Having written about Atascadero’s history for so long, I’m always thrilled when people ask me questions.
Lately, the most-asked question I get is what is going to happen to The Printery, that two-story brick structure sitting at the corner of West Mall (why didn’t E.G. Lewis call it “North Mall?”) and Olmeda Avenue.
The fact is, nobody seems to know.
The building, which during Lewis’ heyday in Atascadero housed the largest rotogravure printing presses west of the Mississippi River, was heavily damaged in the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake. The building wasn’t built to the same standards as City Hall. It was an industrial building.
His advertising brochures, titled “Bulletins,” were also printed in the now-abandoned building. Lewis’ Bulletin No. 9 consisted of almost 100 pages and 550 pictures of Atascadero. The late Will Lewis, nephew of E.G. Lewis, told me that Atascadero was “undoubtedly the most photographed community in the world.”
The presses were removed and sent to Oakland in late 1927 or ’28.
I’ve talked to several senior citizens who grew up in Atascadero and remember playing in the building in the 1950s. The building was wide open and left to vandals. One person said there were hundreds of pictures lying around on the floor. The swimming pool, built for the Moran Junior College, was empty. Today you can still read the signs on the walls surrounding the pool that say “no running.” The pool is filled with sand.
Since it ceased to be a printing plant, it has served as several secondary schools, the local school district headquarters, the North County sheriff’s office, a photographic studio and the location of the Masonic Lodge, which purchased the building in the 1950s. The city even used the building ever so slightly as a recreation center just prior to the earthquake. Lewis’ Illustrated Review and The Atascadero News were printed there, along with many smaller publications that were mailed throughout the United States. Even covers for Sunset magazine were printed in the plant.
I will join two other local historians — Greg Ravatt and Brad Humphrey — to give a walking tour to local third-grade children who will be visiting Tent City on Friday morning, Oct. 16. Our brief walking tour will take us from City Hall to the old fire station, past the site of the Atascadero Inn fountain and steps and The Printery, before getting back to City Hall.
I wish I could assure those third-graders that The Printery will even be around when they become adults. I’ll point out the crack in the exterior wall where it is pulling away from the building. One more good shake, and it’ll be down. I’ll show them a rear window that looks in on the old swimming pool. Even if the building were given to the city, it would cost several million dollars to make the building safe.
I hope the three of us will cause a tiny spark of interest in these 8-year-olds while on their field trip of Atascadero’s historic core.