Hit the Road: history is still alive in the heart of San Luis Obispo

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Sa Luis Obispo isn’t exactly a chaotic metropolis, but all the same, step into the fresh, verdant gardens of the Dallidet Adobe & Gardens in the heart of the city and find an oasis that transports visitors to the central California coast of the 1850s.

Under the watchful tutelage of the San Luis Obispo County History Center, the historic adobe and heritage gardens offer a look at life 170 years ago.

The house was built by French immigrant Pierre Dallidet who, on his way from San Francisco to Mexico, fell in love with San Luis Obispo and decided to stay. In 1855 he married 15-year-old Ascension Concepcion Salazar, whose family was from New Mexico. She gave birth to nine children before her death at age 32.

Thomas Kessler, executive director of the museum, guides us through the adobe (California Historical Landmark # 270), owned for more than a century by the Dallidet family alone.

“All the furniture is original in adobe”, he tells us, including the “Horn Piano”, so named because it was transported by boat from the east coast, around Cape Horn (southern tip of the river). ‘South America) and north to the central coast.

An old Carnegie Library, built in Richardson’s Romanesque style, serves as the headquarters of the San Luis Obispo County History Center. The varied exhibitions appeal to children and adults alike. The current rotating exhibit chronicles the contributions of Jewish immigrants to the region. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

And an intricately carved wall cabinet is considered the Ascension work of art.

Kessler tells us stories of the Dallidet family, including one about the murder of a brother by another, caused by a bad investment that caused a significant financial loss.

In 1953, the youngest of the children, Paul, “who was in debt, gave the property to the then newly formed Historical Society of San Luis Obispo in exchange for living there until his death,” Kessler says.

Adobe looks lavish at a time when many Californian settlers lived in a much more primitive way. Credit for this elegant house goes to Pierre, who has successfully completed several business ventures including establishing the region’s first commercial winery.

Kessler once again takes us outside to a rare feature in California: a cellar. He pulls the door so we can descend into the cool, dark hole under the house.

This iconic Depression-era photo was taken in 1936 by government photographer Dorothea Lange, who found this migrant mother in a pea field in Nipomo, a town along Highway 101 in San Luis County. Obispo. Courtesy photo

“The cellar was used as a cooperage,” says Kessler. “Peter and the boys built their barrels (of wine) here. They had a separate structure for fermenting and storing wine and spirits.

Back in the sun, we follow Kessler through the maze of garden paths and heritage fruit trees, vegetables and wild flowers. The colors, smells and busy hummingbirds are plentiful. The pandemic closed the garden for months, but it reopens in the spring of 2022.

Another historic building – a former Carnegie Library – houses the History Center. Kessler guides us through the Richardsonian Romanesque-style building, built in 1905, and the many permanent and rotating exhibitions.

A recent exhibit tells the story of the county’s Jews and their contributions. A stunning satin and lace wedding dress worn by Florence Rosenthal in 1912 and now displayed under a ceremonial chuppah is included.

In the small downtown theater, furnished with vintage seats from a Santa Barbara theater, a 15-minute film takes us through the history of the county.

The iconic 1936 Depression-era photo titled “Migrant Mother,” taken by Dorothea Lange, flashes across the screen. I’ve long assumed that this haunting, world-famous image of Florence Owens Thompson and three of her seven children was taken somewhere in the Midwest.

“It was actually taken in Nipomo (in a pea field) south of here (on Highway 101),” Kessler explains.

The Heritage Inn Bed & Breakfast in San Luis Obispo has been moved to make room for parking. Here, the 3,000-square-foot, nine-bedroom home is hauled across town at 2 a.m. on a 1980 day. Courtesy photo

Accommodation: For a deeper immersion in the history of San Luis Obispo, stay at the Bed & Breakfast Heritage Inn, where each room has a different theme.

Known as Resource # 159 in the city’s catalog of historic homes, the exact date the bed and breakfast was built is a bit unclear. Best guess: circa 1905. His American Foursquare style was popular from the 1890s to the 1930s.

Owner Georgia Adrian can tell guests of the 3,000-square-foot, nine-bedroom home how, in 1980, it was moved from its original location near the intersection of Highways 1 and 101.

She has photos and newspaper clippings to prove it, as well as additional photos that reflect the early days of the city’s history. Innkeeper, cook and longtime resident Timothy McMiller can tell stories of recent history.

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