Windmill to receive critical facelift, bringing back ‘former glory’

Alaska, Online, Spenard, The Spenardian, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Spenardian.

Sitting in the Koot’s parking lot is arguably one of the largest — both physically and figuratively — symbols of Spenard. The ornamental windmill, decorated with lights of green, red and white looms over the neighborhood.

“I didn’t think it would become the icon it is today,” former owner of Chilkoot Charlie’s, Mike Gordon said. “I thought it was cool. It was a pretty neat landmark, but no, at the time I didn’t envision it being on t-shirts or used as a symbol.”

However, the symbol is starting to show some natural wear and tear. Gordon said the windmill could use some love. In its current state, the wood is starting to rot and the lights that line the windmills legs hardly work, Gordon said.

“If you ever saw it when all the lights were on, on the legs through the tail, and the spokes were working — in other words, if the whole thing was working the way it was supposed to — it was a rare moment,” Gordon said. “There was usually something wrong with it.”

Cue Rod Hancock and his company, the founding owners of the Moose’s Tooth empire. They are the technical owners of the windmill. In an email, Hancock said the owners just recently decided to get the windmill back in working order.

“We have just recently decided to rebuild/refurbish the windmill this summer so that the lights and structure will shine again in all its former glory,” Hancock said.

Hancock said he didn’t have an exact schedule ready, but it will be completed in 2019.

The windmill is roughly over 60 years old. It has been sitting in the same parking lot since the 1980s, but it began its life in Alaska in the early 1960s.

Anchorage businessman Byron Gillam owned a liquor store on East Fireweed Lane. In the early 1960s, he was traveling in Southern California when he discovered a DIY windmill kit. Gillam bought the kit and installed it in front of his liquor store, the Kut Rate Kid.

The windmill lived on East Fireweed Lane for many years, with different owners as years passed. By the 1970s the windmill was in the hands of a local character Mike Von Gnatensky, better known as “Mafia Mike.” He told Gordon he would donate the windmill to him if he paid to have it moved to his parking lot.

“[Mike] had a pizza place in midtown he was going to move it to,” Gordon said. “But, he asked around and people said Mike Gordon will buy anything.”

Part of the contract also noted that a plaque be placed on the windmill forever honoring Mafia Mike’s donation. Gordon said is cost around $10,000 to move the windmill from East Fireweed Lane to its current home in Spenard.

“It was a nightmare,” Gordon said.

The windmill was installed in the Koot’s parking lot in the early 1980s, shortly after Chilkoot Charlie’s was established. The plaque went missing shortly after the move, but the windmill is here to stay.

Chilkoot Charlie’s hosted a celebration several years after the windmill was moved to the parking lot. Gordon didn’t know the specific date but said it was around 1989 or 1990. The community gathered at the party to fill a 55-gallon drum with neighborhood memorabilia. The drum was buried under the windmill and remains unearthed today, about 30 years later. He doesn’t remember what he put inside the drum, but Gordon said it was probably a selection of Chilkoot Charlie’s memorabilia. Gordon said there was no set date for the time capsule to be opened. There are no current plans to unearth the time capsule.

There was a time when Spenardians might have lost its neighborhood icon. Bob Gillam, son of Byron Gillam and well-known Alaska investor, had made offers to Gordon on the windmill. Growing up around his father’s business, Kut Rate Kid, Gillam wanted the windmill as a memento to put on his family’s property near Lake Clark. Gordon said he would sell it as long as the Gillams could replace it, to make sure Spenard wasn’t without a windmill. Gillam passed away last fall; the deal never went through.

The windmill currently stands above the Spenard Farmers Market every summer as well as the Spenard Food Truck Carnival. These events use the windmill as a landmark to let locals know the events are “under the windmill.”

Where do you draw the line?

Alaska, Online, Spenard, The Spenardian, Uncategorized

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.


Homecoming planned for Paradise Inn palm tree

Alaska, News, Online, Spenard, The Spenardian, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Spenardian.

