By Volunteers of the Atascadero Historical Society
Most readers of this column know that in 1913 E.G. Lewis bought the 23,000-acre Rancho Atascadero from Jason Henry. What many of you may not know is that in July 1915, E.G. and the Colony Holding Company bought 2,000 acres just north of Morro Rock from Baron von Schroeder, who was the owner of Eagle Ranch. E.G. renamed this property Atascadero Beach, a name still found on some maps. E.G. viewed this beachfront property as Atascadero’s private beach and set about to develop it. The photo below is of the property when it was purchased by E.G. Lewis, before any development.
Initially, the area was subdivided into lots and common use areas. The location for the hotel and its guest cottages were laid out. Utilities, water, gas and power, were acquired and brought to the site. The hotel was designed and construction began. A small number of guest cottages were built. E.G. Lewis had a small cottage for his personal use. The first photograph below is of the Cloisters Hotel. Next is a photograph of the cottages.
Prior to acquiring this beach property, in 1912 or 13, during his first visit to the area, E.G., his wife Mabel, and other members of their party spent a day at Morro Bay and had a picnic on the beach. The photo below, published in Bulletin #2 from April 1913, is of their trip “through the mountain pass to the seashore.” (Authors Note: The usual way to get from Atascadero to Morro Bay in 1912-13 was down the state highway, over Cuesta Pass, down into San Luis Obispo then back up the coast to Morro Bay. However, there was a farm road, usually called a “two track,” from Eagle Ranch to Morro Bay. Based on the details in the photograph, the author believes that the Lewis party took the farm road since the state highway would have been a better road than the one in the photograph). The early promotions for Atascadero included reports of this magnificent beach where “bathing may be enjoyed at this beach the entire yearround since owing to the warm current that comes close to the shore at this point, the temperature is about the same throughout the year…”
In 1914, the Colony Holding Company, started a new, improved road to the beach in Atascadero, from the civic center, past the lake and through the “government” hills. This new road improved and shortened, by fourteen miles, the original road through San Luis Obispo that was used to get to the beach at Morro Bay. There are references in the early literature of Atascadero that San Luis Obispo County at least provided funds for the road, since much of it was built outside of the Rancho Atascadero property boundaries.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the road-building was the extensive use of horses and mules. The photos below are from Bulletin #7 from 1915. This edition of the Bulletin has a series of photographs of the road building process. Some of these photographs are presented below.
Once the highway was completed, you could drive from Atascadero to Morro Bay in about 25 minutes “using good speed.” So as we do today, when it is too hot in Atascadero, a short drive over a good road would take you to a beautiful beach with much lower temperatures.
The following is quoted directly from the publication “Atascadero California “The Beautiful” THE LONG LIFE TOWN,” published in 1923:
This beach, known as Atascadero Beach, is one of the finest, if not the finest, beach on the Pacific Coast. With a broad expanse of level beach wide enough for twenty automobiles to race abreast over its marble-hard and white sands, with a wonderful bathing surf, and with restrictions that ensure its privacy to Atascaderans and guests of the beach hotel, “The Cloisters.” The beach is an ideal summer resort for families, entirely free from those objectionable features which mar most beaches. “The Cloisters” has accommodations for about forty guests, with twenty private cottages connected with it. A large dining-room, living-room, baths and bathhouses are shortly to be supplemented by the building of an additional wing with twenty bedrooms and private baths. The concrete paved highway from San Luis Obispo, where it branches from the coast state highway, runs to Atascadero Beach. From Atascadero Civic Center, through the mountain passes, one of the most beautiful roads in California has been constructed, making the beach immediately and easily available from all parts of Atascadero.
The hotel, the Cloisters, was built during the same time the road was built. Apparently, it stayed in operation as a destination hotel until the 1930s. The U.S. Navy took over the property during World War II. Currently, it is the location of a housing development known as the Cloisters and a large public park.
The Atascadero Colony Museum has a display devoted to the Cloisters and the development of this large beachfront property. Please stop by and check it out if you are interested. There are also several photographs of the Cloisters and the road building effort, available on our website, www.atascaderohistoricalsociety.org under the ARCHIVE tab.
Until next time…