Former San Luis Obispo Mayor Kenneth Schwartz dies at 94

October 20, 2019

Kenneth Schwartz


Kenneth Schwartz, best known as the father of Mission Plaza, a mayor of San Luis Obispo, a Cal Poly professor and an associate dean, has died. He was 94 years old.

Schwartz died Saturday at an assisted living home in San Luis Obispo. He had been suffering from multiple health problems.

A 70 year SLO resident, Schwartz had dedicated his life to education and public service, always striving to bring harmony, peace and beauty to the city.

After an honorable discharge from the Army Air Corps, he graduated in 1952 from the University of Southern California. Schwartz spent 36 years as a faulty member, associate dean and interim dean at Cal Poly.

Schwartz chaired the SLO Planning Commission for six of his eight years on the board.

In 1969, the voters elected him as mayor, a position he held for 10 years. Working with Cal Poly students, Schwartz convinced the city’s voters to close Monterey Street directly in front of the mission and develop Mission Plaza.

“The city not only lost the father of Mission Plaza, it also lost the father of the town,” said T.Keith Gurnee, a councilman from 1971 through 1977. “He transformed downtown.”

In addition to his leadership in the development of Mission Plaza, Schwartz was proud of his contributions to the city’s General Plan, Downtown Concept Plan, sign regulations, street tree planting, Capital Improvement Plan, acquisition of the Jack House and long-term water management plans. He was honored as The Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year in 1992.

Ken was also known as a dedicated family man. He was a loving and generous husband to Martha, father to daughter Lorraine Riggio Schwartz and son Jan Schwartz, grandfather to five grandsons and one granddaughter, and great-grandfather to seven great-grand children. Schwartz’s wife and high school sweetheart Martha passed in 2004.

Schwartz’s family will announce its plans for a memorial service in the near future. The family asks that any gifts or contributions be made in Schwartz’s memory to San Luis Obispo’s many local charities and non-profit organizations, including the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, Central Coast Chapter of Camp Fire, Santa Lucia Council Boy Scouts, American Institute of Architects, the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, the League of Women’s Voters and to the City of San Luis Obispo, Kenneth and Martha Schwartz Mission Plaza Trust Fund.


Thank you Mr. Kenneth Schwartz for your contributions on behalf of the community we call home, and in the lives of young people. You are a treasure. WoHeLo.


Best mayor of all time. When he got involved, San Luis was nothing but a nasty cow town. He had the guts, sensitivity, and patience, to change that. Old timers will recall the Chamber and downtown establishment fought against planting street trees downtown (there weren’t any — imagine how barren that was), and then fought Mission Plaza, saying the creek should be covered over so the plaza area could hold a parking garage. Today’s wrecking crew is undoing everything they can of his legacy (except the plaza) with the backing of the Chamber. How sad. How lucky we were to have 30 wonderful years ushered in by Ken.


“…San Luis was nothing but a nasty cow town…”

Absolute hogwash. SLO has LONG been blessed as a beautiful place to live. Certainly long before Ken’s arrival…



Former San Luis Obispo Mayor Ken Schwartz was a good man, and today’s whacky progressive liberals ought to study his life, so they can learn how to lead.

Mayor Schwartz listened to all voices, brought people together, and always considered what was best for everyone, so he will go down as a giant of a man.

Now, we are stuck with people like Heidi Harmon and Adam Hill, ugh.


Mjd, welcome truisms indeed, but let’s mourning the man who gave us what we’ve enjoyed for living in this once special place. When we’re done with paying our respects, let’s do what he would have done–SAVE OUR TOWN!!!


Heidi and Adam are partying as we speak and can’t wait to dance on his grave.


Oops, obispan – guessing you meant ‘they’ can’t wait… ;)


So sorry to hear the news. Ken was a great man who cared so much for San Luis Obispo. Rest in peace to a man I admired so much. San Luis Obispo has lost the best leader we ever had…


Agree 100% Keith; I worked for him 1969-71. He was extremely intelligent; a kind and wise leader – quiet but tough – one of the few really honest, sincere and well-qualified politicians ever.