After a federal seizing, a legal battle, an auction and more, Spenardians have an idea for where they want the Paradise Inn palm tree to rest. The 22-foot-tall broken neon symbol of Spenardian pride will be welcomed with a homecoming parade in the near future.

Melissa Rustemov Lohr and Mike Linz both said in comments on our Facebook poll that they’d like to see it parked near food trucks, situated next to its sister symbol, the Koot’s windmill. While others have said the palm tree represents a dark history. Kim Whitaker, the president of the recovery group Real About Addiction, told KTVA news that the palm tree is evil. “If it was up to me, it would be shattered — like the lives that have been shattered and taken advantage of here. And the families of the loved ones that were here that have been traumatized,” Whitaker said.

Jay Stange, president of the Spenard Community Council and local high school teacher, has purchased the palm tree from federal auction using donations he raised from 59 people in a GoFundMe campaign. The goal was to bring the palm back home to Spenard.

Legal documentation of the purchase of the Paradise Inn palm tree. Photo by Jay Stange.

“I think the palm tree is a symbol of Spenard,” Stange said. “Whoever made it put hundreds of hours and love into it. I want to restore it, just like Spenard.”

The palm tree sat at the site of the Paradise Inn, which was built in 1962 as the South Seas Hotel and Lounge. The hotel and even the palm tree were sisters to a bar and lounge of the same name, which sat on Fourth Avenue and G Street in the 1940s. There, a smaller, curvier neon palm tree in the same California tiki-style, sat on top of the bar’s sign. Anchorage Daily News reported the hotel was built during a time when Anchorage was in need of accommodation options for growing number of tourists.

After new ownership, the Paradise Inn began to attract sex trafficking, drug dealing and other criminal activity. In 2014, Kyong Taek Song, former owner of the Paradise Inn, was sentenced to prison after he sold meth to a government informant in the basement of the Spenard hotel. The Paradise Inn is now evicted, boarded up and in the hands of the United States Marshals Service, tree and all.

A legal battle, a crowdsourcing effort and more would decide the historic palm’s fate. Denali Disposal, a local waste removal business, was contracted by the Marshals to remove 12 30-foot dumpsters and two 24-foot trucks of garbage from the building, in which the government paid $37,000 to remove. While removing the trash, Denali Disposal’s Bernadette Wilson was told she could take the tree. Screenshots of text message correspondence can be found on the company’s website. Then, the Marshals said they made a mistake, and that the tree was to be auctioned. In April 2018, the battle ended in court and in the favor of the Marshals who repossessed the palm tree and placed it for auction with a starting bid of $4,500.

Stange created the GoFundMe campaign to raise the $4,500 needed to buy the tree at auction. When the deadline came Stange had only raised $2,700. The auctioneers, Gaston and Sheehan, created a new auction with a minimum bid of $2,700. Stange used the donations and won the bid with no other competition. Stange will house the palm tree behind the Church of Love until he can find a company to restore it. Then, he said he wants to place it in Spenard as a public art piece.

“If we put it on private land, it might disappear again,” Stange said.

Jay Stange and his children pose next to the palm tree. Photo by Tyler Robinson of Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

Currently, the palm tree is waiting to be picked up at Vulcan towing. The owner, Justin Creech, donated his time and equipment to help Stange transfer the tree to the Church of Love. However, the truck and equipment weren’t able to fit through the back lot. Now, Stange is working with Cook Inlet Housing on finding a new spot, while also exploring other ideas. One idea would be to put the tree back where it was and have the city purchase the Paradise Inn to create a public space.

Once the tree is somewhere secure, neon repair workers will come to look and appraise the restoration of the tree.

Historic Carousel Lounge may see revival

Alaska, News, Online, Spenard, The Spenardian, Uncategorized

Originally published on The Spenardian.

The Carousel Lounge, one of Spenard’s most iconic bars, may see a revival.

Paul Berger, a determined Anchorage businessman wants to bring a neighborhood-oriented bar to the vacant building, called the Bar on Spenard.

“I would really love to have people just walk over,” Berger said. “Neighborhood guys and gals. I want to really focus on the people of Spenard.”

