San Luis Obispo transformed in the 1870s, when the new Pacific Coast Railway made redwood transported by coastal schooners easily available here. Wood fantasies in the Gothic, Italianate, Romanesque, Stick, Eastlake, Aesthetic, and Queen Anne styles popped up; exotic gardens flourished; gas was manufactured, water installed, furniture imported; and advertising boomed. Yet we were still a Wild West town of violence, epidemics, and culture wars.

As we follow a route south of downtown through Victorian neighborhoods, we’ll uncover the struggle to impose order—social, technological, and cultural—on an isolated and rambunctious town. The lives led by the people who built these houses, businesses, churches, and gardens tell the unexpected story of nostalgia and idealism on America’s frontier.