History of Atascadero

Atascadero can trace its beginning to a Mexican land grant when in 1845 Governor Pio Pico granted Pedro Estrada almost 40,000 acres of the Asuncion Rancho, a good portion of which eventually made up part of the smaller 23,000 acre Atascadero Rancho. Through various and natural ownership changes, the 23,000 acre Atascadero Rancho came to be owned by J.H. Henry of San Jose after California became the 31st state of the Union.

In 1913 publisher Edward Gardner Lewis left University City, Missouri and came west to begin what was to be a model community. He eventually recorded what was the largest single subdivision map in San Luis Obispo County. Atascadero was a “planned community” from the very beginning. Using his printing presses still in Missouri, Lewis began to tell the world about his new community on the Central Coast of California (for which he paid $37.50 an acre.) He hired experts in many different fields – agriculture, engineering, planning – to help him create the “Atascadero Colony.” An army of workers toiled here for almost two years planting fruit trees, putting in water mains and even constructing a 17-mile road to Morro Bay that is today California Highway 41, the “E.G. Lewis Highway.” Within view of Morro Rock, Lewis built a beach front hotel known as the “Cloisters” where now a housing tract on that property bears the same name.

New property owners lived in a “Tent City” while their homes were being built for them. Those homes ranged from modest single-story bungalows, to multiple story “mansions” as people came to Lewis’ new community to begin a new life. Many of those homes are still standing today and are kept in an excellent state of repair by their proud owners.

Colony Days & Tent City

Each October Atascadero Celebrates Colony Days and the reenactment of the original Tent City

Late in 1915 E. G. Lewis created Tent City in an area below Pine Mountain (where Bank of America is today) to accommodate up to 1,000 guests. The tents were sturdily built with wooden floors and electricity. There was an assembly tent, a grocery store, a post office, laundry facilities, land sales office, an ice cream parlor and even a dry goods store. A prospective buyer who purchased five certificates received a round-trip railroad fare to Atascadero and a week’s stay in Tent City. Lewis had a fleet of 27 cars to drive guests around the Colony. According to his nephew, Will Lewis, in the latter part of 1914 and in 1915 many came to Tent City to stay. Their household belongings were warehoused in the industrial section and they began community life while awaiting the day when home construction would be finished. After the tents were no longer needed for the new homeowners, they were retained as a place for special guests to the Colony. Lewis hosted conventions here such as the Episcopal Ministers’ Convention and the Southern California Editors’ Convention. It was only natural to host a group of newspaper writers, because they returned home and then wrote about what Lewis was doing here on the Central Coast.

Tent City is part of the Colony Days Celebration held the third weekend in October

For more information go to the Atascadero Historical Society website www.atascaderohistoricalsociety.org