Photos from the Vault

‘We caught it just in time.’ How Pismo Beach history buffs saved city founder’s home

The Price Anniversary House looks a whole lot better than it did in 1987.

A series of efforts by many volunteers has turned the once-dilapidated house into the centerpiece of a park in Pismo Beach. A project to install historic gingerbread trim along the roofline was recently completed.

“I commend the dedication of volunteers whose vision and perseverance saved and continue the work to fully restore this historic treasure,” said Jeanne Nix, president of Friends of the Price House.

The nonprofit group will hold its third annual Victorian Christmas Open House at 100 Rancho Pismo Drive in Pismo Beach on Sunday, Dec. 8. For tickets and more information, go to their Facebook page,

The Anniversary House was saved, but before the restoration process gained momentum the nearby Three Gabled Adobe was lost to fire and time.

On July 16, 1987, Telegram-Tribune reporter Craig Andrews wrote about early preservation efforts.

Restoration of Pismo founder’s homestead becomes reality

The homestead of John Michael Price, which includes two adobe buildings and his large ”Anniversary House,” has been battered by weather and vandals since it was abandoned in the late 1960s.

Although one of the adobes crumbled to the ground this past year, restoration of the Anniversary House will start this month.

Price was the founder of Pismo Beach, having acquired the bulk of the El Pismo rancho by the mid 1850s.

In 1852, Price moved to the homestead site, according to Jean Hubbard of the South County Historical Society.

A few years later, Price built a two-story adobe adjoining an existing, three-gabled adobe house. In 1858, the adobe was turned into a school as Price bought textbooks and spent $156 to hire a teacher for his 15 children, according to an 1893 newspaper account.

The little school house is now a heap of disintegrating adobe bricks.

John Michael Price built a two-story adobe adjoining an existing, three-gabled adobe house in Pismo Beach. This adobe was well on the way to disintegration in September 1987. David Middlecamp

The same fate could befall the three-gabled adobe if steps aren’t taken to preserve it soon.

The adobes are owned by Harry McDonald of Los Angeles, who has been asked to donate the adobes and the land they’re on to the city. So far, McDonald hasn’t responded, said Pismo Beach city administrator Les Crist.

The future is bright, however, for the wood-frame Anniversary House that Price had built for his wife, Maria Andrea Carlon, sister of Manuela Branch, on their 50th anniversary. The South County Historical Society first asked the city to save the house 10 years ago, Hubbard said.

At the time, developers were planning to demolish the building. But since developers usually have to allocate a percentage of land for parks, the society managed to convince PVP Investments to save the buildings, she said.

PVP donated the house and four acres of the homestead to the city of Pismo Beach in 1982.

“We caught it just in time,” Hubbard said. ”We said, ‘Don’t (demolish) this. This is Pismo. This is Pismo’s founder.’ I don’t think many of them knew what they had.”

Hubbard said most of the antique hardware has been removed from the buildings much of which is difficult to replace. Even an ornate fireplace mantel was scavenged.

Fernie Miranda, the South County builder hired by the city to coordinate the project, said it will take about a year to complete the first phase of restoration — beefing up the foundation and preserving the exterior.

He said the city has set aside $25,000 to start with. Miranda says the money will be used to work on the foundation, seal the outside and protect it from weather.

In the meantime, the adobes and the Anniversary House sit and wait. Many windows are broken out and doors are rotting, exposing the interior to the elements.

Plaster is cracked and falling in every room. Sheets of yellow paint peels from the walls of an upstairs bedroom. Door hinges are rusting, and weeds are growing through gaps in exposed lathes in a wall.

Miranda blames vandals and transients for much of the damage. “Four years ago there was some people living here. It was in a lot better shape then - they were going to fix it up,” Miranda said.

Hubbard said the historical society did have a husband and wife living in the Anniversary House, but they “just up and left without telling us that, Miranda said, “transients came then and wrecked the place.”

The three-gabled adobe in Pismo Beach was still standing in 1987, but a later fire destroyed the protective wood covering. David Middlecamp

He pointed out where a banister was missing.

“This was destroyed by a fight. It looks like they fell right through it.” Then he pointed out a missing window: “This window was here in September.”

Miranda has his work cut out for him. But he seems to like it. He is living in an upstairs bedroom.

He wanted the task after he saw the property and read up on its history.

“I’m doing it for my own knowledge, the history and for the feeling of the house.”

Indeed, the Anniversary House exudes feeling. Its tall, Victorian architecture make it a mysterious relic; its musty smell a lure into the past.

Once inside, the mishmash of old fixtures and building characteristics tell something of how Price the aristocrat once lived.

For example, the kitchen has a let-down door into the dining room, for serving or cleaning up dinner. A pantry under the staircase has a hole cut in the floor so cool drafts could keep food from spoiling.

Elaborate molding surrounds doors and windows, and huge baseboards meet the wood floor.

”It was built very soundly,” said Miranda.

The house’s builder, L.A. Lawrence, was “a lot more-artistic” than contemporary contractors. “There was a lot more gingerbread and trim then.” Most of the gingerbread is now missing from the Victorian.

Miranda with assistance from the South County Historical Society will scan old photographs of the house to see how the fancy trim once looked.

Hubbard said delays in starling the project have caused the buildings to sink deeper into decay.

“ It’s a maddening deal. You watch the slow process of government, and meanwhile it’s just deteriorating.”

Hubbard, however, said, “We’re delighted that they’re going to do something.” City officials have launched fundraising attempts to make Price Historical Park a reality. Plans call for pulling a museum in the Anniversary House, plus creating picnic areas and an amphitheater.

Dave Watson, Pismo Beach director of public services, said the city is looking for consultants to obtain federal and state grants for the project. In addition, it is hoped that McDonald may be sympathetic to offering the city the portion of the site he owns, including the two adobes, once work is begun on the Anniversary House, Hubbard said.

One problem, however, is that McDonald’s portion of the Price site lies outside the city, under county jurisdiction, Hubbard said.The city might have to negotiate with the county to rezone the parcel to make it part of the park if McDonald parted with it.

Santa Margarita Historical Society seeks help

A recent Photos From the Vault column about the tragic unsolved murder of Cheryl Ann Manning prompted Cheri Roe, founder of Santa Margarita Historical Society to research that story.

Cheryl Ann Manning’s grave in the Santa Margarita Cemetery is marked with a temporary metal tag and after nearly a dozen phone calls and uncovering three variations of spelling the most authoritative sources show Cheryl was spelled without an “e” at the end.

The history society is raising money for a permanent monument, which will cost less than $740. The cemetery will set the headstone at no charge.

Consider donating by going to their website or facebook page

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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.”