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Episode 9: Anchorage, Old and New

By KTVA Alaska 1:49 PM June 28, 2015

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love this week’s Frontiers.

As Anchorage celebrates its 100th birthday, we travel back in time.

Although the city is relatively young, much of its history would come as a surprise to many who call Anchorage home.

KTVA’s veteran reporter Lauren Maxwell takes us to a neighborhood near Fairview, which was Anchorage’s first subdivision. Although it later came to be known as Pilot’s Row — because a lot of aviators lived there — they weren’t the ones who built the subdivision, originally known as Block 13.

As it turns out, young soldiers in Alaska’s territorial days built the homes. When they arrived in June of 1940, the only housing on Fort Richardson was a tent. The men wanted real homes, so they took out government loans and built their own houses on land that was still basically wilderness.

Lauren talks with Melanie and Mike San Angelo, who bought a home in the community in 2007 and started researching its history. They wrote letters to some of the original families, who shared photographs and even some film. Suddenly, a past that was obscured came to life.

Unfortunately, the soldiers did not get to enjoy their sweat equity for long. The military pulled them out after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

We also take a look at the lighter side of Anchorage history, with help from Laurel Downing Bill, a writer and historian who penned the Aunt Phil’s Trunk series of books on Alaska history. You can find her at downtown Anchorage’s weekend market, dressed in period costumes and selling her books to tourists.

Laurel has an eye for details that humanize history. On Frontiers, she shares stories about some of the namesakes for Anchorage streets and buildings – colorful characters like Z.J. Loussac, Joe Spenard, William Mulcahy and Russian Jack Marchin.

She also looks at  “Cap” Lathrop’s role in developing early Anchorage — and how he used his fortune from shipping and freight to get into the movie business to produce the 1923 silent film, “The Cheechakos,” as well as build the 4th Avenue Theatre.

Of course, Anchorage’s history is still unfolding.

We fast-forward to 2015 on Frontiers — CIRI CEO Sophie Minich takes us on a tour of the CIRI Native Corporation’s new headquarters near the corner of Fireweed Lane and the Seward Highway – probably one of the most high-tech buildings in Anchorage.

As CIRI employees begin to move into the new Fireweed Business Center, you’ll see why many Anchorage workers may develop a serious case of office building envy.

CIRI provided some footage shot with a drone (a must-see).

As the drone gives views of the building against downtown Anchorage’s skyline, it gives you a different perspective on the city’s 100-year milestone.

In contrast to the early pioneers who transformed Anchorage from a tent city to a modern community, Alaska Native Corporations will likely be instrumental in the next century of the muni’s growth and development.

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