The news item on Oct. 7, 1902, was brief: “F.C. Mitchell, the contractor, has purchased the Murphy block on Osos street between Pismo and Pacific. It is a valuable piece of real estate, and has long been considered a suitable location for ANOTHER (emphasis in original) city park.” While not stated, the Murphy was most likely the early settler, Patrick Washington Murphy, who died the previous year. His most prominent county landholding is today’s Santa Margarita.
The purchase was indeed for the entire block facing the Mitchell home across Osos Street. At the time, it was one of a few residences surrounding the vacant land amid other empty pieces of community real estate.
Muses the article about having another park: “It may not be generally known that the city possesses, near the Southern Pacific depot, a triangular piece of dirt” referred to as the San Luis Obispo City Park. Briefly detailed in these pages in January 2015, Triangular Park, while no longer just dirt, remains a fairly anonymous first park.
While adding a second park was a grand aspiration for a community of about 3000 residents, it would be many decades before the oasis in today’s congested “Old Town” gained official status. So, who was the buyer and why a park bearing his name? Here’s the story.
As amplified next month in these pages, Frank Campbell Mitchell had little to do with today’s park other than to purchase the property. Furthermore, there are slight clues as to his intentions for the approximately three acres. Given his livelihood as a successful contractor, the land most likely was intended for future residences. In a 1905 map, there are tentative indications for residential sites. Then, again, possibly as an esteemed and civic-minded community leader, he may have envisioned simply some open space. In either case, he did not live long enough to see either residences or recreation.
Born on Staten Island, New York State in 1856, twenty years later, Frank labored in San Francisco as a bricklayer. It is his skill as a mason that the young man will use to propel him into wealth and prominence for the next thirty years. Indeed, his contracting abilities are still visible in the community.
For whatever reasons, by the early 1880s, Frank is firmly ensconced on the central coast amid various building projects. Myron Angel in his seminal History of San Luis Obispo County (1883) even illustrates one of Frank’s early buildings for the Goldtree brothers. By the mid-1880s, he has a wife, Mary, and a new home still located at 1429 Osos Street. With the birth of Mary Olive in 1887, the family will grow with Frank Campbell II born in 1892 and the addition of two daughters: Annette (1894) and Priscilla (1901). To this day, the Mitchell family continues his name with a great (x3) grandson, Frank Mitchell V.
The next decade will also prove dynamic as he continued with an ever-expanding business including multiple city contracts for sewer lines and “cisterns.” An energetic resident, there was growing recognition in the political life of the small community. An early post was selection as chief of the community’s volunteer firemen.
With the election of 1890, Mitchell joined the City governance for a four-year term. Contrary to repeated inaccuracies, while he garnered the most votes (427) from the approximate 600 ballots, he wasn’t elected mayor. There was no such office. Indeed, there was no city council but a Board of Trustees. At the time, the councilmen chose their civic leader, the president. During Mitchell’s four-year term, another community pioneer, Robert E. Jack, held the office.
The local press stressed elected office was strictly a community service with few rewards. “There is no pay or profit in it,” reported the Tribune, “little honor, no thanks, and a great deal of hard work.”
As if the municipal duties were not sufficient along with family and business obligations, Mitchell inserted a small three-line notice in the newspaper simply reading he was a candidate for the third district supervisorial seat as a “regular Democrat.” He was successful and there is no indication the new office in 1892 required him to resign from his city duties! Of course, with a county population of 16,000 and the city about 3000, his responsibilities fade in comparison to today’s daily governmental angst. Being chosen by his fellow members as their chairman underscores his continued positive reputation. Unlike today, the added duty was for four years.
Civic duties aside, Mitchell maintained an active business life. A notable construction assignment in 1893 was an addition to the east side of the mission. For $2859, Mitchell built the 26×40 foot brick annex extending toward Chorro Street. In the late 1940s, Sir Harry Downey supervised the addition to the Mitchell addition visible today.
The next year, the Mitchell crew built the brick structure on the corner of Osos and Monterey Streets for John P. Andrews. Having suffered from the monumental loss of his stunning hotel after only eight months of operation, the new venture was made of brick. Originally a bank, it was also home to the first municipal library in the upstairs rooms until 1905.
For the next election as a “regular Democrat,” his opponent was Shaw Smith who campaigned as a “regular Republican.” While both reported spending about $58 for campaign costs, Mitchell was successful with the nearly 4000 voters in a county counting about 17,000 residents. As before, his peers elected him board chairman.
On April 4, 1906, a few months before the supervisorial election, there was a special election of a citizen committee of “Freeholders” whose task was to create a new city charter. Detailed on these pages in April and May 2011, the city wanted more autonomy in conducting its affairs than possible while considered a “general rule” community under the State constitution. Mitchell was elected, again by his peers, to chair the multi-committee Freeholders during an intense two-month series of meetings and discussions. While unsuccessful in convincing the voters to adopt the new charter, a second effort in 1911 proved successful and the city joined a growing list of Charter Cities in the State. With ongoing modification, it still is.
As in all life, accomplishments and recognition are companions to sadder, more heart retching times. For Frank, being an active member of a community in transformation also noted the death of his mother, Ann, at 86 in July 1906. She lived with her son locally but was buried in Colma outside of San Francisco. Frank would join her three years later.
Having completed his second term as a supervisor in 1900, he was granted a respite from civic duties. It lasted until yet another election to the Board of Supervisors in 1908 with selection as chairman. This time, his responsibilities ended abruptly. First noted in the press as “lumbago” in March 1909, followed the next month by a “severe cold,” on May 7, Frank C. Mitchell died “after weeks of suffering.”
Lauded in death as in life, an overflow crowd attended his final services in the Mission, his remains sent to the Elk’s Hall (he had been a member for a number of years), and then transported to a grave next to his mother in a town vastly populated by the dead.
Of all his accomplishments in both a personal and public life, his name is remembered today as the community’s second park (as well as a street). That he had little to do with the property after its purchase, the Mitchell “lot” has its own story to tell next month in enriching the municipal landscape.