Paso Robles (full name: El Paso de Robles 'The Pass of the Oaks') is a city in San Luis Obispo County, California, United States. Located on the Salinas River north of San Luis Obispo, California, the city is known for its hot springs, its abundance of wineries, production of olive oil, almond orchards, and for playing host to the California Mid-State Fair.
This area of the Central Coast, known as the City of El Paso De Robles, Paso Robles or simply, "Paso," is known for its thermal springs. The Salinan Indians lived in the area thousands of years even before the mission era. They knew this area as the “Springs” or the “Hot Springs.”
Paso Robles is located on the Rancho Paso de Robles Mexican land grant that was purchased by James and Daniel Blackburn in 1857. The land was a rest-stop for travelers of the Camino Real trail, and was known for its mineral hot springs. In fact, Franciscan priests from neighboring Mission San Miguel constructed the first mineral baths in the area. During this period, Paso Robles began to attract the pioneer settlers who would become the founding members of the community. They would later establish cattle ranches, apple and almond orchards, dairy farms, and vineyards.
In 1864, the first El Paso de Robles Hotel was constructed and featured a hot mineral springs bath house.
James and Daniel Blackburn donated two blocks to the city for a public park to be used for the pleasure of its citizens and visitors. By original deed, the land was to revert to the donors if used for any other purpose than a public park. The grounds were laid out by a Mr. Redington and a planting day was held when each citizen set out his own donation. Originally, the whole park was hedged in by a fence of cactus, and in 1890 a bandstand was built with money raised by private theatricals.
In 1886, after the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad, work began on laying out a town site, with the resort as the nucleus. Two weeks after the first train arrived on October 31, 1886, a three-day celebration was held including a special train from San Francisco bringing prospective buyers, who toured the area and enjoyed the daily barbecues. On November 17, the “Grand Auction” was held, resulting in the sale of 228 lots.
The local agent for the SPR when it arrived in Paso Robles was R. M. 'Dick' Shackelford, a Kentucky native who had come to California in 1853 to dig for gold. Shackelford had a varied career, going from gold mining to hauling freight by ox team, to lumbering, which took him to Nevada, where he served one term as a delegate in the state's first legislature for Washoe County. By 1886 Shackelford had returned to California and was living in Paso Robles, where he began buying up extensive property, building warehouses and starting lumber yards along the railroad's route. Shackelford also established the Southern Pacific Milling Company, which had a virtual monopoly on local milling until local farmers, in an effort to break Shackelford's strangehold, themselves organized their own milling cooperative, the Farmers' Alliance Flour Mill.
In 1889, the same year that Paso Robles incorporated as a city, construction began on a magnificent new hotel. The hotel required over one-million bricks and cost a princely $160,000. The new El Paso de Robles Hotel opened for business in 1891. The new hotel was three stories tall and built of solid masonry, set off by sandstone arches. This ensured the hotel was completely fireproof. The hotel also featured a seven acre (28,000 m²) garden and nine hole golf course. Inside there was a library, a beauty salon, a barber shop, and various billiard and lounging rooms. The new hotel also offered an improved hot springs plunge bath as well as 32 individual bath rooms. The 20 by plunge bath was considered one of the finest and most complete of its time in the United States.
On January 17, 1914, the world's most well-known concert pianist and composer came to the hotel: Ignace Paderewski. After three weeks of treatments at the hotel's mineral hot springs for his arthritis, he resumed his concert tour. He later returned to live at the hotel and bought two beautiful ranches just west of Paso Robles.
During the next 30 years, the hotel was visited by other notables: Boxing champion Jack Dempsey, President Theodore Roosevelt, Adela Rogers St. Johns, Phoebe Apperson Hearst (the mother of William Randolph Hearst), actors Douglas Fairbanks, Boris Karloff, Bob Hope, and Clark Gable all stayed at the El Paso de Robles Hotel. And when Major League baseball teams used Paso Robles as a spring training home, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago White Sox stayed at the hotel and soaked in the mineral hot springs to sooth tired muscles.
For a time, Paso Robles was known as the “Almond City” because the local almond growers created the largest concentration of almond orchards in the world. The ranchers in the outlying areas were very important to the Paso Robles area. On these ranches were cattle and horses, grain crops (primarily wheat and barley), garden produce and fruit and nut orchards. Many of these ranch lands and orchards have become vineyards for the many wineries which currently draw tourists to the area.
To show their appreciation to the ranchers, the business people established Pioneer Day in October 1931, which is still a huge annual celebration. Pioneer Day is celebrated every year on the Saturday prior to October 12. It was originally organized by community volunteers working with generous donations of time, materials and money from individuals, businesses, churches and service organizations. Their goal was to provide a day of community friendship and a commemoration of the heritage of the Paso Robles area. It would also become a day set aside to say “Thank You” to all of the people who support the business and professional community of the area throughout the year. Most businesses closed so that their employees could enjoy and participate in the activities and family reunions. There were to be no charges for any of the events, no commercial concessions and lunch would be provided at no cost.
In December 1940, tragedy struck. A spectacular fire completely destroyed the "fire-proof" El Paso de Robles Hotel. Guests staying the night escaped unharmed. However, the night clerk who discovered the fire suffered a fatal heart attack immediately after sounding the alarm. Within months after the blaze, plans for a new hotel to be built on the site were drawn up. The design was an entirely new concept: A Garden Inn - Hotel, designed to accommodate motor vehicle travellers. By February 1942 construction was complete and the new Paso Robles Inn opened for business.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, few changes occurred at the Paso Robles Inn. However, the City of Paso Robles experienced significant growth. The area's wine industry flourished, the California Mid-State Fair expanded into a regional attraction, local lakes, such as Lake Nacimiento, became family vacation destinations and Paso Robles' reputation as a charming and friendly community grew.
