A Little History Of Atascadero, CA

Lot Of History In This Town

Celebrate The History Of The North County By Growing An Oak Tree

Growing an oak tree is a fun and easy project for people of all ages.  Seeing that the oak tree has been a huge part of Atascadero and the Paso Robles area (Paso Robles is called the Pass Of The Oaks) why not celebrate some of that history by adding a little bit to our community by sharing tips on how to plant and grow a new Oak Tree. With a little time and patience, almost anyone can grow a small acorn seedling into a mighty oak.  The process can be personally rewarding not to mention highly beneficial for the environment.

The materials you’ll need to grow an oak tree are simply an acorn and a 1-gallon pot filled with soil.

The germination rate for acorns is somewhat low, so collecting enough acorns will greatly increase your odds of success.  Collect several handfuls of fallen acorns after visually inspecting each one. Throw away those with mold or insect bores.  Soak your acorns overnight in water, discarding any acorns that float to the top as they are most likely immature or damaged.

Depending upon which type of oak tree you are growing will dictate the next step of the process.  White oak is ready to plant immediately after the soaking process, whereas a red oak will require another step called stratification before planting. We won’t worry about white oak since it’s really not around here in Atascadero and Paso Robles. A simple internet search can explain the stratification process in greater detail, but it typically requires an 8-10 week period of placing the acorn in an airtight bag surrounded by damp sawdust or peat moss.

You are now ready to plant your acorns.  Make sure your pot has at least 12 inches of soil and plant each acorn 1 inch deep.  You may plant several acorns together in a single pot.  Once the first leaves begin to grow it is time to transplant the seedling to a permanent location.  If you only have a single sapling, you can keep your oak tree indoors for up to four months in a bright, sunny location.

Young oak trees need care and attention until there are 5-6 feet tall.  Depending upon your location, especially on the west side off of Highway 101 in both Paso Robles and Atascadero. The ever-growing deer population is always looking for new vegetation to eat and a brand new and soft tree sapling is a perfect target for their hungry bellies. Because of that, many saplings can be in danger of being consumed by wildlife.  Placing a small cage – typically using chicken wire – will prevent your small tree from being consumed.  Regular watering is important as is caring for the soil.  Keep the surrounding soil free of weeds to ensure your oak is able to fully develop its root system.  Many experts recommend to not use fertilizer as it can adversely impact the tree’s trunk and branches.

A live oak tree can grow rapidly within the first year and may reach heights of up to 4 feet.  After that, the rate of growth typically declines and may only grow at a rate of 12-14 inches per year.

With continued care, your oak tree will provide years of enjoyment through its abundant shade and wildlife habitat! With all the controversy surrounded around Justin Vineyards going out and cutting a lot of oak trees and in their defense, they always plant more to replace the ones they cut, we can help do our part in spreading more oak trees throughout Northern San Luis Obispo County. There is always an oak tree that has come of age and dies and falls and they too need to be replaced talking to a Paso Robes tree service company, this happens way more often than you would think. They get calls all the time to help remove fallen trees, especially during the winter. If everyone participated in growing a tree, the area will have the mighty oak tree around for generations to come.


Did You Know?

  • The oak tree is the national tree of the United States
  • An oak tree can live well over 200 years with proper food, water and sunshine.  The famous Angel Oak Tree in Charleston South Carolina is more than 500 years old and some argue as many as 1,500 years old – making it easily one of the oldest living things in the United States.
  • The oak tree is considered one of the largest trees in the world.  Tree branches can grow to 180 feet long, which is more than 5 school buses long in length.
  • Oakwood is among the strongest and most durable woods in existence.  Oak is commonly used in flooring, furniture and other building materials.  Given the hardness of the wood, oak can resist insect and fungal attacks.
  • Oak barrels are commonly used for distilling wine and other alcohols.  The wood helps enhance alcohol’s favor, thus why you see Firestone Walker Brewing Company use it for all of their beers. A lot of local vineyards use this technique too.
  • Large oak trees will consume as much as 50 gallons of water a day and a mature oak tree’s root system can total several hundred miles.
  • Oak trees typically don’t start producing acorns until the age of 20 and sometimes as old as 50.



First female mayor of Atascadero was a champion of the city

When I arrived in Atascadero in the summer of 1966, I became immediately fascinated with the large four-story building that anchored the Sunken Gardens in the middle of town.

