Sep 21

Bridge to the past, the ghost of Highway 1

Built in 1912-13 the Bello Street Bridge immediately pressed into service as part of the original Coast Route. ©Mark Hall-Patton/Telegram-Tribune

You may occasionally see Mark Hall-Patton on the TV show Pawnstars. Before he became administrator of three county museums in the Las Vegas area he administered the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society and wrote a south county history column for the Telegram-Tribune.
Though the clipping was undated the photo is stamped Jan. 28, 1988.

Bello Street span bridges Pismo and its past

One aspect of history I have always found fascinating is the uncommon history of common objects. If you look around at the physical environment of your community, there are many seemingly common parts that have unusual stories to tell.
This week’s story is about a bridge. The Bello Street Bridge, also known as the Pismo Creek Bridge No. 49C-109, is an abandoned structure that sits next to the city yard in Pismo Beach. It rests beside the Southern Pacific Railroad Bridge. For its story, I am indebted to Les Crist, former city administrator of Pismo Beach. When Les Crist found out I was seriously interested in the history and architecture of bridges, he told me he had some information on an interesting one in Pismo Beach.
The bridge was built in 1912-1913. It was authorized by the county Board of Supervisors in March of 1912. The board directed A.F. Parsons to design a number of bridges in the county, the first one on the list being “Pismo Creek Bridge on the Pismo and Arroyo Grande in Road District No. 9.”
Austin F. Parsons had come to San Luis Obispo County in 1876. He was born in Ohio and educated at Hiram College. He was a teacher in various county schools until 1902, when he was elected county surveyor. After his election he continued to be involved with the educational system in the county, serving 12 years as a member of the County Board of Education.
Parsons, during his 19 years as county surveyor, was involved in the design and construction of many bridges. These included the Guadalupe Bridge, the Salinas River Bridge at Paso Robles, the San Juan Bridge, the California Canyon Bridge and many others. He also supervised the Avila Wharf and the Cambria Wharf.
In addition to his official duties, first in the county schools, and then as county surveyor, Parsons and his wife Laura also owned land at Arroyo Grande which they leased out for growing beans and sugar beets.
Parsons finished the plans and specifications for the bridge in April 1912. The Joliet Bridge and Iron Company of Joliet, Ill., submitted the low bid of $7,989 for the job. But inflation reared its ugly head even in 1912, as final contracts were not signed until August, and another $250 for increased steel costs had to be allowed.
In November, an inspector was hired by the county to oversee the construction. The inspector, Hans Skov, whose wife was the first telephone operator in Pismo Beach, received $4 per day. The final payment on the bridge was tendered in May 1913.
The bridge is important in our county’s history as it was part of the Coast Highway’s first through the county. In 1912 the route through the South County was undecided. Forces in Arroyo Grande were pushing for a route along what would later become Highway 227. Forces in San Luis Obispo wanted a route from San Luis Obispo to near Avila, then to Pismo Beach, and then east to Arroyo Grande.
A compromise was worked out, routing the highway approximately where Highway 101 is today. This route allowed the then-new Pismo Creek Bridge to the part of the new state highway.
This routing was changed in 1926.
The California Highway Commission decided to straighten some curves in the Pismo Beach Section of the Coast Highway, and the Pismo Creek Bridge was bypassed.
The bridge then became part of the county road system again and served for many years, until closed in the early 1960s because of structural problems.
The bridge is one of the earliest surviving bridges from the first Coast Highway in California. In 1980, Dr. Carroll Pursell identified the bridge as one of only four left from this first Coast Highway route, a highway which in many cases followed the path originally taken by Portola and his men in 1769. Though a very common type of bridge, this is rare for its associations.
Next time you are rushing along Highway 101 in Pismo Beach, take a moment to look at this remnant of the first route, just inland in Price Canyon.

Related posts:

  1. 1965 Cayucos Highway 1
  2. Avila Truss Bridge No. 5 Pacific Coast Railroad
  3. Finding the lost bridge: Building the Stenner Creek Bridge part 1
  4. Pacific Coast Railroad Bridge, Avila Beach 1966
  5. Highway 1 and Cal Poly