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Aug 28

Early days of the Tribune

The oldest commercial building in San Luis was constructed in 1873 for the Tribune by H.S. Rembaugh. It was originally at the corner of Morro and Higuera Street. ©Robert Dyer/Telegram-Tribune

From the first edition August 7, 1869 and for almost 8 years Horatio Southgate Rembaugh was the common thread in the management of the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Except for an unfortunate three-month interlude under the ownership of James J. Ayers, the Tribune would be associated with H.S. Rembaugh. Either as the announced owner, actual owner or partner, Rembaugh helped shepherd the Tribune through uncertain early years, and leaving it a viable journal.

Monica Bianchi holds an 1871 issue of the San Luis Obispo Tribune found in the walls of the house she is restoring. ©Robert Dyer/Telegram-Tribune

Rembaugh arrived in the county in July 1869 one month before setting type for Tribune’s first edition. He was 29 years old when the experienced printer held the historic first page of what would become the oldest business in the county.
He had much in common with his partner Walter Murray. They were Fremasons, soldiers, apprenticed in their teens as printers, and traveled across a continent when travel was arduous. Both had left their ancestral home to make their way in the frontier.
They wanted to promote Union and Republican views launching the Tribune to compete with the older, by a year-and-eight-months, Pioneer. Southern born Rome G. Vickers edited the Pioneer and when it launched it was non-partisan but soon the newspaper declared for candidates Seymour and Blair.
Republicans who had formerly supported the Pioneer fell away and Walter Murray, District Attorney, collected contributions to establish an alternative voice. Murray as editor and H.S. Rembaugh as manager published a paper of enough general interest and with solid business skills that the Pioneer was driven out of business within 5 months. A later competitor the Democratic Standard had an even shorter life.
When it launched the Tribune was listed as under the ownership of H.S. Rembaugh & Co. but it was an open secret that Murray was the founding editor.
The paper was printed at Murray’s adobe home near the mission and the editor of the Democratic Standard referred to Murray by name as Tribune editor when slinging invective mud.
Murray was campaigning for a post as judge and likely wanted to keep his name above the fray of gutter politics that newspapers of the era often indulged in.
After two-and-a-half years and outlasting two competing papers Murray relinquished his share in the paper to Rembaugh. Murray wanted to have more time to pursue his legal aspirations and Rembaugh had plans for the future.
Both wrote columns explaining their roles and hopes for the future of the paper April 29, 1872.
The Tribune and the associated job printing business was successful.
One month after assuming ownership of the newspaper Horatio Southgate Rembaugh would marry a local woman, Jane Ann Pennington on May 17, 1872. Three girls would be born, Edith on March 28, 1873; Grace May Feb 1, 1876 and Elsie Viola March 28, 1881.
According to the Spring 1999 history newsletter put out by Heritage Shared
“In November 1873, Horatio S. Rembaugh built the Tribune-Republic Building, the oldest surviving wooden commercial building in San Luis Obispo to house the San Luis Obispo Tribune.”
Rembaugh would invest in a new press and take on a partner O.F. Thorton on March 20, 1875.
(After a steady beginning Thorton would later incite the town to call for his resignation, a story for another day.)
By June 23, 1877 Rembaugh sold his share to Jacob K. Tuley and W.W. Waters.
Rembaugh dreamed of improving the stock of horses in the county and had bought a ranch that he wanted to devote his attention to.
A more detailed biography of Rembaugh will follow soon.
The building built for his newspaper also would later become home to three journals. It was the first building purpose built for a newspaper, the oldest wood frame commercial building in town and associated with the oldest continuously operating business in town, The Tribune.
On Dec. 18, 1990 Telegram-Tribune reporter Gardiner Harris wrote about the historical treasures found in the walls.