At the first opportunity, I wandered down to the imposing structure and found an open door. Once inside, I stuck my head in a small room on the east end of the building and saw a woman rearranging books. I asked her about the building, and she gave me my first history lesson on Atascadero. The woman was Marjorie Mackey.

That was the beginning of a 43-year friendship. It didn’t happen overnight. I became acquainted with her again six years later when I became editor of the Atascadero News. I quickly learned that “Marj,” as she wanted to be known, had strong feelings about Atascadero, not only it’s past but what kind of community it would become.

Having moved here in 1961, she led a futile battle to save the E.G. Lewis estate from destruction in 1965. Failing to save the Lewis home from a practice burn, she formed the Atascadero Historical Society. She even bought Lewis’ small office building and had it moved behind her home on Tunitas Avenue.

As a member of the Advisory Committee, she helped draft the community’s first general plan that was adopted by the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors, and she later voted for it as a member of the first City Council. She was the first woman to serve as mayor of Atascadero.

She championed the public use and city ownership of Stadium Park. She helped dig weeds out of downtown sidewalks on cleanup days. I, along with many others, helped her carry water for small trees she had planted in Stadium Park. Fortunately, she stopped along the trail, so I could catch up.

She fought for tree protection, large lots and preservation of the rural lifestyle in Atascadero.
I watched her vote for projects she absolutely hated but did so because the applicant had complied with all the rules in place at the time.

As our friendship grew, she turned me into a local history junkie. With an excellent memory and great recall, she insisted that I keep our history alive and saw to it that I was named historian (in her place) for the Historical Society only last month.

Marj Mackey will be deservedly honored by the City Council tonight for all that she did for this community. I am sad to report that Marj passed away last Friday night, a few days after I penned this column.


Arlyne’s Flower Shop

It is February 1950. Turn back the pages of history and take a stroll down the alley off Traffic Way turn right and enter the Carlton Hotel. Here’s the place to buy a Valentine bouquet for your sweetheart. Chances are Charlene Bliss and her daughter Arlyne Highfill Casper will be there to assist you. This unique mother and daughter team had a fine garden at their Curbaril Avenue home and shared a love of flowers. This provided the impetus to open a floral shop in downtown Atascadero.

In the mid-fifties, the duplexes on Palma Avenue were built by Charlene’s husband, John Bliss and the business was moved to 6485 Palma Avenue. The shop occupied one side of the duplex and the Blisses lived in the other. The present owner of the shop, Jaynee Casper Orcutt recalls, “I remember the Western Union machines in the shop, the ticker tapes and the process and smell of the machines.” She confessed that as a child she used to play with all that ticker tape, although some moments were more usefully spent potting small plants and watering the flowers. At that time there was only one supplier for the shop and the flowers were brought from northern California in a big refrigerated truck drive by Chin, an Asian man. He would continue south from Atascadero, making more deliveries until he ran out of flowers. In those days fashion shows were held in the Carlton Hotel and in the Rotunda of the Administration Building. Fritzi Ann’s Dress Shop on Traffic Way provided the apparel and Arlyne’s Floral Shop made sure that all attendees had corsages to wear.

After her husband died, Charlene spent some time in Europe before returning to Paso Robles where she opened a second business.

In 1957 Al and Arlyne Casper and their children Jaynee and Edward moved into the duplex on Palma. In 1960 the family moved to Paso Robles, but continues managing the business with Charlene. Since that time structural changes have been made to the building. Both sides of the duplex and a porch were incorporated to provide more room for this rapidly growing business. A huge walk-in refrigerator was acquired, but the old original cedar box is still functioning and can be seen in the main part of the shop. A line of ceramics was added.

In 1973, Jaynee Casper Orcutt and her husband Jack took over the business.


Looking back: New Museum in Atascadero

Looking back: New Museum in Atascadero

The Atascadero Historical Society will once again have a place to display riches from the Atascadero Historical Society Museum city’s past.capture.jpg

The artifacts have been tucked away in boxes in a storage unit since the San Simeon Earthquake in 2003 damaged the Rotunda Building, where the collection was originally displayed.

With the Rotunda Building still years and millions of dollars away from being restored, the society’s board of directors decided it was time to move forward. Portions of the society’s collection are now on display for public perusal at the Colony House – across the road from the former City Hall.

