Festooned with turrets, fancy balustrading, finials and all manner of ornamental curlicues, Victorian houses in the town of Eureka, California create a picture of architectural exuberance that is truly, as they say there, awesome. As if the intricate detailing of doors, windows, archways and balconies is not enough, some of the buildings wear a frosting of pastel paints that adds to the suspicion that the inside must surely be made of gingerbread. Even on a dull day they shimmer, and on my brief visit to the historic old town two houses in particular stood out.
Established on the coast in the mid-19th century, Eureka was an aptly named staging post for the supply of goods, services and people following the Gold Rush. It later became an important port for the lumber or timber trade. A pioneering Canadian merchant named William Carson established a successful lumber business and built himself The Carson Mansion in 1884-5. The house was designed by the Newsom Brothers of San Francisco who drew their inspiration from many architectural styles, both European and American. The Carson Mansion is now the home of The Ingomar Club who offer this internal tour of the building from which you will see that the gloriously flamboyant style continues indoors.
Carson was so delighted with his ornate house that he commissioned his architects to design a house for his son John as a wedding gift in 1889. Known locally as ‘The Pink Lady’, this pink and white marshmallow confection stands opposite The Carson Mansion and must surely have drawn as many admirers of Victorian chic to its doorstep when it was completed as it does today.
Back home in Shropshire the architecture may be more restrained but the stories of those who built and lived in my latest commissions here are waiting to be discovered and I am on the trail of their own Eureka moments.