SLO County Hidden Gems: Atascadero City Hall

You've probably seen Atascadero City Hall as you drive down El Camino Real in Atascadero, at the end of a long, grassy park. This double-domed Italian Renaissance style building, which was built from 1913-1918, sits in the middle of Atascadero but many Central Coast natives (surprisingly) have never been inside. While you may not have very much business to do at City Hall, stopping by to see the magnificence of the inside of this building is worth the trip. After being closed for 10 years for extensive renovations and retrofitting due the 6.5 magnitude San Simeon Earthquake of 2003, this registered historic building re-opened in 2013.

Today, the iconic structure is once again functioning as Atascadero’s City Hall, where docents from the Atascadero Historical Society give daily tours of the building and share the history of Atascadero and this grand building.

How extensive was the damage to the building?

Bricks flew from the sides of the building and internal columns twisted. Ceilings fell and bricks crashed into the fourth floor kitchen area. Previous seismic upgrades installed in 1984, luckily, prevented catastrophe. Steel elements in1984 buckled, but prevented collapse of the upper Rotunda. Likewise, the balustrades around the upper perimeter that had be installed previously with concrete block, broke but were held suspended by steel and wire, which had been added in 1984.

It took workers six months to complete the below ground level, first phase of repair. During this phase the entire building sank 2.5 inches into the ground, burying the first tier of entry steps. When workers were finished they had drilled a total of three miles into the ground, three feet at a time, removed thousands of cubic yards of mud and debris, and constructed a new foundation for the historic Atascadero Administration Building, making it more stable and better able to withstand earthquakes than it was on the day it opened, brand new, in 1918.

The only way to repair the building’s ability to resist earthquakes was to build new, inner walls behind the old walls and secure these walls to the rebuilt existing walls, and then attach all of that to the new foundation in the basement that is anchored to bedrock some 60-feet below the surface of the earth.

On top of the structural damage and repair, crews had to replace (and match) 100 year old brick to the building that flew off during the quake as well as fix much of the cosmetic damage.

2 fun facts you probably didn't know about Atascadero's City Hall:

  1. Because of the interior wall work, the offices are slightly smaller than they were when they were constructed 100 years ago.
  2. There are actually 2 rotundas. One at the top of the building where city council meetings are held (and which is visible from the street). And another on the interior of the building. The interior rotunda has been beautifully restored and will have your eyes glued to the ceiling upon entering.

Today, after 10 years of planning and restoration, the unique, double-domed Atascadero City Hall has been re-opened to the public. City offices once again fill its circular halls and historic photos and placards explain the history, significance and use of this amazing edifice.

To schedule a tour with a Historical Society Docent, email atascaderocolonymuseum@gmail.com, or call 805-466-8341.