The commission is looking to reprint the late Jane Foster Carter’s iconic hardcover book “If The Walls Could Talk,” a history of Colusa’s architectural heritage.
Carter’s 1988 book features the photographs and history of 325 structures and residences built in Colusa in the late 19th and early 20th century that were inventoried in a survey compiled in 1980. The survey was funded by a grant from the California Office of Historical Preservation under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
“If The Walls Could Talk,” which Carter referred to as a “labor of love” describes the architecture of Colusa’s historic homes, businesses, government buildings, and schools, along with biographical information about the owners and occupants through 1988. The hardbound book was published in limited edition by the City of Colusa, with all proceeds benefiting the Heritage Preservation Commission, on which Carter sat as commission chair.
Carter’s book was published at a time when Colusa’s historic structures were being torn down to make way for new development. At the time, the Heritage Preservation Commission believed Carter’s work would help build awareness of Colusa’s unique historical character and “discourage needless destruction of irreplaceable links with the past.”
In that, the HPC believe Carter was successful.
But while Colusa’s architectural character and structures have mostly remained the same, time has marched on. Most of the businesses occupying historic buildings and many of the homes have changed occupants and ownership in the 31 years since the book was published. The 100-year old Colusa Implement Company (Zumwalt) building on Market Street has been home to Kittle’s Outdoor & Sport Co. for more than a decade, and the Universal Garage (Ambac) building, also built in 1919, on Jay Street, is now the longtime home of Selover’s Paint, Body & Automotive Repair Shop. The 1889 structure built as Colusa’s second town hall, located on Market Street, was listed in the book as a menswear store owned by the Lyss family. The building has been the home of Richie’s Florist for more than 20 years. Historic homes, like the 1875 Stewart Harris House, on Jay Street, home to Colusa’s first mayor, recently changed ownership, as have many other historic residences.
“It would be nice, in addition to just reprinting the book, that we do just a little bit of updating,” said HPC President Jon Wrysinski. “We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, but at the very least, we should include current occupants (owners).
The body of the book would remain the same, with all the original text and photographs, honoring the integrity of the publication as Carter presented it.
“Nothing would be added or taken out,” said Commissioner Megan Farrell, whose own home, purchased by her husband, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brendan Farrell, in 2013, is detailed in Carter’s publication.
While Carter, who died in 2018 at the age of 91, can’t be a part of the Heritage Preservation Commission’s new project, current members hope she would be pleased that her work will carry on and that her legacy will live on.
Carter, herself, acknowledged in her writing more than three decades ago that “history is in the making with each day that passes,” and that the walls would – if they could – continue to talk.
“New facts will come to light about the 325 historic structures and sites that comprise Colusa’s Architectural Heritage, and updating the historic resources on the Colusa Inventory (Master List) should be considered a continuing process,” Carter wrote with premonition of the changes that would come.
The inventory, in its entirety, which lists the structures by address, by historic name, and by architectural style, along with a map of Colusa, is included in the book’s index.
Because “If The Walls Could Talk” has been in such high demand by the public for some time, the Heritage Preservation Commissions hopes to get a general idea of the public’s interest before sending the book to print and ordering copies.
Once updated, Carter’s masterpiece will be reprinted with a hardbound cover as originally published, the commission said. ■