Call it Gothic, call it a fairy tale, the Carson Mansion is one of the few pieces of architecture in the world that manages to baffle its viewers about its style. With French, Italian and Gothic elements, this mansion located in Eureka, California showcases a peculiar American style of architecture. In fact, its curious style has managed to influence the architecture of its neighborhood buildings as well. Lumber tycoon William Carson is believed to have said, “If I build it poorly, they would say that I was a damned miser; if I build it expensively, they will say I’m a show off; guess I’ll just build it to suit myself.”
A three-storey structure with 18 rooms, the Carson Mansion, constructed between 1884 and 1885 by a hundred men, also contains a tower and a basement. Well-known Californian architects, the Newsom brothers of San Francisco constructed this beautiful masterpiece. Today, the Mansion has become a local landmark; you cannot miss it, if you are in Eureka. In fact, it is located to the south of Carson’s lumber mill.
William Carson, the owner of this mansion came to California during the Gold Rush and was disappointed not to find any. But he worked hard in the lumber industry, which was a booming venture then, and made millions. The Carson Mansion was his tribute to American architecture.
Much has been written about the Stick-Eastlake features of this mansion and experts have marveled over its Queen Anne properties. Huge ornamental pillars with grand porches welcome you to the house. The exterior of the mansion is rich in complex pillars, cupolas, turrets, and gables. These make it seem like a palace straight out of a Disney movie. The balcony in the second storey has a framework of wrought iron with the insignia of the Masonic Order along with the initials of its owner, William Carson.
Wood has been used as the prime building material, no doubt, to honour the owner. Even though the main component is redwood, Carson also had 97,000 feet of white mahogany or ‘primavera’ from the dense forests of Central America, and other woods from Mexico, East India, and Philippines imported to give the building its distinct splendor. These give rise to the shadow-producing surfaces of the mansion and make it a work of beauty. The interiors are lined luxuriously with stained glass, ornaments carved in exotic woods as well as plaster work.
But there is a surprise. When you stand to the west of the Mansion, your sight will be captivated by another grand cottage nearby. ‘The Pink Lady’, as this house is known, was a wedding gift by William and Sarah Carson to their son, John Milton. Designed by the Newsom Brothers, the Queen Anne façade in this house is dominated by a large domed turret and intricate surface undulation, layering, and spindle work. The mansion gets its name from the vanilla-pink colour combination.
The descendants of William Carson owned this mansion until 1950 when Ingomar Club bought it. The club practices exclusive rights to this heritage mansion, using it as a social and fine dining experience for its members, as well as preserving the historical building and its adjacent grounds.
Note : The Carson Mansion is strictly, private property. This means that no tourists are allowed to enter the mansion grounds, let alone visit the interior of the house. Tours are not available either. This has caused widespread dissatisfaction amongst tourists for long, but one can photograph the mansion from outside
- Carson had famous woodcarvers brought in from different parts of the world. Patrick Glennon from Ireland and John Rudolf Etteline from Switzerland worked on the elaborate carvings in the second floor hall, entrance hall, and main staircase.
- A lot of thought was put into the construction of the main staircase. There are four huge stained glass windows to its north wall, each representing an ancient art, namely, general science, music, drama, and painting.
- J.H. Crothers and Carl Gustafson, two gentlemen seeking to form a ‘men’s club’ in Eureka were the only ones who wanted to buy Carson Mansion after its heirs left the building in the late 1940s. They later bought the mansion and named their group, ‘Ingomar Club’, in respect of Carson’s favourite play, Ingomar the Barbarian.
- The original mansion lacked extravagant décor. An expansive dining room and bar were added after the Ingomar Club took over.
Located at the foot of Second and M Streets, the Carson Mansion at 143 M Street, Eureka, helps to define the boundaries of Eureka’s Old Town. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is close by to its twin, The Pink Lady. You can drive and there is always a crowd of tourists near the mansion, so finding it is never a problem.
Eureka has a Mediterranean climate characterised by dry cool summers and mild rainy winters. Coastal fog is present throughout the year, especially during summer and temperatures drop to freezing occasionally, during winter. Unlike other coastal cities in Los Angeles, the fog helps to keep this seaside city pleasant during summer, while cities located inland are affected by heat waves. Snowfall is rare. All in all, this city has a pleasant climate all year round and can be visited during summer and fall.
Nearby Attractions : Old Ingomar Theatre in the Buhne Building,William Carson’s first Eureka house on Second Street, Old Town Eureka, Carson Block Building.