About the Colony

On land use, E.G. Lewis would likely give Atascadero an 'F'

Special to The TribuneOctober 7, 2013 

Lon Allan


This Saturday marks the beginning of nine days of celebration of Atascadero’s 100th birthday, including the big parade and Tent City historical enactment on Oct. 19, and the Elks barbecue and Kiwanis Club dedication of the Centennial Bandstand at Atascadero Lake Park on Oct. 20.

Someone asked me the other day what kind of a grade, as it applies to land use, Atascadero’s founder, E.G. Lewis, would give the city 100 years after his initial efforts to establish a model community in the center of a cattle ranch.

Most everyone I know who knows anything about Lewis acknowledges that he was a visionary, a man ahead of his time. He filed a subdivision map with the county that included the entire 23,000 acres carved into various sized lots, provided almost a quarter of the land to parks and put in place very strict building restrictions and zoning districts, from business to family residences.

Land use was important to this city’s founder.

Lewis wrote in 1916 that he had designed his “estates” (he didn’t like the word “colony”) so that all improvements would be “provided for in advance.” By that he meant he took the cost of the land, his civic center buildings, roads, the water mains and more and spread it across all the lots like a “single tax” (his words) to pay for the improvements, thereby, “making it impossible for a speculator to purchase large tracts of undeveloped land, hold them idle, and let the investments, improvements and efforts of surrounding owners, plus the growth and success of the community, enormously enhance his holdings without his contributing his fair share of their cost.”

He welcomed industry and manufacturing, but pointed out such uses were confined to the industrial center. He required that all merchandising be confined to the large Mercantile Building. “The owner of a lot or orchard may not subdivide it, and may erect only his home and such out-building as he may require for its maintenance or his living,” Lewis said. Professionals could have an office in their homes.

I believe Lewis would have to give us a big fat “F” on how we abused his “estates” by dividing single-family lots into smaller and smaller parcels, how we allowed commerce and homes to infringe right up to the creeks and permitted a mixed-use of commercial, industrial and single-family homes when it suited land speculators to do so.

Land use aside, we deserve an “A” for perseverance, and what we celebrate this coming week is the simple fact that we made it to 100. The first American city to be founded by Lewis — University City, Mo. — celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades, and his column is published weekly. Reach him at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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