. Revitalize the Downtown Core The new committee began its work immediately, and public input was extensive. Many people believed the emphasis should be on improvement of what already existed and cleaning and maintaining the creek, rather than expenditure of money on expansion of the area. Others questioned the cost, which was undetermined, since the Smith and Williams plan consisted of a number of smaller projects, each of which would be priced individually as developed. But there was one common belief —that something must be done to revitalize the downtown area to prevent the death of the city's core, and that some sort of Mission Plaza should be developed as an integral element of this proposal. An interesting by- product of the discussions was the suggestion of establishing an architectural review board, which ultimately came about as the City's Design Review Board. During this period when the Smith and Williams plan was the center of public controversy, the City began to acquire land for the Plaza. Two parcels fronting on Monterey Street were purchased from private owners in 1963, and the following year a smaller, but essential, lot at the southeast corner of Broad and Monterey was acquired. This eventually became the site of the Art Center, which is on land owned by the City but leased to the San Luis Obispo Art Association. In September 1963 a twelve thousand square -foot lot adjacent to the County Historical Museum was purchased for a parking lot. tom• The Smith and Williams plan centered about the area bounded by Monterey, Chorro, Higuera and Broad Streets. But in 1964 some members of the Committee proposed a plan which would change the boundaries to Chorro, Palm and Broad Streets and the area behind the buildings facing Higuera Street. Greater emphasis would have been placed on property of the Catholic Church, including the convent and the schools, the latter being outside of this restricted area. It was proposed that the buildings involved be renovated in Spanish -style architecture. The Council accepted this major deviation from the Smith and Williams plan and announced its intention of acquiring all the private land necessary for this development. Application for an interest -free federal loan for planning also was considered. Project Is Off the Ground By midsummer the Council had ordered an extensive clean -up of San Luis Creek and requested a flood control study by the County, and demolition of two old houses on City-owned property was authorized. To quote an editorial in the Telegram- Tribune for July 10, 1964: "It appears that the city's Mission Plaza project is going to get off the ground." To overcome some of the criticism made of the Smith and Williams plan, primarily its extensiveness and cost, the Council instructed the City Planning Director, Peter Chapman, to prepare a modified development plan for the Mission Plaza. Cal Poly students were employed to assist in producing the plan and sketches, and the "Chapman Plan" was presented to the Council on September 8, 1964. It was based on the Smith and Williams design, but was much less elaborate and less extensive in area. Chapman's idea was to emphasize the Mission and relate it to the creek with a park and landscaped walkways. The plan also called for enhancement of the creek and adjacent areas on both sides, with cooperation of Higuera Street businessmen in improving and beautifying the areas behind their establishments. The natural element of the area would be a key feature. Vital to this plan was the closing of Monterey Street between Broad and Chorro, with provision for access to the front of the Mission only for weddings, funerals and emergency vehicles. The Chapman plan was unanimously adopted by the City Planning Commission, and on September 29, 1964, the Council decided it should be used as a guide, with specific details to be resolved as various elements were implemented. Several immediate steps were taken as the first phase develop- ment of the Plaza, one being a parking lot on Monterey Street opposite the County Historical Museum. Parking was still a major issue, with Planning Commission chairman Kenneth E. Schwartz agreeing with this initial step and suggesting that other lots be developed nearby, but that the Plaza area be kept free from parking as much as possible. In November 1964 the Council decided that no more money should be spent on Plaza development until the downtown business interests evidenced their cooperation and participation. The result was a new Mission Plaza plan, produced by local architect John Ross and presented in June 1965 by the ___9__ recently- formed Downtown Association. This plan differed significantly from the City's plan in that it included an underground parking lot for two hundred cars and kept Monterey Street open from Chorro to Broad. Again reaction was quick, with citizens and groups which had long fought for the Mission Plaza now opposing the newest proposal. There was debate on the merits of centering parking in the heart of downtown, rather than leaving the Mission itself as the chief attraction, and of diverting and covering the creek instead of leaving it exposed as a focal point of natural beauty. One devastatingly satirical suggestion appeared as a Letter to the Editor of the Telegram-Tribune on May 3, 1965. The writer, Alex Gough, stated that the obvious need was for a massive parking area in the heart of the city, and that some old, substandard building could be torn down to provide the space. Ile pointed out that the Mission was a perfect choice, since it was the oldest building in town and did not