About the Colony

Atascadero needs to get Colony’s old hospital back

The William H. Lewis Memorial Hospital, prior to an addition that added offices to the front.
The William H. Lewis Memorial Hospital, prior to an addition that added offices to the front.

I read with interest that there is a local group that wants to save the old Printery, the first of several original E.G. Lewis structures in his “civic center.” I’ve always considered the Lewis Civic Center to include not only the Administration Building, but also the Printery, the Mercantile, Atascadero Grammar School, the hospital on the hill, the original Federated Church and the Margarita Black High School.

The Administration Building has been completely restored. The Mercantile was destroyed by a late-night fire in 1934. The grammar school was taken down and sold off in pieces in 1954. The last major building of the original high school is scheduled to be torn down in the near future.

The Printery, which housed the largest rotogravure presses west of the Mississippi River in 1916, was heavily damaged in the 2003 earthquake and is barely held together by giant steel girders keeping the walls from falling outward. Atascadero Bible Church, which grew out of the Federated Church, has carefully preserved that original building.

I have long thought the city should have gotten the hospital built on the shelf of Pine Mountain.

When Atascadero incorporated in 1979, the city was given the Administration Building and the Printery, as well as the zoo. But San Luis Obispo County retained ownership of what was originally known as the William H. Lewis Memorial Hospital, named in honor of E.G. Lewis’ father. E.G. Lewis had hoped that his father would retire to Atascadero and become the first governor of the Colony, but William Lewis died before his son had developed much of his dream city.

The hospital is now sandwiched between Highway 41 and Capistrano Avenue, close to the entrance to Stadium Park.

Built in 1921, the hospital building looks substantially like it did when it was originally constructed with its 30 beds, operating room, a modern kitchen and what Lewis called, “a staff of physicians and nurses of the highest type.”

In the 1960s, when it was a part of the SLO County hospital system, the county built a “square box” up against the building’s ornate entrance for administrative staff offices. That structure could be torn down in a day’s work. The building served as the community’s hospital up until 1978, when a new hospital was built in Templeton.

The county operates a health clinic out of one portion of the otherwise empty building.

The building is very much a part of Atascadero’s earliest days. I would love to see the building back in city ownership. A history center complex consisting of a number of original Colony buildings is planned not more than a few hundred feet away.

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.