Harford Pier is the only pier in the county that the public can regularly drive on, though apparently if you have a whale to return to the ocean, the Avila Beach pier is the one to use.
Fishing, restaurants or taking a stroll to check out the seals, there always seems to be someone on the pier. In 1959 the property was still in private hands and had not been developed into the public facility we see today.
It began in 1873 when John Harford built a commercial wharf at Port San Luis. By 1894 the Pacific Coast Railway connected San Luis Obispo to the wharf giving the region improved access to steamer traffic off the coast. Shipping traffic was important enough to require the construction of a lighthouse.
By the end of the 1950s automobile had long ago supplanted shipping and railroads reducing the port to a fishing/tourist destination rather than the regional hub of commerce.
There were arguments over the future of the facility and like a Warren Zevon song, this story included lawyers, guns and money.
Here is the unbylined Telegram-Tribune story from July 7, 1959.
Tognazzini Planning Private Port San Luis Development
Plans for development of the northern area of Avila Beach (Port San Luis), as a sports and recreation project of the Port San Luis harbor commission ran into a sudden roadblock Monday when the owner of the property flatly denied he had any intention of selling the land and is making his own plans to develop it.
This unexpected turn of events came to light at the regular meeting of the San LUis Obispo county board of supervisors, which interrupted its session twice to hear both sides of a story which had all the earmarks of an explosive situation but which finally resolved itself into nothing more than a statement of the land-owner’s position and near-complete silence on the par of the supervisors.
First indication of what might have been a stormy session was given with the unscheduled appearance of a delegation of harbor commission officials who came before the board to protest the action of Elton Tognazzini, owner of the property, in posting his land with no admittance signs and guards to enforce the order.
Representing the commission were C.R. Kirby, chairman; Gerard L. Parsons and Harry E. Blodgett, commissioners, and Jack Kaetzel, commission council.
They protested Tognazzini’s “use of force” to restrain visitors from entering the property over a bridge and the charging of $1-per-car admission for entrance. They claimed “it isn’t right” and such procedure should be stopped. Collectively, they asked for county backing prohibiting such action.
One supervisor said he had been plagued with calls from irate citizens ever since the land was posted July 1.
following the delegation’s appearance and subsequent discussion of the problem the supervisors withheld any commitments until the afternoon session when Tognazzini was scheduled to appear before the board.
Tognazzini had been contacted earlier in the day by district attorney Paul Davis, who reported that he asked Tognazzini what he intended to do about the situation. Davis said he was told only that “things are going to get tougher,” whereupon he informed Tognazzini he had better appear before the board.
When Tognazzini confronted the supervisors in the afternoon, he immediately asked the group to come forth with any complaints that had been made against him and he would attempt to answer them.
The supervisors remained silent, whereupon Tognazzini explained the reasons for closing the property.
In the past, he said the area had been more or less open to the public even though “No Trespassing” signs had been erected.
“But,” he said, “we lost our insurance on the wharf and everything else because the company refused to keep a policy in force where there apparently was no effort being made to protect it from damage. They refused to pay claims for damage caused by trespassers who shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
“We were fortunate in obtaining a policy from another company but after a certain period even that company refused to carry our policy unless we took steps to protect our property.
“Therefore, gentlemen, I was left with no recourse but to erect signs and post guards to protect my property. After all it IS private property and I have a right to protect it.”
Charging of $1 per car or 25 cents per person on foot for entrance to the area was necessitated to defray costs of the guards, Tognazzini added.
After he made his plea for aid from the county in the morning Kirby said he attempted to enter the property the previous day and had been stopped by Richard Tognazzini, son of the owner. Kirby conducts a fishing business from the wharf on the land in question.
“He (Richard) threatened to shoot me if I crossed the bridge,” Kirby claimed.
Asked if the younger Tognazzini had produced a gun Kirby said:
“No, he didn’t pull a gun on me but I took him at his word and believe me I was scared every minute of the time I was with him.”
The elder Tognazzini was confronted with Kirby’s story later in the day and denied his son ever had threatened the commissioner.
“My son told me he (Kirby) drove to the entrance at the bridge and was stopped by two guards who didn’t even know who he was but were following orders. Kirby threatened to run over them if they didn’t get out of the way. My son arrived during the argument and after Kirby had threatened to run down the guards, Richard told him that if he did such a thing he might get hurt himself.
“Later on, two deputies from the sheriff’s office talked to my son about the incident and complimented him on his handling of the case.”
Asked about reports that his son was wearing a sheriff’s badge from Santa Barbara county, Tognazzini said he was wearing a San Luis Obispo county badge given to him by sheriff Paul Merrick.
During his appearance before the board Tognazzini invited the members repeatedly to ask any questions they desired about his property.
Receiving none, he said further that he has his own plans for development of the area commonly known as Port San Luis as a recreational spot on which concessions, sports fishing facilities and other attractions would be constructed. He added that he already had ordered a small fleet of seagoing fishing and sports boats from Hong Kong and full development of the area as a huge beach playground was in the planning stage.
Reminded that the Port San Luis harbor commission had been counting upon the area for its own development — contingent upon its purchase from Tognazzini—the owner said:
“I have no intention of selling the land to the commission at the present time. They made me a ridiculous ($45,000) offer for the property which I wouldn’t even consider. They will have to collect a lot more money and make a much better offer before I’ll even think about it.”
The Port San Luis harbor commission already has been allotted $30,000 by congress and has been promised another $15,000 to complete a survey of the harbor as part of its long range program to develop the site. The commission also has been promised $100,000 from the state for land acquisition purposes.
The army corps of engineers is in the second phase of the survey and it was hoped the work would be completed by the end of the year. The next step would have been put to purchase the land from Tognazzini.
What further action is contemplated by the county or the commission was a moot question following Tognazzini’s appearance Monday. His refusal to sell at the figure offered by the commission and his firm stand on closing the area to anyone but paid customers left the situation in a maze of legal possibilities related to condemnation proceedings — for which there must be solid grounds but which at the moment were not apparent.
Using an inflation calculator $1 back in 1959 converts to $7.49 in 2010 dollars.
The folder where this photo came from does not have the connecting articles but by 1966 the argument had been resolved and construction on new public port facilities were nearing completion.
In unrelated front page news, Willie Mays won the All-Star game for the National League with a 8th inning triple scoring Hank Aaron. Mays, my favorite Giant of all time.
News of the weird on page 2,
Rocket Ship Pilot’ On Wrong Highway
PACOIMA, Calif. July 7— (UPI) Police said that when they stopped Mary Elizabeth Savoy, 40, for dangerous driving last night, she told them:
“I don’t drive a car. I’m a rocket ship pilot for the U.S. government.”
She was booked on suspicion of drunken driving.