On May 2, 1921, Masons from all over California, including those from the Grand Lodge of California, gathered in Atascadero to place and dedicate the cornerstone of a new clock tower on the campus of the city’s new high school. In addition to dedicating the cornerstone that day, the Masons also placed a small, metal cylinder beneath the stone containing a treasure trove of photos and documents chronicling the early days of Atascadero and the school that would eventually become Atascadero High School.
Masons, city officials including Atascadero founder E.G. Lewis and even the governor of California, William Stephens, gathered at the steps of the City Administration Building with the cylinder in-hand and marched it across the sunken gardens and the Atascadero Mall, up the hill to the high school, which had been under construction for four months at that point.
The sealed cylinder was left in the darkness, buried beneath the school’s clock tower and, after the tower was demolished, beneath the school’s B building for nearly 100 years and was nearly forgotten.
The B Building is set to be demolished sometime in the next few years and, based mostly on stories and rumors of a time capsule hidden beneath the building’s cornerstone, members of the Atascadero Greyhound Foundation began searching for the cylinder in hopes of including the information contained within in a book being written by local historian Lon Allen to mark the 100th anniversary of Atascadero High School in 2021. In early December, after several months of searching, they were able to locate and remove the capsule.
In a ceremony at Atascadero High School Friday, Jan. 6, members of the Masonic Lodge of Atascadero officially decommissioned the cornerstone and removed the items from the time capsule one-by-one as an excited crowd of city and school officials, students and residents looked on.
“This should take us back virtually 100 years, 95 years ago when all of this got started, when that school went up and all the great history and all the great learning events were right here,” said Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Thomas Butler. “The masons were right there at the beginning and it’s only fitting that they’re here today. Let’s share in the excitement of this moment, let’s share in just honoring the great history of Atascadero High School and this great community that we serve.”
Mason Patrick Behr removed the items from the capsule one-by-one, holding up each item for the crowd to see and providing a brief description. Items removed from the capsule include photographs of the construction of Atascadero High School (then called Margarita Black Union High School), photos of the construction of the Rotunda Building, a blank report card from the school, a list of the high school curriculum, copies of the Atascadero News and Illustrated Review, coins of several denominations, the original blueprints from the high school construction and more.
“It’s exciting because we’re surrounded by history,” Allen said. “Things take place and we kind of take it for granted – we drive, we park, we work or attend school and we go home, but those days became years and those years just add up so quickly.”
The collection is currently being preserved and digitized by members of the Atascadero Historical Society and will be reproduced for displays at the high school and possibly at Atascadero City Hall. The collection will also be available for public viewing online at some point in the future.
Once the B Building is demolished at the high school, there are plans to use the space for an open, grassy, quad-like area where the original cornerstone will be placed at the base of a flagpole, complete with a new time capsule buried beneath. Atascadero High School Principal Bill Neely said that over the next couple of years, AHS students would be involved in determining what will be placed in the new time capsule.
“We’re very excited about what those things might be,” he said.