A bright future: Clarke Museum is raising funds to restore building’s original chandeliers

Pictured is the interior of the old Bank of Eureka. Note the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. There were originally six chandeliers in the historic building. Four of those original chandeliers are now going through restoration and will soon hang again in what’s now the Clarke Historical Museum in Eureka. (Clarke Museum — Submitted)
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Even more local history will be making its way into the Clarke Historical Museum in Old Town Eureka in the coming months. If all goes well, four of the building’s six original chandeliers will hang once again from the Classical Revival building’s grand ceiling come February.

Ben Brown, director/curator at the museum, said he’d always wanted to find the original chandeliers that hung in the historic Bank of Eureka building before Eureka High School teacher Cecile Clarke (1885-1979) purchased the space in 1960 to create a new museum to display her Native American baskets and local history-related items.

“I saw them in photographs and knew the history, which is kind of a funny one,” Brown said. “When Cecile bought the building, she repainted everything, took down the chandeliers, gave them to her church, who used them for many, many years. Then, for some reason, they didn’t want them any longer and sold them for scrap. The owner of the scrapyard liked them, pulled them out, kept them.

“They hung at Old Town Bar & Grill for about 30 years and then, he sold one individually and he used one for parts, so there were four left and those hung at the bank that was where Tuesday Morning is now at the WinCo shopping center,” Brown said. “When that stopped operating, he got them back and then, I think, he passed on. … Anyways, they went to his grandson, and that’s who contacted me … saying, ‘Well, I’ve got the chandeliers, but they’re all in parts and not together,’ so me and a board member went down and we did a whole inventory, and he has one fully complete one and three that are about four-fifths complete, so we are missing parts.”

The one intact chandelier has been sent to a foundry in Santa Rosa to begin the meticulous restoration process, Brown said.

“They’re doing 3-D printing of all the pieces,” he said. “They’re going to … re-cast the missing pieces, so we’ll have four complete chandeliers.”

The fixtures, when finished, will hang at the four intersections of the museum’s vast ceiling. The museum will be replacing old fluorescents with LED lighting as well. Restorative painting is also being done to bring the space back to its original splendor and highlight the ornate plasterwork that adorns the main hall.

“We didn’t know what the (original) colors were,” Brown said. “All the photos we have of when the bank was in operation are all black and white.”

To help with that part of the project, building conservator Lisa Jarrow was brought in in January to excavate paint on the walls, chipping away at more recent coats of paint to reveal the historic colors beneath, according to the museum’s website (clarkemuseum.org). Right now, she’s at work painting some of the elaborate interior work in gold and silver as it was back in the early 1900s.

Building conservator Lisa Jarrow paints some of the ornate detail work at the Clarke Museum in Eureka. (Heather Shelton — The Times-Standard)

The Clarke Museum building — located at 240 E St. in Eureka — was originally constructed in 1911-1912 to house the Bank of Eureka. The structure — with its glazed terra cotta façade — was designed by San Francisco architect Albert Pissis. In 1960, Clarke bought the then-vacant space, creating the Clarke Memorial Museum (its name until 2001, when it became the Clarke Historical Museum).

“Really our number one artifact is this building,” Brown said. “It not only houses us, but it’s the only example of an Albert Pissis building up here. Most of his work was done in San Francisco. … It’s really a unique example of that style of architecture that was really popular at the turn of the century.”

Can you help?

The Clarke Museum is currently kicking off a fundraising campaign to help with the chandelier restoration and with updating to LED lighting inside the museum. The total cost to do this work is $46,000. Some money ($20,500) has already been raised, but more is needed to finish the lighting renovations.

To make a donation, stop by the museum, email admin@clarkemuseum.org, call 707-443-1947 or go to clarkemuseum.org.

“We appreciate the community’s support and we really pride ourselves in being the historical hub of Old Town … and with the (Eureka) Visitor Center (located inside the museum building), it’s more important than ever that we look our best,” Brown said.

Right now, the Clarke Museum is featuring several different exhibits, including “Whiskey in the Wall: Law and Disorder in Prohibition Era Humboldt County, 1920-1933” in the main hall and “When Designs Escaped Baskets” in Nealis Hall. And, the museum will debut a new exhibit space on Dec. 7 during Arts Alive! (from 6 to 9 p.m.). An expanded display of the museum’s firearms and weapons collection will be housed in the bank’s old safety deposit boxes area at the back of the building.

For more information about the Clarke Historical Museum and ongoing renovations, go to clarkemuseum.org.

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