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Historic Anchorage Hotel celebrates 100 years.

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Last year Anchorage celebrated its Centennial, marking one hundred years since the historic lot sale in 1915 when Anchorage was comprised more of tents than actual infrastructure. Just one year later the Historic Anchorage Hotel celebrated its 100th birthday, having opened in 1916 and housing Alaska's locals and guests ever since.

Owner Bob Neumann purchased the hotel in 1988, though at the time he wasn't actually interested in entering the hotel business. Neumann is the owner of Grizzly's Gifts, located at the corner of E Street and Fourth Avenue. At the time, he had been leasing space in the building that contained both the hotel and the gift shop. Anchorage was going through an economic downturn as oil prices had crashed, but similarly to today tourism was on the rise.

Transitions

He says there was a transition as many businesses left downtown and the malls were becoming popular, "So there I was and I had a valuable location and the owner of this particular building at the time saw that and found a few glitches in my lease and was going to take me over."

Neumann proposed instead to buy the entire building, including the Historic Anchorage Hotel, although he had no interest in running it at the time. He says, "A hotel, are you kidding? I just wanted my gift shop. I was interested in saving my store and I'd just deal with whatever was up here."

And what he found horrified him: there was linoleum nailed to the walls in place of wallpaper, wires for cable television were just hanging in the hallway, the floors in every room were crooked having never been fixed after the '64 quake, it was infested with mice and roaches, and the old kitchenettes hadn't been cleaned since the 1930s. "It was just solid grease and roaches, we'd pull things out and they'd just scatter."

The first day that he owned the hotel, in February, a woman checked into a room that had no heat. She had filled the tub with hot water in an attempt to create some warmth in the room for her children traveling with her. "I shut the place down the next day," Neumann says. "What a shame it was, and what a bad face to put on Anchorage and Alaska to a tourist."

Renovations

For the next three months, Neumann did much of the work himself to make the hotel a livable, comfortable space, having a grand opening the same year in June. It was during that grand opening that Neumann realized the significance of the hotel that had been run almost to the ground. Story after story emerged of how the Historic Anchorage Hotel was the Anchorage gathering place almost until 1960, a time when much of the city as we know it today was coming together. "Everybody that was anybody was here. You'd look at the crowd and think: That's a who's who of the history of Anchorage. They were all so thrilled that someone was trying to save the building."

Neumann says that since 1988 he's put approximately $2 million into the building, adding new electrical and plumbing, replacing the elevator, addressing issue with the floors, installing new windows, etc., to bring the old building back to life. "It was originally built with real lumber, Sitka spruce cut here on the job. You can see the huge beams throughout, and the wood still looks brand new. This place isn't going anywhere for a long time."

National Register

In 1999 the Historic Anchorage Hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places; Neumann says that in order to stay on the Register, he can't modify the exterior facade without approval. However, the interior can be and has been remodeled to keep the property current and comfortable. "We keep updating and changing with the times. We don't want to see another hotel become a better place to stay because you can get Wi-Fi or something."

Neumann says a part of the Historic Anchorage Hotel's success is that it attracts guests in the shoulder and off seasons. One of the hotel's attractions is that it's purported to be haunted. There's a ghost log kept in the lobby in which guests are welcome to record any of their experiences. Additionally fueling the idea is the fact that Anchorage's first police chief, John J. Sturgus, was murdered in the alley behind the hotel, and his murderer was never apprehended.

Terri Russi, the Historic Anchorage Hotel's general manager, says this makes the hotel a popular venue in October for Halloween. "They want to stay in a haunted hotel; they think that's the only time we're haunted ... We keep a ghost log, and people are intrigued with it. They will ask for an 'active' room."

Another group they have visit in the off-season are "repeat government officials and convention people," Russi says. "They don't want to stay where everyone is at; they want to stay where it's a little bit quieter, they don't want the rush and hustle and bustle."

History

Beyond the supernatural, the building has gathered a lot of history over one hundred years. In its early days, the hotel catered to guests traveling by dog sled by creating a kennel in the building's basement near the boiler, which would keep them warm. It was capable of holding up to one hundred sled dogs. While the space is now used for offices and storage, Russi says one of her guests remembers staying in the Historic Anchorage Hotel with chickens in tow, which were allowed to overnight in the basement as well. The hotel survived the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake as well as the many booms and busts of Alaska's economy.

Russi says guests like the small, quaint nature of the hotel and its history. "When you walk through the hallways, you can see the history of Anchorage," she says. Photos ranging from 1916 to 1960 are on display in the hall, showing how the hotel and Anchorage have changed over the years.

Neumann says, "There's a lot of history here. People love that. I think that's why we're still here and doing well. And it's not just the building. It's the idea of a hotel being operated as a hotel and still operating as a hotel one hundred years later. It's rare to have a small hotel in a downtown area like this that's still here."

Tasha Anderson is an Associate Editor for Alaska Business Monthly.
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Title Annotation:VISITOR INDUSTRY
Comment:Historic Anchorage Hotel celebrates 100 years.(VISITOR INDUSTRY)
Author:Anderson, Tasha
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Aug 1, 2016
Words:1079
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