Although students at Atascadero High School know it as Building B, for many in the community it is the last of the original Margarita Black Union High School built on a bluff overlooking the downtown civic center.
Work began on the original high school building designed by Colony Architect John Roth in 1920, but it wasn’t until May 1921 that Atascadero Masonic Lodge No. 493 conducted the laying of the cornerstone. Mabel Lewis, wife of founder E.G. Lewis, was handed the ceremonial trowel to set the cornerstone. A time capsule is placed very near that cornerstone.
Now, after close to 90 years of service, the building is scheduled to be torn down to make room for new campus facilities.
Those of you who graduated from the high school know it looks nothing like the building originally erected in the 1920s. The Italian Renaissance theme of Lewis’ other civic buildings was reflected in the high school, too, with arches connecting the original educational building with the theater/gymnasium.
The original building featured a clock tower, a pitched tile roof and a large library with a fireplace on one end of the building. That area is now the Blackbox Theater. The clock tower provided spectacular views in all four directions.
But in the 1950s, the state of California decided the building was unsafe. The clock tower was taken down, the gable roof replaced with a flat one and the fireplace deemed unusable.
We ended up with the square box you see there today.
The original auditorium/gymnasium was knocked down in 1973. I directed my first two high school plays on that stage, which was also the basketball court. You had to sit in the middle of the auditorium for a basketball game if you wanted to see the action beneath the nets because the ends were blocked by the theater’s proscenium arch.
The reason The Carlton Hotel was remodeled to sport a clock tower on the corner was to make up for the loss of that architectural feature up on high school hill. Santa Lucia Bank, now Mission Community Bank, also included a clock tower to remind locals of the high school’s original appeal.
Preliminary plans call for two new buildings to be constructed in the footprint now occupied by the original building. The multi-story entrance to the high school constructed about 15 years ago hides the original structure. Many had hoped that building would be more reflective of the school’s original design.
The building won’t be knocked down immediately. That action is still one or two years away as a committee works to determine future construction on the high school campus.
Many new and exciting changes are in the works for the high school, but unfortunately the old building must go. It will be interesting to see what they find in that time capsule.
Lon Allan can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.