Future looks dim for Atascadero's Printery

Special to The TribuneApril 14, 2014 

Tribune columnist Lon Allan


Last week you learned that The Printery was a critical part of E.G. Lewis’s Colony development.

When Lewis was forced into involuntary receivership in December 1924, Seattle attorney Oscar Willett was named to head up the Atascadero Development Syndicate (ADS). The Colony was deep in debt. Willett’s job was to erase that debt.

Willett soon found a buyer for The Printery – Frank Moran of Seattle. Moran purchased The Printery, what we know today as the City Administration Building, and the William H. Lewis Memorial Hospital located below Pine Mountain. These buildings became the Moran Junior College, a satellite campus to his main complex on Bainbridge Island, WA.

The city hall and Printery became not only classrooms, but dorms, too. In The Printery, Moran built an indoor heated swimming pool for use by his students. The hospital was intended to serve as the school infirmary.

In reality, the hospital eventually because a part of the county hospital system. Moran built a penthouse on the roof of the city hall building so he and his wife would have a place to stay when they visited their California campus.

The city did not replace the penthouse with the restoration of the building. The City Administration Building was known as “El Roble Hall” and The Printery as “El Rey Hall.”

Moran made a number of changes on the interior of the city hall, too. He closed off four observation windows that provided a second-story view into the lower rotunda. Those windows were opened up once again as a result of the building’s restoration after the 2003 earthquake.

But by the early 1930s the Moran School ended and a new, locally-owned school began in the two buildings, The Miramonte School. It was a sort of a prep school where high-school age students could get ready for a four-year college.

But that school failed, too. In the early 1940s the government leased both buildings for the National Youth Administration to provide a program for at-risk youth. This is where Jackie Robinson worked before making baseball history.

Finally, in 1943, Colonel Benjamin Aldrich opened the Amerivet Technical Institute, which closed its doors in 1951 following his death. His widow, Dorothy Aldrich, sold The Printery to a local group of Masons, who owned it until 1994 when they gave it to the city.

But the Masons took the building back in the early 2000s and gave it to Kelly Gearhart, who built them a new meeting lodge on Traffic Way.

The building stands empty. Rain water has intruded into the interior. Pigeons have found a new home.

The old swimming pool is filled with sand and what some claim to be artifacts from the old Printery days. Faded signs in the pool area caution: “No running.” Doors stand open, making the building easily available to vandals. One exterior wall leans away from the building by almost two inches; the roof probably holding it all together. Most of the windows are broken out.

Early efforts by the city to make Gearhart “mothball” the building failed.

Regardless of who gets the building, it will take several million dollars just to make it safe.

I don’t see a bright future for the building that helped put Atascadero on the map.

Lon Allan's 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 leallan@tcsn.net.

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