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Nonprofit forms to save Atascadero Printery 

Atascadero Printery Foundation

The Atascadero Printery Building was built in 1915. Atascadero Printery Foundation looks to protect the building from further decay and eventually restore it to a community-use building. Photo by Heather Young

Citizens want to board up windows to protect historic building from further damage

–The Atascadero Printery Building has been red-tagged and boarded up since the San Simeon Earthquake hit the county in 2003. It has remained relatively untouched since, leaving most of the windows broken and the building quickly deteriorating, according to Karen McNamara, the president of Atascadero Printery Foundation.

The foundation officially formed in October 2015 with the mission to save the printery. McNamara said the group’s first mission is to get access to board up the windows and secure the building to prevent further damage as possible. The second step, she said, is to gain possession of the building, which is owned by an LLC of Kelly Gearhart, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison after he pled guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.

The earthquake that devastated the building occurred while Gearhart was in process of taking over ownership from the Masonic Temple and the city of Atascadero. The Masons purchased the building in the early 1950s, historian Lon Allan said, and later had an agreement with the city that ownership would revert back to the Masons if it were not used as a youth center.

Gearhart had plans to turn the historic building into an event center that would be open to the public at least four times a year as required because the city was unable to continue to operate its youth center due to the damage. That allowed the city to take FEMA money meant for the building and use it to construct Colony Community Center on Traffic Way. The plans for the building were put on hold after Gearhart was accused of defrauding hundreds of investors in a Ponzi real estate scheme.

The building, McNamara said, is inaccessible even to those who want to protect the building from vandalism and further deterioration because Gearhart’s LLC retained ownership of the building, even though the rest of his assets were part of his bankruptcy. So no one can legally enter the property without Gearhart’s permission or a court order that has to be obtained by the city.

The group came out of talks between Mike McNamara and Nick Mattson, but Mike died in June 2015 before anything could start. With encouragement from their four children, Jamie, April, Brian and Cody, and son-in-law, Luke, Karen decided to undertake saving the printery as a way to honor her husband.

“He didn’t like to complain,” Karen said. “If he didn’t like something, he did something about it. He was just a really good man… Mike and Nick both grew up here, it’s a building they both care about.”

Karen is co-chair of the foundation with Jenny Tittlekim. The board is made up of Vice Chairman Chuck Dunlap, Secretary Kat Dunlap, Treasurer Nicholas Mattson and Director Barbie Butz. Anyone who wants to get involved in any way can contact Karen at (805) 459-5113 or

The building is on the historic building registry, Karen said, so it cannot be torn down, but is in danger of falling down if left as it is.

“We decided to be the ones to take it on,” Karen said. “We only want this to be a community building with the possibility of renting out some of the offices upstairs.”

Right now the building is scheduled to go to auction in May, Karen said. The building has a $1 million lien on it, and $400,000 worth of back taxes attached, which anyone who purchases the building would have to pay. She said $2,500 is needed just to board the windows up.

Karen said she envisions the building as a community building that focuses on the performing arts. She asks anyone raising money for a performing arts center in the North County, especially Atascadero, to consider putting money for a building toward purchasing and renovating the printery.

“It is kind of a big can of worms,” Karen said, adding that after the foundation takes possession of the building, it then needs to be restored. “It’s just a shame to let it deteriorate.”

The building was constructed in 1915 and printed the first issue of the Atascadero News in mid-January 1916, and several months later printed the first issue of Women’s Illustrated, Allan said.

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