Atascadero is primarily a residential and commercial community. The city has a somewhat rural character too, and it has many residential lots from to about in size. Some city residents keep livestock or grow agricultural crops on their property. The city's largest employer with approximately 1,800 employees is the Atascadero State Hospital, an all-male, accredited, maximum-security California state facility for the treatment of men with psychiatric illnesses, who have been convicted of a crime or have been found incompetent to stand trial. It was previously the only facility in the state penal system that dealt with sexually violent predators, but nearly all have now been assigned to the newer Coalinga State Hospital. Other significant employers include retailers and the municipal government.
Atascadero features some community-wide events, including Colony Days, an annual celebration of city heritage featuring an extensive parade, a Wine Festival, and the Hot El Camino Cruise Nite.
Atascadero is located at (35.484283, -120.672486).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 26.8 square miles (69.3 km²), of which, 26.7 square miles (69.3 km²) of it is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km²) of it (0.15%) is water. Atascadero is geographically the largest city in San Luis Obispo County.
There were 9,531 households, of which 35.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.5% were married couples living together, 11.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.5% were non-families. 22.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.62 and the average family size was 3.05.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.6% under the age of 18, 8.3% from 18 to 24, 28.8% from 25 to 44, 25.8% from 45 to 64, and 11.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 106.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 105.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $48,725, and the median income for a family was $55,009. Males had a median income of $41,692 versus $29,740 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,029. About 6.9% of families and 9.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.7% of those under age 18 and 6.3% of those age 65 or over.
ATASCADERO (uh-task-a-DARE-oh), a Spanish name which, loosely translated means bog (from the verb "atascar" which means to get stuck or to hinder) was originally home to the Salinan Indians. In the half century between 1769 and 1823 the Spanish Franciscans established 21 missions along the California coast, including the nearby Missions San Miguel Archangel, and San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and California became a Mexican province.
The settling of Atascadero began with the Franciscan clergy who managed the Rancho Asuncion until 1833, when the Mexican government secularized the mission lands. Governor Pio Pico then granted Pedro Estrada nearly , part of which would eventually be a portion of the Rancho Atascadero.
Patrick Washington Murphy held ownership of at one time. Eventually, J.H. Henry became the owner of the Atascadero Rancho. Edward Gardner Lewis, a successful magazine publisher from the East, founded the community of Atascadero in 1913 as a utopian, planned colony. He had previously created such a community, at University City, Missouri. After purchasing the Atascadero Ranch in 1912, Lewis put together a group of investors from across the country, paid J.H. Henry $37.50 an acre, and celebrated acquisition of the Rancho on July 4, 1913.
Atascadero's Tent City. As investors came to homestead the land that they had bought with their down payments, the area was transformed into a "tent city" with tents situated on land now occupied by Century Plaza and Bank of America. Lewis employed the services of experts in agriculture, engineering and city planning to develop his dream colony for the anticipated 30,000 residents. In 1914 the land was surveyed and subdivided. Thousands of acres of orchards were planted, a water system was installed, and construction began on an road (now Highway 41 west) through the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains to the ocean (Morro Bay), where Lewis built cottages and a beachfront hotel called the Cloisters.
The first civic building in Atascadero, The Printery, had the first rotogravure presses west of Chicago. Lewis then published the Atascadero News newspaper and the Illustrated Review, a photo/news magazine. The centerpiece of Lewis' planned community was an Italian Renaissance-style building, which was the home to Atascadero City Hall and the Museum until it was damaged in the 2003 earthquake. Built between 1914 and 1918 with bricks made from local clay, this unique and beautiful building has become one of California's Historical Landmarks (No. 958).
Founded in 1913 by E. G. Lewis and incorporated in 1979, the Atascadero Colony as it was known at the time was originally envisioned as a model community. Little evidence of Atascadero's original architecture and urban design remain, as historic buildings and homes have been torn down to make way for more modern developments and the Sunken Gardens bisected by Highway 101.
One of the few surviving examples of original urban design can be found, however, in the Rotunda Building located near the Junior High School on Palma Avenue in the Sunken Gardens public park. Designed by Walter D. Bliss of San Francisco, construction was completed in 1918 at a cost of $180,000. It was the headquarters for the Atascadero Colony, built of reinforced concrete and locally produced brick, it had also served as a private school for boys, a veteran's memorial building, and county offices. Location: 6500 Palma Ave, Atascadero
This building was purchased by San Luis Obispo County in the 1950s as a Memorial Building. The building housed the county library, Atascadero Historical Social Museum and then the city offices following incorporation in 1979. The historic City Hall is adorned with a dome atop the third story, originally intended to house the library. The building was designated a California Historical Landmark. The City Hall was damaged by the magnitude 6.5 San Simeon Earthquake on the morning of December 22, 2003. The building is currently awaiting restoration and determination of FEMA funds toward that purpose.
Another fine example of Atascadero's early architecture is The Carlton Hotel, built in 1929, located just west of the Sunken Gardens on El Camino Real, the city's main commercial street. Vacant since 1987, David Weyrich, a local businessperson, helped rejuvenate the derelict building with an estimates $15 million renovation project completed in 2003.