meet current building standards. To satisfy tourists and displaced parishioners, a replica could be constructed at some convenient location on the outskiruc of town, and miniature replicas could be produced on a commercial scale for individual gardens. Gough further suggested that the parking meters in the resulting lot could be shaped like mission bells, to preserve the historic flavor. Footbridge to Cross Creek At this same time John Sues, owner of the Cigar Factory, renovated the area to the rear of his Higuera Street restaurant, thus spearheading a movement by private businesses to develop their own properties in keeping with the Mission Plaza idea. The Soroptimist Club already had offered to donate a tree whenever the Plaza area was ready for it, and the Junior Chamber of Commerce proposed to move a footbridge from the Sinsheimer School site to the Plaza area, providing one of the creek crossings envisioned in the City's plan. The "Cigar Factory" bridge was set in place in Sep- tember 1965. In October 1965 the City Council and Planning Commission held a joint study session, which was attended by many citizens. Ultimately the Council rejected the Downtown Association's plan, which was to have been financed largely by the City, perhaps by a bond issue. Again the Council considered realignment of Monterey Street, which had been a prime concern throughout discussions of Plaza development. In February 1966 the Council took an important and positive step by authorizing negotiations for the acquisition of remaining property needed for the realignment and widening of Monterey Street. It was more than two years later that these negotiations were completed. Arcade Proposed In January 1967 the Chamber of Commerce sponsored a lively Town Hall discussion of the future of the downtown area. The City had purchased the Cornet Store building on Higuera Street for the purpose of razing the building and using the site for parking. But at the Town Hall meeting, it was suggested that the structure might be saved, modified and used as a gas- -10 lighted entrance to the Plaza, or perhaps as an arcade of small shops (which is ultimately what happened when it was developed as Mission Mall). Among those who spoke at this meeting were Walt Conwell and Ralph Taylor, Cal Poly architecture students. Together with their cohort, Jack Reineck, they had been working on the idea of updating the Chapman Mission Plaza plan. They already had obtained considerable public support and the cooperation of many downtown businesses and property owners in the Plaza area. The young men had applied for a grant from America the Beautiful Fund for the project, and had tentative assurance that they would receive $1,000 from that source. But the money had to be matched by an equal amount of local funds. That became a reality when the Council voted in April 1967 to provide $750 for the proposed new planning project, to be added to private donations already received or promised. The Council also deferred final decision on the fate of the Cornet building until the student plan was presented in June. The students, who had started to clean up the creek, now embarked on redesigning the core block of the city. The three students prepared two plans: one was designed with Monterey Street realigned, the other with the street closed. On June 7, 1967, Reineck, Conwell and Taylor made a presentation of their ideas before the City Council and over a hundred interested citizens. The students opened the meeting by introducing their "street closed" design, which they favored. This caused considerable turmoil, since it was in opposition to the Council's previously adopted policy of realigning Monterey Street. Their plan with Monterey Street realigned was never presented at this meeting. Many people in the audience became persuaded that the street should be closed. Among them was George Andre, former City Attorney, who later played a key role in the initiative petition which led to the closing of Monterey Street.. At a public hearing before an overflow crowd on July 10, 1967, the three students officially presented their plan to the Council. The audience sup- ported the students enthusiastically, with an overwhelming majority in favor of closing Monterey Street. Many property owners affected also supported the new plan, some of them announcing their intention to remodel and improve their Higuera Street businesses in keeping with the students' recom- mendations. Murray Adobe Is Rescued One of the students' arguments for closing Monterey Street was that it preserved the Murray Adobe, which would have been in the direct path of realignment of Monterey Street. There had been official discussion of the fate of the adobe in March of that year, when the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society presented a petition with 170 signatures to the Council, requesting that the City preserve the adobe, the old grist mill building behind it, and the beautiful large jacaranda tree on the property. Many citizens believed these should be included in the Plaza, since the adobe home and office of Walter Murray was one of the oldest in San Luis Obispo and of prime importance because of his prominence in local history, At that time the 11- City was still negotiating acquisition of the parcel, and could not guarantee that the adobe would be saved until title had passed to the City and careful inspection could be made. However, the mill was demolished January 30, 1968, by order of the Council, as a hazard to health and safety. On September 5, 1967, the Council decided to proceed with widening and