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Sequoia Park: New book delves into the history of a community oasis
By Sharon Letts   - 01/20/2008


Dione F. Armand's house in Cutten is just a short walk from Sequoia Park, and during her many jaunts through the park she began to wonder about the history of the place and its connection to the city that cares for it.

”Given that Eureka, for most of its history, has been a city sustained by logging, I started to wonder what forces kept the trees in Sequoia Park standing instead of being made into roof shingles and fence posts,” Armand said. “I also wanted to know how the park fit into the overall history of Eureka, and I was surprised to find out how important the park was in early Eureka history.”

In her first book, “Eureka and Sequoia Park,” published by Arcadia Publishing under its Images of America series, Armand was able to find answers to her questions.

The book is a pictorial history of the park that was established in 1904, and includes more than 200 historic photographs of the park and the adjacent zoo. The book also touches on conservation issues and features a chapter on getting to the park by trolley.

The archives of the Clarke Historical Museum, the Humboldt County Historical Society, Humboldt State University's Humboldt Room and a bevy of local historians -- such as Ray Hillman and Jerry Rohde, to name a few -- all assisted the young researcher in her quest to learn more about the historic park.

”There's an old wooden sign in the park with a quote from Peter B. Kyne's book 'The Valley of the Giants,' that says, 'I'm not going to cut the timber in this valley. I haven't the heart to destroy God's most wonderful handiwork. 'Twas in her mind to give her Valley of the Giants to Sequoia (Eureka) for a city park.' I wanted to know who 'she' was,” Armand said.

”She” was the fictional character in Kyne's Humboldt-inspired book, “The Valley of the Giants,” wherein a timber baron's wife's wish of saving a favorite stand of redwoods and creating a park in the middle of a city is made possible by her husband after her death.

The real story of just how the park came to be dates back to the late 1800s.

According to Armand's book, the land that became Sequoia Park was sold in a real estate slump by lumberman George McFarland to one Bartlin Glatt in 1874. With visions of the city's first park, Glatt convinced the city of Eureka to trade 20 acres of his timberland for one city block of land, and by 1896 he had sold the city additional land to become the 77 acres of park land which exists today.

Armand said that in looking at old photos of the park, it is clear to see that the park visitors enjoy today is very different from the park that existed 100 years ago.

”I am very interested in the ways that places either foster or impede human communities. And in this, I don't mean industry or resource extraction,” Armand said. “The most important possibility of a place like a park, for example, is that it gives people a relaxing, beautiful place to gather together. This was especially true in the early 20th century when people had small homes, but expansive, tight-knit communities. Sequoia Park was a peaceful hub for the whole city of Eureka. Civic groups, political rallies, fraternal organizations like the Masons, youth groups such as the Boy Scouts, even traveling entertainers came to the park, because that's where people came together on Sunday afternoons.”
Philosophy, history and literature were Armand's focus at the University of California, Berkeley, and she made the combination work for her in writing this book.

”It may not seem like a redwood park and philosophy are related, but in fact, I think they're very related,” she said. “A simple way to look at philosophy is that it is the study of people's belief structures, which in turn make up the foundation for their actions. Going further, history and literature are two sides to the storytelling that comes from those beliefs. For me, the link that connects this type of theoretical study with the real work is how these beliefs and the stories they lead to affect people's actions. Action is where it's at, and any municipal parks manager will tell you that it takes a lot of action to keep up a city park.”

Keeping up the city park is something Armand said is near and dear to her heart.

”I pull ivy out on a fairly regular basis in the park,” she said. “I pull it carefully, though, because often the ivy is entwined with the bark of a tree or other native plants that shouldn't be disturbed. I'd like to see more organized community involvement in the upkeep of Sequoia Park. The Arcata Community Forest has signs posted with pictures of invasive weeds, and they encourage people to pull them.”

Armand said that one of the things people will see in her book are more redwood trees in the park. She said that over the years storms have taken the trees down, and she believes that replanting should be a focus as the trees that remain are more vulnerable to coming down in future

”I hope that people will come to a new appreciation of their own unique urban redwood forest because there's no other like it in the entire world,” Armand said. “We can place buildings or playgrounds just about anywhere, but a mature redwood forest is something that takes hundreds of years to develop and only minutes to destroy. Today we have about 4 percent remaining of the original redwood forest and we have that only due to the diligence and foresight of early conservationists. We should all be encouraged to protect and preserve our Sequoia Park.”

”Eureka and Sequoia Park” is available now at local bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing, www.arcadiapublishing.com. A book signing will take place on Thursday at the Humboldt County Historical Society, 703 Eighth St. in Eureka, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. For more information, call 445-4342.

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