Seen on a bike ride

July 28, 2020 at 7:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
This front yard on Boniface Pkwy. has for years had sculpted spruce trees. Never seen in these parts. Don’t know how it is done, or why. Fun and strange!
Love this '60s jewel box church on Boniface [except for the beige color].
Down the block a bit — no fear of strong color here. Abandoned [temporarily, one hopes] during the Corona virus pandemic.
South fork of Campbell Creek seen from the Elmore Rd. bridge.
A beautiful part of town, near Elmore and Dowling Roads. A shame to run a road through it, let alone develop the land along the new road segments. Oh, Anchorage! You didn’t know what you had until it was gone.
This house has a stately presence on top of a knoll, in the wilds of E. 68th Ave. between Lake Otis Pkwy. and the New Seward Highway. May look modest, but pretty nice for the time and place.
“Extreme luxury for JINDO”. Along with some other containers and a pile of warm grass clippings, inside a security fence and a backdrop of the Chugach Mountains. As it turns out, JINDO is a Korean outift that sells fur coats. Who knew?
I like riding through industrial zones. Typically peaceful and unoccupied outside of weekday mornings and afternoons, and oddly fascinating in so many ways.
“Mankind is one.” I get the sentiment — but mankind is almost 8 billion at this point. [Hat tip to my old buddy Ken, who used to rail against a local store called One People: “One PERSON! TWO PEOPLE!”]
This flat-roofed, pink, colonnaded late ’60s split level along Wesleyan Dr. has a bit of Grey Gardens going on!
Field in Midtown. I make it look more pleasant and wild than it really is. The trash, car parts, tires and appliances out of frame.
For me it gets really interesting to get into old neighborhoods that are formerly residential and now commercial/industrial, but there are still houses there.
This little house on Rosewood St. is unoccupied and dilapidated and its yard is still being maintained.
On Mt. View Dr., almost home.

First bike journey in many months. Not sure why I stopped going. Will have to start getting out there again.

Evening bike-around: Anchorage remnants

May 8, 2018 at 7:35 am | Posted in alaska, anchorage, photo du jour, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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One gets busy with work and life and forgets to stop and smell the abandoned buildings.  Tonight for a couple hours I got back out there and checked on the condition of the less celebrated parts of the city.

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When I stopped to take this photo of this small multiplex on San Roberto Ave., three kids playing in the yard next door shyly asked why I was photographing the building.  “I like how it looks, with those concrete block walls, wooden bars, metal fencing and pavement.  The things we do for cars, eh?  How to wreck the front yard?”  They laughed a little and probably wondered how long ago I had lost my mind.

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Community Park Loop, a street near East High School.  It was installed in the mid-1980s and was planned as the future home of a variety of social service institutions and agencies.  It entered into an ownership dispute of some sort involving the Alaska Mental Health Trust.  I don’t know the details and they don’t matter so much to me.  The net result is an interesting juxtaposition of a finished street and sidewalk running through a pristine forested tract of land, an experience increasingly rare.

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This little house fronts E. Dowling Road just east of the New Seward Highway.  Property tax records show it has 1,035 square feet, two bedrooms and one bath and was built in 1950.  The property is owned by the State of Alaska DOT/PF — assuming it was acquired for a future expansion of the roadway interchange.  The six lane elevated highway bridge a block away contributes a dull roar and there’s a lot of traffic on Dowling during the day, but not so much when stopped to look.  There’s a piece of the residential neighborhood still extant on a couple streets north of this house.  Along Dowling, a couple other houses can still be seen integrated into sites of auto repair shops, warehouses and storage lockers.  In 1950 Dowling was part of a winding route leading out of Anchorage to the south.  The outbound road had only been open a couple years and was rough and partially complete.  It must have been quite an expedition, especially in winter to get from this house to the nearest grocery store downtown.  It was probably quiet and peaceful most of the time, which is difficult to imagine now.

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This building next to the 1950 vintage house was a busy gas station convenience store in the ’90s.

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Ten Commandments banner and front of this tidy little church on E. International Airport Rd., directly across the street from the Great Alaska Bush Co. Show Club, a strip bar.  Churches are doing a little better than bars at this moment in time.  Either this building, or another nearby [can’t remember for sure] was the longtime location of Hansen’s Hubcaps.  I must have a photo of it someplace in my film archives.  Someday I will organize it.  There must be some gems in there!

