Top of the Hill

Bishop Street probably has more “No Parking” signs than any other residential street in San Luis Obispo. Not just during certain restricted hours. No parking—period. That policy is not surprising given the impressive, security-conscious homes that line the south edge of the street.

I suspect those signs are also there, in part, to discourage people from visiting Terrace Hill. Where? Check out any city map. Look over by General Hospital, in between Broad Street and Johnson Avenue—and, yes, just off Bishop Street. Sure enough, there it is. Terrace Hill (elevation 501 feet).

Barely mentioned in any of the city’s promotional material, rarely visited by any tourist, Terrace Hill is a tiny speck compared to the majestic morros that dominate the Chorro Valley. Yet this oversized grassy knoll is surrounded by the history of the community—the downtown and Cal Poly to the north, the railroad to the east, and the ever-growing new development to the south.

Terrace Hill is both a nearly refuge from the city and a unique vantage point from which to witness the evolution of San Luis Obispo. Bill Cattaneo remembers playing on the hill as a young boy in the ‘30s. Larry Martinez has similar memories from the ‘60s.

It is a simple place, lacking the gaudy attractions of the Madonna Inn, the bustle of downtown, or the historic aura of the Mission. Long-time residents and relative newcomers zip by Terrace Hill daily without realizing the pleasures greeting anyone willing to take a leisurely five-minute hike.

Paths approach the top of the hill from all directions. The actual summit is completely flat, the result of the land being razed years ago in an attempt to develop the property. That plan failed and now the public has access to what may loosely be called “open space.”

There are no benches, public facilities, playground equipment, exercise trails, or commemorative plaques adorning the hillside. The grass seems always in need of mowing and a few trash containers might reduce the scattered litter and rubbish.

What draws people to Terrace Hill is the view. And the quiet. On a clear day you can just about see forever. Down beyond the airport, out past Cal Poly. Watch the steady stream of cars flowing by on Hwy. 101, the trains coming up from Santa Barbara. It’s hard to believe city officials haven’t done anything with the spot.

Of course, the people who live on Bishop Street prefer it that way. I can already hear them cursing my name as they read this. I spoke to Jim Armbruster about the situation. Jim lives in the neighborhood and loves Terrace Hill, but he prefers that people enjoy the view from somewhere else.

“It gets to be a problem,” Jim says. “All the trash that’s left behind and the drinking that goes on up there. We certainly don’t need more of that.”

I couldn’t agree more, Jim. Perhaps we need some additional signs around Bishop Street. No drinking. No littering. No stopping. But I have some bad news for you, sir. If people need to find me, chances are, I’ll be parked on top of Terrace Hill.

Telegram-Tribune (1993)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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