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.


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