About the Colony

What secrets do these walls hold?

I wish I could be among the workers who will be repairing Atascadero’s City Administration Building.

The initial work includes removing the dome and four other buildings built around it — the kitchen, club room, penthouse and storage/meeting room.

This all involves rebuilding the dome, which twisted like a cork in a wine bottle during the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake.But what interests me is the stuff those workers may find as they begin removing the wall covering on the four floors in order to make repairs to the walls that were damaged during the shake.

That building has led so many lives. Some of the more obvious proofs are the large walk-in safes on the bottom floor facing Atascadero Creek, where the First National Bank of Atascadero was born in 1925. I hope the renovation includes removing the plaster/putty that was pushed into the letters “B-A-N-K” over the double doors on that southern entrance. You can still make out the letters when you stand on the steps and look over the doors.

Finished in 1918, the building served as the headquarters for founder E.G. Lewis’ Colony Holding Corp. for only nine years and then became an asset of the Atascadero Development Syndicate. The building was sold to Frank Moran from Seattle who used it (along with the Printery and William H. Lewis Memorial Hospital) for the southern campus of the Moran Junior College.

In fact, the city hall was the main education wing for three different schools. The City Administration Building was known as “El Roble Hall,” while the Printery was “El Rey Hall.” The building was purchased by San Luis Obispo County in 1954 and renamed the Veterans Memorial Building. It was given to the new city of Atascadero in 1979.

The second and third floors were once dorm rooms for the students. Workers are going to discover walled-up showers and maybe some sinks that served those single- and double-occupancy dorms. It would be great if one of those rooms could be preserved as it looked in the 1920s and ’30s, complete with a bunk, wash basin and shower.

I have a nice photo of a school counselor talking to a student. Behind them is one of the four large round windows that are still there today.

Workers are going to find evidence of a fire inside one of the utility shafts unless it was cleaned up completely.

On one of the windows on the north side is a set of initials etched into the glass. The late Marj Mackey said they may have been left by a student who used his diamond ring to make the mark on the glass.

We’ve already found school books stuffed into nooks and crannies. I hope the work crew finds more — of everything.This is a rare opportunity to peek behind the walls of this beautiful and historic building.

Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears every Tuesday. He can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.