A Brief History of the town of Pismo Beach
By Effie McDermott
Last edited September 19, 1999
John Price founded the town of Pismo. It developed rapidly through land sales to developers and speculators. John Price's first recorded sale of a downtown lot was $5.00 for a lot on what is now Dolliver St.
The Pismo Hotel, built by Price, shown in the upper left corner of the 1882 sketch of Pismo Rancho, overlooking San Luis Bay, was moved closer to the beach and expanded. It was moved to Main Street near the beach.
See 1882 Rancho Sketch
Coincidental to the moving of the hotel to the beach, John Price contracted with his son-in-law Michael Meherin to build a wharf near the end of main street. The wharf site property is today occupied by Pismo Shores Condominiums. The Wharf was begun in 1881 and completed in 1883. Storms damaged it from time to time, and some time before 1900 it was lost.
See Pismo Wharf
Several structures were on pilings at the end of Main Street, around the area of the wharf. One was the Royal Cafe.
The Royal Cafe was owned by Captain Marcus Harloe, who was married to one of the daughters of Isaac Sparks, the man who sold Pismo to John Price. The Royal Cafe had dancing and entertainment and stood on pilings over the surf.
The Royal Cafe and adjoining buildings were lost to storms.
See Century Old Pilings on the Beach
The hotel repeatedly changed hands, was upgraded and had several names. Later owners named it El Pizmo Inn. It reached its heyday in the early 1900's.
Through the late 1880's and into the 1920's, Pismo Beach experienced growth and ever increasing tourism.
In 1906 the El Pizmo Company enlarged and upgraded the inn. The inn and cabins occupied a full square block.
The El Pizmo Company also built the Pismo Dance Pavilion, at the beach, that would today be in the city parking lot. They also built Tent City, which was two full blocks in size.
The El Pizmo Company offered lodging at the inn, tents for rent, and lots for sale. They enticed lookers with a new railroad depot on the Southern Pacific line.
In 1906, El Pizmo Company hired a photographer, Geo. Lawrence, to take an aerial panoramic photograph of Pismo Beach. Mr. Lawrence was known for his photographs taken from a tethered helium balloon. Suspended several hundred feet in the air, he photographed the entire town in one panoramic shot.
The 1906 aerial photo was for use in promotional literature for the El Pizmo Company. A large copy of the promotional poster may be seen at the South County Historical Society, Heritage House Museum, 126 S. Mason St., Arroyo Grande, CA. The photograph itself is on file online at the Library of Congress, in the Panoramic Photographs collection, as "El Pizmo Beach."
In 1925, a new seawall and pier were built in the location of the present seawall and pier. Most of the seawall and pier were destroyed in storms in 1983 and were then rebuilt.
In 1927 a another building boom occurred in Pismo. The Butler Hotel on Pomeroy Street was built in 1927, and was enlarged in 1937. The former Butler Hotel was later named the Trade Winds Hotel before it took the name El Pismo Inn, after the demise of the original inn El Pizmo Inn.
In 1927 the Salt Water Plunge was built on Pomeroy in the front yard of the El Pizmo Inn. It pumped salt water from the sea. The original pool still remains under the floors of the Boardwalk Plaza. A masonite floored skating rink with messanine dinette facilities was built over the plunge.
Tent City disappeared gradually as the town upgraded. By the 1940's, it had all but disappeared.
By the 1940's El Pizmo Inn and its cabins had fallen into disrepair.
In August of 1945, the Pismo Pavilion burned to the ground, taking nearby concessions and buildings with it.
After the loss of the pavilion, Joe Rose and the Moose Lodge jointly purchased the aged El Pizmo Inn property and divided it. The Moose Lodge took the Main Street side and Joe Rose took the Pomeroy Street side.
The Moose Lodge was built on the Main Street side, using the old dining room portion of the inn. The Moose Lodge is said to still have some original walls of the El Pizmo Hotel and occupies what was the dining room of the hotel.
The Pomeroy Street side was demolished. Joe Rose built The Rose Garden Ballroom on Pomeroy Street in 1946. Lumber salvaged from demolishing part of the inn was used for subflooring of the Rose Garden dance floor. The Rose Garden Ballroom was a favorite venue of the dance bands in the late 1940's. It operated into the 1970's. Pancho's Sporting Goods occupies the Rose Garden Ballroom building today.
In the 1950s, Ural and Barbara Foresee bought the salt water plunge/skating rink on the old hotel site and upgraded it with hardwood skating floors and upper level shops. They coached and sponsored a championship roller hockey team which trained at the skating rink. In the late 1980's the Foresees converted the rink to shops and renamed the building Boardwalk Plaza.
Back to History Page