Renewal of faith in city planning? Maybe?

July 30, 2015 at 5:46 am | Posted in anchorage, politics | 7 Comments
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I guess I grew cynical over the last several election cycles, and was surprised and unprepared when Ethan Berkowitz won the Mayoral race earlier this year.  Berkowitz, a Democrat [the Municipal elections are ostensibly non-partisan] has now teamed up with Andrew Halcro, one of his Republican opponents in the primary and since taking office earlier this month completed a transition plan that identifies several course changes for the city.

Like new Alaska Governor Bill Walker, Berkowitz reached out to the public for ideas on how to deliver government services more efficiently.  I wrote to both of them.

To Walker, I suggested cancelling the five largest transportation projects now in the planning stages [including the Knik Arm Bridge; the Anchorage Highway to Highway project; and the Bragaw St. extension], and at the same time implementing sweeping changes in Statewide and Regional Transportation Planning processes, in order to prevent such ill-conceived debacles from coming to the forefront in the future.  While he hasn’t been able to halt any of them, at least the climate has changed enough that policymakers are questioning the party line and how priorities are established.  Tiny steps!

In the letter to Berkowitz I suggested that Anchorage’s failure to change its dominant development pattern [despite an effort to move that way, evidenced by the Anchorage 2020 Comprehensive Plan and early efforts to rewrite the Title 21 Land Use Code, before it was co-opted by the Dan Sullivan administration beginning in 2009] is having an ill effect overall, and if left unchecked will destroy what is great about the city.

It doesn’t sound like a budget issue on the face of it, but bear with me.  The more one looks into it, the more apparent it becomes that there are costs to sprawl development that are not being accounted for.  In the big picture, it’s obvious what is happening — there are not walk-able commercial blocks outside of Downtown, so in order to shop, go to an appointment with a service provider or go out to restaurants and nightclubs all but the most ambitious [and blessed with the most free time] are forced into their cars [since there is also not a robust system of Public Transit].  Thus, the traffic is more congested, with all of the associated drawbacks [danger, noise, pollution, frustration, devaluing of property alongside major roadways] — not to mention loss of habitat/open space.

Sprawl — if you want a more specific term with local relevance, let’s call it suburban strip development — accommodates population growth, but in the least efficient manner possible.  Left that way [lacking incentives or directives for anything else], its low density mat will spread far and wide, and unless the city’s boundaries expand with it, the tax base will remain flat.  In Anchorage’s case it has led to the siren song of developers, that Anchorage is “out of develop-able land” [and thus we need to throw that bridge over to Pt. McKenzie and build more of the same over there].  To paraphrase the American Legion motto: all of that Free Parking is NOT FREE!!

The presentation of an alternative scenario will be built on the following basic tenet [courtesy Occupy Wall St.]:
this is not the way

Communities in other parts of the country and in other nations figured out long ago that sprawl is not the way to go.  Sometimes this epiphany came after decades going down the wrong path.  Anchorage is far enough down that path to come to its collective senses and turn around.  Mayor Berkowitz said in a Chamber of Commerce speech this week, “There are times when we should care how they do it Outside.”

We also should stop making policy based on the opinions and public positions of those with an axe to grind, and rely more on sound planning and proven principles than on local folklore.  We’ve got to get past the current mentality, where long term goals are routinely sacrificed for short term gain, without a firm grasp on true consequences.

Planners, urbanists and academics for more than six decades have argued that a more complex, less segregated pattern [with people living in all areas of a town, in random mixture of income level and cultural identity] is a healthier environment that results in more supervision and fewer rampant social ills.  We have some of the ingredients but none of the purpose and vision, and the results are becoming a catastrophe, with Anchorage bubbling near the top on several lists of The Most Dangerous Cities in the USA.  I’d argue that the lousy development pattern is a major contributing factor — for all the reasons Jane Jacobs would cite — and, conversely if you give a place vibrance, purpose and meaning the required sense of ownership and protection of people and assets naturally follows.

Anchorage has been successful in some important ways — there’s a great network of non-motorized trails; wilderness access is still first-rate; and there’s mostly a lack of the most egregious sorts of visual pollution such as billboards and 200 ft tall signs.  There are great parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities.

In order to build on this and provide for future generations, at this point we should embrace Smart Growth principles; Complete Streets; and reconsider long- and short-term planning goals in regards to protecting and enhancing existing established neighborhoods.

