Historic Element of Arcata’s General Plan

Arcata General Plan: Chapter 5


Arcata’s Historical and Cultural Resources. For centuries before the arrival of European-American settlers in 1850, Arcata and the Humboldt Bay region were the home of the Wiyot. An Algonquian-speaking people, the Wiyot lived along the lower Mad River, other local streams, and along Humboldt Bay. Their way of life was shaped by the remarkable surroundings of forested hills, bountiful streams and rivers, and the Pacific and Bay shores, which generously provided for both their survival and cultural needs.
Humboldt Bay was located by European-Americans for the first time in 1849. The discovery of gold in the Trinity and Klamath River regions resulted in large numbers of settlers coming to the area. The displacement, disease, violence, and cultural disintegration accompanying white settlement brought almost total annihilation to the Wiyot peoples. Today, the Wiyots are, for the most part, associated with three Humboldt Bay area rancherias. They are involved in various tribal economic projects and in the revitalization of cultural traditions such as language, basket weaving, ceremonies, and reclaiming ancestral lands.
Arcata, first known as Union, was settled in the spring of 1850 as a supply center for the interior mining districts. The townsite at the foot of Fickle Hill was selected by the Union Company and subdivided into blocks and lots. A wharf was soon constructed into Arcata Bay with a horse-drawn railway connecting to the Plaza, where merchandising establishments supplied both the miners and growing numbers of residents.
The importance of gold, however, was soon eclipsed by lumbering. It was timber resources – particularly the vast, virgin forests of giant redwoods which covered the ridges and valleys along California’s north coast – that sustained the development of Arcata through the 19th century and into the mid-twentieth century. By 1930 Arcata’s population had reached 1,700 and was growing. A public water system and fire department came along in 1884, followed by the Arcata Union newspaper in 1886, electricity in 1895, railroad connections with San Francisco in 1914, the establishment of Humboldt State Normal School (now Humboldt State University) in 1914, and the Redwood Highway in 1925 [Susie Van Kirk: Touring Arcata’s Architecture, 1988]. Many fine examples of both residential and commercial structures from Arcata’s early history survive today. The Plaza itself, with the statue of McKinley (1906) at its center, dates from the town’s beginnings, and recalls the “greens” of New England or the town squares of the south. Although none of the original 1850s buildings around the Plaza remain, a variety of classical revival and false-front buildings from the turn-of-the century survive around its perimeter. The Plaza remains the city’s commercial hub to the present day. Many of the commercial buildings have been restored, best exemplified by the Jacoby Building (1857), which pioneered modern-day historical preservation endeavors in the city with its restoration in 1977.
An inventory of Arcata’s historical structures and sites in 1979 [Susie Van Kirk: Reflections of Arcata’s History: eighty years of architecture, 1979] identified four early periods of residential building styles: settlement (1850-1885) Victorian (1885-1900), Transitional (1900-1910) and Craftsman (1910-1930), in addition to the modern period (1930-present). The City’s first historic preservation ordinance [Ordinance No. 935] was adopted by the City Council in 1980. Since that time, 85 structures or sites have been formally designated by ordinance as local historic landmarks. The City’s Historic Landmarks, Neighborhood Conservation Areas , and Specific Plan Districts are shown on Figures HP-a and HP-b.

Guiding Principles and Goals.

A. Promote preservation of structures and sites that are representative of the various periods of the city’s social and physical development.
B. Preserve the historical character of the Plaza and the surrounding commercial district.
C. Encourage owners of eligible structures to seek historic landmark status and to invest in restoration efforts.
D. Conserve the many examples of early residential building styles found in the city’s older neighborhoods, from Bayside to Arcata Heights.
E. Assure that new construction and additions to existing historically-designated buildings maintain the character and livability of the historic neighborhoods.
F. Promote interest in and appreciation of the value of Arcata’s history and its heritage of historic buildings.
G. Encourage tourism and economic development through historic resource preservation.
H. Prevent destruction of archaeological and cultural resources and assure that any artifacts receive proper disposition.


The Historical Preservation Element contains the following policies:

H-1 ..Historic Landmarks
H-2 ..Noteworthy Structures
H-3 ..Arcata Plaza Area Historic District
H-4 ..Neighborhood Conservation Areas
H-5 ..Controls on Demolitions of Structures
H-6 ..Public Participation, Information, and Education Policy
H-7 ..Archaeological and Cultural Resources


