Engraved atop the Historic City Hall Administration Building is a quotation of focused optimism by town founder E.G. Lewis that face the Atascadero Printery building. His declaration to see the sun, and not the shadows was tested in 2003, just days before Christmas, the San Simeon Earthquake shook the Central Coast to its foundation.
The City Hall building was severely damaged, but reconstruction in 2013 brought the grand dame back to a form and beauty that surpassed even Lewis’ inception. Positioned directly in the shadow of Lewis’ quotation, however, was the Atascadero Printery Building – lone, broken and in need of equal consideration.
Completed and ready for use in 1916, the first civic center in Atascadero at Olmeda Avenue and West Mall, the Salinan brick building was listed sixth of just 37 on the National Register of Historic Places in San Luis Obispo County in 2004, and registered among the California Historical Resources, Office of Historic Preservation. Despite escaping a wrecking ball, vandals have since contributed to the building’s gradual demise.

Images Worth a Thousand Words

In April 2015, a collection of images captured by photographer Rick Evans and posted on Facebook soon drew the interest of several people, including Nic Mattson, Mike McNamara, his wife Karen and others. What if the building could be reclaimed, rehabilitated, and repurposed for community use? Their meeting would become the catalyst that birthed the nonprofit Atascadero Printery Foundation.
On May 14, 2017, a San Luis Obispo County tax auction was held. The Foundation volleyed bids against another interested party. In the final seconds of the online auction, their $300,100 bid secured their emotion-filled win, a cost not far from the $250,000 price tag it cost E.G. Lewis to construct and supply the building for what was once the largest rotogravure press facility west of the Mississippi River. A more formidable challenge is the estimated $8 million needed to restore the building.
The Atascadero Performing Arts Center Committee recently partnered with the Foundation to double their own efforts toward establishing a theater space in Atascadero and enable both organizations to collaborate their efforts toward restoring the 18,000-square-foot building.c

One Good Deed Deserves Another

On May 25, 2018, a Deed Celebration capped the initial stages of securing the structure and kicked off the next leg of community fundraising. A flagpole donation dedication from the Butz family was a visual representation toward staking their claim for preserving Atascadero history with an eye to the future.
Speaking to a group of 70 from the Printery steps with APF board member Nicholas Mattson standing by, APF President Karen McNamara cited the personal investments of board members, past and present. It was a bittersweet, lip-biting moment. Just two months after initiating the Printery campaign, Karen’s husband Mike died of a stroke on the morning of their 36th wedding anniversary.
“There’s no possible way that we would be standing here today without each of your efforts,” said McNamara. “We’ve been a well-synchronized team that’s proven that we’re capable and willing to complete the rehabilitation of our Printery and turn it into a good resource for our community, and I sincerely thank every one of you for all your amazing help.”
McNamara also praised the County of San Luis Obispo for guidance through the tax auction process and support by San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold and her staff for donations to secure broken windows.
“This really has been a rollercoaster of a ride. It really has been a complicated effort. I can’t even tell you how excited I am,” said Supervisor Arnold, who lauded E.G. Lewis’ vision to establish Atascadero Mutual Water Company and his blueprint for the community, the restoration of the City Hall rotunda and the Foundation’s efforts preserve his vision over a century later.

“Without this group, the Printery Foundation, this building, I’m sure, would have just finally fallen into such disrepair that it would have been too difficult to get that back,” said Arnold.

“Atascadero is changing and it’s growing, yet we’re hanging on to our history.” She added, “I predict that this building itself is going to bring the community together, like we do so often when we focus in on a really special project. I think we’re going to enjoy the next few years while everyone works. Some people have financial benefits to give, and some their labor, but I know we’ll all come together.”

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Next Steps

“We’re shooting for five years,” said McNamara.

“It all depends on raising the funds. The faster we can raise the funds, the faster we can get going on this building.”

To this end, City of Atascadero officials scheduled regular meetings with the Foundation to lend input toward seeking grants toward the project goals. One hundred “Founders” are also being recruited to kick off donations of $1,000 or more (there are 55 so far). Aside from financial donations, APF has five Foundation board positions to fill and there’s room for practical help, such as an excavator, fundraising sponsors and more.
During the deed reception, and subsequent Founder’s Reception, Community Church of Atas-
cadero donated $325 in rummage sale proceeds, Nancy Moure and the San Luis Obispo Garbagemen’s Association also each donated $5,000.
In her husband’s absence, Karen is continuing the charge to make the Printery a vibrant and permanent part of Atascadero.
“Mike cared about Atascadero. Nothing he ever did was about himself; it was always about others,” said McNamara. “He wanted this back and it’s my way to honor him. The Printery is for the community, by the community – and that’s how we’re going to get this done.”
To learn more or to donate, visit Atascaderoprintery.org or call 805-466-1961

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