ATASCADERO — Dec. 2 was the day Atascadero officially entered the national lexicon thanks to the installation of a giant steel monolith at the summit of Pine Mountain. With its origin, a mystery, the internet, and its 7 billion detectives went to work guessing who, what and why this monolith appeared and turned the town forever into a Final Jeopardy answer.
Many speculated that the mystery object with a mesmerizing metal shimmer had to be the work of some major production company or movie studio preparing for a worldwide release. While those that thought it was a marketing stunt bickered over what movie was coming out next, others pondered if it might have been planted here but our very own space invaders.
For 12 hours, though, Atascadero was the place to be in America. The next morning, tourists from Fresno, Visalia, Ventura, and many areas in the county ventured to the top of the Pine Mountain to see the San Lucia Mountain range’s reflection in the shine of the steel. Instead, they found some exposed rebar and a hole in the ground where the monument once stood.
However, unlike its appearance, a video of a group of teens tearing it down removed all doubt as to if the aliens had returned for their mystery item. For a day, the City sat still, almost unsure how to react to a group of guys coming into their town and removing something that many had claimed as theirs.
Saturday morning, the 10-foot tall, 18-inch wide steel object was resurrected in its place, this time cemented into the ground with its architects ready to come forward.
It was not aliens, Steven Spielberg or Banksy. Instead, the work of two local North County men and the help of one of their cousins from Pleasanton.
Travis Kenney, who graduated from Atascadero High School in 1990, and Wade Mckenzie, who graduated from Paso Robles in 1989, are the master architects behind the monolith, first reported by Yourtango.com.
“We all saw the first one in Utah, and Wade is really into art,” Kenney said. “We’re fabricators, both of us, and he [Wade] has a steel construction business. We are avid hikers, avid mountain bikers, we love our community, we were raised here, and it was really cool to see people out and about in Utah during these hard times that we have going on.”
The structure was erected as a guerilla-style piece of art and has stood, stoic and symbolic, shining bright representing the hope that it has brought to a small town struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic together.
Inspired by the 1968 Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the two men, with the help of Kenney’s father, Randall, and cousin, Jared, put the first monolith up Tuesday in the middle of the night, intending to take it down in a few days later if it didn’t first end up in a frat house.
“Then we saw that absolutely crazy way that it was brought down,” Kenney said.
The City seemingly mourned along with Kenney and Mckenzie at the bizarre disappearance of the beacon on the hill and the newfound fame it brought as a hotspot in the intersection between pop culture and alien fever.
“We are upset that these young men felt the need to drive 5 hours to come into our community and vandalize the monolith. The monolith was something unique and fun in an otherwise stressful time,” Mayor Heather Moreno said in a press release on Dec. 3.
Inspired by the response from the first one, Kenney and Mckenzie went back into the shop and made a second monolith that a group of overzealous teens could not topple this time.
The night of Dec. 4, the two men enlisted the help of 12 or so of their friends and headed to the top of Pine Mountain, this time bringing with them 700 pounds of concrete to pour a foundation that would hold.
“Visually, nothing is different; it is just all the inner structure,” Kenney said. “Wade has a steel construction company, so we designed it more structurally so that if it does stay, it is safe.”
Will the monolith stay is a different story with some hurdles in front of it. Currently, the monolith is on part of the 75 acres of land in Stadium Park-Pine Mountain that is City-owned. The Atascadero News has reached out to the City, trying to find out what will be the next step.
As of now, the City is in the process of evaluating the placement of the structure but has deemed it safe and secure until a more detailed evaluation can be performed.
“We are delighted that the monolith has returned to Atascadero and the way it came back to our City. It brought back the joyful spirit that was abruptly taken away,” Moreno told The Atascadero News.
While it appears that the monolith is now set in stone, at least for a little while, the architects have begun thinking of ways for their piece of art to earn its keep. Kenney and Mckenzie have purchased Atascaderomonolith.com and want to use it to generate revenue that could be given to the City to maintain its hiking trails and parks.
“We are going to try and do some fun things and see if we can’t generate some revenue and give the proceeds back to Atascadero,” Mckenzie told The Atascadero News. “At the end of the day, that is what it is about.”