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SLOJX History in City HallHistory in City Hall Joseph A. Carotenuti For aficionados of local government, a satisfying evening begins on most Tuesday evenings with the televised San Luis Obispo City Council meeting. While City Hall has now turned 60 (completed in 1952), few remember the pride and joy of the dedication. Four years after the sale of the first City Hall and site and 14 years after a debilitating fire, an elated community celebrated the new heart of municipal governance. The square-cornered two-story building exuded an air of permanence. Anticipating growth, the 10,000 square foot basement was used for storage and a rifle club. Former Mayor Dave Romero, a new staff member at the time, remembers City Council meetings punctuated by gunfire. The club soon moved. Along with the droll and drama of issues, the Council Chambers provide an informative link between today’s residents and yesterday’s demons and dreams. In a quiet celebration of history and heritage, interior images expand the sense of place. The present has not forgotten its past. Here’s the story. Behind the dais to the left, television viewers see the Crocker Brothers store filled with the necessities for a growing population. To transition from a rural settlement to a progressive community, the City most often evaluated itself by the yardstick of commerce. Next is an image of the City’s center and Mission (circa 1880) viewed from the corner of Chorro and Monterey Streets. The famous (and to some, infamous) jog in the street will generate considerable civic debate with the construction of the Mission Plaza…but that is truly another story. To the right is the Commercial Hotel (1894). From mission days, San Luis Obispo was a place to stop on the way north or south. Located across from the County Courthouse, the Fremont Theater occupies the former hotel site. Unfortunately, sofa citizens miss even more images on the back wall. From bankers to bars, farriers to fireman, commerce to car racing, the wall is a visual history lesson of the former pueblo. While legislated as a community of the “sixth class” (under 3000 residents), the Nation’s Bicentennial was also the birth of the City. By then, the narrow-gauge railroad - a key missing image - connected the city with the wharf in Avila and then south toward Santa Barbara. While not yet linked with the nationwide web of trade controlled by the railroads, San Luis Obispo was eager to expand beyond its parochial reach. By design or accident, the center of the wall features a large picture of the community’s core – its downtown. A business center was much more than shops to stroll by or places to purchase goods or services as captured by the photos of Sinsheimer Brothers or Ah Louis stores or stables. Commerce meant progress – not only as sources of (always) badly needed revenue – but also as a sign of population growth and affluence. Indeed, the image of the 1894 J. P. Andrews Banking Company building not only commemorated the arrival of the railroad connecting the town to points north and beyond (1894), but was also the site of the first community library. While one requiring membership and dues, a public place dedicated to learning and the refinements of life was another indication that any west that was “wild” was something of the past. It is no wonder that the only portrait on the wall is of Andrews (also seen inside his bank) as the entrepreneur established a bank with space for the first library but also suffered the loss of an early (and the grandest) hotel ever operating in town. There is a message that those who are willing to invest in the community – to pay homage to progress - are worthy of recognition. The emerging metropolis was not free from the ills – both natural and societal – endemic with progress. None, however, was as terrifying as captured b y an image of the Andrews Hotel fire. Consumed after only eight months from opening, the image highlights the gravest of municipal nightmares. Local histories before and after this image are filled with the horrendous descriptions of fires dancing their purposeful way across a community’s annals, devouring in an unappeasable appetite buildings, homes, people, and, often most lasting, dreams. More than any other word, “FIRE” casts incalculable dread and terror! Defenses were weak but considered a communal responsibility as volunteers pulled wagons and hoses, shuttled buckets of water from creek to chaos in – often futile – attempts to kill the fiery dragon intent on overwhelming both the present and the future. Just who were the local volunteers standing before the first City Hall (built in 1878) or posing with a chemical and hose truck? We may wonder how these men could possibly defend the town from a total conflagration. Nonetheless, they knew they were the only hope. The responsibility came without compensation but offered an exquisite reward of saving some structures from ashes. More is learned as details emerge from the selected insights into the community. Fashions, transportation, tools, and architecture are a few other attractions for those who look for history inside City Hall. A new display of City Hall memorabilia is in the building’s rotunda. Rarely seen documents will be displayed in a program on May 8 beginning at 11:30 am in the Council Chambers. 879