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Former SLO mayor and Mission Plaza founder dies

Courtesy John Ashbaugh
Ken Schwartz in Mission Plaza in March 9, 2009

Founder of San Luis Obispo's Mission Plaza and former San Luis Obispo Mayor Kenneth "Ken" Schwartz died Saturday. He was 94.

Schwartz was a long-time faculty member of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Cal Poly. He was also an American Institute of Architects Fellow, an honor given to an elite few.

In addition to serving as mayor of San Luis Obispo from 1969 to 1979, Schwartz also served on the city council and county planning commissions. And he was well-known for the successful, though controversial at the time, effort to close Monterey Street in front of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and create Mission Plaza, part of which he helped build by hand.

“Ken himself was out there laying bricks, along with a lot of people from the community,” Ashbaugh said, “The kind of thing we probably wouldn’t allow too many volunteers to do today.”

John Ashbaugh is a former San Luis Obispo City Council member who remembers working with Schwartz during his time as a city planner and on planning commissions. Ashbaugh said Schwartz was responsible for helping create another San Luis Obispo landmark as well.

“Ken made sure the fountain was installed near the entrance [of Mission Plaza], which is the grizzly bear, along with the Chumash child, a grizzly cub and a couple of salmon in the plaza,” Ashbaugh said.

In 2009 Schwartz was honored with a plaque at the entrance of Mission Plaza.

Ashbaugh said Schwartz was also respected for his leadership style.

“He often would wait until others had articulated their opinion,” Ashbaugh said. “You kind of knew where Ken was coming from, but he was also very often full of surprises. He spoke with a certain gravitas. You knew when he spoke he had been thinking about things. And he had been listening to a lot of people.”

Current San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon requested Monday that all flags be placed at half-staff to honor Schwartz.

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