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Oct 05

Price Anniversary House, before it was restored

Fernie Miranda was an early caretaker of the Price Anniversary House, later others continued the restoration efforts. © The Tribune/David Middlecamp

In the historical preservation process there are happy endings and sad ones. The Price Anniversary house looks a whole lot better than it did in 1987. The story headline was optimistic. It has taken years and a series of efforts by many volunteers but now the once dilapidated house is the centerpiece of a park.
On the other hand the nearby three-gabled adobe has since suffered a fire and is now little more than a melting pile of mud.
Another house has been moved to the site and is undergoing restoration, the 1905 Mehrin house from Shell Beach.

On July 16, 1987 Telegram-Tribune reporter Craig Andrews wrote about preservation efforts at the Price House.

Restoration of Pismo founder’s homestead becomes reality

The homestead of John Michael Price, which includes two adobe buildings and his large “Anniversary House,” has been battered by weather and vandals since it was abandoned in the late 1960s.

Former schoolhouse next to the three-gabled house. ©David Middlecamp/The Tribune

Although one of the adobes crumbled to the ground this past year, restoration of the Anniversary House will start this month.
Price was the founder of Pismo Beach, having acquired the bulk of the El Pismo rancho by the mid 1850s.
In 1852, Price moved to the homestead site, according to Jean Hubbard of the South County Historical Society.
A few years later Price built a two-story adobe adjoining an existing, three-gabled adobe house. In 1858, the adobe was turned into a school as Price bought textbooks and spent $156 to hire a teacher for his 15 children, according to an 1893 newspaper account.
The little school house is now a heap of disintegrating adobe bricks.
The same fate could befall the three-gabled adobe if steps aren’t taken to preserve it soon.
The adobes are owned by Harry McDonald of Los Angeles, who has been asked to donate the adobes and the land they’re on to the city. So far, McDonald hasn’t responded, said Pismo City Administrator Les Crist.
The future is bright, however, for the wood frame Anniversary House that Price had built for his wife, Maria Andrea Carlon, sister of Manuela Branch, on their 50th anniversary. The South County Historical Society first asked the city to save the house 10 years ago, Hubbard said.
At the time, developers were planning to demolish the building. But since developers usually have to allocate a percentage of land for parks, the society managed to convince PVP Investments to save the buildings, she said.
PVP donated the house and four acres of the homestead to the city of Pismo Beach in 1982.
“We caught it just in time,” Hubbard said. “We said, ‘Don’t (demolish) this. This is Pismo. This is Pismo’s founder.’ I don’t think many of them knew what they had.”
Hubbard said most of the antique hardware has been removed from the buildings much of which is difficult to replace. Even an ornate fireplace mantel was scavenged.
Fernie Miranda, the South County builder hired by the city to coordinate the project, said it will take about a year to complete the first phase of restoration – beefing up the foundation and preserving the exterior.
He said the city has set aside $25,000 to start with. Miranda says the money will be used to work on the foundation, seal the outside and protect it from weather.
In the meantime, the adobes and the Anniversary House sit and wait. Many windows are broken out and doors are rotting, exposing the interior to the elements.
Plaster is cracked and falling in every room. Sheets of yellow paint peels from the walls of an upstairs bedroom. Door hinges are rusting, and weeds are growing through gaps in exposed lathes in a wall.
Miranda blames vandals and transients for much of the damage. “Four years ago there was some people living here. It was in a lot better shape then – they were going to fix it up,” Miranda said.
Hubbard said the historical society did have a husband and wife living in the Anniversary House, but they “just up and left without telling us. After that, Miranda said, “transients came then and wrecked the place.”
He pointed out where a banister was missing.
“This was destroyed by a fight. It looks like they fell right through it.” Then he pointed out a missing window: “This window was here in September.”
Miranda has his work cut out for him. But he seems to like it. He is living in an upstairs bedroom.
He wanted the task after he saw the property and read up on its history.
“I’m doing it for my own knowledge, the history and for the feeling of the house.”
Indeed, the Anniversary House exudes feeling. Its tall, Victorian architecture make it a mysterious relic; its musty smell a lure into the past.
Once inside, the mishmash of old fixtures and building characteristics tell something of how Price the aristocrat once lived.
For example, the kitchen has a let-down door into the dining room, for serving or cleaning up dinner. A pantry under the staircase has a hole cut in the floor so cool drafts could keep food from spoiling. Elaborate, molding surrounds doors and windows, and huge baseboards meet the wood floor. “It was built very soundly,” said Miranda. The house’s builder, L.A. Lawrence, was a lot more-artistic” than contemporary contractors. ‘There was a lot more gingerbread and trim then.” Most of the gingerbread is now missing from the Victorian. Miranda with assistance from the South County Historical Society will scan old photographs of the house to see how the fancy trim once looked.

The wood covering for the three-gabled house was destroyed by fire a few years after this story and now little is left of the adobe walls. ©David Middlecamp/The Tribune

Hubbard said delays in starting the project have caused the buildings to sink deeper into decay.
“It’s a maddening deal. You watch the slow process of government, and meanwhile it’s just deteriorating.”
Hubbard, however, said, “We’re delighted that they’re going to do something.” City officials have launched fundraising attempts to make Price Historical Park a reality. Plans call for pulling a museum in the Anniversary House, plus creating picnic areas and an amphitheater.
Dave Watson, Pismo Beach director of public services, said the city is looking for consultants to obtain federal and state grants for the project. In addition, it is hoped that McDonald may be sympathetic to offering the city the portion of the site he owns, including the two adobes, once work is begun on the Anniversary House, Hubbard said.
One problem, however, is that McDonald’s portion of the Price site lies outside the city, under county jurisdiction, Hubbard said. The city might have to negotiate with the county to rezone the parcel to make it part of the park if McDonald parted with it.

Price Park in June 2012 at lower left. ©The Tribune/David Middlecamp

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