Japantown Atlas - Central California - San Luis Obispo

Detailed Map: San Luis Obispo Japanese American Businesses of 1940
Map of San Luis Obispo's Japantown, and inset showing the whole city.


San Luis Obispo's small Japantown was on Higuera Street between South and French Streets. This little commercial center was developed by the Eto and Tsutsumi Eto families in the 1920s and '30s. It was just one block long, but had a hotel, a barber shop, a produce store, groceries, and a fish and meat market. The Pacific Hotel was rebuilt with a two-story brick facade in 1931, to great fanfare.

Although not large, San Luis Obispo anchored a number of satellite farming communities, including Arroyo Grande, Los Osos, Pismo Beach, and Nippomo, plus the port at Avila.

Before automobiles came into common use, the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast Railway provided transportation from San Luis Obispo west to Avlia and south to Arroyo Grande, Nippomo, and Santa Maria. The freight sheds, passenger depot, and shops were just across Higuera Street. (They built another depot near today's Amtrak depot when Southern Pacific RR arrived in 1875). It ran until the late 1930s. Thus while the strip of stores was fairly commonplace, it faced a relatively industrial (or industrious) section at the edge of the main part of town, which (though extensively rebuilt) remains so today.

photo-Higuera Street storefronts in 1946

Higuera Street just after WWII. Photo courtesy of Irene Y. Tsutsumi and her daughter, Shizue Seigel

Immediately following Pearl Harbor, the Tsutsumi family was compelled to cede the Higuera Street property to a local realtor, Cecil Evans, who paid them a mere $2000 for a property worth at least $150,000. (Nikkei Heritage, 1999 or so).

By April, 1942, local historians Erik Brun and James Papp note that family members of the 54th Artillery Batallion, an African American unit who had come to defend the coast, settled in the recently-vacated hotel and cottages. (The troops were stationed near Morro Bay and Avila, with a segregated USO downtown). Two churches and several African American businesses were established here and nearby. Later, in the 1960s, Evans leased the hotel to Cal Poly architecture and engineering students, who renamed it "The Ark." The Higuera Street stores were torn down in 1987 to widen the street (see the current street edge on the map above).

The city renamed Eto Street as Brook Street immediatly after Pearl Harbor. A proposal to restore the original name was rejected in the 1990s, however the city named Eto Park to honor the Eto family.

A block down French Street (as shown on the inset map), the Buddhist Church and Japanese School occupied 10 acres opposite the Madonna Inn from 1927 until 1960. (Buddhist services began as an offshoot of the Guadalupe church in 1912). San Luis Obispo residents built their original church in 1927 and a larger temple was built in 1939; it closed in 1942 and reopened to serve a small, post-war congregation in 1948. The church was torn down in 1960 to make way for an interchange of the US 101 freeway, by which time today's Buddhist church was built near Avila Hot Springs.

2nd draft, revised 5/2/22