Moving Forward: The Garden Gallery Celebrates Its 50th

Written by Sullivan

June 6, 2024

Blink! And suddenly 50 years have passed! July 4, 2024, The Garden Gallery of Morro Bay will celebrate its 50th anniversary on property that was once a boat yard. 

Dick and Barbara Baynham decided in 1974 to make a life altering change that would quickly prove to be the answer to a dream come true – their renowned worldwide appreciated destination garden and retail art complex in Morro Bay. 

In 1957 they had moved to Morro Bay to raise their two children somewhere besides the smoggy foothills of Southern California.  They invested in the corner property on Pacific and acquired the waterfront lease across the street. They worked seven days a week – and even nights – fueling boats belonging to the fisherman and abalone divers during the fishery’s heyday. They operated the Texaco fuel dock, an engine repair shop, a dory-boat rental business, a little motel and even an ice cream parlor for seventeen years, but in 1974 they decided it was their time for a new direction and gave up their waterfront lease site.  

“Build me a shop,” Barbara had said to Dick. He had to ask what kind of shop she was thinking of. “Something really different,” was her only directive.

Her answer stumped him, but not for long. Dick had proven multiple times in his life and career that he was that MacGyver-kinda-guy. And, as a couple, the Baynhams were always a synchronized team. He was the technical, hands-on and she the creative visionary. And once they randomly met up with Templeton’s stylistic metal artisans Jack Augsberger and his son, Randy, at a Los Angeles trade show, their unique storefront development team was born. Dick was inspired to envision, design, and set the evermore style of The Garden Gallery. And the Augsbergers continued to create unique features at The Garden Gallery, including the metal fencing, gates, and signature metal fish sculptures. 

During the initial construction of the garden shop, Barbara’s first themed project in her store, she recalls, “People would peek in and be amazed and curious what we were building.” During their four-day grand opening, Saturday, July 4, 1974, they nearly sold out of the many varietals of plants, including their signature decorative succulents propagated and potted by Dick. He is a Cal Poly graduate in ornamental horticulture. Pottery, garden art, chimes and fountains showcased the greenery in a peaceful setting. 

Each expansion area as the store continued to evolve and remodel adapted to a unique theme — cottage, nautical, Asian, transitional or updated to adjust to the era and trends of that year’s customer. “Today visitors often tell us ‘We’ve never seen anything like this anywhere,’ Barbara said. “For years we’ve heard they visited Morro Bay because they were told The Garden Gallery was a must-visit if anywhere on the Central Coast.”

Barbara and Dick are still very much involved in their creation, and, in fact, they built their Morro Bay home and store offices on a second story. I had the privilege to interview them in their residence, which could easily open to become an extended showroom for display. The home is decorated with the diverse, yet artfully complementary products customers see in the themed sections of her store — ceramics, table and kitchenware, books, wall art, and collectibles. 

“I’ve always selected items that I like,” Barbara said. Her home reflects her favorite artisan’s work, locally sourced and imported. Both her home and her store demonstrate Barbara’s keen eye for décor and display. She chuckled as she recalled one lady saying, “I want that wall.” She wanted everything displayed in her home exactly as Barbara had arranged it on the display wall of The Garden Gallery.

For the past ten years the day-to-day operations have been managed by Chad Owen. He learned their style and vision while working with their son, Ray, in the nursery area and garden shop. They trust the store is in good hands under Chad’s management and creative eye. Mitch Slagle was enticed to move from the hotel industry to supervise business operations and complement Chad’s management style. And when Dick ultimately needed more construction partnering Ron Bean, their roofing specialist, recommended Salamacha Construction. The Los Osos based company has completed ongoing renovations working with Dick’s vision over the past ten years. 

Mitch describes The Garden Gallery’s style as, “It’s indoor-outdoor California living.” The products are versatile, easy care, elegant yet earthy elements.” Soon after the garden shop proved successful regular expansions continue to happen. If you haven’t visited lately, there is surely something new to see. Initially, they covered and added space to the nursery area that has well over 100 varietals of succulents and other plants. The patio which displays larger yard art and numerous fountains, and the pottery storage was opened for customers. Across the patio from the garden shop are eight distinctly styled display areas. And since the Baynhams raised two children, they understood what products would attract and keep the kids busy, so thye designed a children’s almost-hidden nook. 

The Baynhams have been able to enjoy longer and diverse buying trips, family time and establishing another residence in Carmel. Dick started cycling with his son. Barbara tried to join in and once complained about keeping up with them, so the couple adapted to tandem riding. Cycle tours have included many California and European locations and the northwest coastal states. 

The Garden Gallery was such an instant success I had to wonder if the Baynhams had ever faced hard times during their Morro Bay business careers. There was frustration during Covid 2020, maybe more than many of the other Embarcadero shops. Outdoor nurseries in other California communities, including Morro Bay and Los Osos were allowed to remain open. Yet, The Garden Gallery, which management demonstrated it could separate and close off their retail sections from their outdoor patio and nursery area, was not allowed to offer the many visitors wandering the Embarcadero the nursery items primed for planting.  

At the same time trade shows were halted. From their early days in business, Barbara said, “We learned we needed to attend the Florida, New York, the eastern trade shows, to find products our local shops couldn’t find at the Los Angeles and San Francisco shows. After COVID, many of those shows have never come back and probably won’t.”   

What was their fondest memories over the past 50 years? The many interesting people they have met in Morro Bay as customers and friends, on their buying trips and while living in Carmel. Dick has many insights about life of the fisherman and abalone divers during the 50s and 60s. They both have amazing stories to tell. I could have listened all day. 

The 50th Anniversary celebration begins this coming July 4 at their Morro Bay store on the northside corner of Pacific across from the Embarcadero’s waterfront harbor.  So, a heartfelt congratulations! Thank you for creating and continuing operations that attract worldwide customers to Morro Bay. Let’s hope The Garden Gallery will stay unique, and true to its style for another 50 years.   

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