The blow-back is inevitable and will be strong.  Home builders already publicly state that any new regulations that don’t exist will add to the already high cost of housing [when actually, prices are always set by what the market will bear].  Quasi-public agencies like housing authorities will come down on the side of less regulation too — they see it as something they should control and direct.  [In the letter to Mayor Berkowitz, I suggested part of the problem in Anchorage is that major players such as the Alaska Railroad, the State Dept of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Ted Stevens International Airport, the School District and others now operate largely autonomously, are guided by an internal culture and consider themselves affiliated with but not accountable to Anchorage.]

In most other U.S. cities the size of Anchorage, there are numerous commercial centers in neighborhoods outside of town where one can, on a single block find small shops of all kinds, restaurants and bars and other sorts of venues in a dense arrangement, with apartments mixed in on second and third floors, and minimal or no on-site parking available.  Many of these are fantastic, desirable destinations.  There are cars and traffic, but not overwhelming… big trees, sidewalk tables, vibrant scenes with a mixture of culture and socio-economic status.  We do not have anything like this here — but we have many blocks, in many parts of town where a redevelopment pattern like this could be incubated.

There would be numerous advantages gained.  Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur with a food cart or a food truck, and want to make the jump to a restaurant.  It’s easier downtown, but rents are prohibitively high and availability limited.  Outside of downtown, you are almost surely stuck in a strip mall [that also may not be affordable] if you want any advantage of a shared endeavor [parking and the presence of spillover customers who came there for other reasons].  With just a few tables, you will need parking for several cars — more expensive than it sounds, because it has to include the dimensions of the parking spaces, access aisles and driveways, drainage infrastructure, landscaping, lighting and so forth; and all this has to be reviewed and permitted by the city, and maintained.  It’s a huge and unnecessary burden.

The stores in a typical mid-sized strip mall could be placed on a city block in less than 1/3 the total area, and have a floor or two of apartments above, with parking provided on-street instead of on-site [or, in larger developments also in multi-level garages and in other ways including diagonal back-out stalls on internal collector roads].  There’s every advantage to the small independent business owner, the general public and the city at large [drastically increased tax base combined with greater availability of adjacent land for other uses].

We have lots of need for housing, and more of it of a specialized sort — housing for seniors; for artists; for chronically homeless, addicted or mentally ill.

The Millennial generation is quickly abandoning the car in favor of walking and transit, and the rest of us should support this trend.  Anchorage has a long tradition of advocacy, by several prominent locals including Suzan Nightingale [1950-96], Ruth Moulton [1931-2006], Laine Fleischer, Walt Parker [1926-2014] and many others.  Cheryl Richardson and Anchorage Citizens Coalition are doing great work in recent years to keep the issues I’ve been writing about here at the forefront, and helping to educate the public.

We have, in Mayor Berkowitz a sympathetic ear [evidenced by his appointment of Halcro as head of the Municipal Development Authority and Chris Schutte as Community and Economic Development Director] and the time is now to voice your concerns to your Municipal and State elected officials!  Tell them what you would like to see, and why.  Developers and major landholders always have the ear of any administration — it’s more rare that the general population has a chance to be heard, too.

Stalking Cysewski, Part II

April 5, 2015 at 8:55 pm | Posted in anchorage | 2 Comments
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Yesterday I continued my strange quest walking in the decades old steps of master documentary photographer Stephen Cysewski.

As in the first expedition last week, the results were mixed but the journey was fascinating.

Let’s begin in Muldoon.  At the far NE corner of Anchorage, in the old days it seemed like a strange outpost, a seedy/sketchy last stop before cobbling together a road trip to points north.  Even today, the commercial property along Muldoon Rd. looks pretty awful.  It didn’t make we want to linger and document it, at least not on a cloudy/dreary Spring afternoon.  [I might go back soon, though!]

Cysewski’s shot is in a parking lot on the north end of Muldoon Rd., just south of the Glenn Highway.  The quarter cloverleaf NB Muldoon off ramp is visible in the background.  That same ramp is still there, but maybe not for much longer [a badly needed new interchange will be built to serve the new mall off Muldoon north of the highway].  Typical Anchorage strip development — pole signs, asphalt parking and asphalt paved street separated by a concrete curb, and nothing else.  I found the current situation at the same spot only slightly improved — the same parking lot light poles, different pole signs [and more of them].  Today one does not see liquor store signs featuring cartoon drunken hillbillies [at least, not around these parts].  And chicken buckets are behind us, also.  The parking lot now has a really pathetic landscape strip, with small trees unable to grow out of the hard packed gravelly soil; yellow wheel stops, a little concrete landscape fence separating the parking from the pedestrians [there actually were a few!] along Muldoon [that has three more traffic lanes than in the ’70s].

