Historical Society shows off site progress

Volunteers and visitors at the Atascadero Historical Society's first planned-to-be-annual Heritage Center Culture Day (photos by Camas Frank)

ATASCADERO — After marking the 150th birthday of Atascadero community founder E.G. Lewis in March the Atascadero Historical Society kept on celebrating, starting a new annual event on April 27.

Their first “Colony Family Fun Day” was held at the Colony Heritage Center on three acres next to the City’s Library and County Offices. With two buildings now permanently moved to the site, the Heritage Center is taking shape as a physical archive of historic architecture in addition to a future home of documents and artifacts.

The most recent addition to the site is still the historic 1915-era house, moved early last year to serve as Center’s “Archival House.” Volunteers gave tours of that structure, now safely settled on a new foundation, and the old Boy Scout cabin moved four years ago from the Atascadero Middle School.

Future displays, moved to the Boy Scout cabin for the day as a taste of what’s planned for it as the “Natural History Center,” included a cross cut of a tree which stood for most of the City’s existence in front of City Hall, near the Sunken Gardens, before earthquake reconstruction necessitated its removal. Historic dates are marked on the 87 rings.

Site plans call for a life-size statue of Lewis along with  a “Community Room” and an “Alumnus Café,” but Society President James “Jim” Wilkins noted that ADA compliant bathrooms for visitors and a “Carriage House” with glassed off displays visible 24 hours a day were the next items on their to-do list.

That facility would be newly built but reminiscent of structures that would have accompanied a colony home of the period, think a garage before cars got so big. The Society has set aside funds to hook up utilities as well, a $15,000 job estimate to run power from PG&E, Wilkins said. Even committed volunteers were starting to balk at doing all construction work with generators as the projects progress.

Attendance at their first annual “Fun Day” was slightly more subdued than those volunteers, some of whom appeared in period dress from 1914, would have liked, but there was much for visitors to the City to do on the day and weather was not as cooperative as the during the Annual Colony Days Tent City in October.

Seed planting stations, hopscotch and kickball might have been a hard sell for youth with tickets booked for the latest blockbuster at nearby Galaxy Theater, but several were seen, if not heard to test out the tin can telephone set up near the Boy Scout house.

County Supervisor Debbie Arnold and husband Steve Arnold were among the adults who did stop by for a bit of information and commiseration. Steve Arnold admitted to long ago bouncing baseballs off the Boy Scout Cabin in its former location, but Wilkins noted the intangible ties to history go deeper than he might have thought, as it was likely that Steve Arnold’s mother attended third grade in the building, due to its longstanding use as a school facility.

Even after the move and resting on a dirt floor and pylons, the structure is in remarkable shape, being used as an office for Atascadero Unified School District’s IT workers right up until Construction of the new school, archivist Len Johnson said.

Board member and archivist Jim Blaes said he was eager to get more room for the Center’s collection, pointing to a floor plan posted inside the Colony House which shows their distribution through its several rooms.  Formerly a family home on the Del Rio property where a hotel is now under construction, the building’s rooms are largely intact, although the roof was destroyed by fire and any valuable fixtures were long ago removed. The kitchen and patio were likely added on well after the home’s original construction following the modular designs of the time, and a helpful lack of building permits.

“There’s still wiring,” he said, “it was lived in more recently than it looks, right up until the 80s.”

He added that any remaining plumbing and electrical would be redone in the interests of safety as computers and video systems were planned to help the public access all of their material, most of which has been scanned to digital files.

Wilkins and Blaes encouraged those interested to seek more information at the website: www.atascaderohistoricalsociety.org.

And, next year Wilkins added, they plan to have more to show on their five-year build-out plan.


Volunteers and visitors at the Atascadero Historical Society's first planned-to-be-annual Heritage Center Culture Day (photos by Camas Frank)

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