FROM THE BOOK: "ATASCADERO THE VISION OF ONE – THE WORK OF MANY"
BY LON ALLAN
E.G. Lewis announced in 1918 that he planned to add the almost 20,000-acre Santa Margarita Rancho to his Colony Holdings. He said in an article published in the Atascadero News on Aug. 30, 1918, that he “is taking over the first parcel of the Santa Margarita Ranch under its contract for purchase.” The purchase price for the entire ranch was said to be $1.2 million, according to Lewis’ own account of the transaction.
The historic Santa Margarita rancho was granted to Joaquin Estrada in 1841. Estrada’s brother, Pedro, had been granted the Atascadero rancho at about the same time. Both brothers eventually lost their vast holdings of land in San Luis Obispo County.
Lewis said to his readers that the ranch would be “…taken over one parcel at a time, beginning at the south gate of the Atascadero Colony and all of the (remaining) land as it is reached.”
What Atascadero’s founder planned for what is today Garden Farms was a series of small parcels on which the owners could live off the land. In the first block of Garden Farms the Colony Holding Corporation built 20 houses on 20 lots.
The first house was a small white frame structure built by Ike Winget of Deadwood, South Dakota. Winget became a part of the construction crew that built many of the other homes in Garden Farms. He liked working in the Garden Farms so he could keep a close eye on his own little farm during the day.
In his brochure entitled “Back to the Land,” Lewis wrote that, “under usual conditions farm life is little short of drudgery, and to the feminine part of the family, scarcely short of slavery.” He spoke about “isolation, hardships, lack of comforts and conveniences, lack of means of social and other recreation” and more.
“Is it any wonder that the young people move to town and would rather almost starve in a city garret?” Lewis pondered.
He had the answer in announcing to the world that, “We will never get the people out of the cities and back to the land until there is provided the same means of enjoyment – the same opportunities, the same advantages and comforts in the country as are offered in the great cities.”
In announcing the Garden Farms venture, Lewis wrote, “these little garden farms with their modern homes, all complete, with the roads and streets made, the house built together with chicken house, shed and in the larger farms, the garage, the water system constructed to provide pure water for domestic use and ample water for irrigation, I propose to sell to several thousand selected American families on twenty years’ time.”
Lewis believed that “with several thousand such little garden farms, each owned and resided on by an intelligent family, each farm’s area being in proportion to the size of the family owning it, would form an organization through which great dehydration plants could take any contract or undertake any merchandising campaign with the absolute assurance that it could fill its orders with automatic certainty.”
An experimental dehydration plant had already been built in Atascadero in anticipation of the fruit that would soon by flowing to it for processing and distribution to markets all over the nation.
There were a number of different levels of houses and parcels in the Garden Farms plan. For example, a “Class A Home” in Santa Margarita on 1 1/2 acres was advertised for $2,756, or weekly payments of $2.65. A Class A home was a modern bungalow of two bedrooms, living room, bath, kitchen with tool house, chicken house and an acre and a half of land all ready to produce crops. Lewis pointed out that such homes came with roads, water and “all the great institutions, schools, department store, theater, church, parks, and a sea beach of Atascadero” (although it was 17 miles away.)
A “Class B Home” on 2 1/2 acres would cost the homebuyer $3,796, or a weekly payment of $3.65. The “Class C” 3 1/2 acre garden farm would cost $4,836, with a weekly payment of $4.65.
The most expensive home in Garden Farms was listed at $6,916, which included 5 1/2 acres of property to go with it.
Interest on all the different plans was six percent a year on the unpaid balance.
“The Atascadero Plan takes the city to the country, and gives to the resident in the country the advantages of the city without the isolation and hardship of the country,” Lewis wrote in his sales brochure to prospective buyers for rural garden plots.
In reality, Lewis was only able to develop one small part of the original Santa Margarita Rancho and make it a part of his Atascadero Colony. Garden Farms never expanded beyond what area you see today south of the city limits of Atascadero, but it remains historically linked to the model community envisioned by Lewis.
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