Kava’s Pancake House is where KFC used to be.  Another pole sign there reads, Alaskan Sweet Thing’s.  Not the first [or likely, last] in our longstanding local taste for vagueness and misplaced apostrophes, as we shall see.  [Click the image to see a larger version, if you can stand it.]

Moving now to the opposite side of Muldoon, a couple blocks south and looking the other way [SW].  In the ’70s Cysewski was in front of Proctor’s Grocery, an old time Alaska business that had five stores in Anchorage and some in other places, including Homer where the last remaining one closed in the late ’80s.  Now there’s a gas station at the Muldoon store site.  The gigantic church in the background looks the same today, except the steeple is a little different — the old one blew off the building in a wind storm.  Cysewski has a neat aerial of the church on his site, also.

Now let’s enter the morass that is Midtown.  Cysewski’s stark ’70s view of an unremarkable strip mall was taken looking west across the Seward Highway just south of Benson Blvd.  I’m not certain that the current Ashley store is the same building?  But it seems likely.  It was extensively remodeled in the early ’90s, as I recall.

I slept on a waterbed as a teenager in my basement bedroom.  So many people had them back then.  Today I have a memory foam mattress.

Of all the Cysewski photo sites I visited thus far, this place has changed the least in four decades.  Old Seward Highway between Huffman and Klatt Roads.  The Train Shop appears to no longer be there, and not sure if it’s still Pacific Auction — there’s only a sign that says Family Flea Market — but it appears to be the same type of business.  The site has a bunch of cool/decrepit old cars and miscellaneous used equipment.  And Ward Realty is still there in the green building on the left.  The road is wider and so there’s no signs or parking in front of the buildings now.  In the ’70s businesses like this were the norm, now this looks out of place.

It might have taken me longer to place this one, if not for the helpful street sign — definitely the same building, a modest size place that probably started off as a house.  The large hands are strange, especially paired with the name Action.  In the ’80s through the early 2000s this was the Greek Corner Restaurant.  Now it is Maxine’s, a fairly high end bistro [despite outward appearances].

It was better looking in the ’70s.

Earlier in Muldoon I started to get a little sidetracked.  It was almost as if I was channeling Cysewski!  That sounds flaky, I know — there’s just something about wandering around with no set plan, and finding certain images that beckon.  I used to do a lot of that — focus has shifted to detail shots and nature lately but I still enjoy urban clutter and oddball quirkiness.  I shot this near the place where I took the shot of the big church.

Back downtown for the rest of today’s tour.  [We all know that downtown is the greatest part of every town, right?]

Cysewski photo of Char’s Thing’s [natch] on E. 5th Ave. and Denali St. in the ’70s.  I don’t remember this place, but there were places like it from one end of the city to the other, with proprietors with large personalities and grandiose visions.  There’s very little of that left, but it can still be found here and there.  Char’s house is no longer there, but the similar one next door still is.

The McKinley Tower behind [built 1951] was abandoned around the time the ’70s photo was taken, and sat for many years in an advanced state of decay until finally being reoccupied around 15 years ago.  It has fewer windows and is no longer pink.

When I arrived at this scene and was about to take the shot, a large pickup towing a 30 ft box trailer pulled into a street parking spot and blocked my view.  I showed him Cysewski’s photo, told him what I was doing.  We talked for awhile and he generously offered to back up his rig so I could get the shot.

The Edes House at 610 W. 2nd Ave. at the corner of Christensen Dr.  Edes was the head of the Alaska Engineering Commission that built the Alaska Railroad, and this house on a prominent corner site overlooking the rail yards and Ship Creek was one of the nicest in town.  Here’s a couple photos of it taken in 1918.

Many uncomplimentary words have been written about the transformation of this place that took place in the 1960s and continues today.  The insensitive addition that destroyed the original covered porch, the transformation of the yard from a beautiful garden to a dirt parking lot.  But, hey!  At least it is still there.  I keep thinking that somebody with some money is going to see this place for what it really could be and launch a full renovation that restores it.  We’ll see.  The randomness of survival of historic buildings fascinates me — some are well cared for, some are not; it doesn’t seem to dovetail with whether they remain or not.  Sometimes the sites they occupy are needed for something newer and grander.  Sometimes they just run out of luck.

Cysewski took this shot of the west wall of J.C. Penney’s building, looking NE from W. 6th Ave. and E St. in the ’70s.  In 1994 Wyland painted a whale mural on the wall, the first of 12 murals he did all down the west coast beginning here and ending in San Diego.  I remember going down there in the summer after it was finished [it took less than a week] and hearing a fantastic performance by surf guitar legend Dick Dale [who was then enjoying renewed interest thanks to college radio].  The mural is still extant, if a little sunburned 21 years on.

