When the Atascadero Historical Society was approached by the publisher of the new Colony Magazine to write a monthly column, there was a lot of discussion as to who was going to write it, what should we call it and other general conversations about a commitment to produce a quality piece every month about the history of Atascadero. We wanted it to be relevant, as well as, informative. Naturally, there was no way the Society could deny the request. So the following is the first of what we hope to be many columns to occupy this space.
“The Birth of Atascadero” is a book written by an early resident of Atascadero, Marguerite A. Travis. It is a first-hand account by this author of the founding and development of Atascadero. She was first introduced to E. G. Lewis in 1909 through a subscription to his magazine, Woman’s National Review, which he was publishing while still in Saint Louis, Missouri. In 1915, with her 1-year-old child, she moved from Boston, Mass. to Atascadero, and later wrote this book which traces the development of Atascadero from raw ranchland into a thriving city of more than 1,000 residents in just a few short years. The book is full of personal stories of dances, dinner parties and even local gossip as told through her own personal experiences. It is in the spirit of this book that we are naming this column in its honor.
In future columns, we will share some of the ideas documented in the original Atascadero Bulletins by E.G. Lewis, including his initial vision of the civic center from actual 1914 drawings. These Bulletins demonstrate the tremendous depth and breadth of his visionary ideas that were way ahead of their time. We will also introduce E.G Lewis, and how he came to create Atascadero for those who are new to the area.
We will describe the founding of the Atascadero Historical Society starting in 1965 when two very different groups, each with a vision of saving the history of the community, came together and included the creation of our Museum in 1967. Our museum existed in the Lower Rotunda of City Hall from 1967 until the 2003 earthquake. Our current Museum (located across the street from City Hall), is housed in a 1919 colony home moved from its original location where Rabobank stands today.
The Museum is open Wednesdays & Saturdays from 1 until 4. Please stop by. Future articles will include updates on the progress of the new Colony Heritage Center taking shape next to the Library.
The actual information we will present in this initial column covers the two primary residences that were on the Atascadero Rancho property when purchased by E.G. Lewis in 1913 from Jason Henry. There was the original Henry house located at the North end of the ranch, which is still occupied today. This is where the Henry family lived and ran the ranch.
The second principal home, which was larger and grander, was built by Henry for his daughter after she was married. This house was the house chosen my E.G. and Mabel as their primary residence. It became known as Headquarters House and served as the design and social center of Atascadero during the development phase. This house sat on about 10 acres and had several outbuildings and elaborate gardens. The Lewis’s both lived in this house until their deaths, several years apart.
Following E.G.’s death in 1950 the house was inherited by Mabel’s sister. She continued to live there and as her health failed, the house started to decline. In 1964 the property was bought by a development company, the Williams Brothers. They had plans to develop the property into a major shopping center and had no use for the house and other buildings on the property. They offered the buildings, for free, to anyone who would move them.
A citizens group was organized in early January 1965, to try to save Headquarters House. Ultimately, they failed. At least one of the outbuildings was saved and still exists on private property. With the failure to save the house, the furnishings and millwork and most salvageable materials were removed from the building.
On Tuesday evening, January 26, 1965 (per the Atascadero News, January 28, 1965) this important building was burned to the ground as a training exercise for the Atascadero Volunteer Fire Department. Ironically, the shopping center, where Vons Market now sits was not built for a few more years.
A small plaque now sits in the meridian in the parking lot to the north of Vons.
Other than his grave site this is the only formal remembrance of E.G. Lewis in the town he created and built, and this is actually for his house, not him.
In future columns, the Atascadero Historical Society will share plans for a statue of E.G. as part of our Colony Heritage Center now being built next to the Library.
Till next time…
– Volunteers of the Atascadero Historical Society