A prominent corner block of downtown San Luis Obispo buildings that are deeply rooted in the city’s history will soon go on the market.
A group of adjoining buildings on the corner of Higuera and Chorro streets — now occupied by The Network Shopping Center, Avanti and other tenants — is expected to be sold as part of an estate sale of the Leslie Naman Trust.
The first of the buildings near San Luis Obispo Creek and Mission San Luis Obispo was purchased in the 1860s by Charles Johnson, the city’s first mayor, who bequeathed it to his family. The property has remained in the family over five generations as Johnson’s descendants added buildings to the commercial row.
“Just imagine what has transpired during the time that they have owned this property,” said Dale Anderson, the estate trustee, in a March 27 email to more than 15 tenants. “The Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, etc. It is a testament to the family that they have been able to maintain ownership for so long.”
The buildings had been owned and operated by local physician Leslie “Les” Naman, who died in 2014 at the age of 72. His parents, Evins and Dorothy Johnson Naman, a blood relative of San Luis Obispo’s first mayor, managed the buildings before Les Naman inherited them.
Today it is not a rumor but our announcement to you that it will be happening. ... I am sure that you understand that this is an emotional decision for the family.
Dale Anderson, trustee for the Leslie Naman Trust
The family members were loyal supporters of the local business community, opting to lease to locally owned stores instead of taking lucrative offers from national chains.
Anderson wrote in his email to tenants that the family “took ownership of this property and its location as the anchor of downtown retail seriously” and added that “sometimes to their detriment, believed it was best to have local folks as their tenants.”
“The family (heirs) has decided that it would be best to sell the property,” Anderson wrote. “I am sure you have heard many rumors of this happening. Today it is not a rumor but our announcement to you that it will be happening. ... I am sure that you understand that this is an emotional decision for the family.”
In addition to the The Network Shopping Center stores such as Cowboy Cookie, and Avanti, a women’s clothing store, businesses that lease space in the Naman property include BarrelHouse Brewing Co., Wingstop, Creeky Tiki, Which Wich Superior Sandwiches. The San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce had its headquarters there for about 50 years.
The current leases, many of which run three to five years, will be honored by the next owner through their duration, Anderson said.
The asking price and exact date the units will go on the market haven’t been announced, though the price tag is expected to be several million dollars.
The property starts at The Network on Higuera Street and continuously extends around the corner to Chorro Street, cutting off at the building that houses Luna Red restaurant. The Naman buildings abut San Luis Obispo Creek from two sides, and an easement crosses the creek.
Anderson said the property’s history includes stories of fishing for steelhead in the creek underneath the old Burriss Saddlery store on 1033 Chorro St., where meats were kept cool in the basement. A pathway along the property once was called Priest’s Lane because it was a pathway for missionaries to collect well water downtown.
“This property is not more important economically than other blocks of the city, but it is culturally,” said Dave Garth, the former president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. “The family felt the attachment to the buildings’ heritage.”
Many current and former tenants who leased space there grew to know and respect the family, Garth said.
“Evins was really a good friend, and he really taught me, more than anybody else, that there was so much more to business than making money,” Garth said. “He taught me that you have to consider the effect on community and the right thing to do. The long-term impacts are more important than short-term gain.”
Garth recalled the family pitching in to soundproof the chamber’s office windows to block out noise from the street below, which the chamber couldn’t afford.
“I hope that whoever the new owner is, that they will respect the buildings the way the family has,” Garth said.