Restoration and Renovation on the Northern California Coast Creates a Showplace of Building Legacies and Local Lore

Careful removal of nearly 100-year-old cement plaster reveals slabs of old-growth Redwood.

Careful removal of nearly 100-year-old cement plaster reveals slabs of old-growth Redwood.

Hurdles

A few critical hurdles threatened the project’s progress. Sourcing appropriate materials to meet the Standards’ definition of “in-kind” or “compatible” replacement was difficult. For example, it was initially considered infeasible to source replacement glass panels needed for the storefront’s large-format glazing—up to 75 or 80 square feet each. Many large glass supply companies wouldn’t deliver because their trucks were unable to navigate the narrow, winding mountain roads leading to Eureka. Ultimately, the team found a way to fetch the monolithic panels from nearby Santa Rosa, Calif., on smaller trucks, with the inevitable loss of some sheets during transport. The solution was critical to not only the owner group but also for meeting the historic-preservation standards underlying the tax breaks.

Although Eureka has always had a healthy supply of skilled woodworkers, early on in the project it became clear that the region lacked certain trades that specialized in historic-preservation work. Additionally, few of the contractors had worked on a project that required meeting the Standards. In an unusual instance of project team collaboration, Page & Turnbull led a training effort so the subcontractors not versed in historic-preservation requirements could understand the importance of accurately restoring features to meet the Standards, the key to securing the tax credit and its contribution as a significant source of funding.

As for the long-lost turret, it had to be totally reconstructed to match early photos and original plans. Carpenters framed the semicircular addition using a full-sized template with local craftsmen reinventing the curved trim and tall wood windows.

In fact, underlying the renewed Carson Block Building is a massive structural retrofit with a completely reworked framing system. New seismic bracing at the storefront level was a critical addition, but as conceived it would have been visible through the historic (and tall) glass storefront. A redesign moved the bracing back and also added steel bracing within interior spaces, presenting another challenge in keeping the interiors true to their original while incorporating steel framing for earthquake safety.

Improved Performance

The renewed Carson Block Building also restores features that improve its overall performance, including valuable sustainability features inherent to the 1892 original. Restorations and upgrades helped revive its daylighting benefits and interior finishes with skylights above open stairs improved to bring more sun into third-floor corridors and stairwells. New tall, double-hung windows serving ground-level retail spaces were rehabilitated and updated. The building’s original wood slab walls—basically stacked arrays of two-by-fours used in the original design for fire resistance—are now protected by new sheathing for seismic stability with new plaster installed over the sheathing to match the original.

The redwood is treated so it can withstand the harsh marine conditions in Eureka. Building features that had been removed or damaged beyond repair are replaced.

The redwood is treated so it can withstand the harsh marine conditions in Eureka. Building features that had been removed or damaged beyond repair are replaced.


Other safety standards were met or exceeded while reclaiming the full legacy of Eureka’s vaunted past. Now serving as a mixed-use resource that houses ground-level retail, the headquarters for NCIDC, various office tenants, and a co-working and event space in the former theater, the work showed how we can revive long-lost building traditions to benefit communities and cities with improved centers for commerce, tourism, entertainment and retail.

Most of all, the project revealed the nature of Humboldt County. This small, cooperative community displayed dedication to civic engagement. Local economic development committees, city leaders, and local historical societies and arts groups all banded together to secure success for their beloved Carson Block Building. The restoration and renovation processes brought passersby together, turning strangers into friends sharing wonderment and awe at their region’s real history.

Retrofit Team

Executive Architect: John Sergio Fisher & Associates, San Francisco

Preservation Architect: Page & Turnbull, Los Angeles

General Contractor: Pacific Builders, Arcata, Calif.

Façade Restoration: Spectra Co., Pomona, Calif.

Structural Engineer: CYS Structural Engineers Inc., Sacramento, Calif.

MEP/Fire Protections Engineer: GHD Inc., Eureka, Calif.

Wood Replacement Fabrication: Mad River Woodworks, Arcata; Blue Ox, Eureka; and WoodLab Designs, Arcata

Masonry: SJR Masonry & Construction, McKinleyville, Calif., (707) 839-2103

Interior Plaster Repair: Peter Santino, Eureka, Calif.

Turret Window Replacement: CJ’s Sash & Door, McKinleyville, (707) 839-3687

Materials

Wood Replacement: Old-growth local redwood

Wood Epoxy: 105 Epoxy Resin and 205 Hardener from West System

Wood Adhesive: 5-Minute Epoxy from Devcon

Terra-cotta Replacement: Cast Stone with Integral Color

Brick Replacement: Custom and specialty shapes by Pacific Clay

Exterior Paint: Oil-based primer and latex topcoat from Sherwin-Williams

Standing-seam Metal Roof: Kynar-coated 24-gauge Galvalume from Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp.

Photos: Stephen Schafer

About the Author

John Lesak and Lindsey Miller
John D. Lesak, AIA, LEED AP, FAPT, is a principal and Lindsey Miller, AIA, LEED AP, is an associate architect at Page & Turnbull, a national architecture and preservation firm with offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco.

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