On Friday, August 24, the city dedicated a plaque to Queenie Parr Warden, who in 1917, six years after women gained the vote in California, became the first woman to run for mayor of San Luis Obispo. The dedication is on the bridge built by and named for Queenie Warden, crossing San Luis Obispo Creek in the center of Mission Plaza.
Queenie Parr was born in Iowa in 1861, visited California as a tourist at the age of 15, came back and settled in Grass Valley with her family at 18, and three years later married the 54-year-old widower Horatio Moore Warden of the Highland Ranch, Los Osos Valley.
H. M. Warden made his fortune mining and operating stagecoach lines during the California Gold Rush and bought a 3,000-acre ranch in Los Osos Valley in 1867, running sheep and cattle and also dairy farming. He co-founded the county’s first bank, built a brick and stone building (the H. M. Warden Block) on Higuera Street in 1897, and served on the school board (personally backing loans to build schools), the board of supervisors, and in the state assembly as a Republican. When he was seventy, in 1898, he incorporated his business holdings, and Queenie Parr Warden became president of the corporation, which built the H. M. Warden, Jr. Building at Higuera and Chorro in 1904. Queenie Warden also purchased and ran the Peoples Pharmacy in the Warden, Jr. building.
Queenie and H. M. Warden seem to have been equally energetic, reform-minded, and willing to put their money where their mouths were. Queenie Warden co-founded the Woman’s Civic Club in 1909, provided it with a building, became its president twice, and pushed through its many civic improvement projects. In 1917, disappointed with city cutbacks, she became the first woman to run for mayor, touting her experience as a businesswoman and civic reformer; coming out in favor of “lights, sidewalks, and paved streets”; and promising to plough her salary back into the municipal band fund, so the band could give two concerts a week instead of the two per month it had been reduced to. (The Woman’s Civic Club had donated the band’s boys’ uniforms.)
An energetic campaigner, Queenie Warden ran advertisements almost daily in the Morning Tribune outlining her agenda. Her opponent, the incumbent Dr. W. M. Stover, ran none. But on April 2nd, Stover beat Warden by 796 votes to 715, or 53 to 47 percent. Despite the disappointment, within weeks Warden was back in front of the council successfully lobbying for municipal funding for the city’s first park (El Triangulo, now Triangle Park) and offering her own land across from the Mission to provide shade trees and seating. In 1918 she remodeled the county’s agricultural pavilion at Monterey and Toro for use by the Woman’s Civic Club. The same year the San Francisco Chronicle named her one of California’s Distinguished Women.
In the mid 1920s the Woman’s Civic Club ran into trouble and dissolved, and Queenie Warden almost went bankrupt. She bounced back, however, and in 1927 she built what became known as the Queenie Warden Bridge, a reinforced concrete and steel structure to give vehicular access to the rear of the H. M. Warden Block from Monterey Street, now Mission Plaza.