Backstory and Context
This building could be described as Classic Revival style. It is a two-story building over a full basement. Although the building appears to be of brick construction, it is actually a wood structure with a brick veneer. The flat roof terminates at a moderately decorative “shelf” cornice with corbels and dentils below. Decorative quoins enhance the corners of the building. Interestingly, there are two crosses in shallow relief flanking the balcony above the main entry, indicating the function and importance of this building.
The first provider of Western European-style medical care in California was Pedro Prat, an army surgeon accompanying Gasper de Portola’s colonization expedition from Mexico in 1769. Primitive medical care was later provided at the missions. In 1823, Captain Antonio de le Guerra hired James William Borris—an American--to provide medical care to the soldiers at the Santa Barbara Presidio. He was allowed to care for others on a limited basis.
American-trained physicians began arriving in California in the 1850s. In January 1859, the County hired Dr. T.R. Thorpe as the County physician to attend to the indigent sick. In 1860, a space next to the county clerk’s office was used as a medical room. The first American doctor to settle in San Luis Obispo County was William W. Hays, who arrived here in 1866. He resided in an adobe building at 642 Monterey (just down the street from here). While the house served as an office, most of Dr. Hays work was done at the patients’ homes, which he visited in a horse drawn carriage.
The first mention of a “hospital” occurs in the Board of Supervisors’ minutes of May 1874. A committee was appointed in November 1874 to find a site for a county hospital to care for the indigent sick. A new building opened for its first patient in February 1879.
In the late 1800s, private hospitals—usually called “sanitariums” that were usually attached to a doctor’s office—became popular. Dr. William Stover arrived in San Luis Obispo in 1900. By 1902, he had opened the first sanitarium in the County in a small house on the site in our photo. A new building (the one in our photo) that could hold 24 patients replaced the old house. It had two innovative features: the county’s first emergency fire sprinkler system, and ramps rather than stairs connecting the floors. The building to the right was originally Dr. Stover’s residence, but was later converted to a boarding house for nursing students.
In 1919, Drs. Frederick Mugler and Howard Gallup bought Dr. Stover’s operation and renamed it “San Luis Sanitarium.” This, in turn, was purchased in 1953 by Dr. Edwin French, who established it as French Hospital.
When the new French Hospital opened on Johnson Avenue in 1972, the old Stover Building was converted into office space.