Hotel San Luis Obispo is located on a site rooted in the region’s cultural history. When development of the hotel began, numerous artifacts were found during excavations that tell the story of the neighborhood. Chinese ceramic pottery and glass medicine vials were discovered, as well as a section of a zanja – the stone and tile lined irrigation channel built by Native American laborers during the Mission period. This has been preserved and can be seen along the western edge of the hotel, by the pedestrian Paseo.
For thousands of years before European settlers arrived, Native American groups such as the Northern Chumash hunted and gathered on the coast and around the inland hills. They were skillful and creative, renowned for their spectacular rock paintings and intricate basketry. When Spanish missionaries established Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772, they settled the area along with the Chumash, building homes and developing agricultural land. During this time, Native American residents of the mission such as the local yak tityu tityu yak tilhini constructed buildings, orchards, agricultural fields and built the zanja to provide water for the community, irrigate cropland, and power the nearby mill.
From the 1870s, Chinese immigrants came as laborers to build the Pacific Coast Railway. One industrious immigrant, Ah Louis, who had already settled in San Luis Obispo helped coordinate that effort. When Ah Louis first arrived, he worked as a cook at a local hotel but went on to become an entrepreneur –his resume included banker, labor contractor, farmer, brick manufacturer and shopkeeper. In 1885 he opened his eponymous store on the corner of Palm and Chorro Streets, to serve the Chinese community. Over the next 25 years a vibrant and colorfully offbeat district grew around the area – where the hotel is now centered.
To honor this unique period of SLO’s history and location, Chinese artistic and cultural elements are woven throughout the hotel’s architecture and design: The angular pattern used on the metal screen cladding the two story glass bridge over the pedestrian walkway, was drawn from the “cracked ice” pattern seen on traditional Chinese window screens; the circular living wall at the hotel’s entrance was inspired by moongate passageways in classical Chinese gardens; the name S. Low Bar is a nod to the vintage Chop Suey “Shanghai Low” Chinatown sign, as well as its Tao symbol that represents the duality of nature (High Bar.) The directional trigram symbols designed on the room number plaques, are borrowed from the Bagua – one of the main tools of feng shui used to analyze the energy in any given space; and the SLO face icon was designed as a pictogram, chop-like signature for the hotel.
Artist Matthew Picton’s piece at the entrance of the hotel, San Luis Obispo, depicts this colorful history through an assemblage of cut paper maps. Hotel San Luis Obispo is honored to represent a new chapter and evolution of this location’s long and storied history – welcoming locals and visitors alike to enjoy this special hotel, town, and region.