Originally published in The Spenardian
Spenard is a part of my identity. My great-grandparents homesteaded near Romig Hill. My parents met at local watering hole, Chilkoot Charlies. I made my pilgrimage there 21 years later. I had my first kiss in the history section of Title Wave. When I was born, I was brought to a home that sits on Garfield Street. I started Kindergarten at Northwood Elementary and when I lived with my grandma, we could sit on the deck and see the white windmill, standing as a beacon of our Spenardom.
I’ve never considered another Anchorage neighborhood home, and I never would. However, the Federation of Community Councils might. Depending on who you talk to, my great-grandparents homestead, and the home my grandparents built sitting near the confluence of Spenard Road and Fireweed Lane is not in the neighborhood of Spenard, but instead, North Star. A small community council area encompassing the neighborhood surrounding North Star Elementary.
“What do they know?” My grandma, Sylvia Butcher, asked after I told her we were apparently residents of North Star. “Those cheechakos can’t tell me this isn’t Spenard.”
My neighborhood, my pride and my identity came into question when I wanted to join the Spenard Community Council. I wanted to work in an entity that was going to make where I live a better place. Elections were coming up and I had been encouraged to run. When I put my name in the hat for consideration, I was met with utter disappointment. Apparently, my grandma’s house, my residence, was less than a hundred feet out of bounds for the Spenard neighborhood. I cried. Fireweed Lane: twenty-some odd feet of pavement was keeping me from the opportunity to make my home a more beautiful and safer place to live.
When I reached out to the manager of the Federation of Community Councils, Mark Butler, said that why the borders were drawn the way they were is a bit unclear. The community councils were created in the 70s when the Anchorage borough and the city merged into the Anchorage Municipality, with four original neighborhoods, Fairview, Mt. View, Government hill and South Addition. The community councils were created so every neighborhood would have an entity to give guidance to the Anchorage Assembly and the mayor on issues at the time.
“The boundaries of Spenard are fuzzy,” Butler said. “The boundary used to go all the way to Old Seward Highway, where Sears Mall now is. Midtown as a community council did not exist.”
Butler said it wasn’t until the 80s when the term Midtown was formally used, it was just considered Spenard. In recent times, Butler said Midtown Community Council has had difficulty maintaining members. A primarily business district, few people actually live within the Midtown Community Council borders. Butler said a push to merge Midtown with North Star and Spenard was recently shut down by the Anchorage Assembly, who has the authority to manipulate community council borders.
Butler lives near Chester Creek, which he calls Lower Spenard. He noted that there are pockets of land that are inexplicably a part of one neighborhood, but officially are a part of another. Spenardigan, for example, is a grey area between Spenard and Turnagain.
Now, this arbitrary border means nothing to me. Anyone who knows me, who knows Spenard, knows that Bosco’s, Franz Bakery and all the homes down the north end of Spenard Road, where it meets with Hillcrest Drive, are a part of the neighborhood.
Spenard isn’t a neighborhood made up of arbitrary borders. It’s a feeling and a sense of place. For me, there are neighborhoods within the Spenard neighborhood. They have their own personalities and geographical characteristics. Deep Spenard comprises the neighborhood of the Barbra Park valley, the Heights is where my grandma calls home. The president’s neighborhood, where my mom grew up on Lincoln Avenue, is the area of Spenard where the streets are all named after, you guessed it, presidents. There’s new Spenard and there’s old Spenard. These days, it seems you’d be hard pressed to find the two mix. I’d like to see biker gangs and prostitutes, whose birth certificates say ‘Spenard,’ drinking soju cocktails off 24th Avenue or sipping on $9 fresh-pressed juice, while they peruse kayaks and hammocks at REI after brunch at Middleway. But, maybe you would. Spenard surprises you like that.
We asked our readers on Facebook where they drew the line of Spenard’s borders.
Andrea Redeker said she thinks the Spenard borders are north of International Airport Road, and Tudor Road, east of Wisconsin Street, west of Arctic Boulevard and south of Hillcrest Drive.
Joe Lisool says the east and south side of Wisconsin Street, south of Fireweed Lane, west of Arctic Boulevard and north of Tudor Road. Scott Woodham said he mostly agreed, but that he adds it all the way to International Airport Road to include Lake Hood.
Local agencies have similar maps. The Spenard Chamber of Commerce has a map of their boundaries on their website, along with a guide saying where the boundaries generally are.