North Coast Journal



Shoot-out at the Ingomar

by Wally Graves

Now that Eureka's premier traditional clothier, Arthur Johnson's, has bitten the dust after 75 years in business (and Daly's department store after a hundred), it's time to tell the story of Shoot-Out at the Ingomar Club.

As you may know, the Ingomar Club -- itself traditional -- is an exclusive men's group currently held hostage by a creature of its own invention, the famous and much photographed Carson Mansion.

William and Mary Carson built their showplace in 1886 at a cost of $80,000. Ingomar Club members bought it for their clubhouse in 1950 for $35,000. Today the property is modestly assessed at $792,911, thanks to the small fortune the club has poured in for maintenance and restoration. Annual taxes are $9,058.

Nobody's allowed in the mansion except male members and their guests. This surprises thousands of tourists every year who find "No Admittance" after being lured here by pictures of this Victorian "monument to the ambition of a local lumber baron."

Women, particularly, are not allowed in. The club was founded in the days when white male Christians called the shots. And it hasn't changed.
Nor has the club's dress code.

If you're invited to Sunday dinner (one of the few hours of the week that females get in) you must wear something unthreateningly traditional.
Last February I was invited with others to the club to celebrate a friend's birthday.

What to wear? Should I go to Arthur Johnson's?

I decided not.
We rendezvoused at the friend's house. I was pleased to see the women sheathed in handsome, colorful gowns, and the men, like I, in old jackets or suits they hardly ever wore. Around our necks hung time-honored ties.

Except for one young trendy buck who sported a Pink Floyd necktie full of happy looking pigs.

And except for an ancient world traveler of some note in the arts wearing a handsome, dark blue Mandarin dinner jacket that made me a little jealous, he looked so good.

So, off we roared to the club. Up the stairs under the green canvas marquee we escorted the Birthday Girl, 90, and her sister, 92.

We had no sooner been hurried through the mansion proper to the adjoining addition, and been seated under a canopy of dimlit chandeliers to sample our marinated mushrooms, when a gray aproned waitress told the ancient Mandarin that his garb was unacceptable. No lapel. No tie.

He didn't look enough like Arthur Johnson's.

To make a long story short, we were booted out.

At the door stood the manager, in his old Arthur Johnson's suit.

In a gesture of fealty to the Mandarin (who happens to be my brother), I called the manager's bluff by taking my tie off, but before the manager had a chance to take his off and settle the matter man to man, leveler heads prevailed.

Some shoot-out!

Days later I stopped at Arthur Johnson's and asked co-owner Art Dalianes, who happens to be a board member of Ingomar, what he thought of the dress code.

Dalianes said it was just fine. He was sorry that Eureka Inn's Rib Room no longer conformed.

He showed me his latest suits.

Nothing in Dalianes' buoyant manner hinted that within weeks Arthur Johnson's would close forever with Dalianes' public admission that his was a "dying breed."

"It seems the community doesn't need this type of store we have," Dalianes said.

After the shoot-out that night we returned to the Birthday Girl's house and enjoyed a fine dinner. "The best birthday I've ever had," she graciously overstated.

I asked whether she'd noticed a big white crack in the dark wallpaper at the Carson Mansion.

Oh, of course. Hadn't I heard that the mansion took a $50,000 hit in last Christmas's 5.7 earthquake? Minor plaster and wall covering damage downstairs, the club kitchen a mess and scheduled to close for repairs, and upstairs sizeable rifts big enough to reveal the remains of a heavy hit back in 1932.

In fact, the quake had delayed for months an ongoing restoration of the famous building.

A good story. Why hadn't it appeared in the paper?

Since then I've learned that no journalist ever finds out anything about the Ingomar Club. The last interior photos released date back a quarter of a century. A couple of years ago the late Club President Darrel Norberry told a Times-Standard reporter the club would have nothing to say about "members, activities, goals, policies, or anything." "And that's the final word."

The more I thought about the quake, the damage, the restoration of the North Coast's No. 1 photo-op, the richer the story sounded.

Nobody would talk.

Call after call went unreturned.

I felt like Gertrude Stein in Paris who, when asked if she'd ever go back to her childhood home in Oakland, made the famous remark, "There is no there, there."

Nor could I find a here, here.

The club's newsletter announced that, to pay for the earthquake damage, the near 300 members were being surcharged $20 a month on top of their $130 dues (which includes $50 in meals). A member told me that for the first time in the club's 45 years, the group has fallen below its established limit, which today is 250 residents and 50 nonresidents. There's no longer a waiting list for its $3,500 initiation fee, offered by invitation only.

I suggested to builder Fred Lundblade Jr., Ingomar's current president, that a story of the restoration might not be a bad thing. For years they'd taken heat from such feminists as Eureka attorney Judy Edson who, among many, has asserted that the club's old-fashioned gender restriction is "really quite offensive."

