About the Colony

Atascadero place names have changed over time

Traffic streams under Highway 101 at Traffic Way in Atascadero.
Traffic streams under Highway 101 at Traffic Way in Atascadero. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Shakespeare pondered, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Fellow columnist Phil Dirkx told me years ago he had a theory that what you name a child can impact him or her for life. A kid named Bill would somehow turn out different if he were named Fenwick.

Everything we read about Atascadero’s history is “Colony” this and “Colony” that. We celebrate Colony Days and at the end of this month the Atascadero Historical Society will hold its annual Colony Home Tour.

Yet the city’s founder, E.G. Lewis, hated the term “Colony.” He even went to court to get the name changed to “Estates.” He said the name “Colony” didn’t explain exactly what he was trying to do here. But the name never stuck.

Traffic Way was originally known as La Plaza Boulevard. In a number of news stories you’ll see the name written as “Traffic Way/La Plaza Boulevard” or “La Plaza Boulevard/Traffic Way.” The large Mercantile Building that opened in March 1917 was known as La Plaza after a local contest was held to come up with a name for what was Atascadero’s single shopping center.

The late local historian Wally Ohles wrote that the route of Traffic Way, which goes between the site of the old Estrada Adobe and Adobe Springs here in Atascadero, was the original mission trail — El Camino Real, or, “the King’s Highway” in Spanish. It follows today’s Traffic Way, not El Camino Real.

In October 1956, traffic was diverted from the Old State Highway to the new freeway that was moved only a few hundred feet to behind the businesses in the downtown. The downtown at that time started at Rosario Avenue and ended at Morro Road.

So in the mid-1950s a contest was held to find a new name for the old state road, which we all know as El Camino Real. Many California cities have an El Camino Real. Suggestions included the names of Lewis and Sen. Chris Jespersen. A number of local business leaders’ names were entered in the contest, including Dudley C. Elliott and Victor Clemance. Other names thrown in the mix were “Henry Street” (Henry owned the ranch that became Atascadero, “Americadero,” “Old State Road,” “Central Main Street” and “Atascadero Hills.”

All those street names were sent off to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission for consideration. El Camino Real was not among them, according to a story in the Atascadero News.

Prior to this time, many businesses simply listed their location as “The South Highway” or “The North Highway.”

The county accepted the abandoned highway into the county road network soon after the new freeway was open to through traffic. I haven’t been able to find when the right-of-way for Highway 101 through Atascadero was dubbed El Camino Real. It obviously stuck. It’s a good name.

By the way, I love those classic street signs along the former highway route through the length of Paso Robles that read “Historic Route 101.”

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.