Octagon Barn is ready for grand opening as SLO’s newest event center

The Octagon Barn, a historic property with more than a century of agricultural use in San Luis Obispo — is opening as a location for public and private events after two decades of planning and restoration.

The officially named Octagon Barn Center will host a grand opening celebration Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., marking the finished remodel of the cultural icon built in 1906.

The event, open to the public, will include live music, a variety of food, wine tasting from five Edna Valley wineries, free kids’ activities, an art show by the San Luis Outdoor Painters for the Environment, and more.

The nonprofit Land Conservancy — which has a 98-year lease on the property owned by John and Howard Hayashi — managed planning and construction of the $7.2 million effort to restore the eight-sided barn that was on the verge of collapse when the organization rescued the building in 1997.

The site now includes three buildings and outdoor patio space off South Higuera Street.

“It will be a tourist destination that welcomes thousands of visitors each year as they approach the southern entrance of San Luis Obispo,” the organization said in a news release. “Visitors of all ages will learn about SLO County’s rich dairy history, honoring the legacy of local farming and the efforts of local families who helped shape our community.”

What the site has to offer

Starting in 2020, the center will be available to rent for nonprofit fundraisers, workshops, weddings, farmers markets, and film and music events, said Kaila Dettman, The Land Conservancy’s executive director.

Some pre-planned events will take place before the end of the year, but no bookings will be scheduled until the start of the new year, Dettman said.

In addition, the Octagon Barn will host docent tours and offer educational visits for students.

In addition restoring the vintage 5,000-square-foot barn, the nonprofit also has retrofitted two additional buildings for public use.

The Octagon Barn Center is about to open after years of work to save the historic structure south of San Luis Obispo. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A renovated 2,000-square-foot milking parlor, originally built in 1938, will be available for gatherings such as trainings and presentations needing multimedia technology.

And a third, new 4,000-square-foot building called “the shed” has space for gathering, managing catered food service, and outdoor patio seating protected from the wind for music performances.

The 6-acre property at 4400 Octagon Way was initially used as a dairy facility and later to house beef cattle, Dettman said.

“This is one of only two octagon barns in California, I believe,” Dettman said on a recent tour of the site. “They were popular on the East Coast, but not so much out west.”

A deep local history

The mostly wooden barn building survived the nearby 1926 tank farm fire, but after decades of use was on the verge of collapsing in the late 1990s when The Land Conservancy stepped in to bolster its framing supports.

Dettman said the building’s circular design was preferred by farmers who could usher cows in and out more easily, and its eight sides required less building material than other types of barns.

Tools used in the early days of the barn are on display at the center, along with old photos that document its history and names of donors who helped restore the site.

José Corona with Coastal Janitorial scrubs the floor of the Octagon barn before Saturday’s grand opening. The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County restored the facility, which is about to open as a museum/venue after years of work. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The barn used to have a dirt floor, but The Land Conservancy added concrete to accommodate event use and installed sprinklers along the wooden beams to comply with the fire code.

The funding was a combination of private donations and SLO County government investment at a site that will also be an eventual trailhead for the extended Bob Jones Bike Path that will ultimately connect the city to the sea. Funding is still needed for construction and start-up costs.

The cost to rent the entire facility space will be $6,500, with lower pricing for use of individual buildings, and 30 percent off for nonprofits, Dettman said.

“All the money from our rentals will go back into the management of the property, with any of the rest going to land conservancy needs,” Dettman said.

City-to-the-sea hub

Additional legs of the Bob Jones Bike Path into SLO are awaiting funding and planning completion, including a connection from the south to the Octagon Center.

The county currently is planning a 4.5-mile section of the trail that will connect San Luis Obispo at the Octagon Barn to the existing approximately 2-mile section of pathway between the Ontario Road staging area and Avila Beach, said Shaun Cooper, a senior planner with county Parks and Recreation.

Design and construction document planning, costing $1.2 million, is anticipated to be completed by fall 2021, with the actual construction costing $15.5 million. The work will take several years to complete.

The new windmill spins at the Octagon Barn Center. The facility is about to open after years of work to save the historic structure south of San Luis Obispo. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The county plans to apply for a Federal Active Transportation Program grant (due in mid-2020) for the construction phase of the project, Cooper said.

The city of San Luis Obispo will complete additional pathways into the city, Cooper said.

The Octagon Barn site has 110 parking spaces with additional public street parking.

Dettman said those who attend the grand opening Saturday also may use additional parking spaces at the nearby Slime business complex at 125 Venture Drive, Suite 210, if spots are filled at the Octagon Barn.

A ticketed concert featuring the Shawn Clark Family Band begins at 5 p.m. in the barn.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.