The Atascadero City Hall serves as a historical centerpiece to the city
By Genevieve Smith
Located in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., the historic Atascadero City Hall is a city landmark with a rich history. In 1914, the brand new colony of Atascadero, under the leadership of its founder Edward Gardner (E.G.) Lewis, began work on the Atascadero Administration Building, a double-domed Italian Renaissance structure destined to become an icon for the city.
Lewis planned to use the Atascadero Administration Building to house local government offices, the Chamber of Commerce and real estate offices. Designed by prominent San Francisco architect Walter D. Bliss, the four-story building was inspired by those of the 1904 St. Louis Exposition where, nearby, Lewis had founded his first community, University City, in 1903 around his publishing complex for Woman’s Magazine and Woman’s Farm Journal.
Construction on the building began on July 12, 1914. The building was completed in 1918. It would serve as the center of Lewis’ master planned community for just nine years, until Lewis was forced into bankruptcy.
The building was then purchased by Frank Moran of Seattle in 1927 for use as a prep school. Two more private schools and a bank used the building before it was purchased by San Luis Obispo County in 1954 when it was renamed the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Building.t
The building served as an icon for the community for decades; it was a place where community events, parties and meetings took place. The upper floors were accessed primarily via stairs and a small, original elevator. For years, the building also served as the community library.
In 1979, the Colony of Atascadero incorporated, becoming the City of Atascadero. The new City Council reserved the upper Rotunda for its meetings and the new city Police Department moved into the first floor. On March 4, 1984, the Atascadero Administration Building/Veterans Memorial Building was designated as California Landmark No. 958.
Eighty-eight years after the building was constructed, it was damaged during the San Simeon Earthquake in 2003. The San Simeon Earthquake was a 6.5 magnitude temblor that rocked houses off foundations in Atascadero and killed two people under falling rubble in the neighboring city of Paso Robles. It was the most destructive quake to hit the United States in nearly 10 years. Previous seismic upgrades installed in 1984 prevented a complete catastrophe and some of the structural elements were maintained.
“We are quite proud to now be able to showcase our historic and one-of-a-kind City Hall building with our new exterior lighting, which is such a wonderful conclusion to the structure’s massive rehabilitation project.”
—Tom O’Malley, Mayor, City of Atascadero
After an in-depth process of coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and other agencies, the city brought in experts to evaluate the building’s necessary repairs and document the process.
These experts were led by Pfeiffer Partners Architects to make a detailed evaluation, meticulously mapping every element to plan repairs and document the process. Bernard’s Construction based out of San Fernando, Calif. was engaged to manage the project and the many construction companies that were involved.
An interesting challenge was that there were no original building construction drawings to work from, therefore, workers had to dive into every inch of the building to layout new plans in order to work within the site.
The reconstruction process required strong attention to detail to match the original construction aesthetic and functionality. Specific brick and marble materials needed to be sourced, internal cosmetic repairs were needed and a new foundation was necessary for the building to withstand a future earthquake occurrence.
The dramatic domed presence of the building has been impressive since the beginning of the city. Reminiscent of Italian Renaissance, the building has a secret. There are actually two rotundas, one set above the other, the apex of each some 40 feet above the floor.
After repairs were completed on both rotundas, workers added the dazzling final touches. For the upper rotunda: special acoustical plaster to reduce echoes in the City Council Chamber. For the lower rotunda, a breath-taking stylized treatment designed to have visitors craning upward in the area that will become the public reception area of City Hall.
After being closed for 10 years, and undergoing extensive renovations and retrofitting, the building re-opened in August 2013.
During the renovation process, four historic fountains located on the corners the building were restored to their original beauty. Built with the original construction, the fountains stopped working decades ago and were converted into planters.
In September of last year, the city hall added exterior lights, concluding the on-going rehabilitation project. “We are quite proud to now be able to showcase our historic and one-of-a-kind City Hall building with our new exterior lighting, which is such a wonderful conclusion to the structure’s massive rehabilitation project,” said Mayor Tom O’Malley.
Today the Atascadero City Hall is open daily. Part of the Atascadero Historical Society Museum is housed in the building, and the tours give a fascinating history of the building and Atascadero.
Genevieve Smith is the Editor for American Infrastructure magazine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.