Fifty years is a long time for accumulating “stuff,” and sometimes the most amazing stuff turns up in expected places.

Such was the case recently when the Morro Bay Harbor Department began working on rehabbing the building that housed the Morro Bay Aquarium for over half a century.

Since the 1960s, the aquarium’s owners, Dean and Bertha Tyler, who have both now passed away, along with grandson John Alcorn, spent a significant portion of their lives dedicated to the care of the animals under their supervision. They practically lived at the aquarium. 

All that ended in October 2018, when the lease expired, after the City Council declined to give the Tylers an extension, preferring a proposal/partnership with Central Coast Aquarium in Avila Beach to build a new facility.

When the aquarium closed, much of the contents were removed by the family, but as one might expect after 50-plus years, much was left behind.

Harbor Director Eric Endersby, who’s tasked with getting the building rentable before it’s remodeled into a microbrewery pub, said, “When they left, they left a lot of stuff, including some stuff that has historical significance.” 

Eric Endersby

The City had to dive into the left-behinds when issues came up as to whether it was unreinforced masonry (it’s not), and whether an interior wall was load-bearing.

The search for documents led first to the Planning Department and eventually back to the aquarium and to Dean’s little workshop on the dock, where they found a trove of items and oddities.

Among the things they found was about harbor seals, “Cajun” and “Army;” pictures of a baby sea otter, Lily, that Bertha rescued and raised by hand; a U.S. Navy dive manual from 1963; and copies of a photo with Dean, David Thomas, Ernest Porter and Laurne Thomas, shown with a pile of brass salvaged off Pt. Honda, remnants of the U.S. Navy’s greatest peacetime loss, the Point Honda Disaster.

The photo’s entitled, “Brass salvaged from W.W. I destroyers off Pt. Hondo, California” and dated July 1958. Another photo shows the ship’s bell of the USS Young, a destroyer lost in that 1923 tragedy, on display in the aquarium.

There were also a couple of specimens in jars left behind, Endersby said, including a large mammalian eye and what looks like a giant tapeworm (possibly a hagfish). 

Hagfish specimen

They also found the documents they needed along with copies of City permits and inspections, “with all the boxes checked,” Endersby said. That has satisfied engineers designing the remodel, helping clear the way for the City to move forward, too.

“I don’t think Dean ever threw away anything,” Endersby said. “He saved everything.” This time, though, he also saved the day.