When I moved to Atascadero in 1966, I was immediately struck by the uniqueness of that beautiful building right in the middle of the town square.
Wanting to explore my new home town, I wandered into the building on a Saturday morning and found a woman in a tiny room in the northeast corner near the elevator. She was stacking books. She told me all about the building. Her name was Marj Mackey. We became lifelong friends, and it is she who sparked my interest in local history.
I have grown to love that building. The late Clay Goodrich often said that, “If it weren’t for Hearst Castle, the City Administration Building would be the most talked about and cared-for structure on the Central Coast.”
I have explored every corner, from the shooting range in the basement (still mostly dirt back in the 1960s) to the penthouse on top built by the building’s second owner, Ralph Moran.
On the fourth floor there is a small door leading into the elevator equipment room. Between two brick walls a ladder is affixed to one wall going straight up. You climb up that ladder, crawl across the upper dome to the very top, and then stand up and push open the trap door that lets you climb onto the roof. That is how the Atascadero Jaycees got up there to put up the Christmas lights, and this reporter got to take pictures from there.
The county bought the building in 1951, reserved the third floor for use by veterans, and on Armistice Day in 1952 dedicated the building that became known as the Veterans Memorial Building, a name that stuck until the council changed it in the 1980s. Some still refer to it as the “Veterans Building.”
The building cost approximately $256,000 to build in 1914, was purchased by the county for $70,000 in 1951 from its owner, Dorothy Aldrich, and most recently underwent an almost $38 million rebuild/restoration.
I’ve been peeking through the fence for months at the exterior progress. I’m anxious to see the inside.
Finally, after almost 10 years, the building opens this Friday with a $100 gala special event. You can check with city hall to see if there are still tickets available. On Aug. 20, following a 10 a.m. ribbon cutting ceremony, everyone can tour the structure for free.
Atascadero’s founder E.G. Lewis wrote about the structure, “…being easily accessible from all parts of the Colony and the center of the social, educational and business life of the community, as well as the center of its government.”
Right on, E.G.!
Lon Allans column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.