The club has lost many members on this issue, not the least among them Superior Court Judge J. Michael Brown. Many other community leaders, like College of the Redwoods President Cedric Sampson, have declined proffered membership.

Lundblade said he would check my request out with his Board of Directors.

The board includes Dalianes, John Goff, Hugh Kelly, Roger Low, Leo Murray Jr., Michael Renner, Robert Spencer and Joe Wheeler Jr. Their vice-president is retired Pacific Lumber public affairs officer David Galitz. The secretary-treasurer is John Burger, president of Six Rivers National Bank.

While waiting for an answer, I used my time investigating what lies behind the name Ingomar.

One of the few existing copies of the play "Ingomar the Barbarian," from which the club takes its name, is in the Humboldt State University Library.

The play, a favorite of Carson's, was first performed in Eureka on Dec. 17, 1886, just after William and Sarah moved to their mansion.

The role of Ingomar, I discovered, was played by a cashier at Carson's bank.

In the play, Ingomar, clad in a wolf skin, disdained women as "Vain, foolish playthings, only born to bear and serve, to eat and drink; to squat among the cattle, feed the children; to oil their hair, and look at themselves in brooks. Women! Were I a god, and had the world to make, I'd make no women!"

Ingomar had his mind abruptly changed in the second act when a bold young thing named Parthenia ("Virgin" in Greek) showed up in his woods fresh from town. One thing led to another, and Ingomar followed Parthenia to the city where, in Act Five, he was told that if he wanted Parthenia he'd have to conform to the local toga dress code, "First, strip off thy skin," and, second, "Thou must cut short thy hair and beard."

In the closing scene Ingomar, clean shaved and dressed like a gentleman, wins his Parthenia. And Parthenia wins her sanitized barbarian.

The club was incorporated on May 18, 1950, with its chief purpose "to own and maintain a club headquarters for the meetings and enjoyment of its members; to create, establish and maintain an association of gentlemen for the preservation and protection of historic 'Carson Mansion'; to promote interest among its members in athletics, yachting, golf, swimming and related activities; to promote good fellowship, and to associate together those interested in the field of fine arts, music and culture."

To commemorate the founding, the late Dr. Sam Burre built a dozen plywood "Plaques of Ingomar" that hung for many years in the club's upstairs pool room.

The 12 tableaus, with accompanying verse, led from "Primitive America," inhabited by Indians, to the arrival of Christopher Columbus when "God's Country Came to Be," culminating with the white influx to the North Coast whence -- thanks to the civilizing influence of European blood -- "Forest Primeval Becomes the Paradise of Man."

"Let Axes fly!" the verse proclaimed. "The Forest of the Ages Is Ours!"

As the trees fell, to become houses like Carson's mansion, Christianity was invoked: "Proud are we to emulate the Carpenter of Nazareth. May God give us the wisdom to conserve this bounty upon which we prosper."

Today the plaques are gone, and the third-story pool room may again become a ballroom as part of the club's ongoing resuscitation of the old days.

I'd learned much about the club.

I drove to the mansion.

No earthquake damage showed from the outside, though the old dowager may be relying too much on her makeup. A close look revealed a concrete-tough layer of bird droppings and lead based paint invaded here and there by pockets of fungus and rot. The day will come when her usual $35,000 paint job won't suffice. Nor was her roof in great shape.

Nonetheless, the famed cream and spinach colored facade with its 80-foot tower belies its 110 years. "A horrible misshapen mass," according to an earlier visiting architect from San Francisco.

"A prop for a Silly Symphony," another said.

"Not a work of art," a third concluded, "but few works of art are as unforgettable. It seems so proud of being in grandiose bad taste. What a good time the sawyer must have had with this architectural calamity! Its many projections -- turrets, cupolas, dormer windows, balconies, and bay windows and gables, its tower and profusion of roof lines and unnecessary overhangs."

As I watched, tourists clustered at the famous west facade.

A group of young, camera-laden Japanese leapt from their rental car. They took one look. They broke into uncontrollable laughter.

They photographed madly.

Two retired construction men from Omaha with their camera-wielding wives asked how anybody in their right mind could create such a monstrosity.

They found it interesting.

A homeless man wandered past the "Private" and "Members Only" signs to climb the porch stairs and peer through the curtained windows.

The house was obscured on the north bay side by a solid, high green wooden fence with barbed wire on top, and by a ponderous green one-story addition.

The south side was blocked by thick planting.

The east was hidden by a private parking lot, a high wall, the club's modern kitchen and wheelchair ramp, and by an original cookhouse and a carriage house where Manager Chuck Yeltin makes his home.

I had read that in 1912 at Carson's funeral a schoolboy mourner had muttered, "They say he climbed to the top of the tower every day and looked out over the bay and his lumber yards. I wish I could climb that winding stairway just once."

SEE ALSO COVER STORY: Carson Mansion - the inside story

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