A new collection of California State Archives photos offer a peek into the Central Coast’s past, including images of long-gone North County landmarks.
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The archives digitized nearly 3,000 photos of early 20th century California taken by William and Grace McCarthy, who traveled throughout the state when automobiles were a new form of transportation.
For most of their lives, the McCarthys — who were born in the 1870s and died in the 1950s — lived in San Francisco, where William McCarthy worked as an armament expert for the U.S. War Department. But the couple’s photos showcase their extensive travels throughout the state, roughly from 1905 to 1938.
They documented natural beauty at Lake Tahoe and Yosemite and captured the development of big cities, photographing Hollywood Boulevard homes and the Golden Gate Bridge under construction.
During their travels along the Central Coast, the McCarthys took photos of the old Paso Robles Inn in 1935, before it burned down in a 1940 fire and was later rebuilt. The photo of the grand building on Spring Street features a sign advertising some of the hotel’s prices: A room for the night started at $1.50 and lunch was 60 cents.
In 1920, the McCarthys visited the La Plaza Building in Atascadero, which was home to shops, a post office and a movie theater on the ground floor and the Atascadero Inn on the top floor. Later in the 1920s, the inn took over the building completely, before it was destroyed in a 1934 fire.
The archives also include several photos of the McCarthys’ travels to Santa Barbara and Monterey, including a stop at what is now Pinnacles National Park, where William McCarthy took a photo of his wife in front of the area’s dramatic rock formations.
“While most of us do not leave the house without a camera on our smartphone now, William and Grace documented California during a much different time,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a statement. “As early adopters of automobile travel and personal photography, the McCarthys embodied California’s pioneering spirit.”
To check out the full photo collection, visit sos.ca.gov/archives/william-m-mccarthy-photograph-collection. A digital photo exhibit, titled “California Memoirs,” is also available through Google Arts and Culture.