Atascadero High School's time capsule reveals town's beginnings
Atascadero residents got a peek into the past on Friday, courtesy of a 95-year-old time capsule.
The small copper cylinder spent almost a century inside the wall of what is now known as the “B” building, one of the original 1920s campus structures at Atascadero High School.
On Friday morning, members of the Atascadero Masonic Lodge No. 493 opened the capsule at the high school’s library, removing photographs, newspapers and typewritten notes that provide a glimpse of what life was like when Atascadero was getting its start.
“There’s definitely a sense of excitement, certainly a sense of history,” said Thomas Butler, superintendent of Atascadero Unified School District, prior to the capsule’s opening.
Back when members of the same Masonic Lodge placed the capsule on May 2, 1921, the facility was called Margarita Black Union High School, and the structure containing the cornerstone had a clock tower. The school’s first senior class — a group of five young women — graduated that year, but didn’t get a chance to take classes in the new buildings, which weren’t yet complete.
Even so, they and other students left their mark on the school in the form of the time capsule, which was removed with the cornerstone Friday to make way for the building’s impending demolition.
A 2010 voter-approved bond measure provided $117 million to upgrade facilities at all district schools. Plans to fix up the high school’s campus involve tearing down the old building to make room for an outdoor plaza.
Butler said the demolition could still be a couple of years away, but the district wanted to make sure the time capsule and cornerstone were removed ahead of time.
History is only pertinent upon reflection.
Bill Neely, Atascadero High School principal
Patrick Behr, the Lodge treasurer, had the honor of reopening the capsule — the seal had been broken earlier and then taped closed — and removing its contents in front of the small crowd gathered in the library.
Attendees oohed and aahed as Behr carefully took out items, including rolled-up copies of the Atascadero News newspaper, The Illustrated Review magazine, a blank report card, campus blueprints and coins of various denominations, including a buffalo nickel and an 1880 Morgan silver dollar.
Plans for the school’s cornerstone-laying made the front page of the Atascadero News’ April 29, 1921 paper. Silent film star Mary Pickford was featured on the cover of a May 1921 issue of The Illustrated Review, which was sold for 10 cents.
Behr also removed photographs showing the school’s construction, peach orchards, unfinished Morro Road, Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis giving a talk from an automobile and his wife, Mabel, in a studio portrait. Grammar school students lined up for outdoor exercise in one photograph, the girls wearing dresses and big bows in their hair.
After the ceremony, Behr described the experience as “incredible.”
“I couldn’t believe how well everything held up,” he said.
Atascadero students said they enjoyed seeing what their counterparts from 95 years ago chose to include in the capsule. Some said they might include more items showing their culture and important current events.
“The things that they value are different than what we would put in,” said Denise Burgett, Associated Student Body activities commissioner. “Now, we’re more in tune with what’s going on in the rest of the world.”
Butler and Principal Bill Neely said the school planned to work with the city and the Atascadero Historical Society to digitize and preserve the items found in the capsule.
Both said they’d like to see some of the items remain on display at the school for students to see.
“History is only pertinent upon reflection,” Neely said.