Feb 06

Demolition and partial reconstruction of the Murray Adobe

The Murray Adobe in June 1971 in Mission Plaza. ©Wayne Nicholls/The Tribune

In an Elliot Curry bylined story from March 7, 1967 the shape of Mission Plaza was under debate. The mayor, Clell Whelchel, was skeptical about closing Monterey Street. He wanted to use gas tax funds and keep the street open. Would the Murray adobe become victim of a street-widening proposal?
Loren Nicholson, president of the County Historical Society and curator Louisiana Dart spoke out against the plan. Nicholson had gathered a petition signed by 170 people.
The building was the birthplace of the Tribune on August 7, 1869 and was the office of Walter Murray editor, postmaster, judge, legislator and community leader from 1853-1875.
Murray’s granddaughter, Dorothy Bilodeau, spoke at the hearing.
Mayor Clell Whelchel was given the final word in the story, “We have no intention of tearing down the adobe, unless its is impossible to save it.”
An election would be held and Mission Plaza would become a reality, the road would not be widened.

The original plan was to restore the Murray Adobe and open it as a museum. This rendering was circulated in January 1972.

By January 17, 1972 Mission Plaza was well on its way to becoming the front porch of the community but the Murray Adobe still needed help.
A story by Elliot Curry outlined the latest plan, strip the wooden siding, restore the adobe, and turn the building into a museum of the Murray era. Kenneth Schwartz was now mayor and one of the fathers of the Mission Plaza concept. He announced the plan at a dinner meeting of the County Historical Society. Clouds were on the horizon however. Cost of the project was expected to be $27,000 but the city budgeted less than half, $10,000.
Schwartz urged volunteer groups come foreword to help.
“It looks like we will be underway in a week or two, Schwartz said, anticipating that the full reconstruction project will be a “long time operation.”
A rendering was circulated that showed the intended finished adobe.

In an effort to save money Cal Poly architectural students took the task on as a senior project. Unfortunately major problems were discovered as the wood frame was stripped. Only the lean-to portion of the structure had 4 complete walls. The main building only had two adobe walls and the freestanding wall was at the edge of an old cellar.
While Cal Poly teaches many construction skills, it is doubtful that the unique problems of earth construction were covered and in fairness the project required more that a handful of students would have time for. There did not appear to be any archeological component and there was a sense from a folder full of articles that the city was trying to get the work done quick and cheap.
April 26, 1972 Elliot Curry documented what happened:

CRUMBLED—Remains of Murray adobe’s wall lie scattered in Mission Plaza after a failed restoration effort. ©Larry Jamison/Telegram-Tribune

Old adobe’s wall falls; fate uncertain
For a moment the ancient adobe wall swayed slowly in the afternoon wind, then suddenly collapsed.
It had stood for more than 100 years, but suddenly it was only a pile of dirt and straw.
Such was the end of one wall yesterday of the Judge Walter Murray adobe in the Mission Plaza.
A group of architectural students from Cal Poly has been dismantling the old wooden sections of the building to restore the adobe as a museum.
The roof and two wooden walls of the old residence had been removed. The adobe wall, which formed the western end of the building, would not stand alone. It came down with a crash, flattening a lamp standard.
The fall revealed that the wall stood most precariously on the edge of an old cellar located under the main section of the house.
With the collapse of the wall, all that remains standing of the adobe is the lean-to at the Chorro Street side. This appears to have been a separate building at one time and all four sides are adobe. It was surely already standing when Judge Murray acquired the property in the 1850s.
Restoration of the adobe was at one time in city plans as part of the Plaza project but a bid of $18,000 caused the city to back away. It was planning to spend only $10,000 on it, using volunteer labor wherever possible.
Mayor Kenneth Schwartz has been directing the work of students who were making a senior project of the restoration work.
Schwartz said he was greatly disappointed at what had happened and could not predict what the next move would be. He said he would bring up the matter at a meeting of the city council today.
Students working on the project had taken precautions to brace the wall, he said but there was no foundation under it.
City workmen were at the site this morning clearing the debris and filling the basement. The disrupted sprinkling system was also being restored.

In October 2, 1972 a group of architects, including Ken Schwartz banded together save the remaining structure. They reframed the doors and windows and mixed cement to seal the outside of the adobe.

A little over a year later a modest lean-to and arbor was declared fully restored. The city council would only fund a limited restoration. The Nov. 20, 1973 story said that the first duty for the house would be as Santa’s House during Christmas celebrations in Mission Plaza.
The story says that 130 men signed onto the Vigilance Committee there though historian Dan Krieger has documented at least one meeting at Walter Murray’s residence on Monterey St. near the present day Motel Inn.

“The undersigned, citizens of San Luis Obispo, sign our names as members of a body to be called the San Luis Obispo Vigilance Committee, the object of which is and shall be the repression of and punishment of crime by all means whatsoever.”
From Santa Claus to vigilante justice, to the founding of the Tribune. If only those walls could talk.

The first edition of the Tribune was printed here August 7, 1869.
©Wayne Nicholls/Telegram-Tribune Nov. 20, 1973

Related posts:

  1. Murray Adobe in Mission Plaza
  2. Name that Adobe, more hints
  3. The law office of Walter Murray
  4. Name that adobe
  5. Walter Murray founds The Tribune