Berger is no newcomer to the Spenard area. He’s lived in the neighborhood, at multiple addresses over the years, and Berger said he’s invested in the neighborhood.

Berger said he wants to steer away from the loud, rock and roll bands that frequently played at the Carousel Lounge. Instead, Berger said he hopes to feature local acoustic acts on occasion and have a jukebox.

“I’m a business guy, not a bar guy… We are going to have a well-run, neighborhood bar, sports, pool, darts,” Berger said.

The building also features eight apartment units, which Berger is currently renting out.


Photo by Young Kim for The Spenardian

The building was built in 1964 and opened as the Carousel Lounge in 1967 under the management of Steve Cooper.

In 2003 new owners purchased the bar and painted the exterior red with stripes in honor of Van Halen. The Carousel Lounge served its last drink May 15, 2016. The Anchorage Daily Newsreported that the closure was due to the economy and health issues with one of the co-owners.

The bar was frequented by the Hells Angels in the 70s and 80s, Brenda Lee Fowler remembers the bar’s many biker parties.

“Back in the old days Hells Angels used to throw a lot of parties there… I was married to a Hells Angel back in those days, so I know quite well,” Fowler said.

Missy Mae has similar memories of her time spent at the Carousel Lounge, and said she was sad to see the bar close.

“[The bar hosted] people of different personalities and backgrounds having drinks with friends playing pool or darts,” Mae said.

Jody Tate frequented the bar with her father, a salesman, on his business trips there. Tate said she loves the idea of reopening the bar.

“I… fondly remember Spenard, it’s hardly changed since the 1950s when we moved to Anchorage,” Tate said. “The dynamics of Anchorage have certainly changed through the years with the closing of so many old-timey bars downtown. Anchorage used to have two bars for every church when I was growing up.”

Both Fowler and Mae also said they think reopening the bar is a good idea.

Not all are eager to welcome Berger and his Bar on Spenard into the community. Berger gave a presentation of his business plans to the Spenard Community Council on Feb. 7, as protocol for the transfer of his liquor license, which would be coming from midtown’s Turnagain Arm Pit. Members of the council had concerns ranging from noise pollution to parking.

“I get it. There was rough ownership the last 13 years. The bar got into very bad shape and pissed off all the neighbors,” Berger said. “I get why [members of the community council] are ticked off.”

Tom McGrath has been involved with the Spenard Community Council since the 1980s. McGrath owns land across the street from the bar, and in the 80s patrons of the Carousel Lounge began to park on McGrath’s property, and other neighboring lots.

“The biggest problem was they never had any parking,” McGrath said. “The customers have always just parked in neighbor’s spots. It’s always caused problems for years and years. If it goes back into business, it’s just going to cause problems.”

McGrath offered a resolution for Berger at the community council meeting, that cited the parking issues. To supply more parking McGrath pointed to a lot next door to the bar that is up for sale.

“Well, if he buys the lot, then we don’t have any problem with it all,” McGrath said. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”

Berger expressed interested in buying the lot, but said he does not want to have to.

The Spenard Community Council voted to pass a resolution opposing the Conditional Land Use Permit for the Bar on Spenard, citing issues with parking that were not addressed in Berger’s original plan, including handicap parking, snow storage, tenant parking, rear access to the building, landscaping and grandfather rights for the special land use permit and liquor license.

Berger will be addressing these concerns and more at the Anchorage Assembly, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at the Loussac Library. There he will be requesting a special land use permit that will allow him to serve alcohol at the property of the old Carousel Lounge.

49 Voices: Ylli Ferati

Alaska, Audio, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published on Alaska Public Media

FERATI: When I first got into it, I got thrown behind the bar, and people come in, they order whiskey and ask you questions of how does it taste, what do you think, this and that. I didn’t like whiskey at first, so throughout the days, I just started trying different things and came across a certain bottle, the Balvanie, and decided, “Wow, I really like this stuff.” It took me a while.

