The road to Monterey from San Luis Obispo

Posted by David Middlecamp on October 31, 2013 

San Luis Obispo Mission circa 1880-1920, corner of Monterey and Chorro Streets. If you have a more precise date please post a comment.


The Mission has been the centerpiece of San Luis Obispo since the beginning, but the setting has changed over the years.

Even the look of the mission has changed.

A misguided attempt to preserve the adobe — which covered the church with Yankee-style clapboard — dates to 1875.

A fire in March 1920 heavily damaged the church and was the start of efforts to restore the structure to an original look.

Mission Plaza for many years was a commercial as well as spiritual center.

The first issue of the San Luis Obispo Tribune was printed in the Murray Adobe, still in the plaza, in August 1869.

At the left of this photo is the Lasar Building or Mission Garage, originally built around 1880, which housed the print shop for the Morning Tribune newspaper, according to the book "San Luis Obispo Discoveries" by Paul Tritenbach.

I am still trying to find the original story of the egg truck crashing into the building in 1953 or 1954. The truck careened down Cuesta Grade and through town when the brakes burned out.

The Lasar building was torn down in 1955.

At the right of the photo is a real estate office and gunsmith. Hopefully customers did not need the use of both services the same day.

If anyone has better information about when the above photo was made, please post a comment. I could not find the clipping that went with it.

The clipping I did find was an Elliot Curry column from Nov. 16, 1968, in advance of closing Monterey Street and construction of the Mission Plaza we know today.

New era soon for Mission Plaza

An era of travel history that has lasted for 196 years will come to an end when San Luis Obispo closes Monterey Street to traffic in front of the Old Mission.

Voters decreed at the Nov. 5 election that this historic bit of San Luis Obispo's original "street" should become part of the Mission Plaza project.

It is hoped by sponsors of the Plaza to turn it into a showplace of San Luis Obispo history and California tradition.

In the early days of the Spanish missions, and later of Mexican rule, a traveler from the south crossed San Luis Creek a short distance south of the Mission and came up a gentle slope until he was in front of the adobe structure.

There he had a choice. If he continued toward La Cuesta he was on the "road to Monterey," passing between them.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded on the site where it stands today on Sept. 1, 1772. Fr. Junipero Serra and his party had arrived in the area from Monterey on Aug. 19 and spend several days looking for the best site for the mission, which was to be No. 5 in the string which eventually included 21.

The site finally selected was described as being on a small hill near the creek, and there Fr. Serra set up a shelter of boughs and conducted the first Catholic service that officially dedicated the Mission land.

The area of today's Mission Plaza has seen a lot of changes and a lot of history since that distant dedication day.

When Edward Vischer made his famous sketches for the California missions, he included a bullfight scene in front of Mission San Luis Obispo. Gen. John C. Fremont "captured" San Luis Obispo on his march to Los Angeles in December 1846, and made his headquarters at the Mission.

The vigilance committee was born in Walter Murray's adobe office, still standing across from the Mission.

Spanish, Portuguese and Swiss celebrations were staged here in the changing panorama of San Luis Obispo social life.

Weddings and funerals have been conduced at the Mission by the thousands.

The appearance of the Mission itself has undergone many changes.

The original adobe structure was already falling into disrepair when the act of secularization was passed in 1833 and the missions were stripped of their lands. There was a period of some 10 years or more when the mission was in charge of a committee of prominent citizens and was used as a sort of public building.

After the Civil War came the first "restoration." The adobe walls were enclosed in clapboard and atop the church there appeared, of all things, a New England-type belfry. After World War I, there began a new period of "restoration" that has continued off and on until the present time.

The old "wooden casing" was removed and the lines of the Mission restored to something like the original.

The people of San Luis Obispo have now indicated, by their vote to close Monterey Street, that they believe the time has come to make a major improvement in the setting of one of California's most historic shrines.

Modern traffic on "the road to Monterey" whizzes past San Luis Obispo on Highway 101, but there are also may people who want to stop and linger on the roadway that Fr. Serra and Gen. Fremont knew.

The new plaza will be for them.

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