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The story behind San Luis Obispo's Jack House

The historic Jack house in San Luis Obispo was built in the 1880s for the land developer/rancher and his family.
David Middlecamp 11-30-2011
The historic Jack house in San Luis Obispo was built in the 1880s for the land developer/rancher and his family. David Middlecamp 11-30-2011 The Tribune

The Jack House in downtown San Luis Obispo is a popular site for weddings and community gatherings.

The two-story Italinate Victorian house on Marsh Street was built in the 1880s for land developer/rancher R.E. Jack.

The house narrowly survived a disastrous fire in October 1905 that destroyed a full city block.

Firefighters on the roof doused embers as they lodged and threatened the structure. According to a 1939 history of San Luis Obispo County, written by state senator Chris N. Jesperson, Robert Edgar Jack was born in September 1841 at Kennebeck County, Maine, to a seafaring family.

He went to New York City to work as an accountant and joined the 56th New York Infantry during the Civil War.

Significant actions included quelling city draft riots and later serving at the pivotal battle of Gettysburg.

A letter to his former accountancy firm changed his life.

Colonel W.W. Hollister, of the San Justo Ranch — near present day Hollister, CA — needed an accountant and secretary.

Hollister and Jack became business partners in the purchase of most of the Cholame Rancho, a 26,622 Mexican land grant straddling Monterey County and San Luis Obispo County.

R.E. Jack married the niece of his business partner, Nellie Hollister, in 1870 and following the death of Col. Hollister bought the Cholame Ranch outright.

R.E. Jack would leverage his accounting skills and become a prominent banker, land developer, businessman and rancher involved in many key developments in the county economy.

Robert’s son Howard Jack would rile his father and the Republican establishment in San Luis Obispo as a teenager. The young man Howard assumed the editorship of San Luis Obispo’s Democratic paper, the Breeze.

In 1905 the 17-year-old made a splash with his brassy tone.

“I’d write those hot editorials and it was just like throwing dynamite at the old gent,” Howard Jack laughed in a 1969 Telegram-Tribune centennial story.

In 1906, after the San Francisco earthquake struck, Howard filed dispatches from Golden Gate Park from among the homeless.

A photo of Abe Lincoln in the office of the Breeze covered a concealed pass-through to the bar next door. Sometimes providing a beer to a source produced a better interview. During his newspaper days Howard Jack interviewed William Randolph Hearst, soon to build a home of some significance in San Simeon.

Over the years they would grow to know each other.

Howard would spend a year at UC Berkeley majoring in chemistry and agriculture when his father would offer him the superintendencey of the now 60,000-acre ranch.

Howard would return and run the ranch for almost a half-century.

The Cholame Ranch was sold to the Hearst Corp. in 1965.

From May 1 to August 3, the History Center of San Luis Obispo County will host “The Jack Ranch: History Doesn’t Stop.”

Later, the exhibit will move and expand to the Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles.

The Jack family papers are on file at the Kennedy Library, deeded to the library by the city of San Luis Obispo.