A couple years ago, say about five years ago, I had a guy from Diageo come in, and he was a master of whiskey. And he walked into the bar with their reps, and he takes a stop and he looks left and right.And the first words out of his mouth were, “I can’t believe this is in a neighborhood bar in Spenard.

People come now and they want to try new things. I do classes and stuff like that. They just love it; they want to learn. They love to learn. And that’s kinda propelled my whiskey knowledge.

As far as I know, nobody’s ever came to say [otherwise], but we have the biggest whiskey collection in Alaska. I was just put in a Thrillist arcticle for top whiskey bar in the state. Pretty honorable. It’s still growing, there’s bottles added every week.

We want you to relax, enjoy, have a good time. Especially if you’re at the bar. Meeting my regulars, and everybody… it makes the bar seem fun. It makes my job fun to ee everybody else happy.

For Last Frontier Magazine: Spenard: Then and Now

Alaska, Print, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published in Last Frontier Magazine

How Anchorage’s disreputable playground became a hub for hipsters and artists.

Between Downtown, Midtown and Turnagain, the Spenard neighborhood is and has 
always been a unique part of Anchorage, built for the people.

Joe Spenard, a Canadian-born entrepreneur, came to Alaska in 1910. Originally looking to get into the railroad business, Spenard found himself in Anchorage in 1916 with a truck from the REO Motor Car Company and a 1915 Ford Model T, which served as the city’s first automobiles. Using his Ford Model T, Spenard started up the city’s first taxicab service. Dressed head to toe in a bright yellow suit and top hat to match, Spenard drew in customers with his flamboyance. He titled his hauling service “City Express,” complete with a catchy slogan, “Time and tide will not wait, but City Express is never late!”

Legend has it that Spenard Road, an unusually curvy road, was paved over the paths of drunken railroad workers stumbling back to camp after a night of debauchery in Spenard. In fact, from the edge of Anchorage, Ninth Avenue and L Street, Spenard created a primitive road to his 160 acre homestead. This dirt path is Spenard Road today.

Just like any boom-town, Spenard became a haven for bars, drugs and prostitution.

Spenard, a sourdough Gatsby of sorts, built a large dance hall in 1916 on the shores of Lake Jeter, which he later named Lake Spenard, as a form of self-promotion. The dance hall and the lake became a recreational hot spot for Anchorage’s early residents. The dance hall and the homestead were sitting on what was then part of the Chugach National Forest. Before the federal government could get after Spenard, the pavilion burned down in 1917. Spenard left shortly after for California where he died in 1934.

As Anchorage grew, Spenard road offered Anchorage residents a way to move out of the city limits, but still have the convenience of jobs, schools and shops in downtown. In 1950, the population of Spenard was 2,108, by 1960 the population grew exponentially to 9,074, and then in 1970 the population almost doubled to 18,089, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With the rise of industry, particularly with oil, transplants made their way to Spenard. Just like any boom-town, Spenard became a haven for bars, drugs and prostitution.

Working and hanging around in Spenard since the early ‘70s, Mr. Whitekeys has seen the neighborhood scene calm down.

“Spenard was the sleazy part of Anchorage, and Spenard wasn’t very big. In those days things were just entirely different. There were massage parlors everywhere,” Mr. Whitekeys said. “Everybody in town was single, all single construction workers; it was just guys up there trying to take advantage of the booming construction industry. No one ever intended to stay here. They were here to make a quick buck and then go back outside.”

“We’re moving downtown for the first time in 30 years. The problem was that the legislature moved out of their office building downtown to Spenard, and then that made the neighborhood even too sleazy for us, so we decided to move downtown,” joked Mr. Whitekeys.

Sylvia Butcher, a resident of the Spenard neighborhood since the early ‘60s, said, “It wasn’t until the ‘80s with the oil discovery that you would see prostitutes walking Spenard road … quite a great number of them. This end of Spenard wasn’t really sketchy, but the other end was kind of riff-raff with all the massage parlors. [The prostitutes] didn’t bother you very much, you wouldn’t notice them.”

