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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Provenance
  • Restrictions on Access
  • Restrictions on Use and Reproduction
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content Note
  • Indexing Terms
  • Genres and Forms of Material
  • Related Materials

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: San Luis Obispo County Regional Photograph Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1850-1980
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1890-1930)
    Collection number: MS 168
    Creator: Various
    Extent: 12 boxes

    Repository: Special Collections, Robert E. Kennedy Library
    California Polytechnic State University
    San Luis Obispo, California 93407
    Abstract: The San Luis Obispo County Regional Photographs Collection contains photographs, artwork, and postcards of San Luis Obispo city and county. The collection, comprised of both amateur and professional work, captures daily life and popular scenes and locations in the county. The bulk of the collection focuses on early twentieth-century San Luis Obispo. The collection encompasses several donations and purchases.


    In part purchase and donations between 1980 and 2007.

    Restrictions on Access

    Collection is open to qualified researchers by appointment only. For more information on access policies and to obtain a copy of the Researcher Registration form, please visit the Special Collections Access page.

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    In order to reproduce, publish, broadcast, exhibit, and/or quote from this material, researchers must submit a written request and obtain formal permission from Special Collections, Cal Poly, as the owner of the physical collection.
    Photocopying of material is permitted at staff discretion and provided on a fee basis. Photocopies are not to be used for any purpose other than for private study, scholarship, or research. Special Collections staff reserves the right to limit photocopying and deny access or reproduction in cases when, in the opinion of staff, the original materials would be harmed.

    Preferred Citation

    San Luis Obispo County Regional Photographs Collection, Special Collections, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
    Abbreviations Used:

    Biographical Note

    The collection consists of photographs, negatives, artwork, prints, and postcards in various formats circa 1850 to 1980. Compiled from the gifts of several donors and purchases, the collection covers a wide breadth of subject matter. The images provide comprehensive information about many activities and events important to San Luis Obispo County and neighboring regional areas in the late 19th and early 20th century.
    San Luis Obispo, founded in 1772 by Father Junipero Serra as Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, is one of California's oldest communities. From the late 1700s through the mid-eighteenth century, Spanish and Mexican ranchos extended across the county. By 1850, the year California was admitted to the Union as a state, United States migrants were settling in San Luis Obispo. Beginning in 1861 and continuing into the 1870s, stage lines transported passengers between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles or San Francisco. The city served as the regional market center for an isolated, agricultural area. With the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in the late 1890s the town and the local environs expanded into a burgeoning county.
    In the early nineteenth century San Luis Obispo served as a center of trade and travel in central California with the arrival of the railroad, the development of the Union Oil of California's (Unocal) oil fields, and the tremendous agricultural and dairy industries. California Polytechnic School, established in 1901 and offering secondary (high school) courses of study, would eventually shape and help to define the city of San Luis Obispo. Another significant influence on the central coast was William Randolph Hearst and his San Simeon Ranch, commonly referred to as Hearst Castle. The development of these two conspicuous landmarks, in addition to the historic Mission San Luis Obispo, served to stimulate the regional economy and society.
    Due to the nature of the collection, most of the photographers are unidentified and photographs unmarked. The collection combines many smaller collections of photographs and artwork, which when combined provide a rich and detailed illustration of the development of San Luis Obispo and the county. These photographers captured on film and paper the construction and expansion of San Luis Obispo, Hearst Ranch, and San Luis Obispo County. Through their photographs they captured views of popular industries, businesses, organizations, and events.

    Scope and Content Note

    Spanning over one hundred years of San Luis Obispo County history, the San Luis Obispo Regional Photographs collection contains photographs, negatives, artwork, prints, and postcards of San Luis Obispo County. The collection documents the transition of San Luis Obispo and nearby towns from their early origins to the present, with emphasis on the significant development of the county in the first half of the twentieth century.
    The collection's scope ranges from the development of downtown San Luis Obispo to the towns and cities that comprise San Luis Obispo County: Paso Robles, Atascadero, Templeton, and San Miguel to the North and Cambria, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Avila, and Pismo along the coast. Although the collection dates span from 1850 to 1980, some of the earlier photographs are reproductions of originals, which is noted when known. The collection is focused on San Luis Obispo County but the last subseries includes photographs of California and Arizona places, which were included in an extensive collection of snapshots taken in the early 1920s.
    The San Luis Obispo County Regional Photographs Collection is divided into 6 series:
    Series 1. San Luis Obispo, City, circa 1870-1980, including street and building views, views of downtown, and of businesses and people;
    Series 2. San Luis Obispo County, circa 1880-1970, including the cities of Paso Robles, Atascadero, Templeton, Morro Bay, and outlying ranches;
    Series 3. Hearst Ranch, San Simeon, 1920s, 1970s, including photographs of construction of the Ranch and of outdoor art;
    Series 4. Art, 1850-1930s, including prints and amateur artwork;
    Series 5. Postcards, 1900-1950, including local tourist attractions;
    Series 6: West Coast Regional Photographs, including photographs from northern and southern California tourist locations, especially the California Missions.
    The collection is housed in seven boxes. The most significant portions of the collection—photographs of early San Luis Obispo—are located in Series 1. The artwork includes lithographs, watercolors, a pencil sketch, and page-long excerpts from books. When known the contemporary address of a business or residence is noted, as are photographers. Most dates were gathered from contemporary resources and records.
    The collection includes several donations and purchases. In order to simplify access to the collection for researchers, materials in specific formats and topics were reorganized and refoldered to more accurately reflect their contents.

    The National Endowment for the Humanities has generously funded the arrangement and description of this collection, along with matching funds from California Polytechnic State University.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Cambria (California)
    Cayucos (California)
    Hearst Castle (California)--1920-1930
    Hearst, William Randolph, 1863-1951--Art collections--California--San Simeon
    Morro Bay (California)
    Paso Robles (California)
    San Luis Obispo (California)
    San Luis Obispo (California)--Buildings, structures, etc.--Pictorial works.
    San Luis Obispo (California)--History
    San Luis Obispo County (California)
    San Simeon (California)
    San Simeon (California)--Buildings, structures, etc.
    San Simeon Ranch (California)

    Genres and Forms of Material


    Related Materials

    Related Collections:
    Hearst Ranch and Cayucos Photograph Collection, MS 158
    Julia Morgan Papers, MS 010
    Laumann Yosemite Collection, circa 1908, 1923, MS 153
    Sinsheimer Collection, 1868-1997, MS 036