About the Colony

Atascadero’s Highway 101 frontage will need work to be called ‘scenic’

I found a small front-page article in the Atascadero News of April 1916 announcing that the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Co. would comply with founder E.G. Lewis’ request to remove the “unsightly” utility poles around the civic center under construction.

That civic center included the Sunken Gardens, Administration Building, La Plaza general store, the Printery and the Atascadero Grammar School.

In reality, it included an area about two blocks square. Undergrounding utilities wasn’t the norm then. All the electrical power to the large La Plaza (originally called The Mercantile) came in beneath the ground.

In the ’70s, I covered a major project to take down overhead wires and poles and place them underground along a long portion of El Camino Real and Morro Road. Getting those overhead wires and utility poles removed really enhanced the appearance of the growing downtown commercial area.

I’m glad to see the city has been taking a closer look at the visual appearance of its sidewalks and streets. The stepped-up code enforcement of signs and banners is an example.

Now I read there is a movement at the county level to improve the looks of Highway 101 as it passes through the area, from Atascadero down to at least Pismo Beach. The goal is to achieve a scenic-highway designation to make the county eligible for grants to bring about those improvements, such as getting rid of or reducing the number of billboards.

Unfortunately, Atascadero welcomed three monster-sized billboards about 15 years ago to be added to an existing abundance of them. There is nothing pretty about a billboard.

Atascadero has some pretty ugly freeway frontage. To market this area as “scenic” would be dishonest at the present time unless there was some major cleanup of the area. But I like the thinking that is going into how our freeway corridor looks not only for tourists, but for those of us who live here.

To designate any place where housing or industrial buildings exists right up to the freeway fence as scenic would be wrong.

I am fully aware that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but to me, a stretch of highway worthy of a scenic designation would be the area just south of Atascadero, with its rolling hills and open pastures of both the Eagle Ranch and Santa Margarita Ranch and even up over the Cuesta Grade.

Now that’s scenic.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.