Mount Sutro: An Electronic Periodical

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Moose Alaska 2017

The Present Reflections Of The Past

A lamp illuminates a brush, mirror, ceramic pitcher and dish, sewing tools and other personal items atop a dresser in a bedroom of the Wickersham House (1904) museum in Pioneer Park.

2300 Airport Way, Fairbanks, Alaska: Tuesday, 27 June 2017

part of the Fairbanks album

Situated on forty-four acres along the Chena River in central Fairbanks, Pioneer Park is a historical park that first opened in 1967 as part of the Alaska '67 Centennial Exposition. Originally known as Alaska 67 and then Alaskaland, Pioneer Park features numerous museums, an operating narrow-gauge railroad, the Harding railroad car, S.S. Nenana sternwheeler riverboat, and original buildings moved from downtown Fairbanks.

One such building is the James and Deborah Wickersham House, built between 1904 and 1906 on a lot at the northeast corner of First Avenue and Noble Street. It was the first Fairbanks house constructed with milled lumber and the first with a white picket fence. Originally the home was only two rooms, "the walls were papered and the floors covered with Japanese matting," but additional rooms were added on in the subsequent years.

According to the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society, "the original kitchen, woodshed, closet, porch, and a north addition were deemed too deteriorated to be moved" to Alaskaland in 1968, however "the kitchen was recreated in 1986" and "the original sitting room of 1904, now the dining room, and the parlor and northwest bedroom or study of 1906 have been restored." Listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 27 April 1979, the Wickersham House now functions as a museum and "has been furnished to suggest how it might have looked when occupied by the Wickershams between 1906 and 1910."

James Wickersham (1857–1939) was "born near Patoka, Illinois and moved in 1883 with his wife to Tacoma, Washington Territory. There he served as county probate judge and Tacoma city attorney and, in 1898, was elected to the Washington Territorial House of Representatives." In 1900, Wickersham was appointed district judge for the newly-formed Third Judicial District by President William McKinley and became "the first judge to sit in the Interior of Alaska." He served until 1908.

Known to enjoy hunting and hiking, Wickersham led the first recorded attempt to ascend Denali in 1903. Encountering impassable areas and experiencing the loss of their food and equipment, the party ended their attempt before completion.

Following his career as a district judge, Wickersham was elected in 1908 as Alaska's delegate to Congress. He served until 1920 and was re-elected in 1930. During his tenure, Wickersham was responsible for several notable legislative acts. "He secured the passage of the Organic Act of 1912 granting Alaska territorial status; introduced the Alaska Railroad Bill; introduced the legislation to establish McKinley Park; and was responsible for the creation of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, later to become the University of Alaska. In 1916, he introduced the first Alaska statehood bill."

Among the various interesting artifacts and pieces of furniture on display inside is a copy of Alaskaland Cabin Lore first published by Alpha Delta Kappa in 1978 detailing the park's Pioneer Village cabins. This document is the subject of a photograph taken on Thursday, 18 August 2016, which itself was a reproduction of a similar photograph taken on Friday, 16 June 1978.

The Dzaanh Nezoonh And Nedaats'e Koonh

A vast area of wilderness leads to Alaska Range slopes and glaciers surrounding Denali, cloaked behind dense clouds, from through a starboard window aboard the Kantishna Experience tour bus.

MP 86.5 Denali Park Road, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska: Friday, 16 June 2017

part of the Denali National Park and Preserve album

Typical during the summer months, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) was shrouded in dense clouds and fog layers during most of my viewing opportunities in Denali National Park and Preserve. Fortunately, there were a few exceptional moments when I did see this spectacular 20,310-foot mountain. Doing so allows one to claim membership in the so-called Thirty Percent Club, a reference to the low probability of glimpsing this elusive landmark, and I was fortunate to join multiple times.

With this uncertainty, one must make the most of any opportunities because there may not be another. I figured that my first and possibly best chances would occur during the Kantishna Experience bus tour, a twelve-hour excursion to the end of Denali Park Road and back — one hundred eighty-one miles in Blue Bird 120570, a "Type D" former school bus painted akaroa instead of neon yellow, plus another mile on foot at the far western end. Unfortunately, the weather on this day was not particularly cooperative and primarily featured thick clouds, limited visibility and, as we were out walking that last mile, pouring rain.

It was on the return voyage, about six miles east of the road's terminus in Kantishna, when another visitor excitedly informed the group of a developing viewing window. At first, only the surrounding Alaska Range topology emerged from the clouds and allowed me to capture the header photograph. After continuing another 4.6 miles east and stopping at a clearing, the massive nature of Denali finally presented itself. All of the clouds make it very difficult to determine and appreciate its size.

To illustrate, here is an image captured with the lens set to 235 millimeters. In the moment, I mistakenly thought that this large jagged versant was "the tall one" itself but is actually Mount Tatum (elevation 11,053 feet) just northeast of Denali.

With the lens at fifty-five millimeters instead, you can see how Mount Tatum blends into a craggy panorama yet is overshadowed by Denali, which tops out at nearly twice the height. The yellow rectangle represents the frame of the previous photo, while the green line shows Denali's maximum height.

Can you locate the summit? It takes a moment to spot even knowing where to look. Click-through twice to the full-size photograph to see in more detail.

One hundred and sixty minutes (nearly twenty-nine miles) later, as we were driving away from the Toklat River Contact Station, the clouds finally abated and give our group the clearest view yet. From a relatively low elevation and with obscuring terrain in between, Denali does not look nearly as massive from this location's perspective.

Following the tour, I was disappointed that I was unable to truly photograph Denali from Park Road's more famous vistas such as Stony Hill Overlook, Eielson Visitor Center and the Reflection Pond, even though we stopped at each one and I shot hundreds of frames. The tour was otherwise excellent and featured moose, brown bear, caribou and great horned owl.

