a Spanish name which, loosely translated means “a place of much water,” was originally home to the Salinas Indians.
In the half century between 1769 and 1823 the Spanish Franciscans established 21 missions along the California coast, including the nearby Mission’s San Miguel Arcangel, and San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and California became a Mexican province.
The settling of Atascadero began with the Franciscan clergy who managed the 60,000 acre Rancho Asuncion until 1833, when the Mexican government secularized the mission lands. Governor Rio Pico then granted Pedro Estrada nearly 40,000 acres, part of which would eventually be a portion of the 23,000 acre Rancho Atascadero. Ownership of 61,000 acres was held, at one time, by Patrick Washington Murphy. Eventually, J.H. Henry became the owner of the Atascadero Ranch.
The community of Atascadero was founded in 1913 as a utopian, planned colony by Edward Gardner Lewis, a successful magazine publisher from the East. He had previously created such a community at University City, Missouri. When he saw the Atascadero Ranch in 1912, Lewis put together a group of investors from across the country, paid J.H. Henry $37.50 an acre, and celebrated acquisition of the Rancho on July 4, 1913.
In 1914 the land was surveyed and subdivided. Thousands of acres of orchards were planted, a water system was installed and construction began on an 18 mile road (Highway 41 west) through the rugged Santa Lucia mountains to the ocean, where Lewis built cottages and a beach front hotel called the Cloisters.
Atascadero’s Tent City:
As investors from throughout the United States came to homestead their little piece of California, the area was transformed into a “tent city” situated on land now occupied by Bank of America. Lewis employed the services of experts in agriculture, engineering and city planning to develop his dream colony for the anticipated 30,000 residents.
The first civic building in Atascadero, The Printery, had the first rotogravure presses west of Chicago. Lewis then published the Atascadero News, a local newspaper, and the Illustrated Review, a photonews magazine. The Centerpiece of Lewis’ planned community was an Italian Renaissance style building built between 1914 and 1918 with bricks made from local clay. This unique and beautiful building has become one of California’s Historical Landmarks.
Many of the very principles that E.G. Lewis envisioned for his “utopian city” are ensured through the city’s general plan, which includes preservation of open space, protection of trees and hillsides, the keeping of domestic animals, and large lot sizes. It was Mr. Lewis who first had the vision in which he foresaw the future of Atascadero as a creative, rural community.
Atascadero was incorporated in 1979. Today,with nearly 28,000 residents, Atascadero is the third-largest city in San Luis Obispo County.