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Alex Gough, Realtor
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Sauer Adobe History
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Adobe Realty
964 Chorro Street San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
805-543-2693 (voice) 805-549-0894 (fax)


THE HISTORIC SAUER-ADAMS ADOBE, circa 1800

by Alex Gough


The Sauer-Adams Adobe, across Chorro street from Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, is a two story "Monterey style" adobe, distinguished by its two-foot thick adobe walls sided with redwood, by its large wooden balcony, and - hidden from public view - by its courtyard. It is the larger of the two adobes known together as the "Sauer Adobes." Together they are the oldest commercial buildings in San Luis Obispo. The Sauer-Adams Adobe is 964 Chorro while its single-story sister next door is 970 Chorro.

Like a stately lady, no one knows the age of the Sauer-Adams Adobe exactly, but it is believed to date from the mission era, circa 1800, and in its present two-story form, from the 1860's. Originally it was part of the mission complex, and probably looked like its sister structure at 970 Chorro. George Sauer, a German immigrant, bought the property March 12, 1860, and put a second story of adobe on the existing one-story structure. Next door, at 970 Chorro, he and his brother Andrew operated a grocery and bakery, with George and his family living next door. A passage in Myron Angel's History of San Luis Obispo County says that the Sauers built "on an old adobe building," which had been "moldering to decay." Written by Walter Murray in 1870, this account goes on to say that the property had also been used as a bowling alley and restaurant. By 1870, the two buildings had been subdivided, "and are now used for two places of business." He said it had once been known as the St. Charles hotel, and later as the "Red Store." By then, it was in "thorough repair," according to Murray."*

The adobe at 964 Chorro is called the Sauer-Adams Adobe to distinguish it from 970 Chorro, and also to recognize Helen Adams, who bought the building at the Depression's end in 1940. Many old adobes had already been torn down, or were in line for demolition. Through her efforts, and those of her daughter, Genvieve Goff, the building survives today. Mrs. Adams, a writer as well as a preservationist, published a novel and many short stories, lectured at universities, and enlivened the local letters-to-the-editor column with frequent barbed commentary.

Only a handful of true early Monterey adobes remain, mostly in Monterey, although the style has been widely copied. "early Monterey style" unites Spanish, Anglo, and Indian traditions. Spanish and Mexican era adobes were usually one-story ranch style buildings and were built on rock foundations. When Anglos flocked to California in the mid-eighteen hundreds, they often wanted to build in the styles of the Eastern U.S. or Europe, but by necessity they used available material and building methods.

The siding on the Sauer-Adams Adobe is redwood clapboard, and was probably put on the building by the Sauer family when it was built. (A photo believed to be from the late 1800's, on file at the County Historical Museum, shows a nearly identical wood-sided adobe two doors down on Chorro.) The Adobe's curved banister in the foyer reportedly came to San Luis Obispo around the Horn. A kitchen of single-wall construction was added in the 1890's, A few clues in the building show that it was once a single story building: for example, the staircase partially covers two doorways.

When the building sold to Helen Adams, in 1940, the local paper reported that it had once been the home of the Mission priests. (Legend has it that the spirit of a priest still dwells upstairs, causing a ruckus when he tries to return to the Mission for one last sermon.) Other uses have been less virtuous-and not always legal. Joaquin Murrieta, the bandit, reportedly hid out at THE ADOBE. Decades later, during the Roaring 20's and Prohibition, THE ADOBE housed a speakeasy, bootleggers, and, for a time, ladies of easy virtue. Francisco Obregon, Jr., son of Mexico's president and revolutionary hero Alvaro Obregon, lived at THE ADOBE as a Cal Poly student in the early 40's. Today its use is somewhat less colorful: the owner, Alex Gough, Genevieve Goff's son, operates a real estate firm, ADOBE REALTYSM, on site. The property also houses shops, offices, and several residences. THE ADOBE is a County Historical Landmark, and is featured on the city's walking tour of historical sites.
written by Alex Gough

*Myron Angel, History of San Luis Obispo County, p. 379 et seq.

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