Cysewski frame looking north at W. 4th Ave. and F St.  Fur Rondy Parade, and a float with a stuffed grizzly bear and bottle of Prinz Brau.

Another sidebar — a photo I took that I can imagine Cysewski taking.  Looking NW at W. 7th Ave. and E St.

Cysewski took this from inside a McDonald’s at 4th and E [looking SW].  McD’s isn’t there anymore.  The space is a coffee shop but was closed when I went by, so I stood outside the same window.  The bank building on the corner is now the Hard Rock Cafe.  Historical factoid: the Alaska Treasure Shop next door in the ’70s [Mad Hatter today] dates to 1916 and Sydney Laurence’s photo studio was there.

The Fourth Ave. Building and its anchor business, Legal Pizza as captured by Cysewski in the ’70s.  H Street facade, view looking west.  This was an early mixed use building built in 1915 [I think?] and was Austin Lathrop’s first Anchorage building [the final one being the 4th Ave. Theater].  In the ’50s the ornamental trim and cornice was removed, the siding covered with asbestos shingles and the large windows on 4th were covered up.  In 1994 it was torn down and today the Alaska Court System building and its parking garage occupies the entire block.

On the same block at 4th and I there was an old corner gas station, with the corner of the building cut off at an angle for the driveway — classic design and the only one in Anchorage like it.  Don’t remember when it was torn down, but think it made it to the early ’80s and was still operating as a Chevron station.  Couldn’t find a photo of it.

From a block that changed a lot to one that is still the same — the entrance to J.C. Penney’s parking garage, by Cyseski in the ’70s and myself today.

Cysewski took this shot from inside the Penney’s garage, looking NW at the block bounded by 6th, 5th, E and F.  In the mid-’80s all of the buildings on this block and the next one to the west except the Kimball Bldg. at 5th and E were removed to make way for the Town Square Park and Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.  I tried a composite and it sort of works — except looking at it now and the relative size of the cars, it now looks like Cysewski was a floor above — so I will go back and re-do this one.

Oh my god!  That’s quite enough for now!  I am spent!

There’s quite a few more of these to do, at some future date.

Updating Cysewski

March 29, 2015 at 3:46 am | Posted in anchorage, art, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This was an idea of Jon Lang’s — a longtime friend who has come into his own as an independent Producer/Director of art films lately.  [He and I have talked about joint ventures on art projects before but I’ve never followed through.]

Stephen Cysewski has been getting lots of buzz for a long time about his 1970s photos of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seattle, Tacoma and other places.  Jon’s idea was that he and his wife, local photographer Jamie Lang and I would go around and take contemporary photos matching Cysewski’s four decades old ones — and be able to observe how much the physical settings had changed, or had not.

Some of the locations of the vintage shots are easy to spot, others not so much.  But we enjoy a challenge!

Today I got the ball rolling.  First I picked out some shots from Cysewski’s site and printed them at approx. 3×5.  On the way back home, I stopped at a few of the sites.  Prints in hand, I tried to recreate the shot from the same angle, as closely as possible.  Some were more successful than others.

Maybe we’ll work on this some more, refine the approach and technique?  But this seems like a decent start!  Kind of fun, isn’t it?


This was easy to place because there’s another photo of it on Cysewski’s site of a sign in the front yard that includes the address [cropped out of this view].  There was a fortune teller in here when Cysewski wandered by [on W. 6th Ave. between H and I Streets] back in the ’70s.  This little house and the one to the left of it are now gone, but the one on the right [at 825 W. 6th] is still there and in recent years was a Chinese restaurant, though it now appears to be closed.  The front yard was decreased by a widening of 6th Ave.

Same location today.

This one was easy to composite, by matching the Capt. Cook Hotel tower in the background, and the dormer on the house that’s still there.

This scene has hardly changed at all.  For a long time in the ’80s and ’90s the tile was covered up with beige paint, but later they had the sense to strip it off.  The building is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese.  The owner of the tile business was Elmer Eller, as I recall.  He moved it out of downtown in the early 1980s, and then went out of business.

The first Denali Tower, at 2600 Denali St.  The business development of Midtown was just getting a head of steam, and when this tower was completed in 1977 it looked out of place among small houses and low-key side streets.  Cysewski’s view is from Cordova St. looking east.

Today the houses are gone and their lots are part of an expanded parking lot.  A second Denali Tower with 13 stories was finished next door at 2550 Denali St. in 1983.

