About the Colony

Time to put the Printery in mothballs

In the very near future we’re going to hear about a plan by the Atascadero City Council to “mothball” the Printery building, which sits on the corner of West Mall and Olmeda Avenue. The step is necessary to keep it from further deterioration from both the weather and vandals.

The brick structure was damaged in the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, and Federal Emergency Management Agency funds that could have restored it went to build a new youth center at another site.

The building has been there since 1915. In fact, it was the first of founder E.G. Lewis’ civic center buildings to be completed (others included the City Administration Building, Atascadero Grammar School and the Mercantile store). The Printery, however, was pressed into service by January 1916 for printing the Atascadero News, the Illustrated Review, covers for Sunset Magazine and land sales brochures, all of which were mailed throughout the United States.

Through a series of land swaps and deals between the city, Atascadero Masonic Lodge and developer Kelly Gearhart, the building eventually became Gearhart’s property. Gearhart was going to restore the structure, but that never happened because of his recalcitrance to follow the city building department’s guidelines and mandates from the California Environmental Quality Act and, finally, the developer’s financial woes.

So the building sits there with both ends leaning slightly outward, separated at the corners. Almost every window in the two-story building is rotting away and needs to be completely rebuilt. One of Gearhart’s last acts was to remove the bulk of all the interior stuff that was unable to be used again. The inside is almost empty, ready for a remodel.

But that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

In the meantime, the city, unable to get Gearhart to do it, is going to seal up the building to keep rainwater out and the pigeons from roosting. The city also wants to protect the Ralph Holmes murals from any more damage.

The exact costs aren’t known, but figures of $50,000 to $60,000 were thrown around several months ago. Knowing the city is strapped for cash, the Atascadero Historical Society’s board of directors pledged $10,000 toward the sealing of the building. The society invites others to contribute to the effort as well.

One of the society’s goals is the preservation of local history. Only the City Administration Building is filled with as much history and worthy of preservation as the Printery. Restoration work on the Administration Building is set to begin this spring.

But for now, we need to put the Printery away for safe keeping.