North Coast Journal


Heritage is as heritage does

by Maka MacKenna

WOODLEY ISLAND IS ONE of my favorite places. It's a great place for walking your dog. Of course if they allowed dogs, it would be even better.

So I was shocked by reports that Ted Loring wants to build a motel out there. Could this be the same Ted Loring who's a high godzilla of the Eureka Heritage Society? How is building a motel on that last bit of accessible open space consistent with preserving our heritage?

Well, after thinking it over, I've decided that Ted is really onto something. Motels are a large and honorable part of Eureka's heritage.

In fact, for thousands of travelers over the years who stopped in Eureka just as the kids got unmanageable or the gas ran out, and who never saw anything beyond the strip of motels on south Broadway, Eureka IS a motel.

The Lamplighter, the Safari, the Flamingo, the Matador are the major ã and in a lot of cases, the only ã impressions a lot of people get of Eureka.

As kids, coming back from family trips to The City, we knew we were home when we saw our familiar strip of motels. Since we lived here, I never got to stay in any of them. I only discovered that aspect of our heritage many years later.

My personal favorite is Chin's. Where else can you wake up to the smell of Chinese food cooking at 6 a.m.?

Of course a lot of the older places might not be in business after Chateau Loring opens its doors. Ted is quoted saying that tourism is seasonal and that his project wouldn't be viable if opened in winter. Since there's not a crying demand for the 60 additional motel rooms, the new motel can only succeed by siphoning business from its less well-located brethren.

Still, we should be grateful to Ted for bringing to light a part of our heritage that has been cruelly neglected. And it's not too late to set things right.

We could start by changing the Eureka city seal to include a representation of our oldest surviving motel (Christie's?). The Heritage Society could honor special achievement with annual awards for "most abandoned pets," "most colorful shooting incidents," "most drug busts," and "most exciting soft drink machine," vending machines being our most popular form of legal gambling.

Ray Hillmann could lead walking tours of our historic motel district, especially noting the motels which have become de facto homeless shelters, allowing the city to bumble around without a permanent solution to a problem that isn't going away.

A plaque should certainly be installed at the site of the recently demolished Triangle, since the Heritage Society didn't see fit to save the building for posterity.

Certainly the efforts could culminate in an annual Motel Festival, perhaps featuring tours similar to our garden and home tours. A drawing would be appropriate, first prize a week at the Fireside, second prize two weeks at the Fireside.

In My Humble Opinion, any new motels to be built should be channeled into Eureka's decaying downtown, which badly needs a fix. And, IMHO, visitors should be housed where they can shop and patronize restaurants, not corralled on Woodley Island where most of them will find it too much trouble to negotiate the bridge back into town.

Eureka has always had a fuzzy identity to outsiders. In the '50s, it was where the phone company sent you when you got in trouble with your boss. In the '60s it was where you could survive a nuclear war. In the '70s, we were written up as the suicide capital and last repository for the human flotsam and jetsam drifting up and down the West Coast. Then we were the venue for Redwood Summer in the early '90s. And in '94 we made Newsweek because a cellist was too self-righteous to bend her bow for "Peter and the Wolf," even the politically correct version.

After all these years of mixed signals, anyone trying to market Eureka as a tourist destination has their work cut out. The local chambers of commerce are pushing hard to promote Eureka as a "Victorian Seaport," bless 'em. Maybe they can develop some literature explaining that while Victorian Seaports don't normally have a motel in the middle of the bay, we have one there and on the city seal as well.

After all, it's our heritage.

Maka MacKenna is a fourth-generation Humboldter who recently returned to the area after 30 years.