Pismo Beach accepts ownership of Chapman House

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

In June 2010, Clifford Chapman called Pismo Beach Mayor Shelly Higginbotham and shared an idea he’d been quietly contemplating: to gift his striking oceanfront home to the city upon his passing.

“I thought he was calling about a bird problem on Ocean Boulevard, and he said, ‘I’d like to talk to you about giving my house to the city,’ ” Higginbotham recalled Wednesday. “I said, ‘Wow, I don’t really know how to respond.’ ”

At first, the vision was kept under wraps, per Chapman’s request. Higginbotham started meeting regularly with Chapman; his longtime partner, Don Shidler; and Katchy Andrews, president of the Shell Beach Improvement Group, at the iconic home at 1243 Ocean Blvd.

On many Tuesday mornings, they discussed ideas and documented many of the home’s treasures, from artwork to sculptures, some of which will be included in the transfer.

Chapman died in June 2012. City officials later completed an evaluation of the property and on Tuesday, the City Council unanimously accepted the Chapman Estate.

It’s expected that the approximately 1.5-acre estate will become city property as of Dec. 31. The property is valued at nearly $17 million. 

“This is something that’s kind of historic for the city to take on … and something that will enhance the city in the long term,” Councilman Ed Waage said.

The council still needs to determine how the property will be used.

Council members directed city staff to continue work on a lease with Shidler so he can continue living in the home; to set up interviews to appoint an oversight committee; to seek proposals for immediate work on the home; to develop a request for proposals for a consultant to develop a long-range plan for improvements and uses; and to establish a fund to track revenues and expenses related to the property.

A separate community task force will be assembled to develop a framework for events on the property. Issues to be discussed include traffic and parking, which were listed as top concerns by two residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think the whole idea of parking has to be a No. 1 issue,” said Bill Hatcher, a retired Kern County school superintendent who owns property on nearby Santa Fe Avenue. Hatcher said he supported the project, adding, “I caution that … when you get into weddings and other venues, you run into all kinds of other issues.”

The home was built in the 1930s, and Chapman, who owned Marshall’s Jewelers in San Luis Obispo for nearly four decades, bought it in 1963. He often opened the house for fundraisers benefiting local charities and arts organizations. 

Those events will continue, but the public will eventually also get a chance to visit the estate — albeit during scheduled supervised visits so as not to harm the property in any way, officials said.

“My goal is to have this beautiful estate available for the general public to enjoy,” Higginbotham said. “We have an opportunity as a city to allow people to go beyond peeking through the gates.”

City officials intend for short-term improvements, including ramps to make the property accessible to those with disabilities, and other repairs to be finished before June 2, when the 26th annual Afternoon of Epicurean Delights is scheduled to be held there. The event benefits the health and prevention division of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County.

The short-term improvements and repairs can be funded by a $192,000 trust endowment.

Ongoing maintenance is estimated at about $30,000 a year. City officials listed several ideas to cover ongoing costs, including event rentals and setting up a city fund to accept donations. Shell Beach Improvement Group members are setting up a separate nonprofit to support the estate, Andrews said.

The city could also borrow funds for long-term improvements, such as repairs to a seawall and an upgraded or new guest house. Such improvements could cost $2 million, according to a city staff report.