This place just seems like the archetypal Pipeline era establishment [at E. Fireweed Lane and Fairbanks St.].  In the ’80s it was a branch of El Toro Restaurant [they had a bigger one in Wasilla] and later it was Steve’s Sports Bar.  Recently it’s been vacant.  Last year somebody stripped the exterior and began renovations that have since stalled.

This place on E. 4th Ave. just west of Gambell St. was suffering a lot of deferred maintenance issues but nonetheless seemed to be some sort of State offices, judging from the Chevy Nova staff cars with State of Alaska seals on the doors.

It looks quite a bit better now, and it and the larger building to the right are a seedy residential hotel [but it’s better than living on the streets].

Used car lot where a boxy low rise state office building now sits [it’s just a little newer than this photo] and a fast food place, Malay’s Sandwiches that today is Burger Jim.  Looking east at 4th and Gambell.

This was the hardest one to create a composite from the two images.  The original was taken with an SLR from inside a car, the one today with an iPhone 6 standing in the street.  I was able to sort of line up the mountains, but the rest of it looks a bit unconvincing.

Side note on this one: The large building-mounted sign on the sandwich place in the old photo was only recently removed.  I took its photo in 2009.

The last stops on today’s tour will be Mt. View.  Here’s Cysewski’s candid looking east from Mt. View Dr. and Bragaw St. in the ’70s.  He was probably standing right where I was, at a short section of solid wall next to large plate glass south facing windows of a laundromat.  The gas station that’s just cropped out of the view was torn down in 2009 in favor of the Credit Union 1.

This one includes what was then Alaska State Bank and is now McKinley Services in the foreground and Jamico’s Pizza [that is still there, remarkably] beyond.  Mt. View Dr. just east of Bragaw, view looking SW.

Anchorage Mayoral race hits the fan

March 17, 2015 at 5:36 am | Posted in alaska, anchorage, politics | Leave a comment
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It’s not as much of a clown show as six years ago, when 15 candidates [some of ’em completely crazy] were cleanly outdistanced by Dan Sullivan.  Sullivan coasted to a victory again in 2012 and is now termed out.

A somewhat crowded field going into this year’s contest, with the usual fringe oriented also-rans vying for attention along with the front runners.  In ’09, fresh from two terms of Mayor Mark Begich [almost — he had to leave a few months early to succeed Ted Stevens in the US Senate] and shortly after President Obama started his first term, the mayor’s race was crowded with left leaning candidates.  Today three of the leading four are trying to out-Republican each other, leaving Ethan Berkowitz the sole representative of the left.  Berkowitz and Halcro are both veteran campaigners who served in the AK State House and haven’t had much luck running for Governor or in other tries.

Rounding out the Republican front runner field are Amy Demboski and Dan Coffey.

Demboski seems to be in trouble early on, having trouble spinning a story and coddling the far right too literally.

I predict Coffey will nail it after a runoff.  He is the kind of pro-business, go along to get along, not much personality, dull enough to fit in, enough acumen to play the game, dead fish kind of a candidate the majority of us [not including this writer] always prefer.  He comes off as a used car salesman, in a way perfect for the task at hand.  Halcro is the sort of one in a million Republican for whom I would be tempted to vote for — but there’s no way he makes it to the runoff.  And then I recall that even though he’s the smartest one in the group by far, he’s still in it for business interests over regular people, the same as the other two.  They’re like a casino where the house always wins.  Or like 35 years of Lynne Curry columns, where in 1,000 hypothetical employer-employee disputes, management prevails in all but three.

Predictably, Koch Brothers money is infiltrating the race with anti-Berkowitz ads.  The people likely to vote for him are the least likely to be influenced by PAC attack ads, ironically.

The Sullivan administration is still running the election, so who knows if it will be immune from problems, intentional or not?  We’ll find out soon enough — and whether or not more than 20% of the eligible voters will even bother to show up for this.  If they only would — how different the results could be!

Dream on, brothers and sisters.

Fiscally inept, socially bankrupt

March 3, 2015 at 4:36 am | Posted in anchorage, politics | Leave a comment
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Some rants and reactions subsequent to reading the Halcro cover story in last week’s Anchorage Press.

Assemblymember Patrick Flynn sticks it to Halcro [discreetly, politey] in the article: “…the term ‘fiscal conservative’ gets thrown around a lot, and whether or not that’s a valid claim really depends on the prism through which you’re viewing it.”  And he goes on to sketch some common assumptions of what the term means and whether or not Halcro matches the definitions.

