The old Sunny Acres juvenile hall in San Luis Obispo is one of the city’s architectural treasures. If we had our choice, we would see it converted to public use, perhaps as a museum, art gallery, school, government office building or a combination of all of the above.
But we have to face facts: For all its grandeur, Sunny Acres is a white elephant. It’s been deteriorating for 37 years, and no public agency or nonprofit organization is going to sweep in to rescue this orphan. Nor is any private company stepping up to convert it to commercial use.
And who can blame them? The 6,000-square-foot building not only needs major structural repairs, it also requires a seismic retrofit and asbestos removal — a daunting and expensive project. On top of that, the location isn’t exactly prime for any visitor-serving uses; it’s located above the old General Hospital, which is off the beaten track for most tourists.
According to county officials, conversion to residential use is the only practical option left, since retrofit standards for homes aren’t as stringent as those for public buildings.
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If that’s indeed the only way to ensure the building is protected and preserved, then we reluctantly support the decision by city and county officials to allow conversion to a private home. (Both agencies were involved, since the building is owned by the county but located within city limits.)
That’s certainly far preferable to seeing the building deteriorate to the point of no return. Still, we find it a shame that such a gem should pass out of public ownership.
The 1931, red brick building has a storied history:
It was designed by the San Francisco architecture firm of William Mooser Co., which also was responsible for the Santa Barbara Courthouse, San Francisco’s tower building in Ghirardelli Square and the National Maritime Museum.
Sunny Acres — the name was chosen in a community contest — originally served as an orphanage and was later converted into a juvenile hall, but was abandoned in 1974 because of safety concerns.
Several suggestions for reuse of the building have been raised since then. Perhaps the most promising proposal surfaced in 2003, when there was talk of turning it into a community school, but that never came to fruition.
Meanwhile, the building has been subjected not only to the elements, but also to vandalism.
That has to stop.
We strongly urge county officials to pursue sale of the building to a qualified buyer as expeditiously as possible, before any more damage occurs.