As far back as 1795, Paso Robles has been spoken of and written about as “California’s oldest watering place”—the place to go for springs and mud baths. In 1864, a correspondent to the San Francisco Bulletin wrote that there was every prospect of the Paso Robles hot springs becoming the watering place of the state. By 1868 people were coming from as far away as Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, and even Alabama. Besides the well-known mud baths, there were the Iron Spring and the Sand Spring, which bubbles through the sand and was said to produce delightful sensations.
In 1882, Drury James and the Blackburn brothers issued a pamphlet advertising “El Paso de Robles Hot and Cold Sulphur Springs and the Only Natural Mud Baths in the World.” By then there were first class accommodations—a reading room, barber shop, and telegraph office; a general store, a top-of-the-line livery stable, and comfortably furnished cottages for families that preferred privacy to quarters in the hotel. Visitors could stay in touch with the rest of the world, as there were two daily mails, a Western Union telegraph office, and a Wells Fargo agency with special rates for guests. As the springs became more and more a destination of the well-to-do as a place to go to socialize, the original purpose of the springs—to heal—became peripheral.
The bathhouse was erected over the sulphur spring in 1888, with a plunge and thirty-seven bath rooms. In the following year, work began on the large Hot Springs Hotel, (today the Paso Robles Inn), which was completed in 1900 and burned down 40 years later. Since the privileges of using the baths were restricted to guests of the hotel and many sufferers of the ailments the baths cured could not pay the rates of the fashionable hotel, a few businessmen in Paso Robles made arrangements with Felix Liss for the right to bore for sulphur water on a lot which Liss owned. A sulphur well was reached, a bath house built and baths offered at an affordable rate of twenty-five cents. The establishment was later offered to the City and is currently the site of the Municipal Pool.
Paso Robles’ growth as industry—wine—has a long history with the area. Wine grapes were introduced to the Paso Robles soil in 1797 by the Spanish conquistadors and Franciscan missionaries. Spanish explorer Francisco Cortez envisioned an abundant wine-producing operation and encouraged settlers from Mexico and other parts of California to cultivate the land. The first vineyardists in the area were the Padres of the Mission San Miguel, and their old fermentation vats and grapevine artwork can still be seen at the Mission, north of the city of Paso Robles.
Commercial winemaking was introduced to the Paso Robles region in 1882 when Andrew York, a settler from Indiana, began planting vineyards and established the Ascension Winery at what is now York Mountain Winery. When York purchased the land, it was primarily apple orchards, with a small plot of wine grape vines. York found that the climate and soil were more suitable for vineyards and he expanded the vineyards. Within a few years, he found that the vines were yielding more than he could market, prompting him to build a small, stone winery.
Following Andrew York’s early success in the wine business, Gerd and Ilsabe Klintworth planted a vineyard in the Geneseo/Linne area in approximately 1886. They were licensed to sell jugs of Zinfandel, Port, and Muscatel, as well as some of the area’s first white wine made from Burger grapes. The Casteel Vineyards in the Willow Creek area were planted just prior to 1908. Casteel wines were stored and aged in a cave cellar. Cuttings from the old vines provided the start for other vineyards, still producing in the area today.
As the popularity of wines began to grow, so did the Paso Robles wine region. Lorenzo and Rena Nerelli purchased their vineyard at the foot of York Mountain in 1917. Their Templeton Winery was the area’s first to be bonded following the repeal of Prohibition.
The early 1920s saw a flurry of winemaking activity when several families immigrated to the area to establish family vineyards and wineries. Sylvester and Caterina Dusi purchased a vineyard in 1924. The old head-pruned Zinfandel vines are now owned and cultivated by their son, Benito. The Martinelli, Busi, Vosti and Bianchi Winery vineyards were also established around this time.
The Paso Robles wine region gained more notoriety when Ignace Paderewski, the famous Polish statesman and concert pianist, visited Paso Robles, became enchanted with the area, and purchased . In the early 1920s, he planted Petite Sirah and Zinfandel on his Rancho San Ignacio vineyard in the Adelaide area. Following Prohibition, Paderewski's wine was made at York Mountain Winery. The wines produced from grapes grown on Rancho San Ignacio went on to become award-winners. Paso Robles’ reputation as a premier wine region became firmly established as a result of this and later successes, and through to the late 1960s and early 1970s, a new generation of vineyard pioneers came forth and flourished in the Paso Robles area.
San Simeon Earthquake
At 11:15am PST on December 22, 2003, an earthquake, known as the San Simeon earthquake, struck about North-West of Paso Robles. The quake registered a magnitude 6.5 on the Richter Magnitude Scale, and caused two deaths when the roof slid off the clock tower building, a popular landmark in downtown Paso Robles. The dormant underground springs that had once been used for the spa were brought back to life by the quake, causing flooding and a large sinkhole in the parking lot of the city hall and library. Due to lengthy environmental and engineering considerations, it took until December 2010 for the sinkhole to be filled and the parking lot resurfaced. Paso Robles has dedicated a new clock tower in memory of the two women who died on that day.