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.

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.