REVIEW - ALASKAN HOTEL

Adams, Joshua, Life and Times of the Alaskan Hotel. Self published. Photographs. Softbound. 96 pages $20.00.

The Alaskan Hotel in Juneau is a fortunate old building. Built in 1913 during the rowdy mining days of brash Juneau, itself a youngster of 33, it was in a dangerous part of town. Not only was this the redlight district, plank-paved South Franklin Street was built above the beach as much as 20 feet in places. Given a rainy climate, the jolly celebrant had to be extremely careful.

Adams begins with a short sketch of early Juneau and its commercial buildings and builders, then goes into the fortunes of the town as mines opened and closed and becoming the capital of the Territory of Alaska had their impacts.

It is said that if a building can survive 30 years after itís gone out of style in restless America, it is safe from destruction. That assumes it has loving owners. The Alaskan almost didnít make it, but the Adams family came by just in time to rescue it from its sad, seedy dereliction. They had a vision of a late-Victorian hostelry, complete with stained-glass windows and an inlaid-wooden bar. It only took every dime they had and thousands of hours of hard work to achieve this, but they did.

Today itís on the National Register of Historic Buildings and one of the most popular social places in town. In fact, it wouldnít be too much of a stretch to say their example helped in reclaiming that whole section of Old Juneau, which had gone from bawdy cheerfulness to gray desolation.

Not content with telling the story of rehabilitation, Adams has a wonderful time telling great stories of some of the workers, managers, guests, and townies, who left behind wonderful stories that the author is convinced left their mark on the very fabric of the hotel.

There was the enterprising fellow who rented the basement during the cocaine glory days in the early 1970s and, unknown to the owners, was making far more money than they were with a much more exclusive clientele. Then a spoilsport took pictures with a small hidden camera and the entrepreneur left town.

A desk clerk who began swearing at guests who asked for service obviously didnít last long. When he climbed up the back of the building and was repulsed, he fell into the mud and tried then to bury himself while making ďstrange motorboat soundsĒ, it became clear the firing was a good decision.

The good clerks and managers get their due as well. Itís obvious they were all part of the family.

On the very cheerful side, the beloved Folk Festival that enlivens Juneau every spring got its start at The Alaskan. Jam sessions are still frequent year round.

So, for a view of the social side of Juneau, read this book. Then stop by the hotel for a taste of it yourself.

D. L.
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