Arcata Plaza fire memories

Alex Stillman
Historical Sites Society of Arcata

ARCATA –  I heard fire engines as I was leaving an Historical Sites Society of Arcata meeting at Kaaren Buffington’s home early in the evening of Nov. 12, 1979. I decided to walk to the Plaza to see what was happening. 

The buildings on the corner of 9th and H Streets were in flames. When I arrived on the Plaza, Harry Bistrin was standing there looking at his two buildings hoping the firewalls would hold. They did hold and the Bistrins continued to operate their clothing store after smoke damage was mitigated.

The Hunt building also survived the fire and still serves as office space as it did in Dr. Hunt’s time. I believe it survived the fire because of its stucco construction and its location on the alley.

The Hunts were interested in rebuilding, but at the time, the City of Arcata required more parking spaces than could fit in their lot. Fortunately, after many years of work, the parking requirements in the downtown have changed. 

The property sold twice, but it took a long time to build a replacement structure. 

During that time, Mary Gearheart and I owned the Garden Gate. We watched people noticing the empty lot, looking north and then turning around. This vacant lot was not good for our downtown businesses.

On Thanksgiving weekend, 21 years after the Hunt fire, I was able to buy the former Hunt property. The Stillman Buildings were constructed soon after and have stood on the corner of 9th and H for the past 15 years.

Hensels Hardware caught on fire and was seriously damaged on Feb. 10, 1990. Then on New Year’s Eve 1994, the Feuerwerker building was destroyed by fire. By this time my son, Kelly Carlin, and I had bought the Bistrin buildings. 

Pete Hess of Hensels moved his business into two stores in the Bistrin Building, which were empty at the time. Hensels re- built on their property and arranged with the owner of the Feuerwerker building Francis Stebbins to expand the store into the lower floor of that building. 

Currently Hensels uses the former Seeley and Titlow building for this. The Feuerwerker Building is empty and available.


On July 26, 2001, Marino’s, Northcoast Environmental Center and the Automotive Paint Store were lost to a fire. The paint store quickly rebuilt. Recently Julian Berg designed a new building for the Marino’s site. 

The NEC site, formerly a dry cleaner, is still waiting for approval to remove toxic chemicals that are present.



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