SLO History: Mystery Photo Shows WWII Military Parade

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Usually a photographic print in the archives of The Tribune is accompanied by a newspaper clipping or date scribbled on the back.

Not in this case. This photo, which depicts a military parade in downtown San Luis Obispo, is a bit of a historical mystery.

The Tribune needs your help to find out exactly when this photo was taken.

The view is of Higuera Street on a sunny day with sharp shadows as the clock reads 10:20. This is our first big clue.

SLO_1945ishdowntownslo060
A parade with amphibious vehicles in downtown San Luis Obispo circa 1945 on Higuera Street with the Sears and JC Penny buildings and the Warden Building clock tower. The Tribune

The clock tower atop the Warden Tower building was removed in 1955, although the building still stands at the corner of Chorro and Higuera streets. Earthquake concerns brought down the tower.

Cars are parked in both directions and there are no parking meters.

The second big clue is the US Navy band playing in an amphibious vehicle.

During World War II, Morro Bay was the site of an amphibious training base, located where the Morro Bay Power Station is today. The base operated from late 1941 to October 1945.

Flags along the street and banners on the second vehicle suggest the occasion could be the end of World War II or a patriotic holiday like Memorial Day or Independence Day.

At the start of the war, efforts were focused on building the war effort, so perhaps this photo was taken in 1944 or 45.

A group of women are in the second profession. A dignitary follows in a convertible and he is followed by men carrying dark flags.

Most people wear long sleeves and sweaters, but the women in the second vehicle wear short sleeves.

Most downtown buildings have retained their original brick facades. JC Penney Company covered its facade in the early 1960s.

Signs can be seen for Sears and Roebuck and JC Penney, then SLO’s downtown retail giants. Just outside the frame on the right would be Montgomery Ward.

Guy Crabb’s book “San Luis Obispo: Higuera Street,” covering 100 years of downtown businesses, shows Weishar’s City Pharmacy, Chitwood Bootery, and Clarance Brown Credit Jeweler on this stretch circa 1945.

A sign for the Cut Rate Drugs store on the corner of Chorro and Higuera streets in the Johnson Building can be seen in the mystery photo. It is not listed in Crabb’s book.

The license plates are washed out without too much detail due to the bright sun.

The print is marked in pencil with trim marks for The Tribune composition room, and a note on the back instructs to run the photo three columns wide. I would just like to know what day it was shot.

If you have any idea when this photo may have been taken, please share what you know.

Email me at [email protected] and together we’ll try to figure out the date and occasion.

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David Middlecamp is a photojournalist and third-generation Cal Poly graduate who has covered the Central Coast region since the 1980s. A career that began developing and printing black-and-white film now includes a drone pilot’s license FAA certified. He also writes the historical column “Photos from the vault”.

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