Would over 500 people line up today to dig oysters out of the mud?
A big crowd showed up for Morro Bay’s first Oyster Festival in 1969. It was billed as an annual event then but the Harbor festival founded in 1982 has top billing now in Morro Bay.
The oyster beds had been the subject of a jurisdictional battle between the still new city and the county. Morro Bay was born when it voted yes on incorporation July 1964. The tax money generated by the power plant funded the new municipality and it was a fractious start. The city picked fights with the state, (campgrounds) county (oyster beds) and each other (political power) in the early years. In 1969 one mayor was fired by council, his replacement resigned soon after. New cities often struggle to find balance. Both Pismo Beach and Arroyo Grande struggled in their early days with voters who wanted to disincorporate.
The Oyster Festival was a chance for the almost five-year-old Morro Bay to celebrate.
Published March 17, 1969
Oyster beds attract 3,000
By Mike Raphael
Morro Bay’s first oyster Festival drew several thousand visitors to the harbor city Saturday for free oyster stew and rides to the state’s first public oyster bed.
Ralph Johnson made oyster stew as fast as he could, and served up more than 3,000 persons who lined up at the Veterans Memorial Building.
Johnson, owner of the J.R. Johson El Morro Oyster Co., collaborated with the Chamber of Commerce in organizing the giant feed and special day.
So many visitors came to get a look at the oysters, planted in the bay directly across from the Golden Tee, that four commercial fishing boats were pressed into service to provide rides to the beds.
Those boats and the paddlewheeler Tiger’s Folly took load after load around the bay, with the latter used to deposit only those people on the mudflats who intended to pick.
Several persons tried to walk across from the state park, and one man walked until the water was up to his neck before giving up.
More came than were expected; some were picking oysters at 11 a.m.
Young and old alike poured onto the mudflats, clean and ready, and came back with armloads of oysters—and covered with mud.
The first annual festival ended with a dance at the Veterans Memorial Building.