News excerpts of 1940 and the Cloisters Inn

by V. Hansen

Nineteen-forty was an extremely interesting year. Roosevelt was nearing the end of his second term as president. There was war in Europe and it found its way onto the pages of daily papers, but only as an occasional article at first. Toward the end of the year, with the presidential campaign becoming intense, warnings of impending war became daily reading. It was a time when people were poor and even though one could buy a new Pontiac for something over nine hundred dollars, not many were sold. At one time or another in Morro Bay, there was the SRA (State Relief Administration), the WPA (Works Project Administration), and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). Some curbs and gutters of stone done by the CCC can be seen on the golf course roads.

A few items of interest during this year follow. On February 9, 1940 a Chilean by the name of Aturo Godoy almost dethroned the great Joe Louis. Movies playing at the Obispo and Elmo theaters in San Luis Obispo were Second Chorus with Paulette Goddard and Fred Astaire, and Carolina Moon with Gene Autry. Some others were Mazie Was A Lady and Western Unionwith Randolph Scott. See Cal Poly at war--Cal Poly. The (Theodore) Roosevelt Highway, (now Scenic Highway 1) was opened. It covered 140 miles from San Luis to Monterey. Stanford defeated Nebraska in the Rose Bowl 21 to 13.

By March, training began for guardsmen from Utah, Idaho, and California. They trained locally for twenty-seven days and then went to Camp Ord near Salinas for additional training. To see a very early Camp San Luis Opispo (Camp Merriam) click here The government proposed to buy a strip of land eight miles wide extending from the Marre Land Company at Avila Beach through the Pecho Ranch and Stock Company to Morro Bay--a total of 35,000 acres. Morro Bay Harbor was under consideration to be dredged to a hundred feet deep, so vessels could protect the Estero Bay oil loading facility. A conference was held in Morro Bay to determine how the harbor entrance should be configured. Les and Bill Pierce favored a north entrance. T.D. Reviea wanted a southern entrance. Someone even considered opening the sand penninsula right in the center. This meeting was held at the famed Morro Beach Inn on May 29, 1940.

The San Luis City Council passed a resolution requesting ROTC training at the high school and Cal Poly (a two year technical school at that time). High Schools in the county then were also located at Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles. The council especially wanted arms training. They were right in saying there was no defense from Monterey to Santa Barbara. They asked Senators Hiram Johnson and Sheridan Downey for artillery units for Morro Bay and San Simeon. Most of the coastal defense plans were designed by L. Col. Edwin Kelton a district ingineer for the U.S. War Department.

The Micado was performed live at the Elmo Theater to raise funds for the Red Cross. Cal Poly started defense work training programs in sheet metal, welding and machine shop. Conscription was being discussed and then postponed. It was estimated that only 112 men from this area would be called and the odds were 100 to 1 that U.S. troops wouldn't leave United States soil.

The three day Labor Day weekend celebration in Morro Bay was a big event this year. There were six thousand oysters to be barbecued. There was a golf tournament at the Cabrillo Golf Club, boat races, a down hill derby, and an old car race from San Luis to Morro Bay. There were also side shows, fireworks and a beauty contest. An artists exhibit was held in the Jack Williams building (adjoining Happy Jacks). The exhibiting artists were Harold Knott, Charles Robinson, Mrs. Charlotte Skinner, Aaron Kilpatrick, Miss Nadine Richards and Pete Neilson..

The army camp was started in earnest by this time. A tent camp for 20,000 was authorized and conscription registration began October 16, 1940. All married men were deferred for the first call. One hundred fifty thousand acres of Hearst land was purchased in the Jolon area. It was estimated that Camp San Luis Obispo would cost five million dollars. In November the weekly payroll for construction was $30,000 and by December reached $253,000. A few Pontiac's were sold. Roosevelt was elected to a third term.

On December 12, El Paso De Robles Hotel was destroyed by fire. Even though there were eighty-seven people staying there, none were lost in the blaze. Winter storms were fierce and work had to be stopped at the camp due to rain and wind. Trains were stopped in the south. (A happenstance revisited recently during the latest El Nino).

The great Morro Beach Inn was still open. It had its own lifeguards and served breakfast, lunch and dinner. They offered wonderful entertainment and dancing nightly. Bonnie Adair sang with Billy Lester's orchestra (recent performers at the famous Stork Club). The Inn advertised a "galaxy of the finest entertainment" and two of their feature performers were Madge Robertson plus Harry Sorenson, a maestro on the accordion.

A new year began and the war effort was upon us. Morro Bay was again being considered as a "section base" for torpedo boats and sub chasers. This was good thinking but it was not implemented. A boat mishap occured at the entrance of the harbor and two lives were lost--Mary Kehl, and her daughter. The motor stalled entering the harbor, an event that was to become more and more fmiliar in the coming years. Harold Elmore and Les Pierce attempted to rescue them. The Southern Pacific Social Club held their annual dance at the Elks Lodge in San Luis Obispo. Admission was a dollar a couple and music was provided by my cousin E.C. Schwafel and his Orchestra.

Some of the great old radio shows we listened to were "Little Orphan Annie," "Jack Armstrong--The all American boy" and "Shafter Parker and his Circus." For more information on the latter, little remembered show, please visit the following... click here for Shafter Parker

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