Edward Gardner Lewis and wife Mabel bought the 23,000 acre rancho that would become the colony of Atascadero for $850,000 in 1913. The utopian dreamer, land speculator and publisher envisioned a new city.
By 1915 a tent city sold the subdivided lots and was the place for people to stay while building their homes.
The Mercantile/La Plaza building in Atascadero was part of the civic center of the colony. It was designed by St. Louis, MO architect John J. Roth.
This grand opening photo dated March 3, 1917 shows a mixture of horse drawn and gasoline fired buggies landscaping was still incomplete.
The building housed 70 guests in Atascadero Inn on the top floor and by 1919 a world-wide co-op called the Rochdale program supplied groceries for the community. There was also the home of the post office, movie theater, hardware, jewelry, clothing, furniture stores among others, and two elevators.
Originally all commercial business in Atascadero was restricted to this one building. With almost 42,000 square feet it was the Wal-Mart of its day. The only exception was made for an automotive garage down the street.
In 1922 E.G. Lewis, town founder and president of the Colony Holding Corporation, sectioned off nearby land to be developed commercially but soon he would lose control of the colony during bankruptcy. Some local merchants found restrictions onerous established themselves on the state highway, setting the template for the town we know today.
In 1926 building was sold and remodeled as hotel throughout, hosting a second grand reopening of the building now called the Atascadero Inn, ten years after it was built. The building would not survive to 20. The Atascadero Inn was destroyed by fire September 13, 1934.
Ironically the site today is behind the downtown fire station and also is where part of the Fine Arts Academy are located. All that remains is a small rose garden behind the fire station.
Photo courtesy the Atascadero Historical Society
Information from “Atascadero, The vision of one-The work of many” by L.W. Allen