In search of the runaway truck, part II

Posted by David Middlecamp on January 21, 2014 

The Lasar Building was home to The Tribune in the 1880s and the Chicago Brewery. It was last known as the Mission Garage before it was torn down in August 1955.

HISTORY OF SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY CALIFORNIA WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, 1883

Scrolling back through Telegram-Tribune microfilm in search of the runaway truck story mentioned here previously ...

Sept. 27, 1955:

The editorial page suggests that the city buy the former Mission Garage property, now demolished. The paper suggests it would be good for parking or widening Monterey Street.

“The narrow, crooked intersection of Monterey and Chorro streets has always been a traffic hazard and steadily becomes worse. With the completion of the freeway Chorro has become one of the heaviest-traveled city traffic arteries.”

The Telegram-Tribune says buy the property now, as it won’t get cheaper.

Demolition must be within a few months, and a few weeks earlier the story turns up.

Aug. 17, 1955: Demolition begins on the Lasar Building.

Historic Hotel Site Being Cleared

One of San Luis Obispo’s historic landmarks was rapidly disappearing today as wreckers went to work on the old Mission Garage.

Condemned by building inspector Seth Kinney as no longer safe for occupancy, the old brick-and-stone structure at the intersection of Monterey and Chorro streets will soon be only a memory.

But what a memory! For over three-quarters of a century the old building has looked down on Monterey Street, for generations the center of activity in San Luis Obispo. Located on Chorro, the old structure was directly in the bend of Monterey Street where it turned to reach the old Mission — a jog in the road that is troublesome to modern-day traffic but probably was a handy shortcut for the first padres who came that way.

The Rayco contractors of Santa Maria have taken the job of tearing down the old structure. The property is owned by Mrs. Emma Fredrick of San Luis Obispo with Frank Harrington acting as trustee. Demolition work started yesterday, and workers quickly had exposed the ancient skeleton of the structure.

In early days, before the turn of the century, the site was occupied by the French hotel, a two-story frame building facing on Monterey Street, and which adjoined the stone-and-brick building facing on Chorro street. The frame hotel burned down around 1907 or 1908, old-timers recall.

Exactly when the old buildings were constructed is lost in antiquity. The stone part of the building housed a great many activities down through the years including the office of the old Morning Tribune. An 1883 history of San Luis Obispo lists the French hotel as one of the buildings that made up the town in 1850. This was probably the frame section only, as seen in some of the first pictures of the city.

Some of the earliest information about the hotel available to the Telegram-Tribune was brought to the office yesterday by Mrs. Alida E. McIntire of 1330 Marsh Street. Mrs. McIntire presented a letter from her cousin, Dr. Louis Pegot of San Francisco, in which it was related that:

“About 1870 two young French chefs, brothers Lous T. Pegot and Raymond A. Pegot, emigrated to the U.S. After becoming citizens in New Orleans, they traveled west to San Luis Obispo where, in about 1875, they opened up the French hotel.

“In 1883, after the brothers had split — with Raymond going north to San Francisco where he opened the Raymond Pegot Restaurant and Oyster House on the Kearney Street entrance to the old California market — Louis sold the hotel,” the letter stated.

Later, the parents of Emma Fredrick, for whom the property is held in trust, bought the hotel.

Dr. Pegot, now retired, is the son of Louis Pegot who started the old hotel way back in the 1880s. The old family home was at the corner of Broad and Monterey streets in San Luis Obispo.

Building inspector Kinney recalled stories told by his aunt, whose father ran the old French Hotel “a long time ago,” about how the first baths in San Luis Obispo were advertised as available in the hotel. “A large spring is located beneath the building,” Kinney pointed out. “In early days it supplied the entire district with water — including the Mission church.”

Old dog and cat bones were discovered around the spring when it was accidentally uncovered by L.H. White, the last tenant in the building. White was running a parking garage there when Kinney condemned the building.

Kinney said he was also under the impression that the first electric generator for lighting the city was located in the building.

Manuel Herrera, constable of San Luis Obispo and a lifelong resident who still lives in the house where he was born, said the old Pickwick Stages used the building as a terminal. He also recalled the days when the old Tribune newspaper offices were located upstairs, during the editorship of Myron Angel.

Notably missing from the story is mention of the runaway egg truck. I would expect an event that interesting would deserve a mention.

Several readers have shared recollections via comments and email of runaway trucks in San Luis Obispo.

Apparently several trucks crashed into town over the years.

John Lewis called my attention to Rose McKeen’s book “Parade Along The Creek” where on page 136 former city engineer Homer Hamlin said he declared the Lasar building unsafe and that no truck had hit the Mission Garage.

Alex Gough recalls an egg and almond truck crashing in the area in 1958. This would place the wreck after demolition of the Lasar Building and the opening of the southbound freeway. This timeline would fit with Elliot Curry's recollection of a wreck near the present-day Mission Plaza, but the idea of a runaway egg truck being the main reason for the plaza is an oversimplification.

Gough credits the Soroptomists as a leading sponsor of the Mission Plaza idea. The group gets a major mention in a Feb. 19, 1955, front-page story outlining a Cal Poly student conceptual project closing Monterey Street and creating a plaza.

An article running July 29, 1955, is headlined “Southbound lanes open on freeway Monday” so a runaway truck we are searching for is most likely before this date.

I continue the search through microfilm.

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