The Heart of Arcata
In 1850, when the Union Company laid out the town of Union, or Union Town, today called Arcata, it had the foresight to designate block 167 as a park or common area. It is likely that some of the hardy types who were on the North Coast after a headlong rush to the gold fields remembered the commons of their New England homes or the squares of sleepy Southern towns. Whatever the reason, this precious block, now the Arcata Plaza, was saved for posterity. It was not, however, treated particularly reverently at first. Early arrivals camped on the square in tents, huts or whatever shelter they could contrive while making arrangements to get to the diggings on the Klamath, Trinity or Salmon Rivers. Some people who had settled in town thought that the open space in the middle was a fine spot to graze their cows and goats.
A bandstand in the center of the plaza was completed in 1901, and citizens planted rose bushes and boxwood around the rich, green lawn in the following years, as well as the first palm trees. The bandstand is now long gone, and local businesses have adopted the flower beds.
Today people gather on the plaza to visit, to take a lunch break or just to relax and enjoy the sun. It is a place where craft fairs, sidewalk sales, rallies, demonstrations and just about any other kind of gathering takes place. One such noteworthy gathering occurs every year on the Saturday before Memorial Day, when the Plaza becomes the staging area and starting line for the Kinetic Grand Championship. The Championship is a three-day race of people-powered “kinetic sculptures” from Arcata to Ferndale. See pages 12 and 13 for more Arcata Plaza events.