Since I’m never as tactful or subtle as Flynn, I’d take it a step further.  I’ve heard all kinds of people for years now going around saying they are “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, and not one of them has any fucking idea what it means.  It’s a nebulous term, it’s pandering at its finest.  It is a way to still associate with a group or philosophy you know is toxic and dangerous, while giving yourself an out.  It’s in effect saying, “See?  I’m as Republican as they are, but they are assholes and don’t care about people!”

Halcro spends a lot of time trying to convince us of his independent critical thinking skills and policies that aren’t tied to Republican or Democratic agendas, while at the same time reminding us he is a lifelong registered Republican.  The cognitive dissonance is strong in this one!

Flynn again: “Andrew pulls from a demographic similar to what supported Lisa Murkowski in her re-election bid four years ago.”  Will the results be the same, too?  The day after the election tally’s certified, any notion of “dancing with the one that brung you” will vanish?  Just kidding!  I was the President of the Chamber of Commerce, FFS!  You thought I was going to throw out the Good Old Boy Network in favor of good public policy that benefits all of the citizenry?  How naive of you!  Well, it wouldn’t be the first or last time the public is taken in by an Establishment candidate standing behind an anti-Establishment banner.

Just once I wish some reporter would follow up with the “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” credo, by asking for an example or something.  They might find just opportunistic doublespeak behind the curtain, eh?

The plain old people who are never going to run for office may wish to think more deeply about such sloganeering also.  What does it really mean?  It always sounds a bit immature to me — I used to think more that way as a young adult, before I realized what was happening all around me and how injustice is baked into the cake.

It was interesting how new Alaska Governor Bill Walker solicited budget cutting ideas from the general public.  On one hand, nobody who stands to suffer from cuts ought to say anything, right? — and in fact, it’s doubtful anything meaningful will come out of such a process.  At least, it’s a long shot, an unlikely scenario.  I wrote in and said, start with KABATA and also suspend and review the five next most expensive transportation projects — and during the moratorium, figure out how to improve the way transportation projects are prioritized — based more on real Planning, and try to take politics out of it.  I would say a lot more, but since I make a living in a profession that’s involved in development, it can be problematic to say too much sometimes.

Sooner or later, though one has to try to stop equivocating and be clear about one’s vision and its implications.

Insomniac writing studio, Part I

November 30, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The locas twittered drunkenly outside his window, hopping on limbs of the bare winter lilac, and he became distracted.

He was considering another trip to middle America — in the stairway to the roof, the last trip? He wasn’t sure, but he felt ready to do it again. Partly as a way to make good on the bluffing of the last couple trips; partly just to get away; partly an opportunity to plan photo safaris in increasingly bleak [to him, compelling] Rust Belt scenarios.

He wondered about the schedule of Jackeen J. O’Malleys. Would it be Seattle straight through to Chicago again? Or cheaper to go some circuitous path — Salt Lake, LA, Phoenix, Memphis? He wondered whose job is it to dream up these chicken fat connections? It must be a computer logarithm, because what human would think it made sense to veer hundreds of miles off in another direction? The more direct the better, he told himself — the crawl space at an apartment construction site just made him weary.

His friend in Springfield, Missouri had suggested a road trip to NOLA in a Studebaker Avanti — but he wasn’t getting his heart set on the idea in case it is drawing dead. He thought, what would that be like, anyway? A bit like ‘Sideways’ only with rednecks, truck stops, motels and roadside kitsch, instead of wine bars and boutique restaurants and the Napa Valley? A shmoo on a branch outside turned its head and looked at him with a reassuring face, as if to say, you want to be all in on that one, even if there’s ample opportunity to fold.

At the base of a rock wall next to train tracks, it seemed as if it would take multiple trips to really scout out the surroundings and find the images others couldn’t or wouldn’t.  The difference, on a picnic table in a closed campground was he knew what subject matter and images he was seeking — thanks to fruitful mentoring by an extremely creative and imaginative artist/photographer.

He decided he was as prepared as he was going to be to Drinky Crow the skies to the heartland.  Suddenly, swiftly on the living room floor all that was needed was [of course!] money — for a plane ticket and to get around on the ground — for this not to turn up snake eyes.

Back to work, he whispered.  In the attic of the garage much needed sleep.

Walker and Mallott AK gubernatorial campaigns merge

September 3, 2014 at 6:41 am | Posted in alaska, politics | Leave a comment
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Big news today!  When I heard rumors about it three days ago, thought: no way is this ever going to happen.  It is unprecedented, or nearly so.  [And it makes too much sense!]  I can think of times when campaigns folded, or faded away due to scandal but not anything like this, where two strong candidates, and the Democratic Party backing one of them decided to merge in order to better compete against a Republican incumbent.

