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 its 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.

Looking back: New Museum in Atascadero

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

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.”

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.”