Local arts patron gifts mansion to city of Pismo Beach

The Chapman House overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Shell Beach.
The Chapman House overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Shell Beach. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The South County has long appreciated the iconic English Tudor-style mansion that’s been a landmark on the Shell Beach coast for almost a century.

Now, the city of Pismo Beach is contemplating how to use the late Clifford Chapman’s estate, a place celebrated in the area’s social scene for its lavish garden parties of the past and its local nonprofit events today.

Chapman directed that, upon his passing, the approximately 1.5-acre estate at 1243 Ocean Blvd. be given to the city for public benefit, planning manager Carolyn Johnson said.

The longtime supporter of local arts died in July 2012. The city now has to decide whether it can afford to accept the nearly $17 million gift.

Chapman also instructed that his life partner, Gene “Don” Shidler, be able to live at the house for as long as he liked; that community events with nonprofit groups such as Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, San Luis Obispo Symphony and Opera San Luis Obispo continue to be held there for free; and that the estate be used for public benefit, Johnson said.

“It’s an opportunity to preserve the house and property and keep it available to the public it’s so magnificent,” said longtime Pismo Beach resident and historian Effie McDermott. “He was intending to give it to the city completely furnished down to the books and knickknacks. Mr. Chapman was very generous that way.”

The city is studying how much it would cost to undertake ownership of the property and how it could be used. Cost estimates aren’t yet available. The council is expected to decide by the end of the year whether to accept the donation, Johnson said.

Chapman, a Guadalupe native and Cal Poly graduate, bought Marshall’s Jewelers in San Luis Obispo in 1960 and operated it for nearly 40 years.

He purchased the 1930s Shell Beach home — now complete with windmill, lighthouse, pavilion, koi pond and gardens — in 1963 from a retired Bakersfield oil executive and his wife.

“Always a gardener, he delighted in maintaining the lawns and gardens of his Shell Beach home, which he opened to many nonprofit organizations for fundraising activities,” his obituary in The Tribune read.

The home is assessed at nearly $9.1 million, while the land is valued at nearly $7.7 million, according to San Luis Obispo County assessor records.

McDermott, 71, remembers attending beautiful garden parties thrown by Chapman’s mother, Rose Chapman, at the estate over the years. She has researched the Chapman property for her history book on Pismo Beach, recently published through Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series.

The size of the main house is estimated at 8,000 square feet, according to the city. The property also has a large seawall and 14 rooms, including six bedrooms, a solarium, library and music room, gallery and refectory, McDermott found through her research. The house has four full bathrooms and three half-bathrooms.

The home still belongs to Gene Shidler, A Tre, et al., according to county records for the 2013-14 tax year.