By Members of the Atascadero Historical Society

As sure as day follows night, Back to School follows Cruisin’ Weekend. School and automobiles have factored prominently into the Atascadero scene from the beginning.

Master planned over 100 years ago specifically to accommodate and promote the use of the automobile, Atascadero is located midway on ‘The Coast Road’ now known as Highway 101. Atascadero’s winding residential roads and “lot and block” civic center have been fun to drive on. Of course, downtown parking is still a work in progress — fortunately, a sign of a growing community.

Education was so important that the school buildings were an integral part of the original Civic Center Development Plan. The high school and original grammar school (where the junior high now resides) were thoughtfully located. The high school with its promontory view of the civic center provided the teenage students with a unique perspective of their community while the grammar school was in the heart of the civic center, among the community resources and watchful eye
of adult residents.

The automobile is so woven into Atascadero’s beginning that upon the death of Margarita Black, a high school student and Atascadero’s first automobile fatality, the high school was named in her honor, known as Margarita Black High School, then Santa Lucia High School and finally
Atascadero High School.

 Atascadero’s founder, E.G. Lewis, fancied fine automobiles and thoroughly enjoyed driving, even after being compromised by a stroke and becoming a notorious risk on the road. On one trip to San Luis Obispo, he failed to negotiate a turn on the grade and abandoned his car. He was cited for reckless driving and in return suited the County for failure to post a hazardous condition and prevailed. Eventually and sadly (for him) he surrendered his license to the sheriff, vindicating the numerous complaints by citizens that had shared the road with him.

100 Years Ago in Atascadero

Perusing the 1919 editions of the Atascadero News we found a couple interesting articles:

 “COAST ROAD IS NOW THE BEST – Line to Have Chance Nature Intended”.  There was no Hwy 1 then; it was not substantially completed until well into the Depression years.  At that time the 101 was known as the Coast Highway.  “…However, when the Coast line was built and tourists discovered it, they began at once to insist upon that line, in preference to the valley line, which was left more and more as a business line… This is pleasing news in Atascadero, for the Coast line goes right past Atascadero’s front door, passing for ten miles through the Atascadero estate…. In an official pronouncement by the manager of the Tourist Bureau of the Automobile Club of southern California…’ we are now and have been for some time sending practically of our inquirers by way of the Coast route.”

“SWEEPING SCHOOL CHANGESProposals are Likely to Be Adopted” This front-page article addresses proposed changes in school administration, costs and educational requirements. How much has changed in the past 100 years? Here are some excerpts to give you the flavor of recommendations to the California state board of education. “Among the radical changes recommended were, making the county rather than the school district the administrative  unit  …bill increasing the amount apportioned by the state from $15 to $17.50 per pupil school year and increasing the county apportionment from $550 to $750 per teacher… compulsory part time or continuation education for all minors between the ages of 12 and 18 not attending full time public or private school or classes for at least 4 hours a week during at least 36 weeks of the year……we favor requiring instruction in reading, writing and speaking the English language and in American citizenship to be given all minors between the ages of 12 and 21 who are not able to use the English language as required of pupils of the fifth grade in the elementary schools, …. better enforcement of compulsory education and child labor laws… plans for the education of illiterate minors, non-English speaking minors, cripples and all classes of typical children”

50 Years Ago in Atascadero

A lot changes in a half-century yet many things stay the same.  By 1969, ten years before incorporation as a city, cars were more popular and much more populous. Thank goodness for the foresight to accommodate them and the car dealers who met the need. Of course, as the student body increased so did the demand for teachers and for ‘back to school’ specials for both educational needs and that celebration of the changing of seasons. Of course, as day follows night, the new model year cars debut followed on the heels of the new school year.  Check out this full-page ad from the 1970s and also the bevvy of new teachers that were introduced that year. Can you identify a teacher you or your grandparents remember?  How about that sedan or muscle car stashed in garage of someone you know? Well, it is that time of year again. Hmm, wonder what it will be like in another 50 years….