Times Past

Isabelle Orr was everyone’s ‘Granny’ in Los Osos-Baywood Park

Isabelle “Granny” Orr in her nursing uniform in 1950.
Isabelle “Granny” Orr in her nursing uniform in 1950.

“Take Foothill Boulevard to Los Osos Valley Road, turn right and drive for about 10 miles. You will like it there.”

In August 1971, Liz and I came to Cal Poly for an interview. The history department hired me that afternoon. That was the good news. The bad news was that because of President Richard Nixon’s freeze on wages, we probably couldn’t afford to live in San Luis Obispo.

That was our introduction to Los Osos and Baywood Park. There were only about 4,000 residents, and the water was the best we had ever tasted.

We loved our 27-month stay in Los Osos. In 1973, the Arab oil boycott drove us into San Luis Obispo. We’ve lived in San Luis Obispo ever since, but still regularly return to Los Osos.

Liz, before she wisely learned Spanish, relied on me for translations. She asked what “Osos” meant. I told her how in 1769, the Portola expedition shot three bears and about the importance of the grizzlies in the history of our region.

After that, I had exhausted my knowledge of Los Osos. I recalled that as a child there were lots of dairies when my father took a detour to avoid a slow-moving military convoy.

I just purchased Lynette Tornatzky’s new book, “Los Osos/Baywood Park” (Arcadia Publishing). Every resident of our county should look at the more than 200 images and the accurate and succinct history text.

Lynette traces Los Osos-Baywood Park’s rich Native American past, the encounter with Portola and the bears, the California Mission and ranchero days, the revolution in dairy and vegetables, the Eto family’s contribution to electrification, telephones and agricultural modernization, and colorful real estate promoters Walter Redfield and Richard Otto.

We didn’t really come to appreciate the town’s history until 1978, when we were elected president and first-vice president of the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society (now the History Center of San Luis Obispo County). We noted that while many programs had been dealing with North County and South County, nothing had been done for the history of Los Osos and Baywood Park.

We obtained approval for the program but didn’t know exactly where to begin collecting photos and doing oral interviews.

Fortunately, angels were helping.

Eleanor Brown, a board member and newfound friend, called us to say, “You should consult ‘Granny’ Orr.”

I had seen Granny at her table outside the Baywood Market and near Carlock’s Bakery when we lived in that community from 1971 to 1973. She seemed to know most of the customers. She would call out to a familiar face, “Come over here, young’un!”

Following Eleanor’s phone call, Liz and I became two of the “young’uns.” We discovered that Granny used the term for almost everyone, some of whom, like Joe Turri, were older than Granny.

“Young’un” was probably a combination of Granny’s Texas roots and her nearly 40 years in nursing. Granny became a nurse in 1917 during the First World War.

About that time, she married and moved to California. In 1927, her husband died and she moved to San Luis Obispo to work at General Hospital.

One day, while traveling to Pismo Beach with two other nurses, one of the nurses asked, “Where does that narrow road just south of San Luis Obispo go to?”

Granny didn’t know. She didn’t like unanswered questions. So instead of driving on to the lively resort town, the trio turned onto the road less traveled.

Half an hour’s driving brought them to the tiny community of Baywood Park at the southern tip of Morro Bay. Granny loved it and became one of its best-known residents. She delivered dozens of children in Los Osos Valley. She became our “Open Sesame” to many largely unknown aspects of the history of Baywood Park-Los Osos, and one of the most compelling was Granny herself.

Next week: More about Granny.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly. He is past president of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com.