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History of SLO: What is Camp San Luis Obispo?

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Camp San Luis Obispo training course. Photo by Dustin Gil

A convoy of military jeeps cruise by on Highway 1, while a small fleet of helicopters makes a run down the coast of Morro Bay through the evening sky.

There is a military presence in San Luis Obispo.

Though activity of the United States Armed Forces is a common occurrence in and around San Luis Obispo County, some may be unaware that this activity is due to a military camp 12 minutes west of downtown San Luis Obispo. Nestled between the California Men’s Colony, and Cuesta College, right off Highway 1 between downtown San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, sits Camp San Luis Obispo. 

US Naval Sea Cadet Corps building on Camp San Luis Obispo. Photo by Dustin Gil

Formally named Camp Marriam after former California Governor Frank Marriam, Camp San Luis Obispo was opened on July 4, 1928. The camp’s original function was to serve as a National Guard training ground.

In response to the onset of World War 2 in 1940, Camp San Luis Obispo expanded to 14,000 acres and shifted its function to serve the U.S Army, housing over 10,000 soldiers until 1945. The camp also acted as a prisoner of war camp for captured German and Italian soldiers during that time.

Large building in Camp San Luis Obispo. Photo by Dustin Gil

As well as serving the United States Army during World War 2, Camp San Luis Obispo was also utilized as a Signal Corps training center during the Korean War, and then as an Army Officer Cadet school in the early 1960s. As the years went on, the camp switched back and forth between state and federal control, and eventually parts of the property began serving functions other than military use, including being the original location of Cuesta College’s campus.

Buildings on Camp San Luis Obispo. Photo by Dustin Gil

“Portions of the original state owned land that was once Camp San Luis, were at various times transferred to the California Department of Corrections, the County of San Luis Obispo, and Cuesta College,” Army Sergeant First Class Gregory Silva said. “The original Cuesta College campus was located in former Camp San Luis Obispo buildings where the California Conservation Corps is currently located today. The old campus was relocated once the new campus was constructed on the land transferred to the college.”

Original 1970’s Cuesta College Map

Camp San Luis Obispo has a long history of serving the state of California, as well as the U.S. government. Once containing an artillery and infantry camp, all that remains on the grounds today  are portions of the artillery camp with a training facility still present, including a firing range and obstacle course. To this day, Camp San Luis Obispo is still utilized by the National Guard, Army and Coast Guard, along with other organizations like the Grizzly Youth Academy, Cal Fire and California Conservation Corps.