Objective. Designate and preserve significant structures and sites that are representative of the city’s social and physical development; that are reminders of past eras, events, and persons important in local, state, or national history; which provide significant examples of architectural styles of the past; or which are unique and irreplaceable assets to the city, and the neighborhood in which the structure or site is located.
National Register and State Historic Landmarks designations. The City encourages owners of eligible structures to request National Register and State Historical Landmarks designations for their properties. As of 1998, three National Register sites have been designated: the Arcata Hotel (on the Plaza), the Whaley House (14th and H Streets), and the Schorlig House (1050 12th Street). The Jacoby Storehouse is among the State Registered Historical Landmarks.
Local Historic Landmarks designations. Structures or sites having special character or special historic, architectural, or aesthetic interest or value shall be designated as local Historic Landmarks. Such structures or sites shall be protected from demolition and inappropriate alterations. Locally designated Historic Landmarks are shown in Figure HP-a and are listed in Table HP-1, at the end of the Element. An updated inventory of structures and sites eligible for designation as a Local Historic Landmark shall be maintained by the City. One or more of the following criteria shall be required for a structure or site to be eligible for listing:
1. The building or site is particularly representative of a distinct architectural period, type, style, or way of life.
2. The building is of a type or style which was once common but is now rare.
3. The building is at least 50 years old.
4. The building or site is connected with a person or event important to local history.
5. The architect or builder is famous or well-recognized.
6. The building’s style, construction method, or materials are unusual or significant.
7. The overall effect of the design or building details are beautiful or unusual.
8. The building contains original materials or workmanship of high or unusual value.
Historic Landmarks (HL) combining zone. The City shall formally designate Historic Landmarks with a special combining zone in the Land Use Code. The zone shall serve as a disclosure of the importance of the structure and of the limitations placed on its alteration or demolition. The request for designation may be initiated by the owner, City Council, Planning Commission, or the Historical Landmarks Commission. If initiated by the City, the owner shall be notified and be able to contest the process.
Discretionary review and approval requirements for demolition.
[See policy H-5].
Design review approval for alterations and additions. The following types of changes to a structure designated by the HL combining zone shall not be permitted without first obtaining approval of the Historic Landmarks Commission:
1. Any exterior modifications or alterations, including changes in materials.
2. Interior alterations that would affect the exterior appearance.
3. Any addition to the designated structure.
4. Construction of a new building on a parcel with a designated Historic Landmark.
Design criteria for alterations of and additions to local Historic Landmarks. At the discretion of the Community Development Director and/or Historical Landmarks Commission, an owner proposing any construction or alteration that may affect the historical character of the structure may be required to obtain an analysis of the proposed changes by a cultural resources consultant or other knowledgeable professional to determine the impact on the building’s historical features.
In modifying historic structures, the distinguishing original qualities or character of the building shall not be destroyed. The removal or alteration of any historic material or distinctive architectural feature shall be avoided whenever possible. Whenever practicable deteriorated architectural features shall be repaired or restored rather than replaced. Contemporary design for additions are not prohibited when such additions are compatible with and do not destroy the historical or architectural character of the property.
Preservation Incentives. To encourage property owners to obtain local Historic Landmark designation, the City will provide the following incentives or assistance:
1. Exemption from the requirements to provide any additional off-street parking, except for additions 200 or more square feet in size. 2. Exemption, for nonconforming uses, from Land Use Code limitations pertaining to non-conforming structures and site conditions. 3. Compliance with the State Historic Building Code and portions of the Uniform Code for Building Conservation, rather than the current edition of the Uniform Building Code.
4. Conservation easements for facades that may provide tax advantages to the donor.
5. Establishment of a Mills Act program, by the City, which would provide property tax reductions for historic properties subject to program criteria.
6. Facade rehabilitation grants or loans, through the Community Development Agency, for designated historic commercial structures.
Historical Landmarks on the Humboldt State University campus. The City encourages HSU to initiate procedures for the recognition and protection, in compliance with Public Resources Code Section 5024, of historic structures and other historic resources on the campus. The following structures, located on the HSU campus, are hereby identified as local Historic Landmarks.
1. Founders Hall
3. Nelson Hall
2. Gist Hall
4. Jenkins Hall
Historical Landmarks Commission (HLC). The City Council shall create a Historical Landmarks Commission consisting of persons having knowledge, by virtue of training or experience, of Arcata’s social and building history or of design and building. The Commission shall promote public involvement and education in preserving Arcata’s heritage of older buildings.


