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Decades-old SLO community house listed for sale; residents rally to continue its legacy

the establishment.jpg
Rachel Showalter
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The Establishment has been a community house in San Luis Obispo since 1978.

For more than 40 years, people have been living communally in a big, green house in Downtown San Luis Obispo. Thousands of people have moved in and out of the house and it’s well known as a creative, community hub in the city.

But now, the home’s owners are listing it for sale. And a group of current and former residents are hoping the new owners, whoever they are, will continue its legacy.

The Establishment, as it’s called, is hard to miss. It’s on the corner of Leff and Santa Barbara Streets downtown. It’s a long building, with 19 bedrooms, and stands taller than its neighbors.

Jenn Yost is a faculty member at Cal Poly who spent many of her college years living at the Establishment.

establishment.jpg
Rachel Showalter
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Residents say the building serves as a model for high-density, affordable housing — something the city of San Luis Obispo is trying to prioritize.

“It seems like it’s the constant filter for good people. There’s always interesting things happening there. There’s this creative sort of cultural engine that comes out of the house and it’s wonderful to be a part of it,” Yost said.

She called it a community center of San Luis Obispo.

“You can always count on the Establishment to host part of the Mardi Gras ride or to host a bike breakfast or to show up at city council meetings and advocate for interesting things in the community,” Yost said.

Now that the house is on the market, Yost has organized a group of 40 former residents to attempt to buy the house with cash and maintain it as a community living space.

“Everybody who is in love with the Establishment, who’s ever come through there, is obviously worried about its future,” Yost said.

Yost said the residents are concerned that the home could be bought out by hotel developers or turned into a private residence. She said it’s also a huge source of high-density, affordable housing that the city stands to lose.

The house is currently listed for $2.2 million. and Yost said she hopes their offer will be as competitive as others that come in.

Sara McEre bought the Establishment in 1977 and turned the house into what it is now.

“I’d like it to be bought by the people in there, if they can do that,” McEre said.

She said even if current or former Establishment residents don’t buy the house, she has faith the right buyer will take it over and continue its community focus.

“We’ve got a lot of big hearts around. And big hearts with money," McEre said. "I’d like to see this throughout the world.”

McEre's daughter, Jenifer Rescola, manages the house and is helping with the sale. She said she understands the fears of the current and former tenants.

establishment yard.jpg
Molly Vanderlip
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Residents say the backyard of the Establishment is often a hub for creativity and collaboration.

But both McEre and Rescola said preserving the Establishment as a 19-person community home is a priority for them.

“We’ve made it clear that that’s exactly what we want as well," Rescola said. "We even told the realtor that — any interested buyer — we need to hear about what their intention is.”

Rescola said she’s sad to sell the house, but it needs a new foundation. She said the family didn’t want to take out a loan to fund it, so they have to sell it to somebody who will. She said she hopes they manage it the same way.

“I am ready to walk around with the new buyer and explain how we ran it and teach them, if they’re interested, of how this works so well,” Rescola said.

Though, Rescola said, selling the house quickly is also a priority.

“It is a priority to sell because it’s more about — the building needs to be fixed, bottom line," Rescola said. "You can’t have this wonderful community if the building falls over.”

Willy Wilson lives at the Establishment and has for the last nine years. She said, during her time there, she’s seen the impact it’s had on the lives of people in San Luis Obispo.

“It’s not just 19 people living together," Wilson said. "It’s 19 people who are intentionally sharing a space and forging a community and making things happen together.”

Wilson said there’s nothing quite like the community in the house.

“It’s such a unique thing that we’ve got going and it would be — at risk of being hyperbolic — it would be really tragic to see that come to an end because of the sale of the house,” Wilson said.

The house was listed for sale last week and there’s no word yet on any official offers. Yost said, even if their group of former residents doesn’t buy the house, they hope whoever does will maintain its more than 40 year legacy.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.