San Luis Obispo County Regional Photograph Collection, MS 168
The collection consists of photographs, negatives, artwork, prints, and postcards in various formats circa 1850 to 1980. Compiled from the gifts of several donors and purchases, the collection covers a wide breadth of subject matter. The images provide comprehensive information about many activities and events important to San Luis Obispo County and neighboring regional areas in the late 19th and early 20th century.
San Luis Obispo, founded in 1772 by Father Junipero Serra as Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, is one of California’s oldest communities. From the late 1700s through the mid-eighteenth century, Spanish and Mexican ranchos extended across the county. By 1850, the year California was admitted to the Union as a state, United States migrants were settling in San Luis Obispo. Beginning in 1861 and continuing into the 1870s, stage lines transported passengers between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles or San Francisco. The city served as the regional market center for an isolated, agricultural area. With the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the late 1890s the town and the local environs expanded into a burgeoning county.
In the early nineteenth century San Luis Obispo served as a center of trade and travel in central California with the arrival of the railroad, the development of the Union Oil of California’s (Unocal) oil fields, and the tremendous agricultural and dairy industries. California Polytechnic School, established in 1901 and offering secondary (high school) courses of study, would eventually shape and help to define the city of San Luis Obispo. Another significant influence on the central coast was William Randolph Hearst and his San Simeon Ranch, commonly referred to as Hearst Castle. The development of these two conspicuous landmarks, in addition to the historic Mission San Luis Obispo, served to stimulate the regional economy and society.
Due to the nature of the collection, most of the photographers are unidentified and photographs unmarked. The collection combines many smaller collections of photographs and artwork, which when combined provide a rich and detailed illustration of the development of San Luis Obispo and the county. These photographers captured on film and paper the construction and expansion of San Luis Obispo, Hearst Ranch, and San Luis Obispo County. Through their photographs they captured views of popular industries, businesses, organizations, and events.