re- routing Monterey Street, but with a change in route to save the Murray Adobe. Later that month the Cornet building was sold to a private purchaser for development of an arcade. In October another important Higuera Street property, the National Dollar Store, was sold, and the new owners announced their intention of cooperating with the Mission Plaza project. Earlier in the year the former Woolworth building had been sold and was then being remodeled to become the new home of the National Dollar Store. Thus three large properties on Higuera Street, two of which had been vacant at the end of 1966, were becoming part of the Mission Plaza plan. Throughout the discussions of the various Mission Plaza proposals, the Telegram- Tribune had vigorously supported the concept of a park -like plaza setting for the Mission. There had been extensive coverage of the discussions and proposals in the newspaper, and many editorials in favor of the Plaza, as well as generous space for the subject in the Letters to the Editor. On December 28, 1967, the Telegram- Tribune featured a year -end summary, a review proving that 1967 was indeed a turning point for the Plaza, The greatest accomplishment for the downtown area that year, and also the greatest progress in twenty years of talking and planning, was the Mission Plaza situation as it then stood. Utility Poles Down; Landscaping Up Remodeling activities by property owners on Higuera Street started what the newspaper termed an "avalanche" effect on local investors and business people. Not all the changes were restricted to the Mission Plaza block, some being on the opposite side of Higuera Street. But the greatest change was behind the buildings, where utility poles had been removed and other unsightly elements were being replaced with tasteful landscaping. The creek was always a difficult problem in any design for Mission Plaza, since it flows on private property. In several locations the creek had been covered because the property owner held land on both sides. Until recent years there was no City ordinance prohibiting building over major creeks. If San Luis Creek were to remain open in the Mission. Plaza, it was essential that the City acquire the creek lands by outright purchase or negotiate perpetual public easements with the property owners. Since ease- ments were cheaper, in the Spring of 1968 the City undertook negotiations to secure easements along the Higuera Street side of the creek of sufficient width to allow a public pathway eight feet wide back from the shoulder of the creekbank. Robert Leitcher, owner/resident of the Hays - Latimer Adobe on Mon- terey Street west of the Plaza area, had been a staunch supporter of the Plaza for many years. He had started a public subscription of funds in 1967, and -- 12 several hundred dollars had been raised by early 1968. This had been given to the City, and was used for planting along the creek. Thus the area began to take on a park -like appearance, and the public could envision what the Plaza might ultimately become. In March the City hired land- scape architect Richard B. Taylor, of Santa Barbara, to prepare a master plan for the Plaza, with the project to be built in several stages. In June the Council approved Taylor's plan, a design with Monterey Street realigned and open, per Council policy, But the question of whether to realign or close Monterey Street was still an issue. In April 1968 Robert Leitcher and five other prominent citizens (George Andre, former City Attorney; Kenneth E. Schwartz, form- er chairman of the City Planning Commission; Margaret McNeil and R. L. Graves, both former Council members; and attorney Richard ___"W '.I,1k__"P%_-q - �• ;,.- Wood) announced that they would' circulate petitions calling for an initiative election to close Monterey Street in front of the Mission. On Mayor Kenneth E. Schwartz laying bricks fot June 14, 1968, the City Clerk re- the pathway on the south side of the creek August 1969. ceived the petitions, with 2,265 Picture courtesy of Telegram- Tribune. signatures, almost double the number legally required. But the same week a counter- petition signed by 169 mer- chants, property owners and citizens, favoring the realignment project, also was filed. The Telegram- Tribune editorially supported closing the street. On July 1 the Council decided to put the issue on the November 1.968 general election ballot, allowing the citizens to decide the issue. The campaign became very heated, with proponents of realignment attempting to convince voters that there would be undue delay in achieving a plaza if the street were closed, and those favoring the closing of the street pointing out that there would be a four -lane highway bisecting the Plaza if the street were not closed. At the suggestion of Monterey Street merchant Myron J. Graham, City Engineer's crews staked the area where the realigned street would run, so that the public could see exactly what the result would be. On November 5, 1968, the voters approved closing Monterey Street by a two -to -one margin, and the issue was finally settled. On November 29 the street was closed with temporary barriers, a step hailed by many as the most important yet taken toward creating the Mission Plaza. 