What I did not know at the time was that crystal clear weather would be present twelve days later as I flew to Utqiaġvik.

The New Day Will Dawn For Those Who Stand Long

The renovated Alaska Railroad Freight Shed (1941), Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Alaska warehouse buildings (1967) and three Alaska Railroad lines underneath the Anchorage Port Access Bridge (1975) carrying Loop Road, the merging of A Street and C Street, overhead.

150 West Ship Creek Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska: Monday, 19 June 2017

part of the Anchorage album

No visit to Anchorage in June would be complete without a trip to Ship Creek to watch Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) on their hatchery-seeded run upstream as well as the sportfishers hoping to catch them. Parking in the Alaska Railroad lot across from the ULU Factory and Comfort Inn, the first thing I noticed was an interesting old building that, while obviously since renovated, looked like it may have once been a depot. I walked to the fence line separating the parking lot from three Alaska Railroad lines running in between my location and the buildings, shot a few photos and then went to the creek.

A depot it was not, but the building in question did serve an important purpose for the railroad. Built in 1941, the Alaska Railroad Freight Shed is a 700-foot-long structure originally constructed "primarily with a heavy timber frame over a raised concrete floor." The freight shed functioned as a central holding facility for the significant amount of goods — "cows, stoves, tractors, almost anything you can think of…" — being shipped by train in Alaska. The facility was a success, allowing Alaska Railroad to double freight tonnage during the first year of operations.

As the years past, the construction of additional roadways throughout the state coupled with regular air cargo flights resulted in an idling of the once bustling shed as freight by rail took a backseat. Used primarily as a storage unit for miscellaneous railroad equipment and customer goods through 2008, the freight shed was thought by some within the railroad to be an "eyesore" and advocated for its demolition.

"Everyone wanted me to tear this [shed] down," said Jim Kubitz, Vice President of Real Estate and Facilities for Alaska Railroad. "It was built like a battleship. It survived the 1964 earthquake." Fortunately, Kubitz was more interested in saving the structure, eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, and looked instead at ways to accomplish the goal of preservation. His solution was to remodel and repurpose the building into a 36,000 square-foot office space, while simultaneously saving the historic structure and renovating it into an energy-efficient one capable of being certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

With coordination and expertise provided to the overall project by the Alaska Office of History and Archeology and its Alaska State Historic Preservation Office, architectural firm ECI/Hyer was hired to develop "a LEED-oriented design that also retained the building's historic nature" and worked on such a design throughout 2008. Following the conceptual, design and final engineering phases, the firms Waterson Construction and Schneider Structural Engineers were awarded contracts as contractor and structural engineer, respectively.

Demolition and interior renovation work began in January 2009, followed by utility and major site work that spring. Although slated to "keep its red siding, two-toned roof and expansive open trusses on the inside," the core and shell renovation work still required the removal of the building's exterior; replacement of all windows with double-paned models; upgrade of lighting to light-emitting diodes; installation of a roof water runoff-to-irrigation system; and the wrapping of the old wooden walls in a one-foot thick layer of insulation. Schneider Structural Engineers described their process thusly.

"Using old-school carpentry materials and techniques, the original handcrafted character was maintained inside and out. The structural challenge was to retain the authenticity of the original framing while accommodating the additional weight of the new building envelope and meeting stringent seismic building code requirements. Schneider added concealed timber 'overframing' and exposed structural steel braced frames without detracting from the cadence of the original timber framing. The result is a modern energy-efficient building, Alaska's first historic building to be reconstructed to meet LEED environmental standards."

Utility work included the relocation of underground electrical service and new gas, water and wastewater connections, while additional accessibility improvements saw the addition of a "raised and heated walkway for pedestrian access and installation of curb and gutter along First Avenue." The core and shell work was completed in November 2009 and all site construction completed in July 2010.

Spared from the wrecking ball, the freight shed formally began its new existence in October 2010 as the first tenant moved in. The Alaska Humanities Forum would remain until January 2018 when they vacated 3,450 square feet. The USDA Forest Service moved to the site in June 2012, which was celebrated on Monday, 27 August 2012 with a ribbon-cutting and awards ceremony with various dignitaries including Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan and Senator Mark Begich in attendance. With an office in the area since the early 1900s, the Forest Service had become the largest tenant by moving into the shed the Alaska Region State and Private Forestry office, Chugach National Forest Supervisor's Office and the Pacific Northwest Research Station's Anchorage Forestry Sciences Laboratory.

Following remarks from the politicians and representatives of the Forest Service and Alaska Railroad, the inaugural Colonel Frederick Mears Award of Excellence was given to railroad employees, including Kubitz, and community members who worked on the building's renovation. Named for a former chairman and chief engineer of the Alaska Engineering Commission (1914–1923) who was "responsible for completion of the Alaska Railroad," the award recognizes "people and projects that move the Alaska Railroad forward and contribute to the greater good of Alaska and railbelt community."

Calling the renovated freight shed "a cornerstone of any Ship Creek revitalization plan," the Alaska Railroad proudly announced on Thursday, 21 May 2015 that the Alaska Railroad Freight Shed was awarded Silver LEED Certification, the seventh building to become LEED certified in Alaska. "Preserving and repurposing a historic building helps to maintain a sense of place in the community that is important to future generations," said Kubitz. "The renovation of the freight shed offers Alaska businesses a unique historic and green commercial real estate option in lower downtown Anchorage."

Speaking with The Alaska Contractor, Kubitz also said it has "been gratifying to see the project come together, especially after so many years of trying to figure out how to preserve the building." Able to look at the freight shed from his office nearby, Kubitz said, "I stare at it all day long. It's been really fun to watch it go."