About the Colony

Carlton Hotel corner alive again

Back in 1928, the Atascadero Development Syndicate, headed by Oscar Willett of Seattle, ripped out a large oak and razed the Lone Star Garage at the corner of the State Highway and La Plaza Lane. Today, the location is El Camino Real and Traffic Way.

Town founder E.G. Lewis had been relieved of anything to do with Atascadero three years earlier. A new single-story building was begun, but before it went much further, the man leasing the former Mercantile Building said he wanted to add a second floor with 52 rooms. A large concrete beam over the corner entrance had the letters “ADS” molded in. It was there until the wall was knocked down in 2000.

One month after the fall of the stock market in 1929, the two-story building opened with a restaurant, hotel rooms on the second floor, and three national retail stores below, J.C. Penney, Safeway and Sprouse-Reitz. The restaurant was first known as the Hotel Halfway and Coffee Shop because it was a subsidiary of the large Atascadero Inn two blocks away toward Olmeda Avenue.

But in 1932, the new owner, Nola Tunks, renamed the complex The Carlton Hotel and had a large sign put on the roof. Pieces of that original sign remain there today.

After the inn burned down in 1934, The Carlton’s corner restaurant became a popular local hangout. The only other significant change to the look of the building came in the mid-1950s when yet another owner, Phillip Zarabozo, erected a clock tower at the corner to replicate the clock tower that was torn down at Atascadero High School. One of those original clocks is now mounted on the wall outside the bakery/hotel lobby walk-through.

Kent Kenney remembers stories from his grandmother, who worked as a waitress in The Carlton, which sported a large horseshoe-shaped lunch counter. A door from the lobby of the hotel took you right into Baker’s Pharmacy.

Unfortunately, the building fell onto bad times and sat empty for almost 20 years until a brand-new hotel was built into it by David Weyrich and opened in 2004.

Former Mayor Bob Wilkins always said what this town needs is a parking problem.

Well, folks, we have one, thanks to Jack and Natalie Dorris, who moved their very popular Colby Jack Cafe into the building in November. There are people walking the sidewalk, people waiting for the traffic signal and people hunting for noon-time parking around the block. Friends are meeting friends for lunch. I saw a group from the Red Hat Society meeting there last Friday. They seem to have fun wherever they gather.

It appears the glory days of The Carlton as Atascadero’s downtown go-to place has taken on a new life once again.

It is a good way for Atascadero to be starting a new year.

Reach Lon Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.