Fire destroys historic horse racing barn at site of San Luis Ranch development

Embers of San Luis Obispo’s past flitted through the rain Friday night as a historic barn on the former Dalidio family property along Madonna Road was engulfed in flames and almost completely destroyed.

The 50-foot-by-50-foot, two-story structure was formerly a viewing and staging area for horse races in the 1800s. It was slated to be moved, along with two other buildings at the site, for historical preservation as part of the San Luis Ranch development that will add 580 homes, commercial and office space and a 200-room hotel to the property.

Hundreds of trees that once surrounded the barn, which mostly shrouded it from view from Madonna Road, have recently been cleared to make way for the development.

A historic barn associated with 1800s horse racing on the former Dalidio property in San Luis Obipso burned Friday night. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Firefighters were able to save other nearby historical buildings, the Dalidio homestead and another barn as well as one wall of the viewing barn, despite what San Luis Obispo City Fire Battalion Chief Neal Berryman called “a large ember cast and pretty heavy rains at times.”

Berryman said the developers of the property are looking to salvage whatever materials they can from the burned barn, including sheeting and roof products, to rebuild what remains of the structure.

“We’re still working on the investigation,” Berryman said on the cause of the fire. “We believe it started on the second floor, but the second floor did collapse onto the first floor, so it’s definitely more complicated than a normal fire.”

Horse racing in San Luis Obispo dates back to the day of the Mexican rancheros in the early 19th century. According to the city, tracks were built from 1874 through 1887. During this period, a 1-mile rack track was located near what is now Madonna Plaza.

According to the city, there was a fire in 1890 at that track that destroyed about 40 stalls and tons of hay.

After ownership changed hands in 1901, including the portion of the project site with the viewing and staging barn, the barn was then moved to its current location, and the track was shortened to a half-mile.

The site has further history in San Luis Obispo. The Dalidio family purchased the ranch and converted the site to a farm in approximately 1921. The family later expanded to dairy and agribusiness ventures in the 1980s and the site became known as Zapata Farms.

The property was sold to Pismo Beach-based developer Gary Grossman in 2014 for $19.7 million.

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Scott Middlecamp is a News Assistant for the SLO Tribune, where he covers breaking news and sports. He is a recent Cal Poly graduate and grew up in San Luis Obispo.