National Park Mystery Spot 9 Revealed: A Street Runs Through It

This building in Crescent City, California, houses the headquarters of Redwood National and State Parks as well as a visitor information center. The passageway funnels Second Street traffic. National Park Service photo.

To help you identify this month’s Mystery Spot, we gave you these clues:

• How shapely the moon when first she waxes after hiding her face.
• If first there is a rumble and then there is a roar, water may wreck this building like the ones in sixty-four.
• The first place you’d look for the top banana is right here.
• It would be a first-rate coincidence if the top banana were to hail from the capital of Louisiana.
• If you look in the Red Book, you'll see that the first ones here didn’t get top billing.
• Sitting near one oh one, it’s at one and one and one and one astride the first street north of Front.

The mystery spot is the building housing the headquarters (and a visitor information center) for Redwood National and State Parks in Crescent City, California.

The story behind the site selection and unconventional design of this building is very interesting. Since several of the clues relate directly to this historical background, the salient aspects bear repeating here.

An immensely powerful (Richter 8.4) earthquake – one of the strongest ever recorded on the North American continent -- struck coastal Alaska on the evening of March 27, 1964. The tsunami it generated brought death and destruction to many coastal communities along the Pacific Coast of the U.S. It still ranks as the worst tsunami to strike the lower 48 since the founding of the republic.

The worst-hit place was Crescent City, a small town in northern California not far from the Oregon border. The tsunami pummeled the town (and the vicinity) with wave after wave, doing millions of dollars of property damage and killing eleven people.

In October 1968, while redevelopment of the town was underway, Congress established Redwood National and State Parks in the Crescent City vicinity. Seeing opportunity, the town offered to donate two tsunami-wrecked downtown blocks to the National Park Service for the construction of administrative facilities. The Park Service accepted and constructed a new building on Second Street between K and L Streets. That structure, still in use today, houses the headquarters of Redwood National and State Parks as well as a visitor information center.

The building’s unconventional design, which was suggested by the wife of local attorney Jim Hooper (a major force for redevelopment), allows it to straddle Second Street, with vehicular traffic passing right through it. The basic idea is that a structure built with a central passageway for water to gush through might be more likely to survive a tsunami. So far, that idea hasn’t been put to the test.

Now then, about those clues:

“How shapely the moon when first she waxes after hiding her face” refers to the waxing crescent, which is the crescent shape you see right after the new moon (the moon’s darkest phase).

“If first there is a rumble and then there is a roar, water may wreck this building like the ones in sixty-four” refers to the tsunami that struck Crescent City in March 1964. The buildings that once stood where the park headquarters building now is were damaged beyond repair and had to be demolished.

“The first place you’d look for the top banana is right here” refers to the headquarters building as the place you’d expect to find the superintendent’s office.
“It would be a first-rate coincidence if the top banana were to hail from the capital of Louisiana” is admittedly a bit tricky, but it is a bona fide hint. Baton Rouge is the capital of Louisiana, and the term baton rouge is French for “red stick,” which is a reasonable approximation of “red wood.”

“If you look in the Red Book, you'll see that the first ones here didn’t get top billing” is probably only helpful only if you know that the official National Parks Index (latest edition: 2009-2011) is affectionately known as the “Red Book.” In the Red Book -- as in every publication that mentions Redwood National and State Parks – you can see that the national park gets top billing (appears first in the title) even though the referenced state parks existed before Congress created the national park. In other words, the state parks were there first.

“Sitting near one oh one, it’s at one and one and one and one astride the first street north of Front” refers to the fact that the building, which is close to California Highway 101, is at 1111 Second Street. It is Second Street (the first street north of Front Street) that passes through the building.

Comments

Okay --- now that you have our curiosity all fired up, how about a photo of this unique building?

It's there now, with thanks to Tiffany at REDW. Sorry for the belated posting.

Thanks for the great story! Keep them coming about Redwood National Park.