About the Colony

How did Atascadero lose its historic buildings?

Following last week’s column regarding the original hospital building, I heard from a number of Atascadero residents who said they were born in the old Atascadero Hospital. They liked the idea of trying to get the hospital back into city ownership. One person told me he has the original bill his parents received for his birth in the facility in 1946 — $87.

As someone who has written a lot about local history, I’m often asked what happened to those buildings that aren’t here anymore. Like many older structures, especially those of wood construction, fire is the culprit.

An electrical fire that started in the attic was the cause of the blaze that destroyed the old Atascadero Inn/Mercantile Building on Traffic Way. Steps, a retaining wall and fountain are all that remain today, tucked between the fire station and the Fine Arts Academy.

Fire also destroyed the magnificent two-story E.G. Lewis homestead and its outbuildings. But that fire was intentionally set in February 1965 in order to clear the 10-acre site for a market. It was 10 years before a market was actually built.

The original train depot, which was built in 1922, carried out the same architecture theme (Italian Renaissance) as the downtown buildings, including the city hall. Local citizens were trying to save the old depot when the railroad company ordered it knocked down and hauled away in 1964.

The original ornate grammar school building was torn down in 1954. It was sold in pieces to local folks — doors, windows, cabinets, lighting fixtures, etc.

And now word has come that the original high school building, which opened its doors in 1921, will be torn down. It is known today on campus as the “B” Building.

Its beautiful clock tower was knocked down in 1951 in order to comply with the state’s earthquake regulations for schools. The pitched tile roof was removed at the same time, leaving the flat, square, two-story box you see today. The school’s original auditorium/gymnasium complex was a victim of the wrecking ball in 1973, also because it was considered unsafe.

Atascadero had one of the few high schools to have dormitories for boys and girls. Students from the outlying areas (such as Carissa Plains) lived in the dorms. The last dorm was closed in the mid-1980s. One of the original boys’ dorms, presently located next to the creek at the rear entrance to the campus, is now used for storage.

I hope all those artifacts stored in the time capsule buried near the original cornerstone of the old “B” building go on display somewhere we can all see them.

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.

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