By Lon Allan
The Printery building on Olmeda Avenue was the first to be completed by Atascadero’s founder, E.G. Lewis. Lewis was a promoter of many things, from residential development to a number of business projects both in the east and our west in California. He needed a press at his disposal to let his followers know his next scheme.
The first publication to come out of the new building was the Atascadero News, which made its debut on January 2, 1916.
Although he began construction on the City Administration Building first (1914) it (The Printery) was actually the first of the civic center buildings completed and was ready for use late in 1915. The large brick structure still stands at the corner of Olmeda Avenue and West Mall. The building was originally owned by the Woman’s First of E.G. Lewis’ civic center buildings to be completed Close up of front entrance to The Printery. Publishing Company, which Mr. Lewis started in University City, MO. There he published the Woman’s National Magazine, the Woman’s National Weekly and advertising brochures called “Bulletins.”
This picture of The Printery was taken from the top of the unfinished City Administration Building in November, 1915. The main brick building you see today was quickly built for a total cost of $34,000, not including equipment. Within a very short time The Printery complex was expanded by a large stucco building that ran next to the main brick structure. There was also a long corrugated metal shed used to store newsprint. And there was also a smaller tin shed used to store ink. The entire printing facility cost a total of $250,000, including the machinery and furnishings, according to records maintained by the Atascadero Historical Society.
Artist Ralph Holmes, who was brought to Atascadero by Lewis to head up the art department, painted the murals on the entrance to the Printery. Although faded, those murals remain there even today. Formerly of the Chicago Art Institute, Holmes was known as a muralist even before his arrival in Atascadero. He eventually managed the Cloisters on Atascadero Beach in Morro Bay for Lewis’ Colony Holding Corporation. Holmes himself described the murals in the Printery as something to separate the building from its industrial roots. A visiting journalist said of Holmes’ work, “Nowhere in America is there anything more beautiful than the entrance to Atascadero’s Press Building — the entrance where an artist’s power of painting dreams in tuneful color sings its symphonic theme in your heart until you forget the importance of even The Illustrated Review.
The largest rotogravure press complex west of the Mississippi River was installed in the Atascadero plant. It was also the first rotogravure press on the west coast. The last issue of the Woman’s National Weekly was published in Atascadero in 1916.
The first issue of the Atascadero News was printed in the building in January, 1916, and the premier issue of The Illustrated Review “…largest rotogravure press complex west of the Mississippi River There was always a beehive of activity in Lewis’ printing plant here in Atascadero. was printed in September of that same year. Lewis had hoped that The Illustrated Review would eventually have a circulation of more than three million copies by the end of 1917. In reality, the circulation never quite reached one million copies, but that is still a large circulation for any periodical of its time.
The Illustrated Review was somewhat a forerunner of the “Life Magazine” in that it was long on pictures and short on text. The Review carried pictures from around the world.
E.G. Lewis’ brother, George B. Lewis, was manager of The Printery. The entire plant had about 125 people working there to produce the numerous publications.
The Illustrated Review began with an existing mailing list that Lewis brought with him from University City, MO.
Pre-paid subscriptions to the by then out-of-print Woman’s National Weekly were extended to the Review. The first subscription price was 10 cents a year for this photo magazine. Eventually the subscription price was increased to $1 a year in 1919. Circulation neared one million copies by 1917. You could buy The Illustrated Review on newsstands in New York City. Pictures of World War I filled the many pages of the magazine. Circulation of The Illustrated Review began to drop in the early 1920s and publication ended in 1924.
Toward the end Lewis converted The Illustrated Review into a 16-page tabloid-sized newspaper and changed the name to the California Illustrated Review, and then finally the Atascadero Illustrated Review. “It is entirely devoted to picturing California as it is,” Atascadero’s founder wrote in one of his periodic Bulletins, adding that, “a staff of photographers, headed by J.L. Padilla, is constantly engaged in taking special photographs of California life, features, places and things of interest.” By 1923 a yearly subscription cost $1 and a life Here’s The Printery in more modern times. subscription $10. By that time the circulation was 30,000 “life” subscribers.
Atascadero News and The Illustrated Review weren’t the only publications printed in The Printery.
For two years the Sunday rotogravure supplement to the San Francisco Chronicle was produced in the Atascadero plant. The supplement was entirely designed, etched and printed locally. A rotogravure magazine was also published for the Los Angles Sunday Times in Atascadero. The bindery department produced the large ledgers for San Luis Obispo County and the Colony Holding Corporation. Even the blank pages were line ruled using a large machine in The Printery.
Other outside printing included color covers for Sunset Magazine, many advertising brochures and the packaging for the Pumpkin Flour Company, another Atascadero business.
Upstairs in the building were the offices for management, photo filing and circulation. All the mailing labels, which were stamped on metal plates, were produced upstairs. George B. Lewis, manager, had his office located here.
The first press run for the Atascadero News in January, 1916 was 100,000 copies.
In May, 1924, there was a massive layoff of Printery employees. Seven were kept on to print the Atascadero News, which had editorial offices in a building next door to the main Printery structure.
In 1925 the newspaper was sold to Ted Bishop when Lewis was forced into involuntary receivership by a group of his creditors.
The newspaper moved to its own building in the 5600 block of El Camino Real in 1949.
The old Atascadero News building which was actually behind the Printery was knocked down in about 1963.
The large presses in The Printery were moved to Oakland in the mid 1920s.
The building was sold to Frank Moran of Seattle to serve as the southern satellite campus for an exclusive boy’s prep school.
The Printery building was eventually used as a junior college and prep school for three different owners until it was purchased by the Masonic Temple Association in 1950 from the Colonel Benjamin Aldrich estate. In addition to serving as the meeting place for the Atascadero Masonic Lodge up into the 21st Century, the building has also housed the Atascadero Unified School District Office, and even served as a substation for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.
A karate school occupied the old press floor area for almost two decades while a commercial photographer worked out of the room on the southern end of the two-story building. The space was both studio and living quarters for the photographer.
The 6.5 San Simeon Earthquake in December, 2003 brought an end to public use of the building. The end walls were weakened and had to be shored up as a safety measure until repairs could be made.
But several years before the earthquake, in 1994, the Masonic Temple Association gave the building to the City of Atascadero on the condition the city provide youth services there. For a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with lack of finances to bring the building up to code, the city never utilized the building to the level the lodge had hoped for and eventually returned the building to the Masons in 2005.
The building was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2004.