Spenard became famous for crimes of passion; wives killing their husbands became so common that local colloquialism noted the event as a “Spenard divorce.”

“When I first came here I wondered what the Spenard divorce was and then I found out that’s when a woman gets rid of her husband. My father-in-law was an attorney. He mostly was working on the side of the wife and he had acquired all this clothing that had all these bullet holes in them,” Butcher said.

Living in Alaska for over 50 years, Butcher has lived on each side of Spenard, from near the airport to near West Anchorage High School. Currently residing on the West High side, Butcher has seen the neighborhood go from a quiet neighborhood to a full-blown red light district, to the unique neighborhood it is today.

Spenard became a destination with the opening of the world-famous Chilkoot Charlie’s in 1970. People from all around flocked to the Spenard watering-hole.

With close proximity to Anchorage International Airport, Spenard catered to oil men—pockets full of cash, returning from long legs of work in Alaska’s remote regions. This proximity resulted in not only bars and nightclubs, but brothels, gambling centers and other unsavory business ventures.

The city of Spenard became a part of the ever-expanding Anchorage Municipality in 1975. Years later, in the post-pipeline days, the municipality made an effort to rejuvenate the neighborhood—bringing us into the Spenardian Renaissance.

With boom comes bust and Spenard was no exception. The neighborhood’s bars and nightclubs are still a part of the neighborhood appeal, but while the less-wholesome businesses disappeared or went underground, new businesses made their way into the neighborhood. REI, Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking and numerous bike shops appealed to younger, active crowds. The Denali Theatre became The Bear Tooth Grill, an independent movie theatre with a full service restaurant and bar. A local favorite, the theatre attracted patrons from all over the city to eat gourmet pizza and watch indie films.


“Bear Tooth has helped make the Spenard area cool. REI helped bring a different kind of people. You saw different things come up with Middle Way [Cafe] and Title Wave [Books] that brought all kinds of different people that didn’t used to be here,” Butcher said.

These days the Hells Angels and Alaskan sourdough types tend to keep quiet, and it consists of mostly hipsters trying their best to gentrify the neighborhood.

The Piggly Wiggly grocery store is gone and divided up into numerous little shops. A used sports equipment store, a popular diner, a soon-to-be marijuana retailer, a yoga studio and a local yarn store/club—the strip mall is as diverse as the neighborhood it inhabits.

Local residents, some with vague memories of Spenard’s past, have observed the neighborhood renaissance in full-force. Whether this is seen as a renaissance or gentrification is up for debate.


“Some would call it a wretched hive of scum and villainy due to the fact Spenard has always had a rich underbelly of prostitution, crime and drugs. I only caught the tail end of it growing up. These days the Hells Angels and Alaskan sourdough types tend to keep quiet, and it consists of mostly hipsters trying their best to gentrify the neighborhood. Still, at the end of the day Spenard is one of the last bastions of old Alaska, the atmosphere has never left,” Jacob Thompson, a Spenard millennial, said.

The owner and operator of Bella Boutique, Annie Ciszak Pazar, has been working in the neighborhood for nearly ten years. Selling local art and goods out of her boutique, she has seen the neighborhood grow, in a positive way.


“This section of town is sort of up and coming and I wanted to be a part of the Spenard renaissance and regrowth,” Ciszak Pazar said. “It’s a super diverse neighborhood. It has all sorts of great characters, usually in a good way. It’s one of the only areas in town where you can park your car easily and walk to different things. You can shop, you can eat, and you can see a movie. It’s hard to do that anywhere else in town.”

In October 2016, Buzzfeed named Spenard the most ‘hipster’ neighborhood in the state of Alaska, referencing Black Cup as the place to hang out. Unfortunately, Black Cup is actually in Midtown, but plenty of other things make Spenard hip: the annual Spenard Food Truck Festival, the Spenard Farmer’s Market, the adopted windmill that serves as a beacon to its inhabitants, and the numerous local shops sprinkled around the neighborhood.

“It’s gotten awfully nice and awfully clean in a lot of places, but still it’s sleazier than any other place in Anchorage. It can’t hold a candle to what it used to be,” Mr. Whitekeys said.

