ATASCADERO — City founder E.G. Lewis made the first payment on the 23,000 acres that would become Atascadero 100 years ago today.
The first payment for the land, Lewis wrote in a document titled “Bulletin No. 2,” was made on Feb. 6, 1913.
“On February 6, the great property in California, known as the Atascadero (At-tas-ca-dero) or J.H. Henry Ranch, in San Luis Obispo County, on the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad and traversed from end to end by the great state highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles, embracing approximately 23,000 acres of the most healthful, fertile and superbly beautiful lands in the state of California, was purchased as the site of the first great Community of the Womans Republic, and the first cash payment made on it,” Lewis wrote in part.
Lewis wrote that he paid about $850,000 for Atascadero.
Bulletin No. 2 describes Lewis’ grand plans for the land that will become Atascadero, and does so at great length. The 1,622-word document has only 27 periods, making the average sentence 58 words in length.
Lewis’ grand-nephew, Tom Lewis, said that was typical of his uncle.
“That was just his style. His mind saw so much and moved so quickly,” Tom said “He was known to have typed and when the bell would hit, rather than hitting the lever, he would just keep typing.”
And it obviously worked. Now 100 years old, Atascadero is not only still standing, but flourishing, Atascadero City Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi said. But how close is the city now to Lewis’ dream in 1913?
Historian and author of “Atascadero,” Lon Allan said he believes Lewis would be a bit disappointed.
“He was strong on the zoning restrictions,” Allan said. “For example right downtown, those duplexes. He would have said ‘no, we can’t build living dwellings right here, this is for commerce.’”
Tom Lewis disagreed — sort of. He didn’t say that his relative would love or approve of Atascadero as it was now. Rather, he said that Lewis’ Atascadero was wrested from his grasp in the mid 1920s.
“If he had been able to stay at the helm — well, he did seem to have an ability to get the best and the brightest, so what could have happened? It’s hard to say, but he had a specific vision,” Tom said. “But he was railroaded off of his vision and a subsequent myriad of people came after him. He lost control, and once that vision was gone … He never got to see his vision come to maturity.”
“I’m a fan of E.G. Lewis, but he was part flim-flam man and part city planner and dreamer and philosopher,” Allan said. “I think he believed in local rule — of course, back then he didn’t have to go to a planning commission, he was the planning commission, the city council — he was everything.”
Fonzi said that regardless of Lewis’ plans 100 years ago, Atascadero is doing well at present and has a bright future ahead of it.
“Like every city in California, we’ve been hit by the state taking our redevelopment money and have struggled through hard economic times, but we’re coming out of it. We have a healthy city government and we know what we can and can’t do,” she said. “I think E.G. Lewis would be excited by what he’d see. I think he’d be particularly excited to see the rotunda building restored to its original glory.”
Allan said that the birthday of Atascadero is generally agreed to be July 4, as that is the day that Lewis’ wife took possession of the deed for the ranch that became Atascadero. But no matter where you start counting, 2013 looks to be a good year for the city, Fonzi said.
“I think there’s a strong feeling among Atascadero residents that’s different than other places,” Fonzi said. “I think it’s very independent. It’s not cookie-cutter by any stretch, its live and let live. … if a neighbor has goats, we put up with it even if we don’t like goats. It’s just how it is.”For the complete article see the 02-06-2013 issue.
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