Photos from the Vault

Seal of approval: SLO County’s logo says a lot about history, heritage

Various San Luis Obispo County seals and emblems. At left is the original county seal adopted in 1883 seen over the doorway of the 1940 county offices. In the center is the unofficial emblem created in 1957. When the original seal wore out a new seal was designed in 1972 at the request of Howard Mankins, chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, by artist Robert Reynolds.
Various San Luis Obispo County seals and emblems. At left is the original county seal adopted in 1883 seen over the doorway of the 1940 county offices. In the center is the unofficial emblem created in 1957. When the original seal wore out a new seal was designed in 1972 at the request of Howard Mankins, chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, by artist Robert Reynolds. A Brief History of the Board of Supervisors Official Seal and County Emblem

Have you ever passed time in meetings or courtrooms, studying the state and county seals?

Logos are a quick way to brand communications with an official imprint. And emblematic seals often reflect the story we tell about ourselves.

The County of San Luis Obispo has simplified its logo — swapping a more classic symbol for an abstract county shape overlaid with type. The word “of” is tipped over.

The shape, alternately blue with white text or white with blue text, no longer strictly follows the messy, organic western coastline or the southern border with the Cuyama and Santa Maria rivers. It also simplifies the eastern stair-step border shadowing the Temblor Range and Cholame Hills.

It’s almost as if a county shape was drawn, then left in the window of a hot car and melted.

The logo doesn’t offer much entertainment value. But in a world in which communications are often conducted via smart phones and tablets, a simple design that looks good on small screens makes sense.

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The current County of San Luis Obispo emblem is a simplified blue shape of the county. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

There were at least three emblems before the current one was adopted.

Howard Mankins, former chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, wrote a booklet in December 1982 outlining the history of the county seal.

The original seal, adopted by San Luis Obispo County in 1883, shows a pastoral cow county with the Morros in the the background. An example can be seen above the door of the old courthouse.

By 1971, county clerk Ruth Warnken said the official seal had worn so badly that it was barely useable, the embossed letters were almost unreadable.

Meanwhile, around 1957, the county also adopted an unofficial emblem designed by county purchasing agent Ty Eddy that was used on vehicles.

That emblem had silhouettes of Morro Rock, Mission San Luis Obispo, South County vegetable fields and Carrizo Plain grain farming.The four scenes were divided by a shape that blended a bear, a weather vane and a torch, bounded by 27 stars and contained within an outline vaguely shaped like a bear’s head.

Mankins began soliciting designs for a replacement seal, and the one chosen was designed by Cal Poly teacher and artist Robert Reynolds.

The seal included the words “Not For Ourselves Alone.”

Staff writer Jack Magee wrote about the new seal being adopted in the Feb. 6, 1973, Telegram-Tribune.

New county seal approved, but there were questions

Chairman Howard Mankins came up with a proposed new county seal Monday.

And the drawing by Cal Poly artist Robert Reynolds — who did the 1971 phone book cover on Fra. Junipero Serra — bore little resemblance to Mankin’s rough sketch of last November.

No one found fault with the art work but Supervisor Richard Krejsa mildly questioned some of the facts in Mankins’ written description of the seal.

Mankins, obviously proud of the work, concealed his sensitivity well and shrugged off the criticism as dealing with matters that are subject to interpretation.

For instance, Krejsa observed that there is a difference of opinion in historical circles whether Portuguese explorer Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo actually entered San Luis Bay or just passed by.

Kresja’s fellow freshman member of the board, Kurt Kupper, cited his architectural student background in wondering whether the mission bell in the seal didn’t distract the eye of the viewer.

But Mankins said the bell was intended to be a focal point in recognition of the importance of the San Luis Obispo mission.

Supervisor Hans Heilmann noted with pride that this county is one of the few having two restored missions (San Luis Obispo and San Miguel).

The seal, with one copy rendered in gold, was approved by the board but will have to await casting before official adoption.

In the meantime, it can be used as the county emblem. But it won’t be emblazoned on county vehicles until and unless it approves.

County Administrative Officer Willard Waggoner, who suggested it replace the present county emblem on official vehicles, had second thoughts. While that would be nice, Waggoner said the stat has discontinued using its emblem on its cars out of fear it invited vandalism, and wondered if the county should follow suit.

Mankins got the board’s permission last fall to design a new seal along historical lines to replace the present one, in use 89 years, which imprints on official papers a battered image vaguely resembling a mountain-valley landscape.

At that time Mankins said the meaning of the seal’s features and identity of its artist couldn’t be learned and the company which made it was destroyed during the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

The new seal has a border reading “Board of Supervisors, San Luis Obispo, California.” As an emblem, the “Board of Supervisors” lettering will be replaced by “County of.”

In the center are four left facing male profiles representing an Indian, an early explorer, a Padre and an early Californian, framed by an outline of the county’s boundaries.

On the lower left, opposite the mission bell, are leaves, branches and acorns of the Valley Oak, copied from a tree at Paso Robles.

Top left, a Cabrillo expedition sailing ship sits in front of Morro Rock. At top right is one of the chain of peaks. Middle right is a tiny ranch scene of a cowboy on horseback rounding up two calves. The whole scene is circled by a braided rope that “holds together the heritage that founded our county.”

At the top of the scene is a banner reading “Alcaldes” and beneath it the date, 1850, the year the county was established.

Ten stars in the outer circle of the seal stand for the original division of the California territory into 10 districts, one this county.

At the bottom of the seal is a ferocious grizzly bear of the kind that greeted the Portola expedition.

Mankins said artist Reynolds’ fee of $300 includes a decorative scroll to be made carrying the resolution adopting the seal.

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David Middlecamp is a photojournalist and third-generation Cal Poly graduate who has covered the Central Coast region since the 1980s. A career that began developing and printing black-and-white film now includes an FAA-certified drone pilot license. He also writes the history column “Photos from the Vault.”
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