Volunteers have labored since January to ready the Colony House – adding a fresh coat of paint inside, installing a security system, and hammering nails into the walls to hang its collection of historical photographs.

“It is so important to have a museum,” said Ann Lewis Wright, the collection’s curator. “We were just fading away.”

The society plans to move the collection back to the Rotunda Building as soon as it is restored.

“We’ve been talking about finding a temporary solution for years now, and we are finally moving forward,” said Jim Wilkins, board president.

“It took a while for the board to agree that some of the special things in the collection will be OK in the house.” Repairs were done by a great business guy out from Fresno, CA. He does handyman services near Fresno.

The display includes an information/reading room containing newspaper archives dating back to the early 1900s. New to the collection is an E.G. Lewis oak dining set that dates back 100 years.

The museum will be open Wednesday from 1 to 4 p.m. with plans to increase the hours based on demand – likely to two or three days a week.

“We’ve been down for a long time,” Wright said. “Quite a few docents kept the Rotunda collection open to the public and we have to resurrect that.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.



Marjorie Mackey, a former Atascadero City Council member and ardent lover of her city’s oaks, streams and history, died at her home May 22. She was 88.

Known as a straight shooter who spoke her mind, Mackey was also widely admired for her self-effacing sense of humor, which came to the fore whenever she might absent-mindedly misplace her keys or other items.

Born in Lewiston, Mont., Marj (as she preferred to be called) moved to Atascadero in 1961 with husband John and children Candy, John and Dean. In short order, she was involved in Girl Scouts as a troop leader and president of the Lewis Avenue Elementary School PTA.

Around that time, she also started working for the county library system and the county elections office as a registrar.

As an outspoken advocate for Atascadero’s rural ambience who was aligned in the slow-growth camp, she helped found the Atascadero Historical Society in 1965 after the colony home of the community’s founder, E.G. Lewis, was torn down.

“She was real instrumental in getting The Printery and Administration Rotunda named as historical landmarks,” said Historical Society President Jim Wilkins, whose father, Bob, served on the city’s first council with Mackey.

By 1968, Mackey was involved in public service as a member of the county advisory council that was drawing up the then-unincorporated town’s general plan.

That platform of 11 years of service — as well as the thousands of voters she registered — gave her a high-enough profile to win a council seat in 1979 after the community opted to become an incorporated city.

She would eventually serve 11 years on the council, two of those as mayor, and take a measure of pride in the fact that she never spent more than $500 on a run for office, didn’t take campaign contributions and never bought an election ad.

“It’s a terrible thing when money can get the job — City Council or federal,” she told a reporter in 1995. “It should go to someone who has proven himself or herself in the community.”

Her time on the council was marked by a couple of characteristics: Her colleagues always knew where she stood on an issue, and although they may not have agreed with her stances, she was highly respected.

“I was on the Planning Commission for the last two years she was on the council,” said former mayor and councilman George Luna, “and I found we agreed on history and the natural environment. She was really a kindred spirit. She was a real lady.”

“She was very fair in her dealings,” said Lon Allan, who, as the editor of Atascadero News, knew her personally and professionally for more than 40 years. He once called her a “fuzzy-minded environmentalist.”

“She was as liberal and to the left philosophically as you could be,” Allan said, adding, “She never let that rule her judgment on projects. And she never carried a grudge: once the vote was taken, it was on to other topics and issues.”

To call her a tree-hugger was an honorific to Mackey. She helped found the Atascadero Native Tree Association, which was the seed for the Atascadero Land Preservation Society, and pushed for tough city tree ordinances, creek setbacks and open space — issues that still simmer within the community.

In later years, she firmly affixed her sights on Stadium Park, a 26-acre parcel that features hillsides, oaks and a natural amphitheater.

Created in 1915 by Lewis as the spiritual center of the colony, the community’s first Christian church, the Atascadero Community Church, held services in the park.

The city bought the park 30 years later, but is in a quandary as to what to do with it. For Mackey, one option was simple: plant more oaks.

She led groups and individuals in planting and watering the striplings, using milk jugs as their watering cans. The month before she died, she founded the Friends of Stadium Park while bedridden.

Mackey is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Nancy and Fred Wagner; her children and their spouses: Candy and Jim Hood, John and Rosann Mackey, and Dean and Larry Young; eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Friday at 10:30 a.m. at the Community Church of Atascadero United Church of Christ, 5850 Rosariove.