Every now and then I take my turn as a docent for the Atascadero Historical Society to lead tours through the City Administration Building. Although the cornerstone was put in place in the summer of 1914, the structure wasn’t finished until the summer of 1918. So we’ll wait awhile for the city hall’s 100th birthday bash.
The building made a spectacular comeback from the 2003 earthquake and was reoccupied during the city’s 100th birthday celebration last summer.
I’m delighted to learn the building is receiving an award from the state Office of Historic Preservation in recognition of “outstanding achievements in the field of historic preservation .”
I was bragging about the building to a couple on my tour last Thursday. They were from London. When I said the building was almost 100 years old they reminded me that where they are from structures date to the Middle Ages. Oops, that’s right. In California we think a building is old if it dates to the 1800s.
We do have two buildings in our city that date to the 1800s — the Henry House on San Ramon Road and what is left of the Estrada Adobe on Traffic Way.
But age aside, I never tire of showing off Atascadero’s city hall.
I first stuck my head in the back door in the fall of 1966 just after I moved here. That is where I discovered Marj Mackey, a woman who would become a lifelong friend. She was stacking books in a corner of a room that eventually became the police chief’s office.
Over the next 30 years, I’ve dug through the dirt floor in the basement looking for artifacts and climbed a ladder between two confined spaces that took me to the very top of the upper rotunda, where I was able to climb out onto the roof. I was up there to photograph volunteers from the Atascadero Jaycees who were hanging Christmas lights. The lighted star that graced the top of the building for more than a half century now stands on display in the first room you enter off the Sunken Gardens side of the building.
It is too bad the city and the Historical Society seem to limit the history of the building to 1924. There are a lot of wonderful pictures of the town as it evolved after founder E.G. Lewis was forced into receivership. Moran Junior College, Miramonte School, Colonel Benjamin Aldrich’s Amerivet Memorial Institute School and more occupied the building longer than E.G. Lewis did. It was the colonel’s widow, Dorothy, who sold the Administration Building to the county and the Printery to the Masons, in 1952.
Unfortunately, the building remains locked up beyond the first floor entrance.
Guided tours, however, are available Monday through Thursday from noon to 2 p.m.