Bookstores and art galleries offer venues for local artists to display and sell their work. Unique shops are popping up all around the neighborhood. From Denali Dreams Soap Company, to Dos Manos Art Gallery, to Anchorage House of Hobbies, to the Enlighten Alaska marijuana retail shop—Spenard is specializing.

One notable business that, quite literally, illustrates “out with the old and in with the new” is The Writer’s Block Bookstore and Café. In the summer of 2016, volunteers and artists from around the city and in the neighborhood gutted and cleaned the former “Adults Only,” a porn shop that had existed in the area for decades. The building, which consisted of two trailers pushed together, was occupied by artists for weeks. Local art was put on display for a three day festival and fundraiser, and members of the community were welcomed to walk through. The building sits vacant at the moment, but plans to tear down what many believe to be “the last vestige of old Spenard,” are set to begin in the spring of 2017.

Although his time in Alaska was short-lived, Joe Spenard impacted the neighborhood for generations to come. Whether you consider yourself a hipster or a sourdough, Spenard has something to offer all of us.

The Spenardian: Nearly 50 residents displaced by fatal apartment fire

Alaska, News, Online, Spenard, The Spenardian, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Spenardian

Two residents died and 16 others were injured early Wednesday, Feb. 15 after a fire broke out at Royal Suite Apartments on Spenard Road and Minnesota Drive.
The fire is currently under investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The fence around the Royal Suite Apartments has transformed into a memorial with teddy bears and signs of hope displayed prominetly against the perimeter of the charred building.

The Spenardian: The windmill

Alaska, college cookbook, Online, Spenard, The Spenardian, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Spenardian

The windmill standing in the old Chilkoot Charlie’s parking lot has created a life for itself as an Anchorage landmark and a symbol of Spenardian culture.

One of the most distinct features of the Spenard area is the old ornamental windmill looming over the Koot’s parking lot. The windmill is decorated with lights of green, red and white. Many remember it always being there at Koot’s, but the windmill’s history extends beyond the parking lot of the infamous watering hole.


Anchorage businessman Byron Gillam owned a liquor store on East Fireweed Lane. He was traveling in Southern California when he discovered a build-yourself windmill kit. Gillam bought the kit and installed it in front of his liquor store on East Fireweed Lane in the early 1960s.

The windmill lived on East Fireweed Lane for many years, with different owners as years passed. By the 1970s the windmill was in the hands of a local character known as “Mafia Mike.” Mafia Mike told Mike Gordon, owner of Chilkoot Charlie’s at the time, that he would donate the windmill to him if he paid to have it moved to his parking lot. Part of the contract noted that a plaque be placed on the windmill forever honoring Mafia Mike’s donation. The deed was done and the windmill was installed in the Koot’s parking lot in the early 1980s. The plaque is now missing, but the windmill is here to stay.

When the windmill was first installed in the Koot’s parking lot a celebration occurred and a time capsule was placed underneath the windmill. The community gathered to fill a 55 gallon time capsule with trinkets and other memorabilia. The time capsule still sits under the windmill with no plans on when it will be unearthed.

The windmill currently stands above the Spenard Farmers Market every summer as well as the Spenard Food Truck Carnival. These events use the windmill as a landmark to let locals know the events are- “under the windmill.” Both events stem from local initiative and thrive on the quirky culture of the area.



For JuliaOmalleyMedia: A Spenardian grandma’s blueberry crumble

Alaska, food, Online, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published on Julia O’Malley Media.

My grandmother, Sylvia Butcher, a true Spenardian and Alaskan in her own right, has been living in Alaska since the early 1960s. She met my grandfather, who grew up in Anchorage after his parents homesteaded here in 1943, in California and they started a life together in the city of Anchorage.

