Friday, August 28, 2009

Eureka! – The Blue Ox Mill

During my recent trip to Eureka, I had the pleasure of meeting Viviana and Eric Hollenbeck. The Hollenbecks run The Blue Ox Mill in Eureka.

Paul Bunyan watches over the operation -

Among many other things, The Blue Ox Mill is home to “the world's largest functioning collection of human powered equipment from Barnes Manufacturing, one of the most efficient manufacturers of human powered tools in the 1800s.” "Human powered" simply means without electricity. I'd never given thought to how wood was cut or sawed way back when. How did Victorian homes get all those fancy corbels and doodads?

On my visit, I took the Eric-guided tour and it was fascinating. If you have any interest in tools at all, you really should see the page linked above. In fact, spend time with the whole web site. I'm not the least bit mechanical but I found myself really interested in these antique tools. They were surprisingly fast and efficient and really cleverly made.

This is Eric demonstrating one of the vintage machines -

In his hand he's holding a fence picket he's just made with one quick move. I think the big machine pictured is a rip saw from 1890. Now I wish I'd taken video of the demonstration. Next time.

I took a picture of this 1909 printing press because it's from the same year as our house -

All the publicity posters for the play were printed on it.

Joana Carrillo and Jason poster (c) photo and poster by Stacia Torborg

Eric said he began collecting these vintage machines by just finding them here and there, abandoned and rusted around Eureka. He cleaned them up and today they work as well as new. Maybe one day when the oil runs out and the power shuts down, we'll all have to work on devices that are truly mechanical and not just electronic. When that day comes, we'll really know where our stuff comes from.

The Blue Ox is a combination Millworks, Historical Park and School of Traditional Arts.

Its web site describes the millworks as “a custom shop specializing in Victorian architectural details and historic reproductions. Blue Ox manufactures everything from hand carved newels to custom wood windows, from 24 foot columns, to custom redwood gutters, gable decorations, siding, corbels, moulding, and more." Eric is one of the few craftsmen in the country doing authentic restorations of historic homes and businesses.

I wondered how many of these were created at the Blue Ox -

Eric is also one of the few craftsmen allowed to salvage old growth redwood from fallen trees that remain on forest floors. Old growth redwood can also be recovered from riverbeds. Felled trees were transported by water and occasionally would fall from their conveyance into the cold river where they’ve remained submerged in mud for a 100 years or more. At one time those trees weren’t worth recovering but they are now. Old growth redwood is in demand by those who demand truly authentic restoration of Victorian period homes but those old trees aren’t there for harvesting anymore. The few that remain are protected in parks. Ninety six percent of these trees, trees that had lived for over a thousand years, were cut down to build homes like mine and like Mr. Carson’s. I shudder to think what trees were felled to make the playground bark I trampled in my childhood, while my state was governed by a man who famously claimed “if you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.” Like with so many of our natural resources, there's always more until there is none left.

Eric also showed us where he makes his own wood stains using substances like walnuts in vinegar -

With all the stains we had to test for the wood in our house, I'm glad we didn't have to make each one ourselves!

As if woodworking, printing, and stain making weren't enough The Blue Ox also serves as a school for youth who haven't found success in a traditional class room. There are also classes in blacksmithing and ceramics and even more!

Cornerstone Theater's Jason in Eureka, was performed on the site of The Blue Ox Mill. In the play, a young Eureka couple inherits an old Victorian home in disrepair. They accept the challenge, encounter a homeless man (Jason) who sleeps on their property, learn about historic preservation and through committing themselves to their neighborhood they learn about the conflicts in their community and through the luck of the inheritance and their own perseverance, create their own place in the world. In a parallel story, the mythological Argonaut, Jason, has been unjustly disinherited and so embarks on a quest for the Golden Fleece to regain his kingdom and assure his rightful place in the world.

Our rightful place in the world is hard for a lot of us to find. I think the Hollenbecks have found theirs.

This post joins the Hooked on Fridays blog party at Hooked on Houses. Head over and see what others are hooked on today.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eureka! – The Carson Mansion and the Victorians of Humboldt County

I recently returned from a 4 day trip to Eureka in Humboldt County. Humboldt is near the very tippity-top of California. I was there to see the latest Cornerstone Theater Production, Jason in Eureka. Cornerstone created an original play specifically for the community of Eureka, ‘cause that’s what they do. But this play was of special interest to me because the themes were the very themes of this blog: making an old house into a livable home, gentrification, class identity, imperialism. More about the play in a later post. Today, it's about the houses.

Eureka is the site of The Carson Mansion, reputed to be one of the most photographed houses in America.
One's first view of the Carson Mansion inspires gasps –

Built for the lumber baron William Carson, the Carson Mansion was built in 1885 in an over-the-top Queen Anne style. It’s way over the top. Way. I imagine the architect coming to Mr. Carson with his first blueprint. "I want more," is Carson’s reaction. The architect goes away and returns with a new blueprint with "more." "I want more," is the response. The architect tries again and again the answer is the same until finally, more is enough.

I don’t know if that’s how it happened but it seems unlikely that house resulted from the architect’s first plan or that the extreme degree of design started with the architect.
From what I’ve read, Mr. Carson was a generous man who treated his employees well. But I can’t help but think that the excess of this house is about an expression of ego. It’s got to be, right? Or maybe he was just enthusiastic.

Maybe for all of us who put work into making our homes more glorious than how we found them, the end product is an expression of ego. Or maybe we’re all just enthusiastic about our homes. Or maybe both. There’s no law that says it can’t be both.

