The development of the Cloisters Inn and the Atascadero Beach property

Don Domingo Pujol received clear title to Rancho Morro Y Cayucos in 1877. The ranchos length was two leagues or about six miles. He sold 160 acres to Franklin Riley which is the site of present downtown Morro Bay. He divided other areas into small farms and lots. Some bordered on the San Bernardo Rancho. Ownership along the coast passed to various farmers and investor groups. One of the investor’s was E.G. Lewis, the founder of Atascadero.

On February 6, 1913 E.G. Lewis and his wife, Mabel Gertrude Lewis, bought a 23,000 acre cattle ranch from J.H. Henry that would become the Colony of Atascadero. The price was $850,000. In 1918 they added the 20,000 acre Santa Margarita Rancho. 1

E.G. was a man with a vision and when you travel to Atascadero, you are on the E.G. Lewis Highway. Construction began on the 18 mile road in 1914 and in 1925 he built the beachfront hotel known as the Morro Beach Inn. The original Cloisters became known as the Atascadero Beach Tract. It extended approximately from San Jacinto North to Yerba Buena and Westward from the Morro Cayucos road.

The Inn was still open in 1940. They had their own lifeguards and served breakfast, lunch and dinner. They offered wonderful entertainment and dancing nightly. Bonnie Adair sang with Billy Lester’s orchestra who were recent performers at the famous New York Stork Club. The Inn advertised a “galaxy of the finest entertainment” and two of their feature performers were Madge Robertson plus Harry Sorenson, a maestro of the accordion. The Inn closed shortly thereafter.

In 1919 Atascadero Beach lots were sold to individuals. Lots were even given to folks who bought ten acres in Atascadero. These people were to plant almonds supposedly to make a living. (personal communication from Mary Elizabeth Madonna) Lots were still being sold in 1931. Apparently no building was permitted until a certain number of lots were sold. This was a tenuous position for buyers to say the least because no building ensued. By July 1, 1935 a Los Angeles bank, L.A.First National Trust and Savings released the property to the State.

In 1919 lots were sold to individuals. Lots were even given to folks who bought ten acres in Atascadero. These people were to plant almonds supposedly to make a living. (personal communication from Betty Madonna) Lots were still being sold in 1931. Apparently no building was permitted until a certain number of lots were sold. This was a tenuous position for buyers to say the least because no building ensued. By July 1, 1935 a Los Angeles bank, L.A.First National Trust and Savings released the property to the State

This montage of the Inn’s activities is from the rotogravure section of the Telegram Tribune in 1920





The Mattoon Act 1925

The Mattoon Act was named after Everett W. Mattoon a deputy county counsel of LA. He authored a state bill which allowed assessment districts to acquire and improve land but it entitled councils to spread assessments without the consent of the property owners in a district. The act was used by developers on unimproved land. Owners (buyers) had to carry the taxes for undeveloped lots in the district. Year after year taxes would continue on unsold lots.When an improvement bond was issued it could place a collective lien on all real estate parcels. All of the property owners had to pay their obligation in full or the property as a whole remained in a collective lien. People who had paid taxes in full could get thrown into foreclosure regardless.

E.G. Lewis was forced into bankruptcy in 1925 but either the Atascadero Beach and Land Improvement or The Colony Holding Company used the Mattoon Act to bond the property. Improvements were made as you can see in the accompanying US Navy photo. Some of us remember going to this nice area that had streets and curbs but no houses. This lasted throughout the war and about 1946 a local individual and a financier from San Francisco. (I’m not positive about the names so won’t use them) secured the property and began to sell lots.

“The Mattoon Act sprang from Progressive roots. It was originally proposed by backers of the Los Angeles Major Traffic Street Plan of 1924, an elaborate series of highways and roads that fostered residential and business decentralization.” “The Mattoon Act cut away much of what might be termed red tape meaning local resistance. It allowed large scale planning without the stunting interference of local control.”2

In 1931 the Act was repealed with the support of Everett Mattoon. It did not nullify tax debts.

For an interesting study of E.G. Lewis, the founder of Atascadero, please visit the Atascadero Historical Society. (http://www.atascaderohistoricalsociety.org/)

1Atascadero Historical Society
2My blue heaven: life and politics in the working-class suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920--1965. By Becky M. Nicolaides PhD University of Chicago Press

A Navy photo of the Atascadero Beach Cloisters in 1946

Note that the road to the beach is no longer there. It appears as if there are some structures toward the beach. This may be what is left of the Inn or something from the military.

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