By Volunteers of the Atascadero Historical Society

The plan for the Colony of Atascadero stood out as ‘one of the most remarkable’

In a July 1915 report to the Public Works Department of Victoria, Australia, John C. Morrell presented a study of city planning with respect to the Garden City movement, popular in Britain.
Listed among the names of the major American cities of Washington, D.C, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Boston, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, Atascadero’s original planning was called “one of the most remarkable and successful developments in the history of the world.”
Following is the Atascadero portion of the report in full, edited only for spelling corrections. We feel it expresses an honest snapshot of what was planned and intended for Atascadero, absent of the promotional material circulated by E.G. Lewis and absent the cultural and social problems that plagued America through the 19th and 20th centuries. It simply speaks to the idea of what a city could imagine for itself and what benefit city planning provides to the benefit of all of its residents.
Opening, J.C. Morrell addressed the parliament and we will skip to page 61 of his report to begin the portion dedicated to the impressive planning done here in Atascadero — news of which made a name among the stars on the other side of the planet.
Sir, I have the honour to present to you a Report from investigations made during an official visit to England, Scotland, and the United States of America on Town Planning.
The information contained in this Report is intended to show what is being done in other countries to avoid the danger, as threatened in most cities, by insanitary conditions, bad housing, and bad town planning, and to illustrate also what may be done in Victoria for the improvement of our cities, as well as for the health and welfare of our citizens.

The following is from pages 61-64 of J.C. Morrell’s report

Probably one of the most remarkable and successful developments in the history of the world, with regard to the establishment of a city and its surrounding country, Atascadero was created by the desire of one person who wished to obtain a few acres in California so that he might lay out the area of land in orchards and groves, and live month them in independence.
That was the desire of the editor of an American newspaper, the Women’s National Weekly; but, having no experience in horticulture or agriculture, guidance was necessary, together with expert advice in regard to soil, the proper planting, selection, and carve of the trees until brought to successful bearing, and, after that, with regard to marketing, preserving, canning, storage, etc.
With these thoughts, realizing that the cost of all this expert advice would be enormous if borne by one individual, it occurred to him that possibly there were thousands of other people who wanted to secure a home and live in the same manner as himself, but were deterred by the dread of isolation or rural life, with its discomforts and inconveniences, by limited knowledge of horticulture, ignorance of local conditions, markets, scientific methods, and all the other attendant difficulties. So he announced through his paper his ideas in regard to the venture, and undertook to find and purchase a large property in California, ideally suited in every way for the establishment of a great community. An immense area was to be purchased wholesale in one tract; the most eminent experts engaged to take charge of every feature of the project; the property surveyed and plotted into 5 to 10 acre orchards and groves exhaustive test made of every acre to determine its peculiar chemical, bacteriological, and moisture content, and thereby determine what each acre was best adapted for. Good roads, water and drainage systems and other utilities were to be provided; two model cities built — one a civic centre, with beautiful public institutions, and the other an industrial city, to locate the general manufacturing and industrial activities of the community. That during the period of clearing, cultivating, planting, of road construction, of building the civic centre, and industrial buildings. All these matters were to be left entirely in the hands of the commission of experts, while the purchasers were to remain at home and earn their present incomes until such time arrived when they could come and live on their properties in readiness for use and enjoyments, instead of as in the ordinary method, which takes years to overcome the preliminary work before any benefit is gained.
This plan, as announced, met with instant and nation-wide response. A limit of 10 acres was placed, and within a few weeks, more than 20,000 acres of the proposed community had been placed under option.
The plan has been carried out on the exact lines as announced. The property was purchased on the 4th of July, 1913, and is situated about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, in San Luis Obispo County, the dimensions of the land being 10 miles long and 7 miles wide. The plan shows the estate lying in a great horseshoe bend of the mountains.
The prices fixed for the land include the clearing, cultivation, planting in the choices grades of the nursery stock and their care for two years, as well as the road formations, water supply, the civic and industrial buildings, and the general improvements.
A part of the scheme provides that under certain conditions the tract purchasers become personally interested in the earnings of every institution, industry, natural resource, and source of income of the colony.
Two hundred miles of roads have been made specially for quick and cheap transportation. From the civic and industrial centres the main roads spread out in all direction like a fan. These are crossed by zone roads, and in the junctions so formed all packages, mail, etc., will be delivered. The children will gather there in the morning for transportation to school in the civic centre and return to the industrial centre.
Every provision has been made for parks, playgrounds, theaters, an open-air stadium, golf links, etc.
It is estimated that a population of 8,000 to 10,000 people will be resident in the colony by January, 1916. Included in the construction work are more than 200 miles of roads, 180 miles of water mains, several hundred bridges and culverts, 40 miles of sewers in the residence section the planting of 1,500,000 fruit trees and the making of 5,000,000 bricks for buildings. Residential allotments are large, none being less than 75 feet frontage and from 150 to 300 feet deep. The prices of these allotments include street formation, water mains, and sewerage system.
The illustration of the civic centre shows the grouping of all the civic, social, educational, and administrative buildings as they will be when completed.
The entire commercial and merchandising industries of the colony will be housed in one great department store, 425 feet long, located on the north side of the civic centre, approached by a series of terraces rising from a sunken garden, and at the rear from a traffic way at a level.
This immense store is designed to be one of the most completely equipped modern stores. Freight cars will run direct from the railway into the basement of the building. The main floor is a modern emporium, the top floor contains a club room, a café, etc. and the building is to be completed during 1915.
The permanent residence apartment building is a new idea. It is a fine building, fireproof throughout, equipped with every modern convenience, library, club rooms, and detached hospital. Living rooms are divided into suites. There are general rooms, sun parlors, open-air sleeping porches, while surrounding the building there are 10 acres of flower gardens.
This institution is designed to provide the right of residence with every possible care and comfort, and entire independence, for life, at a fee fixed according to the age of the resident. It is to be completed and ready for occupation early in the spring of 1916.
Other buildings to be erected and forming part of the civic centre include the Art Academy and Conservatorium of Music, the Agricultural College, School of Industrial Arts and Crafts, the Opera House, and the Administration Building.
The general plan of the development of the colony was from the civic centre outward. The first zone of orchards was a belt of 2,000 acres surrounding the civic centre. This area was planted in 1914, the roads constructed and everything completed; then a second zone; and finally the third and outer zone is being dealt with, and the whole scheme is scheduled to be completed by 1917.
One very interesting phase of the scheme is the extension of the principal of segregation from the city to the horticultural and agricultural lands, the possibility which arose through extensive test made by the experts in the early period of development. These experts having decided to what particular purpose the land was best suited, the conditions of purchase, subsequently drawn up, stated definitely to what use the land was to be put. Consequently, there are orange-grove zones, prune zones, pales zones, walnut zones, and so on through all the possible industries, while all land unsuitable for successful production has been reserved for parks, etc.
The Garden City movement originated in England and has spread in various forms through Great Britain, Canada, and the United States of America … clearly demonstrated the practical and economic soundness of such developments.
Australia used Atascadero as an example of city planning for “… the interests of the health and increase of our people, for the encouragement and expansion of our industries, for the development of our natural resources, and for the promotive national welfare.”