Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
PLAZA – The Jacoby’s Storehouse Merchants Association met last Thursday in the Plaza View Room. Most of the business was routine, with a few exceptions. Discussion points included waste disposal and recycling, security, parking, upkeep, ridding the building of a couple of pernicious racial obscenities, and… wait, what?
The most high-profile is the infamous “Indian troubles” plaque located at Eighth and H streets which designates the building as California Registered Historical Landmark No. 783.
At the meeting, Bill Chino, managing partner in CBGT, LLC, which owns the 1857-vintage building, said he’s been talking to Cam Appleton, who managed the building for A. Brizard Inc. from 1984 to 2002. Neither of them saw any insoluble problem, financial or otherwise, with removing the existing plaque and replacing it with “something appropriate.”
Chino guessed that removal and replacement could cost between $3,000 and $5,000. “It could be much less or more,” he said.
He said he hadn’t heard anything negative about the plaque until recently. And despite all the public discussion about it lately, Chino said the last contact he had from City Hall about changing the metal plaque out was a perfunctory heads-up a year or so ago, with nothing further since. He has recently started getting calls from local activists concerned about the issue, however.
Objections center around the two words included on the plaque which trivialize the freewheeling destruction of the indigenous Wiyot people during Arcata’s Settlement Era, and their resistance to the genocide as “Indian troubles.”
Appleton said discomfort with the wording isn’t new. “The plaque has been an issue somewhat over the years,” he said. “I don’t have an issue with rewording it, if someone came up with the wording.”
Their years of managing the complex Storehouse operation have, by necessity, instilled in Appleton and Chino a problem-solving approach that gets things done and moves on. But the plaque problem doesn’t lend itself to quick or easy resolution.
The Plaza is public property, and private businesses can’t alter its features without permission. The stone-mounted plaque is part of the Jacoby Building’s historic designation, so consent would have to be gained from the California Office of Historic Preservation (COHP).
That, say city officials, appears to be a relatively straightforward process – as long as the replacement wording is available.
“It’s not an unheard-of thing,” said Alyson Hunter, senior planner with the Community Development Dept. “The good news is, there is a way to do this.”
Arcata’s citizen-led Historic Landmarks Committee has offered to work with local Indian tribes to settle on appropriate replacement wording. But that could be problematic in itself – a 2015 effort to add an interpretive plaque on the McKinley statue failed when, after multiple meetings, wording couldn’t be agreed on.
But when and if that matter can be resolved, Community Development Director David Loya said the COHP would just need to be notified, with approval following more or less perfunctorily.
“I’m hoping that a solution from the community might happen February 21st,” Hunter said. That’s the date of the long-awaited City Council meeting devoted exclusively to the Plaza, the statue and the plaque.
Appleton agrees, and welcomes a community-supported resolution. “I think this is a community issue, and I’d like to see it resolved,” he said.
The plaque was unveiled on June 8, 1963 during the A. Brizard, Inc. Centennial Celebration. It was a grand occasion, one well-documented in the Arcata Union.
A five-mule pack train was loaded with supplies for transport to Hoopa, just as was done during the Gold Rush, when mule teams were outfitted at the Jacoby Building for resupplying miners.
The Arcata High School Band performed, art fair awards presented, a fiddling contest and dance were held, and cake and coffee were served.
Ceremonial dances were held by David Risling, Sr. (Chief Su-Worhrom), with his Indian group from the Klamath-Trinity area.
Amid the fanfare and panoply, the building was dedicated as California Historical Landmark No. 783 by the State of California Division of Beaches and Parks in Cooperation with the City of Arcata, The Humboldt County Historical Society and Brizard Co.
As for wording, the Union offers little indication about who wordsmithed the plaque verbiage, and what thought process went into the facile “Indian troubles” terminology.
Appleton said it was developed in consultation with both local Native Americans and “prominent longtime local historians,” including Martha Roscoe and Suzy Baker Fountain.
The Union’s June 7, 1963 front page preview story broadens the term in a description of the historic structure. States the Union, “During the settler and Indian troubles, this stone and brick building was used as refuge occasionally by women and children, when Arcata was threatened by attack.”