Monthly Archives: February 2019

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.