Long-overdue repairs on the Carson Block — that massive edifice at the intersection of Third and F streets in Eureka that was once the largest office building north of San Francisco — are forcing tenants out of a home.
Old Town Art Gallery and the Discovery Museum are among the restoration refugees and, while the art gallery has already found new digs down the street, the museum has until the end of November to find a new location, with no sign of a permanent home so far. In August, Eureka's city council unanimously approved a relocation plan for the building's 10 tenants — including offices on the first, second and third stories. All but one commercial tenant will be moving out.
The relocation process for the ground floor businesses has been amiable since repairs on the Carson Block building began in 2013 after the Northern California Indian Development Council, which has owned the building since 1986, finally got funding from a variety of sources for seismic retrofits to the building's unreinforced masonry. When the Journal contacted the Discovery Museum last year, then-executive director Lynn Langdon said, "When they give us the boot, we'll figure it out."
Well, now's the time. Amy Whitlatch, the museum's current executive director, says it is looking for a temporary home by the November move-out date, while looking for a permanent future location.
She says it's unlikely the museum will look to move back into the Carson Block when repairs are complete. "The amount of work that needs to be done," she says, "the timeframe — it makes sense for the museum [to find another permanent home]."
At one point the museum was penciled in as a centerpiece for the proposed Marina Center development south of Old Town, but that project seems indefinitely stalled.
The museum is committed to Eureka, Whitlatch said, but hasn't decided on any more specific location. She expects that the museum will have to fit in a smaller space — it enjoyed a reasonable price for the Carson Block's corner space. The museum's popular Kids Alive program (where parents drop their kids off during Arts Alive) could be impacted if the museum leaves Old Town, but Whitlatch said other favorites — the grocery store, the classroom, the toddler room and the water play exhibit — will continue on at the museum's future location, along with other new exhibits.
A couple doors down, the former site of the Old Town Art Gallery, a cooperative of more than 40 artists, now sits empty. The gallery relocated just around the corner to the C.W. Long Building (which houses Los Bagels) after 27 years in the Carson Block. Gallery President Sharolyn Hutton said the move has been exhausting, but that she is pleased with the gallery's tenure at the Carson Block and excited to be in a new space.
The gallery's staff and volunteers have been painting, hanging wainscoting and track lighting and moving — a delicate process with the gallery's wide variety of art. "We have successfully moved paintings, photographs, porcelain, pottery, mosaics and jewelry," Hutton says. "It's all coming together just beautifully."
The gallery, like the Discovery Museum, decided it wasn't worth trying to get back into the Carson Block space once repairs are complete. Grant funding obtained by the NCIDC will help the gallery and the museum pay for finding and fixing up their new locations. Hutton says the gallery couldn't have afforded the move otherwise; electrical work at the new location is estimated to cost more than $3,000, and there's painting, plumbing and new fixtures to be added, not to mention advertising the move. The city approved $280,000 of the more than $5 million restoration grant funding to be used to help the Carson Block's 10 displaced tenants relocate.
Eureka Chief Building Official Brian Gerving said the restoration plans for the Carson Block are all but finalized, and will be submitted by the middle of September. Building could begin by the end of October and, while he couldn't provide a completion date, Gerving said the builders have "an aggressive construction schedule."
"It's a very important project from the economic standpoint and safety for the public," Gerving said. "Having that retrofit complete will be really beneficial to the community."
Hutton is excited for the Old Town Gallery's new home and new configuration, which was in place for September's Arts Alive. "It'll be interesting to see what people have to say," she says. "People who come month after month, year after year."
Whitlatch is optimistic as well. "We're anticipating reopening by Dec. 1 on a limited basis," she says. "Eureka's a great community. Humboldt County's a great community, with all the support we get. We're looking forward to a future of helping our community."