Monthly Archives: September 2006

artists’ housing

At this point, what would be the best way to get artists living and working in Mt View? Some people see this as the key to jump starting the Arts and Cultural District for real. When more and more artists live here, the atmosphere will start to change. They will demand coffee shops, used book stores, galleries and trendy nightclubs. Or something so strange we cannot be trained to imagine it. And our lives will change forever, as artistic expression flowers all around us — in subtle and not so subtle ways.
It’s not so easy to get it started. Artists like on-site studios with high ceilings, maybe a little more room than the typical 50 x 125 ft Mt View lot has, and they like to be near other artists. They also love ground floor opportunities, and Mt View is now a little overripe for that. Think of Spenard 15 or 20 years ago. If you had any money at all in those post-recession years, a perfectly good 7,000 or more square foot lot, with a dilapidated 30- or 40-year old home could be had for $50,000 or less. Those days lasted until the late ’90s in Mt View, but are history here, too.
Faced with a similar dilemma, artists in other cities have banded together. Some have pooled their resources and built planned developments, clusters of houses with certain common amenities that are dialed into their perceived needs and identity. These have typically been very DIY, sort of basic tract ranches or two story city houses with big boxy sheds. Good, plain honest working buildings, maybe a little too plain. [That is, if you’re building in a place like Anchorage with a severe shortage of 19th century former garment factories.]
There were a couple places in Mt View three years ago that would have been perfect for such adaptive re-use. One was a smallish log house and a quonset hut, occupying three lots on No. Bunn St. between Thompson and Parsons Avenues. There was a small grove of mature spruces spread out on the property. There could have been more cottages for living added, working around the trees and augmenting the old cabin, and studio buildings arranged in the back along the alley. Bird houses and bird workshops. I can totally picture it. What was built there instead — three cookie cuttered CIHA houses, and all of the trees are gone except one — hardly did the site any justice. It used to look half developed and half boreal forest, now it just looks like everyplace else. The other one was the Topolski estate described in another thread below.
Perhaps there’s other similar opportunities, still? Some other options are being considered, too. There are a number of four-plexes in the neighborhood. Most are 28 x 72 feet, give or take; two stories and arranged slightly to one side of the center of the lot. Four two bedroom apartments, typically with driveways on both the alley and street sides, but windows only on the long sides, entrance and stairs in the middle. They’re not very compatible with the adjacent single family dwellings, each other or anything else — but there they are, up and down both sides of every single street in our one square mile. They are now selling for top dollar [$275,000 or more], considering most are about 30 years old, built in the era of construction of the oil pipeline.
Could we split them open, move the sides apart and build studios in the middle? Lift them off the ground a few feet, ala the “dingbat” of the LA area? Take several in a row and rearrange them, adding lean-to studios on the sides, creating courtyards and adding balconies and lounges in the sky? Or what?

appreciating the physical setting

At the State Fair for a day, earlier this month I spent a little time looking at the work of a company that does panoramic photography. They shoot from a plane, but instead of the typical aerial photography that looks straight down at a place, they shoot regular landscapes — kind of the classical panoramic only using 21st century techniques. They stitch together multiple digital frames, seamlessly blending the joints. They had some examples of Mat-Su neighborhoods and parts of South Anchorage. I’m thinking of commissioning a Mt View panorama. Maybe we could get it printed large and mounted in the community center or something.
One of the worst aspects of Mt View’s location today is that it’s ground zero, surrounded by Elmendorf. I can see a day when those bases won’t be there anymore, and the land will become part of the city. There will be lots of environmental cleanup to deal with — that land is toxic. But if we can clean it up, then what’s now a hard edge and a defined boundary will change, and Mt View will become integrated into the heart of the city instead of an outpost.
Another irony about Mt View [and the same could be said about Fairview and East Downtown] is the quality of the land is superior for Anchorage, in inverse proportion to the perceived desirability of the neighborhood as a place to live or do business. A lot of the rest of Anchorage is on land that is swampy, or the soil consists mostly of sand and clay. West Downtown and Turnagain, two of the most highly desired parts near the city center, have notoriously unstable conditions. In the 1964 Alaska earthquake, Mt View was already fairly built up, but sustained zero damage — while in parts that were underlain with clay, the clay liquified and caused subsidence and made the ground heave, displacing and breaking apart buildings.
The neighborhood sits on a high platform, with gravelly soils with high bearing capacity, all the way down to bedrock. I lived in an apartment building on No. Park St. for a brief six months in 1987. There were still a fair amount of power outages then. Due to recent improvements to the grid and interconnectivity, I can’t recall an outage in the last 15 years or more that lasted more than a few minutes. But in the ’80s they could go on for awhile. Standing on a third floor balcony back then, looking south toward the Glenn Highway, late one night when the power was out — once my eyes got used to the darkness, I could clearly see why someone in 1940 thought it was a good idea to build a neighborhood here. It’s a strategic, commanding, safe-feeling position — good southern light, stunning view of the Chugach peaks to the south and east, a bluff running haphazardly through that defines the southern edge, all that. It became very apparent after the clutter and noise of civilization was temporarily dimmed down.

