Loading...
SLOJX City HallJUST WHERE WAS CITY HALL? Joseph A. Carotenuti No one building better defines a municipality than City Hall. There elected representatives and staff are charged with the task of looking after the welfare of a community. They change; the building stays longer. Yet, in 1850 when California entered the Union, there wasn’t any such place in San Luis Obispo…and wouldn’t be for almost 30 years! The old saying: “Go fight City Hall” doesn’t make much sense when there isn’t one. From the founding of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (1772) to being declared a pueblo (1834) to being designated as the County seat (1849), to Sacramento passing legislation for the Town (1856…thus our Sesquicentennial) to its being declared a City (1876) to becoming a Charter City (1911), San Luis Obispo has had two City Halls. Most of us are aware of the present one located on the corner of Palm and Osos Streets. Before then, there was a City Hall… above the Fire House…or was the fire station located below City Hall? With the designation as the County seat, there was little consideration as to the need for any other legal entity – let alone buildings. Indeed, there was no “official” Town site until the settlement’s officials authorized the purchase of the municipality for $1.25 per acre in 1871 from the Federal government. The first County offices – such as they were – were in the convento wing (the portico structure facing the Plaza) of the Mission. While the County officials were able to construct a Court House and offices by 1873, the Town and then City of San Luis Obispo met here and there. Since there are few records of meetings previous to 1868, it is an assumption that any official meetings of the Town Board of Trustees were held in some residence or business. In late 1874, the Trustees authorized a monthly rent of $5.00 to J. J. Simmler for meeting in his office. While Simmler had served as a Trustee in 1870, he was the community’s postmaster at this time. His home was designated as an official site for posting legal notices before the advent of a newspaper. In January of 1875 bids are opened for potential lots for a city hall (including some as gifts) but none where accepted. Meetings by then were held in the Court House until 1877 when the Masonic Lodge (built in 1875) was rented for $20. a month. This was the first time in the official minutes that reference was made to a “City Hall” as the now City Council members wanted their own keys. With few staff members: a Clerk, Marshall, Assessor, Tax Collector, attorney, and surveyor, civic space was not an issue although interest continued in building a municipal center. Finally, on May 6, 1878 the Council passed a resolution seeking bids to build a City Hall “not less than 36 feet front and 60 feet depth.” Another resolution three weeks later established a budget not to exceed $8,000. Acting as its own Building Committee, they appointed one of their members, William T. Barron, as Superintendent of construction. The lot, however, was not approved for payment until July. Owned by Max Pepperman, it cost $1,500. Using plans costing $50.00, contractor William Rodgers completed the building on Higuera Street (later numbered 869) in eight months. Built on a lot 50 by 140 feet, construction cost $5,875. A large center stairway led to the City offices. A pole through the floor allowed firemen living on the second floor to quickly descend to their equipment. The police also used the building as did other officials. Eventually a jail (still standing) was added to the back. Most often early pictures feature fireman (volunteers) and their impressive uniforms and equipment in front of an easily identifiable building with its ornate tower which held the fire bell. As with its successor, the first City Hall was financed without creating any debt. In 1938, an undoubtedly embarrassing fire destroyed part of the building including the tower and bell. Continuing to meet on the second floor, the frugal City Council conscious of weight moved meetings if attended by too many people. One comment printed by the local press was that “The city council adjourned on motion of the building!” Unfortunately, there is no marker at the site today. When the damaged and aging structure was sold in the Spring of 1948 for $37,000, the City placed the funds in a separate building account. With other transfers over the years, today’s City Hall was built without any bond issuance to fund a total cost of almost $320,000 (including the site purchase, architect fees, and furniture). Many times more than that has been spent over the years in renovations. Mayor Timothy I. O’Reilly presided at the first City Council meeting in the new building after its dedication on May 3, 1952. The official letterhead paper gave the City’s address as Post Office Box 269 along with a sketch of the Mission. One wonders if non-residents thought the official City business was conducted in the church?! Today, both the City and City Hall have grown with offices in a variety of buildings about town. The latest move is both Public Works and Community Developments occupying the first floor of the parking structure adjacent to the Library. While City Hall is a structure built of steel, cement, and wood, it also represents the heritage of our official civic life. To learn more, visit the City website at www.slocity.org SLO Journal: June 2006