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  • Writer's pictureRuth Ann Angus

Reflections on Morro Bay

I’m sitting here in my living room nursing a head cold looking at some old postcards of Morro Bay that show Morro Bay Boulevard probably sometime in the 1950s.  I figure that date from the design of the cars parked along the street. I think the view in one of them is looking due east from the intersection of Main and Morro Bay Boulevard.

A corner building sports a sign saying “Morro Bay Grocery” and someone’s meat market. The owner’s name is cut off in the picture so I can’t tell who it may have been. Next door is Rexall Drug Store. Now, I do remember a Rexall in Morro Bay but it was located in the late 60s where the present day Ascot Hotel sits. We liked Rexall and the folks who owned it and I wish I could remember their name. Names and places can escape us as time goes on.

It’s too bad they don’t put dates on the backs of postcards. It would certainly help. I can make out the Rock Café and a Richfield sign in the distance. Then two palm trees.

Another card shows the view of the same street in the opposite direction looking towards the water and the Rock. A large, two story building is prominent in this one and it showed in the previous card also, but now it has some kind of false front on its second story and I cannot make out what type of business it is.

I am getting out my magnifying glass in order to see the store names on the buildings.

I see the office of the Sun newspaper next door and another store is the Morro Bay Photo and Gifts shop and then Giebert’s Jewelry. Does anyone remember these places? I know some of the shapes of all these buildings because they are still here in downtown Morro Bay.

What is missing? The trees. None of those messy red-flowered eucalyptus trees have yet been planted at the time of these photos. Much as I hate those trees, they do somehow make for a more picturesque view of the town. I’m not sure if someone who had never been to Morro Bay received one of these two postcards, that they would be induced to visit here! Why would they? What in these pictures would attract them?

Two more cards show the waterfront both emphasizing the fishing fleet. For anyone who thinks the present day Embarcadero is tacky, a good look at these postcards will show you that not too long ago tourism was not the prime interest for the town. One of the cards shows an assortment of boats and two wooden towers with long slides attached. These were electric hoists or cranes that lifted fish from the holds of the boats and deposited them on spillways where they were loaded onto trucks to be taken to market. Yes, proof that Morro Bay really was a “quaint little fishing village.”

The other waterfront card is a collectors item for those of us who today enjoy the gastronomical delights of the Harbor Hut. It shows that establishment was also a motel then. The Harbor Hut must have been one of the earliest restaurants and motels on the waterfront. None of the present day buildings show in this photo and there is no paved parking lot nearby. So who came to stay at the Harbor Hut? Maybe fishermen put up there while spending time in this port.

Several of the cards are black and white photos of the harbor showing several piers and many, many boats – many more than we see today. The vehicles in these photos may be from the 1930s or 40s. One color photo postcard of Morro Rock and the sandspit is credited to “Union Oil Company’s Natural Color Scenes of the West,” obviously a promotional piece as the company’s slogan is printed on the back “Tour the west this year with Union 76 gasoline.”

Well, thanks to Jane Bailey and Dorothy Gates and their excellent published history of Morro Bay I actually found out a few things about some of the buildings in these postcards. The first card shows the Morro Bay Grocery on the corner of Main and Morro Bay Boulevard. It is no longer standing but had been built in 1872 and was Matson's Department Store in 1910. It also had been the post office at some point. During the 1960s it was the grocery.

The card with the Harbor Hut in it also has an interesting history. Seems the Hut actually began in 1948 across the road from its present location and was housed in a military quonset hut. It was owned by Lawrence and Evelyn Whitlock in partnership with Dorothy Mesquit. The women cooked and served the nine diners that the establishment could accommodate. Certainly a far cry from present day tourist needs!

The second postcard shown here is of the shops looking towards the water on Morro Bay Blvd. and you can make out the building housing the Sun newspaper. That is now Sunshine Health Foods and this photo can be dated prior to 1959 as the Sun moved to Piney Way and the Boulevard during that year.

The final black and white photo postcard has no identification as to the photographer or publisher however if you look closely you will see that it was taken prior to the construction of Coleman Drive to the Rock dating this prior to 1933.

I’ve spent almost half a century in Morro Bay, sometimes part time, a quarter of a century as resident. These are not my roots, but I am rooted here nonetheless. What does the town have that draws me so and keeps me captive here?  It’s not just the scenery, or the wildlife, or the Rock, but something else that resides within those of us who have come to call this small, almost insignificant, waterfront village home. It is important for us to see the past and to remember the places and the people who have come and gone. As I look at these old postcards I can feel the history even though I have not lived it. It is still a part of me as I am a part of Morro Bay.

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