If a small library were built to house every book on the colorful history of the Central Coast, literature on the seaside community of Oceano would certainly require its own section.
Home to the Oceano Dunes, thriving agriculture and some of the best authentic Mexican cuisine in San Luis Obisop County, Oceano is also a small town where residents know one another by name and work together to preserve the unique character of their historic community.
Linda Austin is curator of the Oceano Train Depot, the focal point for transportation, tourism and real estate in the South County from 1896 to the 1950s. The original structure was built in 1896 as a stop for the South Pacific Railroad but burned in a 1903 fire. It was rebuilt as the combination passenger and freight building that you see today.
The depot ceased operation in 1973, and five years later, residents wanting to preserve its history moved the depot about two blocks to its current location. The nonprofit Oceano Depot Association was formed to restore and operate the landmark.
“Probably no other structure played a bigger role in the development of South County,” Austin said. “It’s like the hub of our community.”
Austin and her family have amassed an impressive collection of train memorabilia, a vintage Oceano Grocery display, a barbershop collection of World War II memorabilia from South County residents, historical artifacts from the eccentric group of 1920s artisans known as the Dunites, a restored 1900s-era caboose and a park commemorating the community’s longtime physician, Dr. R.W. Gerber.
Even Austin herself is a part of Oceano history, a third-generation resident. Austin’s grandmother moved to the area in 1904. Her father, Harold Guiton, was the central figure in preserving the depot and making it the cultural gem it is today.
“Something about this community draws people in,” Austin said. “I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else.”