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SLOJX Visiting City HallVisiting City Hall Joseph A. Carotenuti City Hall for most residents is a building rarely visited or even considered important in daily life. For some, it’s where meetings (often televised) are held on topics important to someone. However, whether for business, meetings, or to report for work, walking its halls provides an opportunity for everyone to (re)discover some of our earlier history. Here’s the story. City Hall itself has attained an age where “vintage” is an apt description. Built in 1952 by local builder Allan Ochs at a total cost (land, plans, construction, and furnishings) of under $400,000, various rejuvenations have exceeded the initial investment in this second City Hall by a considerable amount. Along the corridor walls are pictures and brief descriptions (with some inaccuracies) of just a few events from the past including one that became the genesis for the current structure deserving some explanation. Pioneer San Luis Obispo was a “pay as you go” operation with few reserves and certainly no funds to build a municipal center. The Common Council (today’s City Council) met wherever space was available including in a member’s store. After the County built its courthouse (1873), the city officials used that space. Finally after incorporation as a City (1876), the decision was made to take advantage of state funds dedicated to communities building a city hall. In fact, what resulted was a fire station on the ground floor with all other city functions upstairs. The City Clerk was the main occupant as most officials often worked from their business or home. When the time came to select a site, fourteen different proposals were presented to the City Council. Thus, the location could have been in various spots – mostly along Monterey & Higuera Streets. The final choice was actually half of two lots owned by Max Pepperman and the Goldtree family. Opened in 1878, the building featured two large ground level double doors for fire equipment with a center stairway leading to second floor offices. Atop the building was the tower to hold the alarm bell. When rung – quite often given the predominantly wooden structures – the volunteers would rush to hitch the horses and/or pull equipment to the fire. In 1938, they didn’t have to go far…the tower was ablaze. Thus, the picture in the hallway. Never ones to rush into spending non-existent funds, officials conducted business in the damaged structure although public meetings were held at the nearby Masonic Lodge. In 1948, the decision was made to sell the building and lot for $37,000. Today’s address - 867 Higuera Street – has no marker identifying the historic site. The small jail added to the back survived the razing of the building and is still used in the modern business. Two hotel pictures in the municipal lobby are familiar to even the most casual student of local history. The Andrews and Ramona Hotels represent more than an historic tradition of extending hospitality to travelers. Both met an inevitable blazing end (the Andrews a mere eight months after opening and the Ramona in 1905) given cooking fires and gas lamps inside the buildings. The fire “laddies” could do little but watch. The San Luis Band, then and now a mark of the community’s love of music, poses during the opening day ceremonies. Capitalizing on increased rail passengers, the Ramona Hotel was built by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in 1896. Train passengers were met by increasingly competitive drivers for a horse-drawn trip to the hotel. One such carriage is preserved on the Dallidet Adobe grounds. When Presidents McKinley (1901) and Roosevelt (1903) made brief rail stops, it was from the hotel’s front porch each greeted the community. While fine examples of nineteenth century commercial architecture, more importantly, however, the hotels signify a community’s growing prosperous enough to entertain the notion that non-residents should (or would want to) stay in town. From mission settlement to railroad center, San Luis Obispo had always been a temporary place to rest as travelers trekked the trails or rode the rails to the more popular destinations in the north or south ends of the state. J. P. Andrews learned from his expensive mistake (insurance – if any – was minimal) and constructed the Andrews Banking Company building of brick at the turn of the century. Home to the first municipal library on the second floor, the building is a City gem located at the corner of Monterey and Osos Streets. In the City Hall photo, C. W. Palmer, undertaker, peers somberly at the camera in front of his business in the building. Requiring a keen eye (a magnifying glass would help), another turn of the century photograph of San Luis Obispo taken from Telegraph Hill captures the community of about 5000…25% of the entire county’s population. Then – as now – the Mission occupies a central location with the newly opened California Polytechnic School visible to the left. The school’s architect, W. H. Weeks, was responsible for the also newly opened Carnegie Free Library (1904) next to the Mission. A panorama photo of the valley has an “unidentified” man sitting on a rock. He is Charles H. Johnson, a legendary founder of the community. There are several other pictures of the early days of the community. At another time, we’ll go inside the Council Chambers to look at images on the rear walls not seen by viewers during televised meetings. In the meanwhile, whenever the occasion arises, take a few minutes to stroll through city hall not as a municipal building but as a local mini-history lesson. Youngsters are certainly welcome. 926