Objective. Identify and encourage retention of structures which could qualify as historical landmarks, but are not currently designated. Although some of these structures may lack the level of significance attached to designated landmarks, they have an architectural or design character which represents particular building styles or eras in the City’s development, and they contribute to the overall character and historical texture of a neighborhood.
Noteworthy structures list. The City shall direct the Historical Landmarks Commission to recommend and keep current a “Noteworthy Structures” list, and encourage retention of these structures. Noteworthy structures are those which may not have complete documentation as to their historical or architectural merit but which have notable characteristics. In order to be eligible for listing, a structure should have one of the following attributes:
1. Representative of a particular architectural style.
2. Representative of a period in the city’s historical development.
3. Associated with social history of the city.
4. Of unusual or special design character.
Incentives, list preparation, notification, and future landmark designation. Those properties listed as noteworthy structures shall be eligible for the following incentives and assistance:
1. Exemption from the requirements to provide any additional off-street parking, except for additions 200 or more square feet in size.
2. Exemption, for nonconforming uses, from Land Use Code limitations pertaining to non-conforming structures and site conditions.
3. Compliance with the State Historic Building Code and portions of the Uniform Code for Building Conservation, rather than the current edition of the Uniform Building Code.
4. Conservation easements for facades that may provide tax advantages to the donor.
5. Facade rehabilitation grants or loans, through the Community
Development Agency, for designated historic commercial structures.
The Historical Landmarks Commission shall notify the owners of property being considered for placement on the list. Those owners shall be given the opportunity to contest and appeal the listing. There shall also be a procedure established for properties to be removed from the list. The owners of properties listed as having noteworthy structures are encouraged to apply for Historic Landmark designation.
Noteworthy structures on Humboldt State University campus. The Wagner House located on campus is hereby identified as a noteworthy structure. The City requests that all structures ofhistoric value be preserved and protected from demolition and from alterations or additions that are incompatible with their historical character. Noteworthy structures on the HSU campus will be added to the noteworthy structures list developed by the City pursuant to H-2a.
Design review approval. Design Review Commission review and approval, with input from the Historic Landmarks Commission, shall be required for all exterior alterations to noteworthy structures, when or if alterations require a building permit, including changes in types of materials and additions.
Design criteria for alterations and additions. Prior to approval of any exterior change, the Design Review Commission shall make findings of fact that the alteration or addition is compatible with and does not destroy the historical or architectural character of the property and the immediate neighborhood.
Demolition Controls. [See policy H-5].


Objective. Protect and preserve the Arcata Plaza and the older structures that border the adjacent streets and help define the Plaza’s character, for the unique historical, architectural, aesthetic, and economic values that it represents to the city.
Arcata Plaza Historic District. The Plaza Area has a special character and unique historical, aesthetic and cultural interest and significance to the residents and businesses of Arcata. Reflecting its central place in Arcata’s heritage and identity, the Plaza Area, as shown on Figure HP-a, is hereby designated as a local historic district.
Historic District combining zone. The Plaza Area Historic District shall, by ordinance pursuant to the Land Use Code, be designated within the Landmark Historic District Combining Zone. Structures within the Historic District shall receive the same protections as are provided to individually-designated Historic Landmarks.
Controls on demolition. [Policy H-5 applies.]
Design review approval. Review and approval by the Design Review Commission shall be required for all exterior alterations of and additions to structures located within the Plaza Area Historic District.
Design criteria for alterations and additions. [policies D-2e and D-2g shall apply]
Regulatory and other incentives for preservation. In addition to the regulatory and other incentives in H-1g, the following shall also apply:
1. The City Council, with the help of the Historic Landmarks Commission and the Historical Sites Society of Arcata, shall develop a commemorative plaque program to provide special identification of historical structures.
2. Non-conforming uses that have historical value will be allowed to continue.
Arcata Plaza as a historic site. The Arcata Plaza Historic District includes at its center the city park known as the Arcata Plaza. The following principal features of the Plaza which define its historical character shall be preserved:
1. The McKinley Statue at the center of the Plaza.
2. The generally symmetrical pattern of walkways.
3. The open nature of the Plaza and the absence of buildings within it.
4. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union drinking fountain on “H”
5. The existing Plaza palm trees.


Objective. Designate the Central Arcata, Arcata Heights, Bayview, and Bayside areas as Neighborhood Conservation Areas and assure that new construction, modifications or alterations of noteworthy structures, and significant changes to other structures are harmonious with the existing character of these neighborhoods.
Neighborhood Conservation Areas. The following NCAs, with the boundaries shown in Figure HP-b, are hereby established:
1. Bayview Conservation Area.
3. “Central” Conservation Area.
2. Arcata Heights Conservation Area.
Demolition controls. [See policy H-5.]
Design review. All structures located within an NCA, including single-family houses, historic structures identified in specific plans, and existing structures with exterior alterations or renovation of more than 25 percent of the floor and/or exterior wall area, shall be subject to approval. Prior to approval, the finding must be made that the design will be compatible with the existing character of the NCA. H-4d
Rehabilitation assistance programs. Any City-sponsored or assisted rehabilitation programs shall give priority to qualifying structures within the boundaries of NCAs. Such rehabilitation shall be consistent with the architectural and aesthetic character of the area and the individual structure.
Design criteria for alterations and additions. Prior to approval of any exterior change requiring a building permit, the Design Review Commission shall make a finding that the alteration or addition is compatible with and does not destroy the historical or architectural character of the property and the surrounding neighborhood conservation area.
Specific Plan Districts. The following Specific Plan Districts, with boundaries shown in Figures HP-b and HP-c, are hereby established:
1. Bayside Specific Plan District.
2. “South of Samoa” (SOS) Specific Plan District.
Specific Plans prepared for these Districts will include preservation measures for historic and noteworthy structures.