It strikes me as positive, pragmatic and goal-directed.  Who knows what sort of negotiations took place in order to bring it about?  But I suppose that doesn’t matter now.

Walker was more competitive than Mallott, but Walker and Mallott together have a real shot at victory.

AK politics will be in the national spotlight again this week, I predict.

Fairbanks road trip

August 29, 2014 at 11:52 am | Posted in alaska | Leave a comment
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I haven’t left AK this summer, but at least have gotten pretty far from Anchorage a few times.  This trip was three nights, three different hotels, and lots of highlights.  The main reason for the journey was to attend a retirement party for the founder of an architectural firm I am now working for [as of May of this year].  Our firm’s main office is in Fairbanks and I work in its Anchorage branch.  Preparation for the the event, and its various after functions took part of the time.  The rest of my Anchorage colleagues flew there and back in a 24-hr. period but I decided to turn it into a road trip and longer stay.  Glad I did!

fall fireweed

I left Anchorage around 3 PM on Thursday Aug. 21st, and cannonballed to the Veterans Memorial on the Parks Hwy.  It’s well past Wasilla and about where views of Denali start to appear [only on a clear day].  It’s a nice place to take a road break and eat and [perhaps because the entrance to it is low key and it’s set back and not visible from the road?] usually not many there.  There’s a little visitor’s center and gift shop but it had closed just before I got there at 5:15.  There’s a small garden and some areas of native vegetation where I found these fireweed leaves turning color, watermelon berries and lots of the other usual plant suspects.

parks hwy veterans memorial

Part of the memorial installation, US Army logo.

bridge work at healy, AK

Stopped waiting for our turn over what is temporarily a one lane bridge, at Healy just north of the entrance to Denali National Park.  This is one of the old park buses that has been converted to private use — maybe a rafting company?

Next stop, Nenana — pulled in just as the sunset was coming on [the ‘hour of magic light’, according to my newest photographic mentor and spiritual advisor] and wandered around a bit looking at abandoned equipment, old houses, and a few people who were out and about.  Would like to go back there sometime and look around more thoroughly — the place seems like it could be a treasure trove of the type of art photography I am gravitating toward these days.

tanana river RR bridge at nenana, AK

Will always be amused by this view of one of the RR bridge pilings at Nenana due to the optical illusion — is it an innie or outie?  Also throwing in a Sept. 2005 view, because it was even better before the man parts were added.

AK railroad bridge piling, nenana, AK, Sept. 2005

The same spot in 2005.

tourists, 1980s, bulletin board at visitors center, Nenana, AK

Detail from a bulletin board on the side of the log Visitors Center at Nenana.  20 to 30 year old photo collection, pretty faded and exposed to the elements but still something to see.

Rolled into Fairbanks late and got settled in my room at Pike’s.  Friday morning until 9 PM was occupied with the office, a really great tour of a handful of the bigger projects in Fairbanks and the retirement party.  Didn’t take any photos but the day’s events were well documented by others.

3rd Ave. cabin ready for demo or relocation, Fairbanks, AK

This little cabin near the office and a few other adjacent buildings are awaiting demo or relocation, perhaps for a road widening.  There was quite a bit of the same sort of work happening at different parts of the city.  It was strange to observe the now nearly complete Illinois St. project, with only the Big I bar and one other warehouse building remaining of what used to be a dense commercial/industrial corridor.

church parking lot, Airport Way, Fairbanks, AK

“Hope Is Alive”, declares a banner on a rambling church building along Airport Way.  And it is easy to see why we need such proclamations, surrounded by low density sprawl.  A lot of other places in the world they have decades ago seen the folly of settlement patterns dedicated to personal vehicles, but we are not quite there yet.  Oh, well!  It will happen here, too and hopefully by then there will still be some evidence remaining that we used to know better!

abandoned fast food restaurant, Airport Way, Fairbanks, AK

Mixed use building ready for demo, 3rd Ave., Fairbanks, AK

This somewhat homely but utilitarian structure sits close to the road where 3rd Ave. [or maybe it is still Minnie St.?] crosses the Chena River on an older narrow bridge.  It would be easy to say, won’t miss this one, right?  But in a way it’s kind of a loss, a mixed use commercial-residential with what were probably pretty nice dwelling units at one time in history, maybe still some rehab potential?

crumbling facade, commercial bldg ready for demo, College Rd., Fairbanks, AK

commercial bldg ready for demo, 3rd Ave., Fairbanks, AK

5th floor hotel room view of downtown Fairbanks, AK

The second night I stayed at the Marriott Spring Hill Suites downtown.  This is the view of Fairbanks to the south from my room.

