Magazine article Sunset

San Luis Obispo

Magazine article Sunset

San Luis Obispo

Article excerpt

Luck and hard work made a moribund downtown sparkle again

By 6:30 Thursday evening. Downtown San Luis Obispo has kicked off its work shoes and is starting to relax.

Higuera Street is closed to traffic. Local farmers sell everything from flowers to Medjool dates. An irresistible smell of barbecue rises from oak-wood-filled grills. Bands like Louie Ortega and the Wild Jalapefios pump out tunes beneath the tall street trees. A block away, near Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, toddlers wade in the clear creek trickling past Mission Plaza.

San Luis Obispo's Thursday night farmers' markets have become the signature event for a downtown that has done just about everything right. So right that earlier this year San Luis Obispo received the Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"Never hurts to have a little luck on your side," says city councilman Kenneth Schwartz, FAIA, explaining that San Luis Obispo's success began more as happy accident than grand design. Peering out through his trifocals, Schwartz, an architect and retired professor from the nearby California Polytechnic State University campus, recalls that 25 years ago the plaza was a busy street, the creek was a polluted mess, and downtown was struggling - when citizens came up with the idea of creating a plaza in front of the historic mission.

"Back then downtown businesses were often their own worst enemy They fought building the plaza. It took a public referendum to get the council to approve closing Monterey Street to create the plaza. …

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