Arcata Union Rack Restored, Now In Arcata’s Museum
Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – When the Arcata Union closed in Nov., 1995, much of its 109 years of newspaper history dissipated to the four winds. Everything from furniture to production equipment was set out on the loading dock for scavengers to rifle through. Other archival treasures were thrown in the dumpster.
Among the few items salvaged for posterity was a minimalist newspaper rack. The green, easel-style rack bore a crudely wrought Old English Union logo. A tray for holding papers was fashioned from cardboard and duct tape, while patches of rust ate away at the dull finish.
And yet, the spindly-but-stalwart survivor of the Union’s ignominious demise soldiered on in newspaper service, serving up free copies of the Arcata Eye to Humboldt Crabs fans at the Arcata Ball Park.
This year, the creaky, listing rack was withdrawn from ball park service, and given some much-needed attention. Contacted by the Eye, restoration expert Kevin Stonebarger of Stoney Dale Restorations agreed to donate the effort to give the rotting rack a total beauty makeover.
The project, which took about 4o total hours of Stonebarger’s time over several weeks, required stripping the rack – now a restoration “piece” – down to bare bones, patching, sanding, primering, painting and reassembling it. Along the way, some custom bits had to be contrived.
Any such project involves a basic philosophical decision – does one strive for absolute authenticity, or update the retro style with a modern flair? That decision was surprisingly easy.
The rack, one of only two similar models the Union had during its final years, was not mass-produced, Stonebarger said. Stonebarger theorized that it was fabricated by an independent craftsperson in a shop somewhere, based on a one-off design.
The original green was replaced with a deeper, slightly metallic hue. Stonebarger said green is a particularly tricky color to get right. “If it’s too light, it looks like spumoni,” he said. “If it’s too dark, it looks black.”
In the end, a custom blend was formulated. The deep green came out “a touch darker” than intended due to the heavy clearcoat. Yet, the chard-like green suggests some enchanted grotto in the Community Forest.
Redesigning the graphics was an enjoyable exercise for the Eye production department. The original meek, diminutive – OK, wimpy – logo with tiny redwood tree on the bottom panel was conceptually fused with a more ornate Union outfield advertising sign once used at the Little League Field. This resulted in an oversized, hyper-retro version, its garish lettering and jumbo redwood reminiscent of the kitschy style of the 1970s.
The bottom panel reads, “Local News and More in The Union,” derived from the ballfield sign. The top panel includes the slogan “Along the Redwood Highway,” a phrase which once accompanied the Union’s front-page logo. G Street was once the Redwood Highway, then part of a two-way state thoroughfare snaking up the coast.
Repristinating the shambles
Getting the rack to that repristinated state from the doddering shambles it had become was a complicated process requiring multiple steps and a lot of skill, decisions and patience.
First steps are photographing the rack from all angles, then labeling all parts, disassembling and cleaning parts. Then the bodywork begins – sanding, filling dents and scratches, flattening and straightening.
Once the bones have been massaged to near-perfection, several coats of gray primer are applied, each taking hours to dry. In an extra step to ensure total precision, a “guide coat” of black paint is misted lightly on. When that is wet-sanded with an abrasive medium, any slight surface imperfections are revealed, and can be addressed.
After one more primer coat and sanding, multiple layers of paint go on, and are given plenty of time to dry. The graphics, which had been made into decals, are then applied.
Finally, clearcoating is laid on in several layers, “depending on how perfectly mirror-like I want it to look,” Stonebarger said. “These are all extremely lengthy processes.”
And yet they are not the most difficult. While the bottom panel alone required five hours of labor even before the painting stage, those procedures are routine. A more daunting challenge was properly replacing the shallow ledge upon which the newspapers rest.
Rather than replace the weathered wedge of old cardboard and duct tape with modern cardboard and duct tape, Stonebarger chose to install a stout plank of wood. He wanted something with character, and after a three-hour search, found just the chunk in the back of a warehouse at Almquist Lumber.
Surprisingly, the wooden base is not redwood, but Bubinga, or African Rosewood. The richly figured slablet is “perfect in grain, perfect in looks,” Stonebarger said.
It wasn’t a perfect fit, though, and had to be sanded to nest perfectly in its bracket. The rack’s rusted screws, washers and nuts were discarded and replaced with chrome-plated ones.
Fully assembled and stocked with copies of the final edition of the Arcata Union from Nov. 30, 1995, the gleaming, flawless rack drew gasps and applause at its unveiling during last week’s Arts! Arcata.
Stonebarger is an old hand at fixing things up, and the handy skills runs in the family. He got his first job at a body shop at age 16 and has restored Coke machines, cars, gas pumps and a tool box made by his grandfather, a carpenter whose nickname was “Stoney.”
Combine that with Stonebarger’s middle name and you get the name of his restoration business, Stoney Dale Restorations. stoneydalerestorations.com
Current projects range from the whimsical – a 1930-era first aid kit – to serious American steel – a 1965 Rambler Ambassador convertible.
The Union newspaper holder was his first newsrack, but it won’t be the last. Stonebarger found a similar easel-type item in a Ukiah antique shop. The red rack is branded for The Examiner – “San Francisco’s Quality Newspaper.”
Proceeds from the new book Legendary Locals of Arcata are paying for the supplies needed for restoration.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, the restored rack was donated to the Historical Sites Society of Arcata. It now resides at Phillips House Museum at Seventh and Union streets, and may be viewed during the weekly tours, Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.