13 Terraces & Trees — Benches & Bricks Things moved rapidly after that. A newly - elected City Council, with Kenneth E. Schwartz as new Mayor, asked Richard Taylor to revise his plan by deleting Monterey Street. Temporary landscaping of the closed street was accomplished through the generosity of Scarab Architectural Fraternity, the Cal Poly Ornamental Horticulture Department, a local nursery and private citizens. Some trees were moved from Santa Rosa Park, and old Monterey Street soon had an inviting new look. By midsummer the Council approved Taylor's preliminary plan for the first phase of the Plaza project, and on weekends assorted citizens, City staff, councilmen and the mayor could be found laying a brick walkway along the south side of the creek. After much discussion, a committee of the Old Mission Parish agreed to the architect's plans for three terraces, a pool, tall trees and landscaping from the church to the creek. The remainder of the total plan was deferred for future years. In March 1970 the last major easement was obtained, enabling the City to continue its landscaping all the way down to the creek on the commercial side. This easement also allowed for larger patios on the Mission side. Construction of the first phase of the Plaza began in May. All of the landscaping in the first phase was donated by civic organizations and individuals. Dedication ceremonies were held on Sunday, November 22, 1970, with suitable festivities, a fitting culmination of more than twenty years of work and planning by officials and citizens alike. Early in 1971 the second phase was begun, which completed the Plaza from Chorro to Broad Street on both sides of the creek. Public restrooms were constructed in this segment. Landscaping was an important feature, with the two small parking lots across from the Museum replaced by grassy areas. Two old olive trees, which had once been part of the Mission's grove, were moved from San Luis Coastal Unified School District property to the Plaza, where they were transplanted next to the Murray Adobe. The Sorop- timisr Club gave money for a small stage to be constructed at the base of the amphitheater. The Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo donated three flagpoles for the Plaza, which were dedicated with suitable ceremony on July 4, 1971. There had never been an official City flag, so the City sponsored a contest in the summer; there were more than forty entries. The winning flag, by Marian Kay, joined the national and state flags on the Plaza at the Phase II dedication September 11, 1971. The ceremonies also marked the beginning of the City's bicentennial year. In his dedication speech, Mayor Schwartz referred to the Plaza as a project which had given the downtown area new confidence for the future. "It has taught us new respect for the creek.... What we have now is only the skeleton of the project. It will mellow with age." 14 r- h 1 - _J �� w I �V Councilmen Myron J. Graham and Donairl Q. Miller, Father Joseph Stieger, of the Old Mission, Mayor Kennerh E. Schwartz and contraclor Alex Madonna around the pavement smasher as work began ,n the Mission Plaza, May 11, 1970. Picture courtesy of ;l°elegrurn- Tribmne. Honors, Awards Honors began to accrue to the Plaza early in 1972, when the Southern California chapter of the American Institute of Planners gave it first place in a competition for citizen participation in a city project. The Mission Plaza also received the first annual Award of Merit from Obispo Beautiful Associa- tion in April 1972. The American Association of Nurserymen in 1974 gave its Certificate of Merit for contributions to environmental improvement to the City of San Luis Obispo as owner, Richard Tavlor and Associates as landscape architect, and Karleskint -Crum Landscape Contracturs as landscape firm for the Mission Plaza project. Presentation cif these awards was made at the White House, Washington, D.C. There have been many other awards for the Plaza. The ultimate fate of the Murray Adobe had not been settled during the first and second phases of Plaza development, due to the condition of the building. It had been decided to removto its wooden siding, raze the frame parts of the structure, and leave only the original adobe. However, when this was done it became apparent that time had taken too great a toll and the adobe was crumbling badly. In October 1972 local members of the American Institute of Architects began restoration measures to prevent further damage. —15 -- The City provided funds for the res- toration, patio and trellis. An award for the completed restoration was given to the City by Obispo Beautiful Association in 1975. Almost from the beginning, there had been suggestions that the Plaza include at least one sculpture as a The Murray Adobe on Monterey Street, 1967. focal point. In 1972 a Sculpture Com- Picture courtesy of Telegram- Tribune. mittee was assigned the task of find- ing a suitable piece and a fund was established for private donations to pay for the sculpture. By March of 1974 the field had been narrowed to two, the choice to be left to the public. Both designs were modern in style, and there was considerable dis- The Murray Adobe restored, as it appears may on the part of any citizens today. who believed neither was in keeping Picture courtesy of Telegram - Tribune. with the historical theme of the Plaza. During the 1974 Old Fashioned Fourth of July celebration in the Plaza, the public was asked to vote on the issue. Models of the two sculptures were on exhibition, and there was an opportunity to indicate a preference for neither of them, but rather a different piece, either modern or an historical subject. The straw vote resulted in an overwhelming defeat for bath of the two proposed sculptures, the majority of voters favoring an historical piece. No proposals have been made since that time. Projects to improve the creek and prevent floods and erosion of its banks have been undertaken during