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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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!


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?

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.

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 20, 2014 at 5:33 am | Posted in alaska, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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knik view

View of Cook Inlet from near Old Town Knik.


May 8, 2014 at 7:06 am | Posted in alaska, anchorage, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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maintenance shop sign


May 5, 2014 at 8:10 am | Posted in alaska, architecture and design, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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Knik Hall, the only larger building remaining from the town of Knik, AK [which thrived in the 1895-1910 era and was eclipsed by Anchorage].  There are some photos of old Knik at the Vilda online archive.  Can also find some images of this building [apparently a former pool hall] during relocation and rebuilding, around 1970.  Kind of a good example of vernacular pioneer era construction.  [The original Knik townsite was mined for gravel and really isn’t there anymore.]


April 30, 2014 at 5:41 am | Posted in alaska, anchorage, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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spring buds

On the Turnagain Arm Trail this afternoon.


April 27, 2014 at 5:05 am | Posted in alaska, photo du jour | Leave a comment
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Hope Hwy. rest stop

10 or 12 miles in, the Hope Highway dips down to close to the high water mark of Turnagain Arm.  I stopped at this little pull-off on the way in to take this photo before the Gull Rock hike.  [And on the way back, stopped at the same place to eat two hard-boiled eggs!]

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