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Part of the street facade of the old Sears Mall Carrs grocery store, opened 1968 and closed 2015.  Recently Safeway [owner of Carrs since 2000] announced they will build a new Carrs at the other end of this same mall in the space just vacated by the closing of the Sears store.  The mall owner has plans to redevelop the former Carrs for a new anchor tenant to be determined.  The new scheme is really nice looking, and updates the exterior while somewhat paying homage to the original gold and dark brown scheme here.  Safeway remodeled all the other Carrs locations to a greater or lesser degree, but this one when it closed still looked just like it always had.

That time I got crosswise with the crossing guard

January 7, 2017 at 8:51 am | Posted in alaska, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I was awkward, socially inept and introverted to a fault when I was a kid.  I came by it honestly, somehow.  These was nothing wrong with my upbringing or my parents.  My siblings [I was the oldest] were not this way.  It was a great source of frustration to my mom, who sought out help to try to figure out what was wrong with me, and desperately longed to put me on the path to normalization.  This was in the ’60s, a bit before introversion began to be recognized as more of a normal variation, vs. an illness or defect.  She was always waiting for me to have a breakout moment and emerge from my shell.

One September day in 1971, I did stick up for myself and do something unexpected.

Three years before then, the same summer we moved to a new house [the only one I got to live in that our architect father designed], we began attending our neighborhood public school.  The one where we previously were enrolled was a private school, The Little School — it was located on the lower level of the University Unitarian Church [they just leased the space, it wasn’t affiliated and wasn’t a religious school].  The elementary kids were in the church and the middle school aged kids were in a different leased church building across a side street.

In 1968 The Little School finally got a campus of its own, a collection of small buildings on a beautiful site in Bellevue, on the east side of Lake Washington opposite Seattle.  I recall touring the new school and wishing so much I could go there.  There were little round classroom buildings and larger commons buildings arranged on a beautiful sloped site, densely wooded with huge old growth Douglas firs and little random stepping stone pathways between the various pods.  Our parents decided against committing to taking us that far away and picking us up every day, and enrolled us in public school.  I was heartbroken!

I managed to hold my own in public school, but recall it feeling like a prison camp compared to the nurturing environment I was used to.  When I saw the other kids smoking on the lower playfield behind the wood baseball backstop, or threatening other kids, or breaking windows — or thousands of other ways of acting badly — at first I didn’t even get it.  There was a sense it was good for me.   A few years later, faced with a choice of attending an alternative high school in Anchorage instead of a mainstream one, I stuck with the mainstream choice.

In the summer of 1971 when I was between 5th and 6th grade we spent the whole summer in Alaska.  My dad had been there off and on for a couple of years and was doing a lot better finding architectural work in Anchorage — bustling and expanding in the early days of Big Oil on the North Slope — than in Seattle, where a recession was deepening.  I’d been in Seattle my entire life and while I loved it [later I would realize how great it was for development of progressive ideals and an imaginative outlook on life], Alaska was an eye opener for me and a grand adventure.  My dad had a project that involved an inventory and condition survey of facilities in state parks, that required him to travel the road system of the state.  He took my mom, my siblings and I with him and we set out from our little Spenard apartment in our Mercury station wagon with a 20 ft. travel trailer — that we had wrangled up the 2,700 miles from Seattle right after school let out.

I hated Alaska for the first week or so [what kind of backwater had I been kidnapped to?] but the feeling soon gave way to admiration and awe.  The whole summer was a crazy camping trip, being dirty and sweaty, wearing the same clothes too many days in a row, not bathing much… and letting many other learned and practiced manners and behavior backslide a bit.

We would return to Seattle in the fall for my 6th grade year, then spend the following summer getting ready before moving to Anchorage for good in the fall — and all the plot twists to follow, for better or worse.

In America in general in the late ’60s, the formality and clean cut, Mad Men appearance and outlook of the early and mid-’60s was giving way to the hippie era.  It took a couple years longer to trickle down to elementary school, and not everybody was on the same schedule with it.  For me the transition got started that very summer.  I’d been back in Seattle for 10 days or so, and in school for the first week when I walked up the hill at the end of the school day.

The school’s single access point was a steep driveway that plunged into the lower plateau of the school site from an elevated, gently sloping road that was a neighborhood collector road despite being narrow and uneven.  [I looked at it on Google Maps and it looks the same today as it did that day more than 45 years ago.]  I always walked up the hill, on a sidewalk on the right hand side of the driveway, turned right at the top and walked along the collector road eight more blocks or so to my house.