the development of the Plaza. Three retaining walls were completed in November 1974, and in subsequent years work has been done on the area between Broad and Nipomo Streets. There have been private proposals for development of the block bounded by Monterey, Broad, Higuera and Nipomo Streets, as well as City plans for expansion of the Plaza. At this writing, a private development, the Phoenix Building, is under construction on Higuera Street. The City has acquired the southwest corner of Broad and Monterey Streets, bur the City's expansion plan has not yet been realized. Money for additional land acquisition is budgeted for the current fiscal year. Festivities Galore Many special public events have been held in the Mission Plaza, some of them in the original park on the Frederick property before the existence of the present Plaza. The first regular event held in the present Plaza was an Old Fashioned Fourth of July in 1972, planned and directed by Linnaea Phillips. This was such a success that a Christmas fair was held the same year. Both have become annual events. _ 16— The City's 200th anniversary, in September 1972, was a memorable occasion. In 1976 the City held a large and very successful Bicentennial cele- bration in the Plaza, with many spe- cial features. A permanent addition was the Court of Flags, an octagonal monument with ceramic replicas of eight historic American flags, which was dedicated on July 4, 1976. The idea was suggested by Robert Johnson, of San Luis Obispo, the pedestal and surrounding patio designed by Cal Poly architecture student Greg Benton, and the ceramic flags executed by Robert Nichols. The nation's Bicen- tennial was also marked by a celebra- tion of religious freedom organized by the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Asso- ciation. A short time later, on July 30, a "moon tree" was planted near the Court of Flags. The origin was the seed of a coastal redwood, carried to the moon by Astronaut Stuart Roosa on the Apollo 14 flight in 1971. After Apollo's return the seeds were planted and nurtured by the U.S. Forest Ser- vice, and one of the resulting trees was presented to the City. In 1977, after concluding eight years of service on the City Council, Myron J. Graham donated to the Plaza a metal sculpture by local artist John Augsburger. Representing a fish, it is suspended over the creek just west of the Warden Bridge. Another work of art connected with the Plaza is a mural by Marian Kay, depicting the history of San Luis Obispo. The Neighborhood Arts Council sponsored a contest for such work, Mrs. Kay was the winner, and Creekside Toys do- nated a side of their building next to the Mission Mall for the mural. Mrs. Kay began the painting in the Sum- mer of 1978 and completed it in May 1979. Sculpture by John Augsburger, a gift to the Plaza from Myron J. Graham, July 1977. Picture courtesy of Telegram- Tribune. —17 -- The latest addition to the Plaza, built in 1979, is an arbor, designed by Cal Poly architecture student Richard Rich, a gift of the estate of Mary Jane Duvall. The late San Luis Obispo resident left $55,000 for beautification projects, former Mayor Kenneth E. Schwartz being executor of the estate. In November 1976 the City established an official Mission Plaza office, in the Murray Adobe, with Linnaea Phillips as Mission Plaza Coordinator of Events. Since that time there have been increasingly frequent celebrations and craft shows. On July 3, 1979, the City Council adopted a set of guidelines for the use of the Plaza, limiting arts and crafts shows to six per year, excluding the annual La Fiesta. All events must be sponsored by non - profit groups, organized by residents or persons who have headquarters in the County. No grant monies have ever been received for the Mission Plaza, although they have been sought by the City at various times. Financing has been entirely from local tax funds and private donations. The City's Plaza Development Committee, established in November 1973, in January 1974 adopted the following statement: "The purpose of the Mission Plaza Project is to provide a place to present the City's heritage, history, culture and way of life in an interesting and educational manner which will serve and please the City's citizens and its visitors. The objective is to make Mission Plaza a place that in itself will speak of the life and people of San Luis Obispo." In keeping with this concept, Conversations in the Plaza have been held each Wednesday noon since March 1, 1978, in the Murray Adobe patio. An outgrowth of the former SLO Tales, the Conversations center about indi- viduals and events of local historic interest and feature people who have either lived in the area for many years or who are connected with County history. Cassette tapes of these informal discussions are in the San Luis Obispo City-County Library's local history collection. The San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum, at the northwest corner of Monterey and Broad Streets, while technically outside the Plaza area, is a center of information on exactly those aspects of community life mentioned in the Plaza Development Committee's statement above. Formerly the Public Library, given to the City by Andrew Carnegie in 1905, the building itself is a museum piece. As the tenth anniversary of Mission Plaza is celebrated, it seems appropriate to quote former Mayor Kenneth E. Schwartz, who summarized in a January 1977 speech: "... the Plaza is a people place and that's what cities are all about — people." —18 Kids' Day in the Fimak Nay 1975. Picture courtesy of Te%6►aw-Tribane.