One of my grandmother’s favorite Alaskan pastimes is blueberry picking. She knows all the spots, from the shores of Seward to the mountainsides of Broad Pass. Of course, she would never permit to say where her favorite spot is, as that’s a heavily guarded family secret. She claims that the peninsula is the way to go. She notes that Girdwood blueberries are wormy and that Seward and Whittier are good places to explore, claiming that coastal blueberries are better in taste and easier to pick than their alpine cousins.

Don’t even think about buying blueberries for this recipe. Grandma scoffs at the mere thought of store bought blueberries, lacking in taste and authenticity.

After my grandma agreed to teach me how to make her special blueberry crumble, I visited her in her kitchen. She pulled out of a bag of frozen blueberries that was thawing in the fridge.“They have to be Alaskan blueberries, not store bought. There’s no comparison,” she said. Grandma held the bag in the air and examined it, as if checking to see if a nugget of gold was actually just pyrite. The bag, with the date “8/15″ written in sharpie on the side, was gently poured out into the baking dish. As I spread the blueberries evenly in the dish, Grandma told me about picking those berries with my mom last summer while they were in Seward.

“We picked them until we couldn’t pick anymore, brought them back to the cabin, and went out and did it all again the next day,” she said.

The recipe for blueberry crumble was given to my grandmother in a cookbook published by the women’s club of Anchorage in the late ‘50s. Today, the recipe book is near shreds, the stack of papers are held together by an old rubber band. My grandma received the cookbook from my great-grandmother, her mother-in-law, as a wedding gift. My great-grandmother was part of the women’s club and had her own recipes published in the book as well. My grandma tried the Blueberry Crunch recipe, as it’s called in the recipe book, and has been in love with it ever since.

The recipe is relatively simple, despite the delicious and crowd pleasing results it receives. Make sure to let the dessert completely cool before serving, as it’s too runny and messy if served right after it’s taken out of the oven. The perfect way to serve it — the way it’s been served to me my entire life — according to Grandma is to “warm it up and serve it with vanilla ice cream.”

Grandma’s Alaskan Blueberry Crumble


4 cups Alaskan blueberries

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup butter, melted

1 cup rolled oats


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Place the blueberries into a baking dish. Pour in the sugar and flour, and stir with a spatula until the blueberries are covered. Distribute evenly across the bottom of the baking dish.

3. For the topping: in a separate bowl, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, flour and oats. Mix until evenly combined, then spread across the top of the blueberry mixture with a spatula.

4. Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.

5. Let the dessert cool completely. Serve warm and with vanilla ice cream.

For TNL: The Writer’s Block and the Spenardian Renaissance

Alaska, Print, Spenard, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light.

In October of 2015, Vered Mares purchased Adults Only, a pornography shop in the Spenard area that had been in business for decades. Mares had the idea and business model of changing it into a bookstore with a full service cafe and art space. The current building, which is two trailers hooked together, will be demolished this May. After, she will begin construction on a new building twice the size of the current one.

“it’s sort of the last vestige of the Spenard old red lights district, you know, that’s what this place was back in the heyday. It was a pornography store, but I think it was also a whole lot more than that. What was once a fairly undesirable business in a neighborhood is being turned into something that can really be part of the neighborhood,” Mares said.


Spenard is known for its scandalous past as the place on the outskirts of tent city where people went to have a good time. From crack houses, rowdy bars and pornography shops, Spenard has rejuvenated itself in recent history to be known as a funky and engaging part of the Anchorage community. With the introduction of specialty shops, popular bars and restaurants the neighborhood is being transformed in a Spenardian Renaissance. Mares, her many business partners and volunteers have been working since fall of 2015 to transform what was once an element of Spenard’s less than desirable past, to something that will benefit and engage the entire community.

“This neighborhood has a history and whether we like it or not it’s part of Anchorage, it’s part of Spenard, it’s part of Alaska,” Mares said. “It wouldn’t have the same interesting and quirky flavor without that history.”

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The Spenard Renaissance is made possible by the creative people who live, work and play in the neighborhood. With boutiques, local bars and restaurants, and the introduction of Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe allowing a place for people in the community to come out and freely express themselves the neighborhood is changing from the inside out.

