Susie Van Kirk
City of Arcata
Settlement-era houses in Arcata were built by immigrants who brought their past with them. Culturally-conservative, they were tied to the influences of New England and built recognizable house-types of English origin that were adapted to local circumstances.
Generally the earliest houses were simple and straightforward, displaying the unadorned, classic lines of Greek Revival forms. Rooflines were gabled – sometimes front-facing, sometimes end gables, sometimes with center gables – but always gabled. Of medium to high pitch, the gable roof dominated Arcata architecture into the 1880’s and it was only with the coming of Victorian lavishness that multiple rooflines made their appearance.
Several distinctive forms, easily separated by their arrangement but bound by common characteristics, were built by Arcata pioneers during the first 30 years of settlement.
Although New England houses were generally of two stories, the majority of Humboldt County front-facing gables were one-and-a-half. Typically they had off centered front doors with transoms and sidelights; open verandas supported by four thin posts, sometimes split; and 12-pane windows. Houses built prior to 1870 were covered with clapboard; houses after that date had a form of shiplap, either cove-rustic or v-rustic. Exterior moulding was limited to a plain frieze with end boards and narrow window shelves and sills.
In New England, this house was rectangular in floor plan and facade, full two stories high, with doors and windows evenly spaced both vertically and horizontally. Known as a four-over-four because of its predictable floor plan, Arcata end gables had a front facade of three windows with a central entrance serving as the middle “window” of the ground floor.
Where end-gable houses were constructed with only one-and-a-half stories, needed light for stairways and upper rooms was provided by a center window gable or a dormer or even a door with a balcony.
Usually the returns on the gable ends were repeated on the center gable or dormer, situated above a simple, entrance stoop. As in the front-facing gable house, moulding was generally unadorned, although one center-gable house has modest cornice brackets. Transoms, sidelights, and both four and 12 pane windows were commonly found on center-gable houses.
The basic form of the upright-and -wing, which originated in New England and spread across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana during westward settlement, was a two-story, front-facing gable (the upright) with a one story section at right angles (the wing).
Generally the porches were attached to the wing, either with a separate roof or as an extension of the wing’s roofline. Entrances were in either section or both, and Arcata upright-and-wings came unadorned or ornamented.
Gothic Revival Cottage
Arcata’s one Gothic Revival cottage is basically a center gable house, but the lattice-paned casements under pointed hoods and the lovely bargeboard ornamentation of the center gable transform it into a picturesque cottage of this romantic style.
This piece is directly from Reflections of Arcata’s History: eighty years of architecture, by Susie Van Kirk, January 1979.