One of Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis’ ideas was that the individual denominations of churches get together as one. If they did so, he’d create a building for them. Thus was born the Federated Church of Atascadero. Lewis announced that he had more than 20 denominations of worshipers who agreed to meet as a single congregation.
The Federated Church held its first services in 1915 on a Sunday morning in Pine Mountain Stadium. According to Marguerite A. Travis in her book “Birth of Atascadero,” “There were Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Disciples of Christ, Freewill Baptists and more.” It was in the third year, 1918, that Lewis began to make good on his promise to build them a structure.
That building still stands today, as the core of Atascadero Bible Church below the high school. Finished in 1921, the building was used for church services on Sundays, but the rest of the week it was a community center that featured a library, auditorium, billiard rooms, a lunch room and even a swimming pool that served the community until the mid-1960s.
In about 1919 the church purchased a Steinway grand piano that was used for concerts and church services. But when hard times fell on the community, church members who had pledged financial support could no longer do so. The congregation was actually evicted from the building in 1929, according to research by Lydia Schweich in “The History of the Community Church.” A number of denominations went their separate ways. Many of the items were taken from the church to be “saved” for whatever happened in the future.
But the Steinway stayed in the building. Those church members who remained voted that the piano could not be removed without a two-thirds vote of the Church Circle No. 1.
In 1931 the core group at the Federated Church began calling for furniture and other items to be returned to the building. They had found a way to save it from receivership. Individual members wanting a more “old-fashioned gospel” pooled their money to save the structure and changed the name to The Church of the Living Word.
But the piano was moved to a new church, the Community Church of Atascadero, into what is now known as Fellowship Hall. The late Milton Baer played the piano there in 1938 for a Thanksgiving service, and it has been in use ever since.
In 2012 church members wanted to restore the 1915 Steinway and raised the funds to do so. The historic piano will be delivered back to the Community Church this Friday, and on Sunday, a free concert will be played on the grand piano featuring a number of accomplished pianists.
Admission to the concert, which will be in the church sanctuary, is free and begins at 3 p.m. The church is at 5850 Rosario Ave. near the police station.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column is published weekly. Reach him at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.