Historic Alex Bar-B-Q in Shell Beach is gone — here’s what needs to happen now

Alex Bar-B-Q building reduced to rubble in Shell Beach

The historic Alex Bar-B-Q building in Shell Beach was suddenly demolished Tuesday, September 18, 2018, without the proper city permits.
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The historic Alex Bar-B-Q building in Shell Beach was suddenly demolished Tuesday, September 18, 2018, without the proper city permits.

From the iconic neon signs to the red-tiled tower to the slightly off-kilter name — it was Alex Bar-B-Q, though everyone called it Alex’s — the 80-something-year-old building on Shell Beach Road was a much-loved landmark in Shell Beach.

And just like that — poof! — it was gone.

The entire restaurant, which was supposed to have been undergoing a remodel, was torn down on Tuesday, for reasons that are in dispute.

Many locals are livid.

The historic Alex Bar-B-Q building in Shell Beach was demolished on September 18, 2018, despite the contractor on the project only having a permit to remove the building’s tower. Part of the original building’s garage remains here. Kaytlyn Leslie kleslie@thetribunenews.com

“I am SICK. Horrific. They should be forced to build in exactly the style using recycled materials. Gr-r-r-r-r-r,” was one response on Facebook.

This isn’t just a loss for Shell Beach residents. Alex’s was a big deal for generations of visitors. Even if you had never set foot inside the restaurant, the building was something special, and it’s absence has created a gaping hole.

It would be like waking up one day and finding that Jocko’s in Nipomo or Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo or Taco Temple in Morro Bay had been reduced to rubble, without giving anyone a chance to say goodbye.

By comparison, at least fans of the old Foster Freeze in San Luis Obispo got to write their name on a wall and indulge in one last ice cream cone.

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Compass Health, which owns the property, sent a representative to the City Council on Tuesday night, promising to work with the city to “rectify the situation.”

But this situation really can’t be fixed. The building can be reconstructed — and we believe it should be — but the original building is gone for good.

So what happens now?

Here is what we would like to see:

1. Figure out exactly what the heck happened.

As Tribune writer Kaytlyn Leslie has reported, Kain Building and Design Group in San Luis Obispo says the building was demolished with city knowledge. The city says that’s not true; it says an emergency demolition permit applied only to the tower, which was too far gone to save. We’ve asked the city for a copy of the demolition permit, so stay tuned.

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2. Take steps to ensure this never happens again. Ever.

If the city of Pismo Beach doesn’t already have an up-to-date inventory of historic buildings — and local historian Effie McDermott tells us it doesn’t — it needs to put that at the top of its to-do list, and as a next step, determine how to best protect them.

Oh, and in the future, a city official should be on-site when a partial demolition of a historic building takes place.

3. Salvage whatever you can. The Alex sign, definitely. And did any of the ornate tiles that decorated the building survive?

4. The responsible party needs to make amends.

Paying a fine that will go into the city coffers doesn’t do much to soothe outraged citizens. We’d like to see something more creative.

When Justin Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles cut down thousands of oak trees without a permit, it apologized and offered to plant 5,000 new oak trees on Justin property.

It’s not so easy to plant new restaurants, but if Compass Health really wants to rectify the situation, it could make other tangible improvements in Shell Beach.

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One thought: There are a few buildings along Shell Beach Road that are — and we’re not going to mince words here — eyesores. How about renovating one of those businesses?

Or make a large donation to a historical society, on condition that it work with the city to inventory historic properties.

Or better yet, find out what residents would like to see.

And last but never least, keep the public in the loop. They already had one rude awakening when they discovered a landmark treasure had been reduced to rubble.

They deserve to know exactly what wrong, and how it’s going to be made as right as possible.