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“It’s easy to be excited with change. What’s really interesting is that the groups of artists that are engaging in these events are looking at the neighborhood on the whole as a place of creativity, as a conglomerate of creative resources. It’s easy to see what’s there. But it takes artists to see what’s more,” Sarah Davies, local artist and creator of the 100 Stones project, said

The idea for Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe came from Mares’ frustrations on what the community offered and didn’t offer.

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“When I first moved to Alaska, almost 10 years ago, what really irritated me was that I couldn’t get a really great cup of coffee after 8 p.m. There also weren’t any independent bookstores. These were the three things that sort of ruled my life up until they were gone,” Mares said.

The bookstore will have a full service kitchen and cafe, selling an eclectic mix of international dishes and comfort food. Mares hopes to incorporate dishes less commonly found in Anchorage while infusing foods from her Israeli and New Mexican heritage. The cafe will have a typical coffee menu as well as a sophisticated selection of coffee from around the world. The cafe will also hold a beer and wine license.

In addition to the cafe, the space will also allow a place for artists of all types to congregate and share their art. Whether it’s writing, sculpture, painting, photography or music, Writer’s Block will have a space to showcase local artists.

“We are trying to keep as much as our business as local as humanly possible, from where the food comes from to where the books come from to who we hire and how we engage in the community. Anchorage has an incredible creative community that I think is still untapped and is underrepresented,” Mares said.

With an emphasis on local artists, it is Writers Block Bookstore and Cafe’s number one priority to give preference to Alaskan authors. Mares wants to feature local writers in her bookstore, but will also provide a myriad of other literature. All books being sold will be new.

“Right now we don’t have an independent bookstore in Anchorage, there’s not really an avenue for new literature that’s not in a large corporate model that exists in Anchorage,” Mares said. “We want to engage with our local literary community first and foremost. We’ve got some amazing writers here and we want to be able to showcase them here. Some of your favorite writers might be down the street from you and you just never knew it. We want to support our local writers as much as possible.”

Before construction even begins the business is giving a place for artists to thrive. While Mares and her team are waiting for the construction to begin and the old building to be demolished, local artists were asked to occupy the building as an interactive community art piece.


Three events are taking place this month to allow the community to engage in the installation and the vision of “Transforming ADULTS ONLY,” as the series of events is being called. For three consecutive Fridays, starting April 15, the community is invited to participate in the events featuring local artists, food trucks, musicians and performers from around the city to pay homage to the past and get involved in the future of the neighborhood.

“These three events will be celebrating what Spenard once was and where it is going. As far as I know, this is really the last iconic reminder of Spenard’s past and it will be torn down in May for the Writer’s Block, a business that seems to better represent the residents and frequenters of Spenard these days, as many creative types choose this part of town for their homes and places to spend time…” Val Svancara, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator for the Transforming ADULTS ONLY events, said. “In fact, many of the artists working on this event are Spenard-based.”


Many have seen Mares efforts as gentrification of the neighborhood. Mares wants Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe to be a place for her neighborhood to enjoy and be a part of.

“It’s not about gentrification, this term gets brought up a lot when I’ve been talking to people. It’s not about gentrifying, I don’t want to change Spenard. I want to bring more of the fun, quirky, unique elements of Spenard and bring them into a central location. This is where I live too, I don’t live in another part of town or even outside of town I live half a block off of Spenard road.” Mares said.

Mares is currently raising money through a GoFundME account ( which has raised over $20,000. All of the proceeds of the GoFundME account will go towards construction and opening the doors of Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe. With certain awards offered for particular contributions patrons will receive more than just a good feeling for contributing to Mares efforts. From a cup of coffee to having a bar stool dedicated in your honor, those who donate will receive more than just a thank you.

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The series of Transforming ADULTS ONLY events will take place every Friday for the rest of April: April 15, 22, and 29 from 6-8 p.m. The events are free of charge and will provide local entertainment, lawn games, food trucks, a beer garden sponsored by Spenard Roadhouse and community involvement. The Writer’s Block Bookstore and Cafe plans on opening their doors this fall.