Times Past

How Cambria residents — past and present — preserved the town’s history

The Guthrie-Bianchini House in 1890. The house was built by Cambria pioneer George Proctor in the 1870s and was nearly razed in the late 1980s.
The Guthrie-Bianchini House in 1890. The house was built by Cambria pioneer George Proctor in the 1870s and was nearly razed in the late 1980s.

Sharon Lovejoy’s enthralling novel “Running Out of Night” has plucky female characters like the abused white girl Lark and the runaway slave Zenobia. If you know Sharon, you will agree that the fictional heroism reflects the daring and committed nature of the author.

In 1986, Sharon and Jeff Prostovich purchased the 1870s home built by Cambria pioneer George Proctor on Burton Drive. They moved their gardeners’ wonderland shop, Heart’s Ease, onto the site. Their shop was across the street from the Guthrie-Bianchini House, which was in a nearly ruined state.

Ken Renshaw’s “The Autobiography of a Cambria House” relates how Sharon and Jeff initiated the effort of many citizens to save the beautifully restored home that is now the Cambria Historical Museum.

Sharon brought life back into a garden that had been neglected for 40 years, surreptitiously watering it at night. She took a cutting of the 1870s Belle of Portugal Rose and a rosebush from that cutting continues to thrive in front of Sharon’s former shop.

Jeff boarded up the house to keep vagrants out.

In the late 1980s, some people wanted to tear down the Guthrie-Bianchini House to make room for a parking lot. Jeff heard that an inspector from San Luis Obispo County was coming to assess whether the building should be demolished as an eyesore.

Jeff got together with some friends and went onto the property late at night and painted the building. The next day, the inspector concluded the building was worth saving.

The couple said they did it because they see the value of old things. Recently, Sharon posted an urgent plea on her Facebook page to save the oaks on the Justin Vineyards property. Her familial Quaker-inspired sense of justice was outraged by the removal of oak trees, which some estimate at 8,000 trees. The removal offended her sensibilities as a horticulturist.

She told the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors that “the steep land was scraped bare, which took away all the deep roots and humus and cover that prevent erosion and catastrophic mudslides.” Since the “plants, trees, animals and insects were badly hurt and voiceless,” she wanted to speak for them.

Sharon no longer lives in Cambria but continues to visit with her treasured writers group. Cambria, once a lumbering and cinnabar mining town, has become home to an impressive group of authors.

As part of Cambria’s sesquicentennial (1866-2016), the Cambria Historical Society and the Friends of the Cambria Library are presenting “A Celebration of Cambria Authors” from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 2, at Cambria’s Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St. There is a $5 admission charge.

At 2 p.m., Sharon will be the featured speaker. In addition to founding and operating Heart’s Ease and saving historic homes from demolition, Sharon’s found time to write 10 books ranging from children’s picture books to adult and children’s organic gardening books, magazine articles about nature and gardening, and most recently, the transformative young adult novel, “Running Out of Night.”

A hundred years ago, Cambria was famous for the way immigrant Swiss Italian dairy farmers and Portuguese ranchers celebrated the Fourth of July. The holiday became an affirmation that they had left Canton Ticino and the Azores and were now full-fledged Americans.

Sharon’s “Running Out of Night” depicts the small Quaker community of Waterford, Virginia, becoming family to Lark and Zenobia, helping both to share in the dream of the Declaration of Independence.

The Waterford community’s assistance to fugitive slaves and the efforts of people like Sharon and Jeff to preserve the best of Cambria and to speak up for our shared environment go hand and hand. It is why we celebrate July Fourth.

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From 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday, inspirational poet and friend of history Father Larry Gosselin will have a book signing at Locatelli Winery, 8585 Cross Canyons Road, east of San Miguel. In his newest book, “I Have Been Waiting for You — A Personal and Spiritual Journey with St. Teresa of Kolkata,” Father Larry describes his work with Mother Teresa ministering to the poor and dying in Kolkata, India.

The former guardian at Mission San Miguel is associate pastor at Mission Santa Barbara.

Dan Krieger is professor of history, emeritus at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. 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.