Our neighbors to the South save a special building

After two years of planning and work, the Atascadero Printery Foundation watched the fate of its effort count down from five minutes to zero on Monday, May 15. The foundation made the opening bid for the Atascadero Printery Building in the online San Luis Obispo County tax auction, and on Monday morning, it made the final bid of $300,100 to win the property and complete the first phase of its mission.

Prior to the auction, the property was one of dozens of properties caught in limbo as a result of Kelly Gearhart’s fraudulent scheme that ended in a felony conviction and bankruptcy.

Atascadero Printery Foundation board members Kent Kenney and Jenny Kim sweep piles of pigeon feces and feathers from the second-story floor of the Printery building during a work day in 2016.

For the past decade, the historic building became the victim of degradation by the weather, animals, and vandals.

In 2014, a conversation between Nicholas Mattson and Mike McNamara formed a bond to pour great hope in the restoration of an Atascadero icon to preserve it’s place in history.

Over the last 100 years, the building passed through a number of ownerships before landing with Gearhart, who envisioned a downtown event center. The failure of Gearhart and damage from the 2003 San Simeon earthquake left the future of the building in jeopardy.

In 2015, McNamara passed away suddenly, leaving Mattson holding onto the dream of restoration alone, until a phone call from McNamara’s wife Karen reignited the campaign to reclaim, restore and repurpose the Atascadero Printery Building as a multipurpose, community-use facility.

“I asked [my kids] ‘what do I do,’ and they said, ‘push it mom.’”

Karen promptly organized a booth at the annual Colony Days parade in 2015, and recruited a handful of volunteer board members for the official formation of the Atascadero Printery Foundation.

The Atascadero Printery Foundation stands together after the 2016 annual meeting in Atascadero. From left to right are Dusty DelMese, Greg Ravatt, Jenny Kim, Brett Hartt, Karen McNamara, Kent Kenney, Victoria Hartt, Nicholas Mattson, Chuck Dunlap, Kat Dunlap, and Barbie Butz.

“We got wonderful people who came to sign up,” McNamara said. “There was a lot of supportive people in Atascadero.”

The foundation prepared to bid in the public tax auction with fundraising and awareness.

“I thought we had a good chance that no one would bid against us,” McNamara said, “but there was still a chance. It was just not a project that would ever pencil out for a developer.”

The auction opened on Friday, May 12 at 9 a.m., and the Atascadero Printery Foundation made the minimum bid of $283,200. The bid held through Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday morning, another bidder had entered the auction, and outbid the foundation by $100.

“We did not want a bidding war,” Mattson said. “We just wanted to make sure the building was secured by an organization that cared about its historic nature, and would do it justice in the restoration. It did not necessarily need to be us, but we were not going to give up on our mission.”

Later that afternoon, the foundation bid again, and took over the high bid at $283,300. That bid held through Monday morning.

The foundation gathered at McNamara’s store, The Hope Chest Emporium, in Atascadero on Monday, May 15.

“We were discussing our strategy, as well as how much we were actually willing to bid,” Mattson said. “It could easily get out of hand if we let our emotions run the show.”

Ahead of deciding on a final number, McNamara began entering bids at $100 increments that were immediately outbid.

The Atascadero Printery building second-story hall sits cleaned for the moment, after the Atascadero Printery Foundation cleaned several bags of filth from room in 2016.

“We got close to $300,000,” McNamara said.

The foundation capped at $302,000, and landed back on top at $300,100. As the foundation watched the clock run down, there was a moment before reality set in. They won.

Years of hard work paid off, and the foundation had won the right to purchase the building.

“It was rewarding and heartwarming,” McNamara said, “but it really didn’t sink in until the next morning.”

The foundation completed the first phase of its mission in reclaiming the building for the community, and now plans to restore and repurpose the building as a multipurpose, community-use facility.

The schedule is littered with work days and events to raise money and awareness for the project, and a community outreach campaign is in production to gather input from the locals on what they want to see in the future of the building and property.

“We are hosting the beer booth at the July 4th bluegrass event,” McNamara said. “One of the big things is that people support our fundraisers, but we also want to know what people need. We want to get our plan together so we can start with the restoration process.”

On Saturday, July 29, the foundation is hosting a “cow-pie bingo” fundraiser on the property, and the community is invited to join in the event, which will include food and drinks.

Tent City Marathon on Saturday, March 28, which will feature full and half-marathons, and 10K and 5K runs to benefit the Atascadero Printery Foundation.

For more information, go to atascaderoprintery.org.