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SLOJX City FlagSAN LUIS OBISPO CITY FLAG Joseph A. Carotenuti As one of the oldest settlements in California, San Luis Obispo traces its civic ancestry back to September 1, 1772 when Franciscan Padre Junipero Serra first tolled a bell to celebrate the founding of the fifth mission. While there was no intention of establishing a secular community, one evolved around the adobe symbol of a spiritual one. Eventually, the city’s official identification reflected the aged structure. Here’s the story. In preparation for the its Bicentennial Year, residents were invited to submit designs for the first official flag. Submissions were to measure three by four and one-half feet. The 45 designs were judged by a Design Review Board that later became the Architectural Review Commission with a top prize of one hundred dollars. Residents also cast their opinions as the models were displayed on downtown light standards for viewing and voting. It was a hot Saturday afternoon on September 11, 1971 when a program not only to inaugurate the Bicentennial Year but to dedicate the second phase of the Mission Plaza extension was celebrated by hundreds of residents. Led by Mayor Kenneth Schwartz, everyone was wondering who among the three finalists… Nejat Erem, Marion Kay, and Vickie Reynolds…would see their creation as the first City flag. The winning design and manufacture had been kept secret with the three finalists announced just a few days before the ceremony. Suspense built as the third-place winner of the $25 prize was announced…and then the second place submission ($50). In a moment of civic and personal drama, an 8 x 12 foot flag with the winning design was raised over Mission Plaza. It suddenly became clear…Marion Kay remembers saying to herself in amazement: “I won!” Indeed, she had. Artist Kay’s submission: a stylized mission bell amid a blue, yellow and white background spent its first official day next to the Stars and Stripes and the California State flags. A formal Resolution on September 20 adopted her submission as the official City flag. Marion explains the yellow used in her original design represents the golden hills and mountains, the cobalt blue for clear skies and the curving white center design for the San Luis Creek flowing through the community. In acknowledgement of its historic past, an arch (reminiscent of mission architecture) surrounds the bell that dominates the flag. However, changes in the lettering of the original design occurred during the manufacturing process. As with so much of the decades-long debate over the evolution and construction of the Mission Plaza, the flag produced its own bit of anxiety. Made by a firm in San Francisco, there was a delay in shipping the flag to San Luis Obispo. Thanks to a quick drive by the City Clerk (J. H. Fitzpatrick) to the manufacturer at the “eleventh” hour, the flag arrived in time for the ceremony. While retired, this original flag survives in a personal collection. Marion Kay recalls approaching the contest with methodical planning to create a “pleasing design” as well as colors to complement the City’s natural and historical assets. Part of the process included creating accurate paper patterns using the Libra design for the lettering on the flag. Once completed, the letters – now cut from fabric - were sewn onto the flag. While not uniformly applied, virtually everyone in the community sees the design - or an adaptation of it - on a daily basis. The elegant city logo is seen on municipal vehicles, uniforms, letterheads, advertisements, and brochures, even busses…although the latter omit the stripe between the blue and gold. The distinctive original letter design is used on virtually all municipal signs. Ironically, the Libra letter design is used everywhere but on the flag. Having the three flags in the Mission Plaza was preceded with fundraising for the flagpoles. The Rotary Club of San Luis Obispo (at the time there was only one Rotary in the City while today there are three) donated three flagpoles appropriately dedicated during the previous Fourth of July festivities. The Rotary Four-Way Test was included on the dedicatory plaque to remind generations to come of changeless values for our country, our community and ourselves. The slightly altered flag is seen today only in Mission Plaza and in the City Council chambers. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to have the original design fluttering over City Hall on a new flag standard? As residents and visitors enjoy our community, the three flags in rhythm with the breeze are satisfying reminders of our past as a Nation, State and City as well as beacons of hope and promise for our future. _____________________________________________________________ Thank you to Marion Kay and Ken Schwartz for sharing their memories. The Historical Society has replicates of the original design for sale in the Museum’s Gift Shop.