Didn’t end up taking a whole lot of photos on Saturday, either [contrary to intentions and usual practice].  I sat in on a brunch at the office with our dear founder and some of his close friends, then a bike ride around town.  I’d brought my son’s one speed [skinny tires but not a fixie or anything crazy] with me, and have to say the one speed is perfect for city riding with lots of photo stops.

In the afternoon, not finding many photos and mid-day sun and cloudy skies I switched it up and called a longtime friend.  I hung out with this guy a bit 30 years ago, and became reacquainted due to the magic of online social networking.  Ended up visiting his homestead where he lives with his wife and kid near UAF in the Goldstream Valley.  A perfect little DIY compound and patch of classic semi-rural Fairbanks life.

After that sojourn, a trip to Ester and hung out at the bar there with the locals for three hours to close out the day.  At the invitation of an artist friend who has lived there awhile, though she now spends time living in Anchorage as well.  I met the Editor-Publisher of the [now mostly defunct] Ester Republic, a fine publication that documented goings on in Ester and the larger world for many years.  And my friend’s sister who used to live in Fairbanks but now visiting from Portland, OR.  It was just the sort of establishment one would expect to find there — friendly, low key, dogs lounging on the front porch.

The next morning, after a night at my third hotel and breakfast with my Goldstream Valley friend and his family, left for the trip back, the long way via the Richardson Hwy.  The last time I was there, in April 2012 I took the same way, at the suggestion of my Ester artist friend.  In 2012 there were stunning views of Denali and other mountains, and of course a lot more snow and winter, though the road was dry all the way.

This time it was cloudy and rainy, but the major highlight was Rika’s Roadhouse.  Had looked around there in 2012 but it was early in the season and it wasn’t open yet.  This time I was able to wander through all of the outbuildings, all of which had authentic period tools, furnishings and a wealth of other items of historic interest.  The displays were nicely done and the restoration of the buildings was high quality and mostly to exacting standards.  So impressive that we have managed to preserve part of Alaska’s past that was important in its development and, ah, exploitation.  [Is that too dismissive and cynical?]  Anyhow, regardless of how one feels about manifest destiny, it gives one pause to consider what Rika herself had to do on a daily basis when she was building up the place initially — there were gardens, chickens and goats, buildings to erect, boat trips for supplies, firewood, cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids and guests.  Must have been physically taxing and mentally soul crushing, to say the least about it; but also uniquely rewarding.

Rika Wallen, photo from display of historic photos at Rika's Roadhouse, Delta Junction, AK

She doesn’t appear to be unhappy or regretful in this photo from the collection there, taken when she was over 90.

Rika's Roadhouse, main building, was this the Kitchen?

Rika's Roadhouse, Delta Junction, AK

Even on a cloudy day with very flat light and drizzle, the Richardson Highway scenery is amazingly fantastic.  It should be part of any Alaska driving tour.

Richardson Highway in Interior Alaska

Richardson Hwy., Interior Alaska

Rapids Roadhouse near Paxson, AK

The Rapids Roadhouse near Paxson.  Even older than Rika’s, some restoration effort has occured but apparently now stalled, judging from appearances and some information I found on the web.  At least, it appears to be in reasonable shape and its decline somewhat arrested.  There is also a newer and nice looking lodge on a hill right behind.

'67 Ford XL convertible at gas stop in Glennallen, AK

At the gas stop in Glennallen I spotted this ’67 Ford convertible with vintage AK license plates.

Sheep Mountain Lodge, Glenn Hwy., AK

Dinner stop at Sheep Mountain Lodge.  The third time I’ve eaten here, the previous time being on the return from a quick trip to Valdez in June.  I love this place.  Next year I want to stay here for a weekend.  There’s cozy cabins, a great restaurant and road biking, mountain biking and other wilderness experiences right there.

View of the Matanuska River near Sutton, AK

The Matanuska River near Sutton.  The river has been expanding its already really wide channel and wiping out most of the town of Sutton in the process.  I may have to venture back up there soon and try to document what is happening there, since it is kind of dramatic and poignant.

See all of the photos from the trip at my Flickr page.


May 23, 2014 at 4:13 am | Posted in anchorage, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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snow stack

Little remnant of last winter, Chester Creek.


May 20, 2014 at 5:36 am | Posted in anchorage, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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Mayday tree, Fairview neighborhood.

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