SLO's renovated and expanded Octagon Barn Center opens

Sep 21, 2019

After a 20-year-plus effort, a San Luis Obispo landmark is opening to the public. The Octagon Barn, just south of the city limits, is now a community center. Built in 1906, the unique, eight-sided agricultural building was a key location in the early years of the county’s dairy industry. But by 1997, it was falling down and on its way to demolition.

“The Hayashi family owns it and back in ‘97, since it was falling down, they were getting really worried about it being a hazard,” said Kaila Dettman, executive director of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo (LCSLO), the nonprofit that is managing the property in a public-private agreement with other local entities.

During a tour for KCBX News this week, Dettman said when the Hayashi family checked in with city staff about tearing the building down, the staff recommended they talk to the Land Conservancy first.

“The Hayashis approached us, and we said, ‘oh yeah, absolutely we would love to help save that historic structure,’” Dettman said.

Dettman said besides state grants, the Land Conservancy received private grants from area foundations to pay for the $7.2 million dollar project. That included site improvements, construction of a new building and major renovation of another, picnic benches, landscaping and more on a two-acre parcel leased to the Land Conservancy for 98 years. 

“[San Luis Obispo] County Parks really built the parking lot and the turn lane and those were a big capital improvements,” Dettman said. “In exchange, we'll manage the site going forward, to be the staging area for the Bob Jones Trail.”

The facility is comprised of a newly-built building, along with major renovations to another building and the barn. The new “Shed,” as LCSLO staff call it, has public restrooms, a ‘green room’ where performers can store their gear and prepare, an expansive room with barn doors on both sides that open onto patios, and a room where a caterer could set up and serve events at the center.

There is also what is termed the “Milking Parlor,” a completely renovated building that can accommodate up to 100 people for lectures, meetings or films. The hall-type building has a full AV set-up with projector, drop-down screen and audio system, along with a kitchen.

“We could technically do 300 events a year,” at the Octagon Barn Center, Dettman said. “We're definitely not going to reach that capacity anytime soon. We want to make sure we're focusing on keeping the facility nice; a lot of events can be kind-of hard on [a facility.]”

Dettman said the LCSLO wants to find “that balance of doing really good, high-quality community events, and then some commercial events—private events—to help pay the bills,” Dettman said.

Two LCSLO staff will manage private and nonprofit rentals and other aspects of running the new center, Dettman said It will also serve as a community venue, and eventually, as a staging area for the planned extension of the Bob Jones Trail. As it is, people will be able to meet there, use the restroom or get a drink of water, and set out on bicycle rides or runs.

“Our plan is that in 2020, the barn will be open, the gates will be open...the grounds will be open for people dawn to dusk, and we'll have docent tours at specific times during the week,” Dettman said.

Now that new center—with its own well, water-treatment plant and solar panels—is almost fully completed, the organization is throwing a party as a grand opening on Sept. 21.

“Over a thousand people have given everything from five dollars to a thousand dollars to help make this happen,” Dettman said. “And we’re so grateful to everyone.”

More information can be found at octagonbarn.org.