A new name will now grace a long-vacant, dilapidated brick building on the hilltop above Johnson Avenue in San Luis Obispo. The historic site, known as Sunny Acres, was recently renamed Bishop Street Studios and will one day provide housing for people with mental illness.
Transitions Mental Health Association plans to restore the historic two-story building into studio apartments. The name change, approved by association’s board of directors in September, was made to distance the project from local rancher Dan De Vaul’s Sunny Acres sober-living facility being built on Los Osos Valley Road.
“Given the big difference between our mission and Dan De Vaul’s, it made sense to come up with a different name that clearly identifies our project for precisely what it is: studio apartments on Bishop Street,” said Jill Bolster-White, Transitions’ executive director.
Bolster-White said an exterior plaque to commemorate the dates and origins of the building will be installed in recognition of its historical significance.
“We want to pay tribute to how it was founded and what the original name and purpose was,” Bolster-White said. “Our use will be very close to the original use of housing children who didn’t have any place to go, except we are building a place for adults who don’t have very many options.”
The building, which has been vacant for more than 40 years, was built in 1931 to house orphans and wards of the court. In the 1950s, it was used as a youth detention facility.
Its unique Romanesque architecture makes it the only building of its kind in San Luis Obispo County.
Neglect and vandalism have left the aged building in disrepair. Shattered but barred windows afford a glance inside of an asbestos-laden, caving roof and walls marred by graffiti.
Lore that the building was once an insane asylum and that it is haunted has long intrigued locals and drawn them to the site. A chain-link fence, cut by trespassers, does little to deter them.
Because the property is owned by the county it has not yet been added to the city’s list of historic resources.
When the studio project moves forward through the city for approval, it will be added to the list, with its original name of Sunny Acres, said city planner Phil Dunsmore.
Transitions, the leading agency in the county for providing recovery and wellness services to people with mental illness, secured an agreement with the county Board of Supervisors earlier this year that will allow the nonprofit to buy the property from the county for $1,100.
The plan is to restore the building’s exterior and completely remodel the interior into 13 studio units and a community room. The agency was also given the option of building up to three more buildings with 22 studios.
The estimated cost of the project is $5 million, which includes preserving the building’s façade and removing asbestos. That estimate excludes the cost for installing utilities and roads.
Transitions and the county have agreed to a five-year timeline to have a secure plan in place to build the project.
Bolster-White said she would like to have the project complete in that five-year timeframe, but it is contingent on available funding.
“I would like to begin construction in 2015, but funding may determine our timeline,” she said.