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Fire destroys historic SLO structure, preservationists hope to rebuild

Posted at 6:48 PM, Feb 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-09 21:48:40-05

The fire that ripped through a barn on Madonna Road Friday night destroyed a more than century-old piece of history in 30 minutes.

“It’s just devastating to everyone,” SLO Cultural Heritage Committee Chairman James Papp said. “And that it was this particular building, everyone was hoping it was not this one.”

The barn caught fire around 9:30 p.m. Friday and the cause of the blaze remains unknown.

Photos are all that remain of the former viewing stand, where spectators once watched horse races at the old San Luis Obispo fairgrounds around 1887.

“It was referred to as the spectator barn by a lot of locals,” Papp said.

When the horse races ended, the building was transformed into a barn.

According to Papp, a recent report from the City pegged the barn for recognition on the registry of historic places.

“The history of this property is pretty remarkable,” San Luis Ranch Public Relations Manager Cate Norton said.

The historic value of the barn appealed to the developers of the future San Luis Ranch housing project. They pledged to keep the barn in tact and move it to the edge of the property.

“We were taking this barn, another barn on site and the craftsman bungalow and had planned on an agricultural heritage center,” Norton said.

“The idea of having these barns and this farm house still in the context of farmland was a very exciting idea,” Papp said.

But after a Friday night inferno gutted this iconic structure, dreams of carrying the barn through another era went up in flames.

For Papp and other Central Coast historians, the loss is great.

“Without that physical reminder, without that physical presence you can actually walk through, we’re a much much poorer community,” Papp said.

Papp said he’s hopeful the barn can be rebuilt but it will no longer qualify as an historic place because it won’t be original materials.

The Ranch officials will meet Monday to discuss how to move forward with the barn plans, Norton said.