If the walls could talk, here’s what they’d say

Trinkets and trash trapped for more than a hundred years behind the walls of a San Luis Obispo building have spilled out. The cascade of knickknacks and bric-a-brac offers a wastebasket view of the city’s history.
The building at 1763 Santa Barbara St. was a print shop and later a boarding house. It’s now being renovated into three large apartments.
Devin Gallagher, the building’s owner, believes its construction was completed in November 1873. The building originally sat near the corner of Morro and Marsh streets.
According to Gallagher’s research, the first owner of the building was the San Luis Obispo Tribune, an early incarnation of the Telegram-Tribune. The Tribune moved into the building on Nov. 15, 1873, four years after the paper was founded.
Four years later, the Tribune moved to new offices. Horatio Rembaugh, the newspaper’s owner and editor, sold the building to C.H. Phillips and P.W. Murphy.
The Tribune building continued to serve as a print shop, first for the newspaper South Coast and then for another now-defunct newspaper, the Southern California Advocate. In 1880 the building was sold back to the Tribune Printing Co., which used it as a small job shop for fliers and business cards.
In 1883, the building was sold to a partnership that began the first daily newspaper in the county, the Daily Republic. After a fierce battle with the Tribune — which quickly switched from a weekly to a daily schedule to compete — the Daily Republic folded in 1890.
The historical record then becomes unclear, but in 1905 the building was moved to its present location on Santa Barbara Street, where it served as a boarding house until 1989.
The structure has two stories, both with high ceilings, and an attic. The walls on the top floor are thin, with only an outer skin of clapboard nailed over a ribbing of wooden studs. The ground floor had an inner layer of lath and plaster.
For years baubles fell from the naked walls of the top floor and lodged between the plaster and clapboard skins of the bottom floor, preserving a hodgepodge of aged stuff.
When construction workers Monica Bianchi and Charles Callahan began ripping out the plaster and lath, the old trash spilled out. Among the things they found were more than 16 shoes — many of them singles — socks, buttons made out of bone, wax candles, keys, shells and thimbles. There’s an assortment of Jewish religious items — a mosaic Prayer book, a Jewish hymnal and a yarmulke.
Printing material and equipment abound. There are business cards for people like Jay B. Morris, the city marshal, John G. Sandercock, a real estate agent, and F.K. Miller, a lawyer. There are crumbling copies of the San Luis Obispo Tribune dating from as far back as 1877.
Empty bottles and boxes of curative elixirs testify to use by hard driving-newspaper people.
There’s Shiloh’s Consumption Cure, Carboline’s Natural Hair Restorer and Dr. Pierces’s Golden Medical Discovery, which cured “weak lungs, spitting up blood and shortness of breath.”
In the debris are engravings, pieces of type and subscription receipts.
The jumbled junk indicates that many o the building’s tenants used the wall’s clefts as trash bins. But time has turned trash into treasure for Mark Hall-Patton, curator of the county Historical Museum.
The transformation is not unique — refuse is the bread and butter of archaeology. Although burial sites occasionally carry once-valuable artifacts, archaeologists generally spend their time picking through ancient dumps.
Most of what is known about prehistoric North Americans comes from research into trash pits. Even when written records survive, as from early European settlements in New England, trash is still revealing.
New Englanders often used dried up wells as dumpsters. The wells, many of them lined with protective stone, are deep time capsules. Archaeologists have been able to reconstruct much of the daily lives of early New Englanders — the kind of mundane information not found in surviving diaries — by analyzing the discrete layers of well preserved trash left behind in these wells.
The stuff found in Gallagher’s building isn’t quite so well preserved or organized, but it’s still significant. Hall-Patton thinks the building is the oldest wooden structure in San Luis Obispo.
Its use by no less than four local newspapers makes its history particularly interesting, according to Hall-Patton. The San Luis Obispo Cultural Heritage Committee has recommended Gallagher apply for landmark status for the building.
Gallagher spent months researching the building’s history, and the discovery of precious trash behind its walls delayed renovations by two months more. Although these lelays have cost him thousands of dollars in lost time and rent, Gallagher thinks the discoveries are worth the losses.
“There have been lots of times when I thought it was a big mistake,” said Gallagher. “I’ve tried to sell it a few times.
“But it really makes you feel good to pull something out the wood like that.”

Related posts:

  1. Early days of the San Luis Obispo post office
  2. James J. Ayers, western journalist, Tribune editor part 2
  3. James J. Ayers, founder of the San Francisco Call, editor of San Luis Obispo Tribune
  4. J.J. Ayers, The Tribune’s second editor, family details
  5. Volume I Number I, The Tribune’s first issue