There was a crossing guard stationed at the top of the hill where the school driveway T-boned into the collector street.  And a crosswalk — really just some wide painted stripes across the road.  The crossing guards wore uniforms of a sort, as I recall it was a hat, a vest with some kind of a diagonal strap across the chest?  Can’t exactly picture it but it was sort of ramshackle and sort of police-like at once.  And a wooden staff with a red flag on it.  It was their job to walk into the crosswalk and hold out the flag to halt traffic while the school kids crossed the road.  The kids might have to queue up and wait a couple minutes until a break in traffic, though usually the street was not busy.

I was a gangly, skinny kid who’d had a recent growth spurt.  I had acclimated to Alaska, cooler in the summer and I was under-dressed compared to the other kids — that day I was in blue jeans with ripped up knees and a short sleeved light pullover sweater, a little frayed, copper color with three white stripes across the chest — both items a little too small.  Sandals on my big feet and an unruly mess of sandy-brown hair.

The crossing guard was a 5th grader, a year younger than me [and inches shorter].  He still looked more like 1967 — white corduroys, large square tartan plaid buttoning shirt under a light tan cloth coat, oxford shoes and a flat top crew cut.  When I got to the top of the hill, there  were three younger kids waiting to cross.  There wasn’t an abundance of room there, so I carefully stepped around them, on a narrow patch of grass between the sidewalk and a blackberry vine topped steep bank, and started to pivot to turn right and head up and along the road toward home.

The crossing guard held up his flag and barked out, “STOP!”.  And I tilted my head a bit, gesturing with my skinny arm toward the top of the narrow sloping street.

“I’m not crossing, I am walking up this way on this side of the street.”

He didn’t reply but continued to hold up the flag.  I kind of waved it off and continued on my way.  I thought he’d merely made a mistake, thinking I was going to step into the crosswalk, until realizing that wasn’t what I was up to.  I walked the rest of the way home and didn’t think any more of it.

The next day I was at school [seem to recall the confrontation, if one could refer to it that way was on a Friday, so this would be the following Monday] my teacher asked me to step out into the hallway with her, then told me I had been called to the Principal’s Office, and escorted me there.  I found myself sitting in a chair in front of the Principal’s desk.  The crossing guard was already there, in a second chair four feet away.

We sat there in silence for what seemed like a half hour but was probably ten minutes.  This was the third year in this school I transferred into for 4th grade, and I had seen the Principal before but never close up.  Mr. Ernesto L. Balerezo was an intimidating presence to say the least.  Tall, dark skinned, handsome, barrel chested, with a mane of combed, oiled black hair.  Unquestionable authority and presence.  He looked like he was chiseled from a single hunk of the most dense granite ever discovered.

The crossing guard started to say something, and Balarezo looked up from the stack of papers he was going through, making marks with a pencil in the margins of some of the pages, lowered his reading glasses and put a thick index finger to his lips.  The kid immediately clammed up!  After taking a phone call and combing through a ten page report, he laid the glasses on the desk, looked at the crossing guard and said, “OK, what happened?”

“Well, there were cars coming and going in the road and I was waiting for a break in traffic so I could get some kids across the crosswalk.  I told him to stop, and he didn’t stop!”

Balarezo pivoted toward me and said, “And what do you think happened?”

I was as nervous as hell when first in the room but had started to calm down by then.  I said, “I didn’t think it was necessary for me to stop, since I was turning right and not crossing either the driveway or the road.  I have been doing this the same way every day, coming to the school and going home for two years and this is the first time somebody told me I had to stop.  So it just seemed like he made a mistake, and assumed I was going to cross the street, when I never intended to do so.”

Just then the crossing guard blurted out, a bit too loudly, “I am the crossing guard, and if I tell him to stop, he has to stop!”

He started to make another point, but Mr. B held up his hand and all further talk ceased again.  Then he went back to his paperwork.  Called his secretary a couple times with brief questions and to issue instructions.  After a few more minutes — as I sat there in awe and the crossing guard looked uncomfortable and embarrassed — Balarezo looked up from his work again.  Flashing a brief grin for the first time, he said, “OK, then.  I’m not going to have any more trouble from you two, and you will get along from now on, right?”

Nothing more was said about it by anybody.  The crossing guard was still at his post at the end of the day, and beginning then, and each day following I would walk up to the corner, pause and look at him and he would give me a signal indicating it was OK to turn and walk up the street.  We were in detente to avoid blowing each other up, just like the United States and the Soviet Union.  Two months later, the crossing guard was moved to a different street corner a couple blocks further down the street, the opposite way from my route home.  His replacement never even looked at me, let alone insist I get his permission to turn the corner.

I’m surprised I can recall this incident in such detail, when so much else from those years is forgotten.  I can’t recall if my mom ever spoke to me about it.  I wonder if she was secretly pleased I’d finally done something normal?

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.

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