Objective. To prevent the premature demolition of existing buildings without first evaluating whether they are contributory to the historical or architectural character of the City or neighborhood and to consider the potential for preservation of those found to contribute to such character.
Discretionary demolition review required. No building within the City shall be demolished, in whole or in part, without review and approval by the Historical Landmarks Commission prior to issuance of a Demolition Permit. A Notice of Proposed Demolition shall be provided to all property owners within a 300-foot radius and to the Historical Sites Society of Arcata.
Prior to its decision, the HLC shall consider the recommendations of the Historical Sites Society of Arcata or its designated representative. For partial demolitions, the applicant shall be required to submit a demolition plan showing those portions to be demolished and those to be retained. The following findings shall be required to approve demolition permit:
1. The building does not contribute to the historical or aesthetic
character of the neighborhood or the city.
2. Although the building does have historical or aesthetic merit, it:
a. has sustained substantial damage to key structural components, and b. there are no feasible alternatives to demolition of the building.
Waiting period for demolition of designated landmarks. Any approved demolition permit for designated historical landmarks shall be automatically subject to a delay of 180 days before the building permit for demolition may be issued by the City.
Deconstruction of older buildings. In those instances where demolition is authorized, it is encouraged that the buildings be deconstructed and that building components, fixtures, and materials be salvaged for future re-use.


Objective. Promote public awareness of the City’s historical heritage and resources, provide information and education about the methods and techniques to protect and enhance the quality of these resources, and encourage public participation in preserving Arcata’s historical heritage.
Role of Historical Sites Society of Arcata (HSSA). The City shall send notice to the HSSA on all matters pertaining the preservation of historical resources. These include, but are not limited to, requests for comments on proposed Historic Landmarks, additions to the list of noteworthy structures, and proposed alteration or demolition of such structures.
The HSSA may submit its comments to the Historical Landmarks Commission. In consultation with the HSSA and the HLC, the Community Development Department shall prepare a brochure which provides guidelines and federal standards for restoration, alteration, and additions to historical landmark and noteworthy structures. The HSSA is also designated as the organization to oversee the operation of Phillips House Museum of the City of Arcata.
Commemorative plaques for historical structures. In order to provide greater recognition and identification of designated historical landmark structures and to comply with federal standards, a commemorative plaque program should be developed. The HSSA is encouraged to be the lead organization for this effort. H-6c
Informational guides and walking tours. The City encourages the HSSA and Arcata Chamber of Commerce to prepare informational guides or walking tour guides for Arcata’s most significant historical resources. The purposes of the tour guide(s) are to promote appreciation of the community’s heritage sites and contribute to Arcata’s tourism attractions.
Brochure on benefits and advantages for designating historical landmarks. The Arcata Community Development Department shall prepare an informational brochure which describes the benefits and advantages of having structures or sites designated as local Historic Landmarks.

Objective. Protect and preserve Native American and Euro-American archeological sites and cultural resources within the City of Arcata.
Cultural Resources Project Review. As part of the environmental and project review process, the City of Arcata shall enter into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Northwest Information Center of the Historical Resources Information System of the State of California. Under the MOA, all proposed discretionary projects under the California Environmental Quality Act shall be subject to cultural resources sensitivity review by the Northwest Information Center. In order to provide a context for city projects, for the evaluation of cultural significance and for the interpretation of the results of cultural resources project reviews, the City of Arcata shall contract for a general prehistoric, ethnographic, and historic overview of the city and its environs.
Archaeological Surface Reconnaissance. If the cultural resources project review determines that the project is located in an area with a high probability of archaeological resources, an archaeological survey by a professional archaeologist or other qualified expert shall be performed.
Mitigation of potential impacts on archeological resources. If the results of the surface reconnaissance show that the project area contains a resource of cultural significance, and if it is demonstrated that a project will cause damage to such a resource, the City may require reasonable efforts to be made to permit any or all of these resources to be preserved in place or left in an undisturbed state. Examples of other treatment include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Modifying the project to avoid portions of the site with archaeological resources.
2. Providing or conveying easements or other deed restrictions.
3. Capping or covering archaeological resources with a soil layer before construction.
4. Planning open space to incorporate archaeological sites.
Monitoring of Construction. In appropriate circumstances, when archaeological resources are likely to be present at a construction site, monitoring of excavation and other soil disturbing activities by archeological and/or Native American observers shall be required.
Discovery of archeological resources. Upon discovery of archeological or paleontological materials, all grading or other land-disturbing construction activities at the site shall be suspended until the nature of the cultural resources has been ascertained and the appropriate disposition method determined.