About the Colony

Plenty of celebrities have been spotted in Atascadero

Lon Allan
Lon Allan

Ever since I learned that this California rancho we now know as Atascadero was a military training camp, I’ve been interested in learning the names of people who have dropped in, either as a resident for a brief period of time or just passing through.

That military camp — Camp Atascadero — was held here from 1904 until 1912. The government wanted to buy the ranch as a permanent training facility, but E.G. Lewis slipped in and bought it first. The man in command of that camp was Gen. Arthur MacArthur (yep, famed World War II soldier Douglas MacArthur’s dad).

Going through past editions of Atascadero News, you’ll encounter pictures of E.G. Lewis posing with pianist Ignacy Jan Paderweski or Senate candidate George S. Patton, the father of “blood and guts” George S. Patton II, also of World War II fame.

I’ve written in the past about Jackie Robinson’s brief residency in Atascadero before the war. During the war, a man by the name of Jonathon Jackson Christian, who was in command of the field artillery at Camp Roberts, rented that stand-out brick Colony House on El Camino Real just north of Curbaril Avenue. He was the grandson of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson of the Civil War.

Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, who were married in San Francisco in January 1954, were seen strolling along El Camino Real early one morning, looking into the large windows at the Carlton Hotel. The couple spent the night before in Paso Robles.

Remember when Max Rafferty was state superintendent of schools in the 1960s? He served from ’62 to ’70 and then lost to Wilson Riles.

Rafferty’s sister, actress Frances Rafferty Baker, lived here just across the Salinas River. The former dancer and actress played on the TV show "December Bride" for five years with Spring Byington and Harry Morgan. Frances was one of the founders of the North County’s outstanding amateur theater group Pioneer Players. The Raffertys’ mom lived here, too, in a modest little house on Olmeda Avenue just off Rosario Avenue. Frances’ son, Kevin, has recently moved back to town. One of my former students, Kevin phoned me recently to say hello.

Also in the mid-’60s, just up the road from Frances Rafferty’s ranch house, actor Robert Mitchum owned the horse ranch that backs up to the Salinas River. His son, Chris, will be challenging Rep. Lois Capps in November for the 24th congressional seat.

In the 1930s, Clark Gable got a speeding ticket for driving too fast on the state highway through Atascadero, which is now El Camino Real. When presented with the ticket, he admitted his transgression and told the officer he would be more careful when “passing through such a beautiful little town.”

Hoot Gibson made movies here in the 1920s.

Sally Rand danced in the La Moda Theater at about the same time.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans stopped here to visit relatives in 1951.

Former Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax was frequently seen at the local golf course and coffee houses after he retired from baseball.

Just file this column away as blatant name dropping. It sounded fun at the time.

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