Historic Structures

Building Description Carson House - Ingomar Club, Eureka California

Solidly built from the ground up, the house has separate foundations for each wall - inside and out. The framing and principal structural and decorative members are entirely of redwood. The principal entrance faces west and the general design of the house is oriented to this view. In type, the Carson House is a Stick-Villa, and reveals the superficial ornamental changes in the Villa of the 1880's from such a Villa as the present Governor's Mansion in Sacramento of 1877. The lofty, more or less off-center tower and picturesque massing are characteristic of the later Villas of 19th century American architecture.

In the tower especially, and in the rear of the house, one can see interest in stick or strip articulation - so common in California houses of the 1880's. Reduplicated strips frame the corners of the vertical rhythms from story to story. Most of the upper exterior wall surfaces have variations on shingle patterns - either of an undulant type or a more scale-like type (the latter especially characteristic of the later 1880's). With its grotesquely steep gables and delayed Victorian Gothic barge boards, the house reflects that interest in medievalizing forms which produced Stick, Shingle and Queen Anne designs. (Rounded towers at the rear of the Carson House also suggest Queen Anne.) There are, of course, some "original" decorative features which make this house virtually unique. In general, architects of the period drew upon 16th century Mannerist sources without always realizing what they were doing. The bulbous, out-size, eccentric "spindle" pillars of the principal porch which encircles the west and south sides of the house, the bizarre broken and canted pediment over the main stair, and the extremely tall, constricted feeling of ornamental parts - this is Mannerist, The exact source is more easily seen as Eastlake patterns modified by an interest in later l6th century English and Italian details; but the end result is a special mixture which is grandiosely hideous in the inspired manner of certain Roman "follies" of the 16th century. There is, fortunately, only one such house in California.

There have been minor modifications of the exterior (removal of unsteady exterior chimneys, removal of finials, etc); but the general effect is virtually the same today as it was in the photograph published in Souvenir of Humboldt County in 1902, when the extremely stark flavor of the first years of the house had been softened by growing plants. The original iron balustrade remains on the second floor, encircling the area above the main porch and providing a balcony of great amplitude at this level. The iron cresting on the roofs of the third floor either has been removed or replaced with wood balustrading. The house has been repainted. Some additions have been made to suit the purposes of the Ingomar Club, but they are at the side of the house and do not alter its original character.

This great three story house, with frontal tower, rose from a full basement. The mansion contained eighteen rooms in its original form. A squared vestibule with double doors (the outer door is a sliding one; the inner doors are a pair of tall wood doors with stained glass windows and stained glass transom above) leads into the interior. The principal rooms of the main, first floor are a pair of parlors and the dining room; the latter is said to have been modeled on the Maximilian dining room at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico. The relationship is certainly not direct, although there are similarities in shape and general character; the dining room at Chapultepec is much larger in scale than that at Eureka, and the wood dadoes, overmantels and cupboards differ in detail. Primavera wood is especially utilized in the great stair hall and staircase of the Carson House. The parlors have Mexican onyx mantels and either a carved mahogany and redwood overmantel with stained glass window (left parlor) or large mirror (right parlor). Parlor walls are either painted or fabric covered, and do not presently reflect the original wall coverings. Ceilings throughout the first floor have raised plaster geometric patterns, vaguely suggestive of the ceilings of the l6th century. At the cornice level are elaborate carved wood bracketed cornices, or less elaborate plaster cornices. Here the approach of more "correct" Period ornament can be seen in rows of egg and dart or other modified Classical moldings. The wood work, particularly in the vestibule and entrance stair hall, on the other hand, reflects the bizarre local variations on Eastlake, Tudor and Mannerist sources. Plaster rosettes in the centers of the principal rooms' ceilings once focussed attention on gasoliers; the present fixtures are electric and date from the 20's and 50's of the 20th century. Occasional pieces of furniture survive from the first period of the house (notably the massive oak table and tapestry-covered oak chairs of the dining room).

At the landing of the great main staircase is a stained glass window facing west, with panels depicting the arts and sciences. There is a large drawing room on the second floor - also with an onyx mantel, surmounted by a massive mirror. Perhaps the strangest single feature of the second floor is the hallway with its horseshoe arches of carved wood - now painted. Cornice details on this floor, as on the first, reflect more "correct" Period styling - having Classical moldings. The hall walls are now covered in grass cloth. Doors and door frames are similar on both first and second floors; pseudo-fluted pilasters of an entirely "original" design frame doors with three vertical recessed panels over four rectilineer recessed panels. Continuing the frame over the door are grouped moldings approaching Classical types. Hardware is generally original; lighting fixtures on the second~floor are modern.

The third floor has a ballroom decorated with paintings, etchings and engravings from Gump's in San Francisco; there is also a billiard room at this level, with ranks of cue racks. An elevator has been installed in the house. Magnificent views can be had from the tower.

The Carson House occupied virtually a city block. Surrounding the great wooden mansion are spreading lawns, with a path through miniature woods to the former greenhouse, vegetable garden and orchard. At the rear of the house was a wood shed of generous proportions and a carriage house.