Stella Louis always claimed it was her lemon meringue pie that won over Paul Dallidet.
Stella was the wife of Young Louis, the oldest son of pioneer Chinese merchant Ah Louis. She was also the proprietress of the Gold Dragon, San Luis Obispo’s leading “teen hangout” from the mid-1920s through World War II.
Stella was a legendary baker, as Liz and I can confirm. She once prepared 300 custard-and fruit-filled Banbury tarts for a children’s program at the SLO library. She waxed lyrical about her chocolate fudge-sauerkraut cake.
Paul Dallidet was the son of French immigrant and winemaker Pierre Hippolyte Dallidet. Paul, who had worked for Union Oil in the era before pensions, was an almost penniless recluse in his father’s historic adobe on Pacific Street.
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The family had fallen on hard times in the late 1890s. By the 1930s, the adobe and abandoned wine cellar were overgrown with what had once been a lush ornamental garden. Boys who grew up in the neighborhood, such as “Swede” Tudor, recalled the sad times when they would hit a ball into the Dallidet property.
Paul Dallidet would demand something in exchange for the ball. Legend has it that a closet filled with boys’ baseball caps was later discovered in the adobe.
By 1953, Paul’s meager existence pulled at the hearts of many residents. The owners of the Sauer Store and Bakery on Monterey Street told attorneys Miles Fitzgerald and Peter Andre that Paul was taking food without paying for it.
Peter Andre said, “Just send me a bill each month for what he takes.”
Peter returned to his office filled with thoughts about what it must be like to be old and have no money. Then it occurred to him to check with the county tax collector to see whether the taxes had been paid on the adobe property.
The taxes were many years delinquent. Sympathetic county officials hadn’t wanted to foreclose on the elderly son of a pioneer resident.
Pete and Miles Fitzgerald talked over the situation. Something had to be done. The state of California had some oversight on the tax collection process, and Sacramento would demand that the letter of the law be followed. Paul Dallidet might soon be homeless.
Miles Fitzgerald came up with a solution. Create a nonprofit corporation for the preservation of the adobe, and give Paul Dallidet a lifetime interest as resident. A local history group was needed to lead the nonprofit.
Elizabeth Banning Garrett had moved to San Luis Obispo in the early 1950s when her husband had purchased the Studebaker Automobile Agency. The family was descended from Phineas T. Banning, the founder of Los Angeles ’ seaport at Wilmington and San Pedro.
Banning Garrett recognized what many local residents took for granted, the historical treasure that is San Luis Obispo.
Together with Stella and Young Louis, she organized a “Centurama Exhibit” celebrating the centenary of San Luis Obispo’s incorporation in 1951. In the spring of 1953, she enlisted Stella’s cooperation in winning Paul Dallidet over to the idea of “deeding” his adobe to the newly created San Luis Obispo County Historical Society.
Stella had brought pies to Paul over the years. She knew his favorite, lemon meringue. She took a pie along one day when the Historical Society’s early leaders visited Paul. He quickly agreed to their proposal to save his adobe.
On Friday, May 3, what is now the San Luis Obispo History Center celebrates its 60th anniversary with a new exhibit of Native American baskets in its historic quarters, the 1904 Carnegie Library, 696 Monterey St.
A dinner with dishes inspired by Native American foods will follow at the Odd Fellows Hall.
For more information, call the History Center at 543-0638 or log onto http://www.historycenterslo.org.
Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and past president of the California Mission Studies Association.