For downtown craftsmen, 1980s marked end of an era

Posted by David Middlecamp on August 22, 2013 

"We're losing the traditional trades," says Gary Cully who must move his blacksmith shop. Today an express lube garage occupies the lot. ©Telegram-Tribune/Tony Hertz


An era was ending as the 1980s dawned in San Luis Obispo. The city was banishing blue-collar manufacturing from the downtown and welcoming boutiques and restaurants.

Downtown hardware stores, saddle shops and blacksmith forges all were going or gone.

It used to be that a town was on the map when a blacksmith set up a forge, but those days are over. Now restaurants, bars, computers and sunglasses are more likely to be found than clanging hammers.

On Dec. 27, 1985, this story written by Dan Stephens was published in the Telegram-Tribune:

Blacksmith says craft being banished to the countryside

A blacksmith who has worked in San Luis Obispo for 26 years and now must relocate thinks the blacksmith is a “dying breed” who’s being banished to the rural areas of the county.

“We’re losing the traditional trades,” said Gary Cully, a blacksmith at 286 Higuera St. since 1959.

“It’s hard enough to start up a business anywhere, but now it’s almost impossible, especially for someone who has been in business in San Luis Obispo all his life.”

Cully’s entangled in a land-use limbo.

He learned of the problem when the Higuera Street building he has worked in for almost three decades was condemned by the city.

With the building on the chopping block, Cully decided to set up shop in the Tank Farm Road area south of San Luis Obispo.

The county refused to issue him a business license.

Instead the Planning Department told him his only choices ere the industrial areas on the Nipomo Mesa or in Santa Margarita.

Cully said that’s too far from San Luis Obispo, the town he’s been working in for 26 years.

Chuck Stevenson, supervisor of public information at the Planning Department, said, “It’s a real unfortunate, but it’s something we run into quite often.”

“It’s a real problem for the small-time guys.”

Cully said he’s a small-time guy.

Cully said the[y] refused to issue a business license because the rural San Luis Obispo area is under study.

During the study period, new blacksmiths are prohibited from setting up shop.

They are not on the list of allowable uses.

“A lot of people are upset,” Stevenson said. “It’s typical of this type of area. There is that hiatus period that’s a pain in the rear for many people.”

The 1,100-acre neighborhood, which fringes the city of San Luis Obispo to the south, is being studied by the city, the county and homeowners in the area.

Until the study is finished, the area is in limbo.

What’s called a specific plan is being developed to chart the future.

The city is worried about industry sprouting at its back door. When people first arrive in San Luis Obispo at the airport, the Tank Farm Road area is the first they see.

“You get the idea the city wants low-employee intensive businesses, like storage,” Stevenson said.

Today, the area accommodates everything from auto salvage yards to mini-storage units.

“Metal fabricating isn’t that dirty,” said Cully. “We’re just a dying breed.” Though land is in county jurisdiction, “The city does have a certain authority,” about what goes there, Stevenson said.

“But we don’t buckle to the city.”

Meantime, homeowners in the area are worried about the neighborhood for the same reason. And the county is worried about flooding during rainstorms, roads and right of ways, Stevenson said.

The study has been under way for about two years. Until it’s finished, no blacksmiths are allowed.

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