Working on a walking guide to Humboldt County over the past year led me to the far corners of our region, but some of the best discoveries turned out to be incredibly close to home. For example, the walk that visits the murals dotting Eureka's Old Town is a perfect way to get some exercise, appreciate the diversity of local art and absorb a little Eureka history. There may be a few cars to dodge but no streams to ford. And unless you get really lost, you won't come home with your shoes muddied.
This is a flat, meandering 3.4-mile route with 22 murals along the way. You may have passed much of this public art and historic architecture without noticing or appreciating it. You can start at any place along the route, but the Humboldt County Public Library makes for an excellent beginning and ending. Add a turn here, stick your head in there and stop as many times as possible. My plan only scratches the surface of the many layers worth investigating in downtown Eureka and along the waterfront.
Although many artists have contributed to local murals, Duane Flatmo and the Rural Burl Mural Bureau deserve credit for much of the proliferation of this form of artistic expression in Humboldt County. Flatmo's mural career began with the Bucksport Mural in 1984 and expanded a decade later with the creation of the bureau, a program involving area youth in mural projects. He's been involved in more than 50 murals over the past three decades. You'd need a car to do justice to the entire Humboldt County mural scene, but it is amazing how much you can see on foot.
Along the way you will pass high-profile murals like those visible from the entrance to the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts or on the south side of the Eureka Co-op (both by Flatmo). Less grand but no less interesting are the painted images of wild plants, majestic egrets and surreal street scenes. There is a massive whale and its calf on A Street and a winged grizzly (Eureka's greatest animal thespian "Bearymore") adorning the north side of Redwood Curtain Theatre. There are horse-drawn fire wagons next to the library and a rendition of Murray Field circa 1930 visible from Fourth Street. One of the most intriguing murals is the one that you can't see. Almost totally obscured by the construction of the George Petersen Insurance Building, a slim 3-inch gap on the west side of the building between D and E on Fourth Street offers a glimpse of "Earthquake Aftermath." Flatmo says it took the Rural Burl Mural Bureau some six months to complete the work and it hadn't been up much more than a year before construction of the adjacent building covered the scene.
Admittedly, the murals run the gamut in terms of quality. But, considered as a whole, they make for an intriguing, whimsical quest as you weave around many buildings that date back a century and a half.
You will pass 10 structures on the National Register of Historic Places in addition to Old Town's 11-block-long, three-block-wide historic district of late Victorian, Greek revival and classical revival storefronts and residences. For those who want more detail, track down Eureka Heritage Society's Eureka: An Architectural View, Hal Jackson's Eureka: A Guide to the Architecture and Landscape, Eureka Main Street's pamphlet Old Town Downtown Eureka or some of the other materials from the Eureka Chamber of Commerce.
I never tire of that icon of the North Coast, the Carson Mansion. San Francisco's Newsom brothers built it for lumber baron William Carson between 1884 and 1886. The pair also designed the smaller Queen Anne-style home across the street for Carson's son in 1887. You begin to appreciate just what a force Carson was in the North Coast economy as you pass the Carson Block Building at 227 F St. In 1891, Carson, anxious to create a positive community spirit in the face of a logging recession, built this massive office building, which is now in the beginning stages of a $5.3 million facelift. It originally included the 1,400 seat Ingomar Theatre, but that closed in 1923 and was gutted in 1958.
The imposing Vance Hotel, which you will pass at Second and G streets, was originally completed in 1871. For decades it offered the most prestigious lodging on Humboldt Bay, but it stood empty by the 1990s until it was remodeled 14 years ago. In 1879 the county's first electric lights in a non-industrial building turned on there, powered by a generator at John Vance's sawmill, then at the foot of G Street.
The walk also takes you past H.H. Buhne's hardware store (422 First Street), one of the structures on the National Register of Historic Places and home to Humboldt State University's First Street Gallery. Buhne was the first American to cross the bar into the bay. Buhne's General Store on the bay side of the street, circa 1858, is Eureka's oldest commercial building.
As the walk weaves around downtown, you'll go by the Eagle House Hotel, the former Sweasey Theater-Loew's State Theater (now the Arkley Center for the Performing Arts), the art deco Eureka Theater and the old Carnegie Library building (now the Morris Graves Museum of Art), each on the National Register of Historic Places. Follow our map and your curiosity.
1 Firehouse Alarm: Horse DrawnFire Wagon by C.R. Spicer
2 Murray Field Vintage 1930 by Duane Flatmo
3 Animals are People Too by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
4 Egrets and Water Scene by Bill Van Fleet
5 The Gray Victorian by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
6 Tropical Fish by Kati Texas and the Rural Burl Mural Bureau
7 U.S. Post Office and Courthouse
8 Building Architecture by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
9 Climbing Plants by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
10 Alley Cats by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
11 The Arkley Center for the Performing Arts
12 Arkley Center for the Performing Arts by Randy Spicer
13 Vance Hotel
14 Wild Seas
15 112 F Street
16 422 1st Street
17 Remnants of the North Coast Co-op Mural
18 Bearymore, the Great Winged Grizzly by Daniel C. Nyiri
19 The Eagle House Hotel
20 Romano Gabriel's Sculpture Garden
21 Carson Block Building
22 Tribute to Architecture and Performing Arts by Duane Flatmo
23 No Barking Any Time by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
24 Inharmonious by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
25 Eureka Theatre
26 Indian Island – The Sun Set Twice on the People by Alme Allen and Brian Tripp
27 Carnegie Building/Morris Graves Museum of Art
28 Hidden Mural – Earthquake Aftermath by Duane Flatmo, Rural Burl Mural Bureau
29 Nature's Bounty by Duane Flatmo
30 Two Whales by Re-painted by Kati Texas
31 Indigenous Man Wearing a Headdress
32 Harvey's Fine Used Cars
33 Play within a Play
34 The Clark Museum
35 Carter House
36 Carson Mansion