Like most small towns, Christmas in Atascadero, from its very beginning, has always been a special time for community sharing.
By 1930 the population was shy of 3,000 souls. So there were even fewer when the first Christmas sharing took place in the Community Building constructed in 1920 by E.G. Lewis’ Colony Holding Corp. Lewis convinced approximately 26 individual churches to meet as one in a building he would construct for them. That building became home to the Federated Church of Atascadero, which had actually formed a few years earlier in Pine Mountain Stadium. The building, completed in 1920, was a community center during the week and a church on Sundays.
Here is a typical Christmas program in 1922: There was a Christmas Eve gathering the night before and then on Christmas Day the building opened to the community. Dinner was served family style from noon to 3 p.m. and then movies were shown in the auditorium plus what the newspaper called “a fine program.” Santa dropped by about 7 p.m.
There was special mention that there would be a big blaze in the fireplace. That big fireplace is still there in the lobby of what is today’s Atascadero Bible Church. Those in need were invited into the basement where they would find stores of food, clothing and even money. Thank goodness that tradition of providing for the less fortunate continues today.
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The editor of the newspaper in 1922, Harry Wells, promised in a story that the program “Will be a regular grouch dispeller, if there should happen to be any grouches holding over that long in the day.”
But even before the Community Center was available, the four-story City Administration Building was the scene of elaborate decorations, including the traditional manger scene, and meeting with Santa, who held court in the lower rotunda room.
From 1928 until 1952 the building was in private ownership to three different schools, and not so open to the public. But in more recent times Santa held regular hours in the Administration Building right up to the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, which rendered the building unusable. One of my favorite holiday photos of the City Hall shows a large star suspended over the entrance and greenery stretched across the six columns.
I would hope Santa will be able to host children in the lower rotunda next year when we get our building back.