I was hoping to get a tour of the Carson Mansion but there are no public tours. The house is now owned by The Ingomar Club and is closed to the public. Apparently, that conforms to Mr. Carson’s wishes. I’ll have to content myself with the virtual tour on the Ingomar Club web site and remain one of the little people posing just outside the fence (but I am not one of those pictured below).

The Carson Mansion is the most famous Victorian in Eureka but the County is full of lovely (and livable) restored Victorians. This one, the Pink Lady, is right across the street from the Carson Mansion and is known as the Carson House -

In just driving around town we saw this treasure–

with all that cute, cute detail -

And this one, which seems to be an architectural doily -

And this one, which appears to be in the process of getting new front steps -

and then there was this one, whose lawn could use a good watering -

and then there was this colorful beauty -

How do these people keep up with the painting maintenance?

And in the neighboring community of Ferndale, another lovely town with more beautiful Victorians, we came across this Bed & Breakfast -

I know where I want to stay on my next visit -

Mmm. Delicious Gingerbread.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vote for Paloma

Dear House on Red Hill readers - I'm asking for your vote, for your vote for Paloma.

A co-worker sent me an email with the following message and link:
A very dedicated Animal Shelter Volunteer has entered her dog in the cutest dog contest. Please vote for Paloma as many times as possible and pass on if you can.

Winnings will go to saving animals from shelters. Paloma was rescued from West Los Angeles Shelter.

Go to link below. Thanks! <>

If you open the link you'll see this picture:

Isn't she cute?

My co-worker is herself a very dedicated volunteer at the West LA Animal Shelter and our votes will mean a lot to her and to the shelter. You can vote once a day per IP address. That means you can vote once a day from home and once a day from work.

If you only have time to vote once, that's fine too.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Time to Tax the 'tox

Give the People What They Want . . .
And they’ll probably run the state into the ground.

As everyone knows, the State of California is broke. Everybody wants public services. Nobody wants to pay for them. The state's initiative process insures that plenty of numbskull ideas get on the ballot because people will sign any piece of paper handed to them in a supermarket parking lot.

“Care to help crime victims” they’ll ask. Sure. Who could say no to that? Except that come-on could be anything, from support of a special fund for long-term medical care for crime victims to a reinterpretation of the 4th amendment rights of the accused to gun control legislation (both pro and anti).

At this time last year, I was approached twice with a petition to impeach Dick Cheney. During those horrible eight years, there was no one, absolutely no one that would have loved more than I to have seen that man routed back to the brackish hole from whence he came. But three months before the election? That’s how we want Congress to spend its time? Nah.

When I refused to sign, the petitioners looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

Back to the State of California. We have no money because you can’t raise a penny without a 2/3 vote and there are too many people who refuse to support any new taxes based on pure principle. They would rather limit services, such as education and fire protection. We’ll be lucky to get through the next fire season without the whole state burning down.

I understand that no one wants their property taxes to rise. In the past, homeowners were asked to bear too much. People can’t come up with more and more money to pay their taxes just because the value of their property increases. Maybe we should do away with property taxes entirely. Maybe we should just have a chunkier capital gains tax on the sale of a home. That sounds fair to me. It’s fair and it makes more sense than having my neighbor pay 3 times the tax I pay just because he bought his home two years later. People like my parents, who sell their homes after the age of 70 and after living in their homes for over ten years, could be exempted from the capital gains tax on the sale of a home. We don’t want to fund state services on the backs of retirees.

There’s also a proposal floating around to tax Botox injections to fund the new health care plan. Sounds good to me.

The state can add its own tax to Botox and fund a thing or two around here. Keep a few libraries open or the state parks.

Those who object say it would hurt those who use Botox to ameliorate the results of disfiguring surgeries. Easy enough. People with those conditions can be exempted.

Others say that taxing Botox would disproportionately affect women. That’s lame. It would also disproportionately affect the wrinkled and the vain. That’s just how it is. Women assume a lot of burdens disproportionately. Where’s the outrage when it comes to the price of hair cuts? Why aren’t my “foundation garments” subsidized? Why must I endure 15 minutes of sports with every news broadcast? Not that I’m in love with Venus and Serena, but at least 98% of sports news is about people with names like Manny and Kobe and very rarely about people with names like Venus or Serena, so why should I care enough to give up 50% of a news broadcast to them?

But back to the Botox - I say tax it if you can’t afford the tax, you can’t afford the ‘tox.

There are also plans for a tax on sodas. Sure. I love a nice, icy Dr. Pepper from a drive-thru. But if paying a surcharge on that refreshment is such a big deal, it’s a luxury I can live without.

Heck, I’d even be willing to tax cocktails. That’s how unselfish I am. The liquor lobby will hate that but what if it were a floating tax? Vodka drinks get taxed on Monday, Gin drinks on Tuesday, etc. Wine and beer would be exempt.

These are all taxes that anybody can get around if they feel that strongly about them, and yet, none are likely to really hurt businesses. Collected cumulatively, they could make a difference.

While we’re at it, let’s tax ringtones. You don’t need them.

Tax tattoos. You don’t need them. Tax piercings. You don’t need them. Tax hair extensions, French Manicures and acrylic nails. You don’t need them.

Super tax cigars. Super tax anything that comes with two patties. Super tax spinning rims.

Offer tax rebates for the purchase of previously owned furniture.

Super tax fried food.

Tax services from tanning salons.

Tax extra cars. No household needs more than 2 cars per adult.

Super tax jet skis. Super tax ATVs. Super, super, super tax bullets.

But first, we tax the ‘tox.


I’m sure that, like me, you too are hooked on new taxes. To find out what others are hooked on, check out the Hooked on Fridays blog party at .