About the Colony

Atascadero's founder was a good guy who was bad with money

Lon Allan
Lon Allan

I’ve written a lot of words about Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis, many of them about his ability to borrow large sums of money and how his investors rarely got it back.

Even though he was once dubbed “The Champion Borrower of All Time” in a slew of editorials penned by the editor of Sunset magazine back in the 1920s, those who lost money by giving to Lewis continued to love him.

I don’t think Lewis really cared about being rich.

And he probably lost more of his own money in the development of Atascadero and other schemes than any of his lenders. He just wasn’t smart with money — his or anyone else’s.

As most everyone knows, Lewis was eventually sentenced to federal prison for mail fraud in 1928. He was paroled and released from prison in 1934 and lived here until his death in 1950 at the age of 81.

Not long ago, I received a copy of an FBI report done on Lewis in 1940. By that time, Lewis was 71 years old and in failing health. But he wanted to be able to vote and had asked for a pardon from the president to restore his civil liberties.

So the FBI agent talked to a lot of local residents about Lewis in putting together a report to the government.

The local druggist, Mel Hooper, in 1940, said that Lewis “was a man of great vision and dynamic energy but possessed of very poor business ability and a poor manager.” Hooper elaborated that with a population of 1,200 people, Lewis was well-known and that “a number of the people had lost money on his promotions, but that the feeling in town was that it was not due to any dishonesty on Lewis’ part and no person held a grudge against him.”

This part of the federal agent’s report says it best: A woman living in Atascadero had invested $2,000 with Lewis, which was soon lost. The woman procured a gun, went to Lewis’ house and threatened to kill him. “Lewis remained very calm,” local postmaster Guy Southwick reported to the FBI investigator, adding, “and before the woman had left his home, he was successful in obtaining $2,000 more from her to invest in his company.”

At the time of his death, Lewis was trying to put into production an invention he dreamed up in prison. Lewis called it the “Mistube,” which was a combination atomizer and nose dropper. I have a copy of the patent.

I have talked with Lewis descendants to see if he was ever pardoned. Nobody seems to know.