toward a better process

About a year and a half ago, the community of Mt View found out about the city’s plans to sell an undeveloped 28 acres of land fronting the Glenn Highway to a private developer with plans to build 120,000 square feet of retail space and surface parking for 1,200 cars. It was one of the largest contiguous undeveloped parcels in the city limits. The neighborhood found out about the project by reading an investigative story in the Anchorage Daily News.
There was some protest and public comment by myself and others afterwards, about the strip mall project and about how land use decisions are moved through concepts to execution. There was so much protest that the municipality reacted by creating something called the Redvelopment Oversight Committee [ROC]. Putting aside the irony of the double meaning of “oversight”, the committee was useful for awhile, has since been dissolved, but didn’t really address the core problem.
The mall project process was so troubling to me that it begs a lot of larger questions about what latitude the city government should have in negotiating sole source contracts of any kind. This is surely an area in which we are not as progressive as many other cities. There don’t seem to be checks and balances. There does seem to be ample opportunity for relationships to flourish that are regrettable or even a conflict of interest, and not necessarily for public good. Since the mall deal was negotiated in secret, any kind of public discussion about the highest and best use for the land — a publicly-held asset — simply did not happen. Just a lot of spin and an attempt to sugar coat the development after the cat was out of the bag.
This is a really lousy precedent for a community that will be dealing with growth and environmental issues in a big way in the coming decades. Already, the city fabric is pushing into the foothills and there are daunting issues with road congestion, wilderness access, trails and parks and “affordable” housing [whatever that is].
There is already in place a structure to engage government decisionmakers with a neighborhood forum — the community council system. There are 30-some community councils in Anchorage, covering every part of town. It is a beloved, 30 year old tradition. Some of them have greater resident involvement than others. They are not immune from meddling. The Anchorage Baptist Temple pulled off a coup on one of them a few years back, but it was short-lived. 99% of the time, they are the best neighborhood resource and forum, the pulse of the place. The community council may advise the city leadership by passing resolutions, but these are advisory only. Maybe their role should be strengthened.
This isn’t necessary in all parts of Anchorage but it’s needed here. It’s needed in Muldoon, in Fairview, in Spenard. Maybe these places lack powerful and influential citizens. I used to live in Inlet View. If there are social problems there, associated with a bar of liquor store, they just get rid of the bar or liquor store. It just takes a couple of phone calls, I’m guessing. There isn’t so much as a convenience store or gas station there, let alone an after hours club or pool hall.
It’s difficult for me to criticize this city government and this mayor. Mayor Begich has been more mindful of Mt View’s issues than all of his predecessors combined. But he seems to have a dark side, too — a kind of myopic approach. As if he’s giving equal weight to the scheming of his real estate cronies, vs. genuine leadership and vision in regards to professional planning.
If we can figure out how to increase power and influence at the neighborhood level, and institutionalize it, we can get down to the business of creating a place where we’d like to be.

the art of sustain

Someone should update this site. It makes it seem like the effort is stalled, when it’s actually picking up steam.

sept 30th concert event

This seems like it could be a really big deal, weather and authorities permitting. I predict it will draw a lot of people from outside the neighborhood — and that is kind of the name of the game, for fledgling local businesses looking to survive and prosper.

I talked to a member of Pamyua at a bar earlier in the summer. He was a really nice guy. He seemed in awe about his touring experiences — going to places like the Netherlands and Iceland — “pretty good for a guy from Bethel”.

I’ve been working on the old Sadler Bldg. since near the beginning of the year, as Project Designer for the architect, Bezek Durst Seiser. The project is being developed by the Anchorage Community Land Trust and the contractor is Dokoozian Construction. The building won’t be finished for the event but it’s fairly far along. The first tenant, Campfire is beginning to move in, and it’s starting to look almost done. It has a dramatic, daylighted lobby and some interesting finishes and color combinations. The finished exterior will be a sort of a tribute to City Market and Success By Six, among other things, and I must remember to thank M. Mense and his past collaborators for the inspiration.

The building used to be owned by Ted Sadtler, the founder of Sadler’s Furniture and current owner of Mattress Ranch — the guy who does that nutty little jig in his TV ads. That was only the latest in a long string of identities and additions. Parts of the building in the past were occupied by a five and dime store, a laundromat, restaurant, grocery store and outdoor sports outfitters Mt View Sports [now located in another part of town but they kept their name]. When we first encountered the building, it contained a platform lift made of twin forklifts. And where windows and doors had been infilled, plywood patches that had grooves cut in them to match the surrounding stack bond concrete masonry. A pretty good building inside, some high volume, heavy glu-lam beams and decking. It will make a hell of a set of before and after photos.

It’s a great plus for the neighborhood and will have a lot of trickle-down benefit.

multidisciplinary arts center

A few years ago there was an organization in Anchorage called the Visual Arts Center. It was a mecca of modern art, an enclave of creativity… and I spent a fair amount of time there at opening night receptions and other events. As a social setting it had both good and bad aspects. It’s been gone a number of years now, a victim of a bad economy and management hassles. Lately some community artists started wondering, what would it be like to bring something similar back? Only expand the mission this time to include other types of art, photography, writing, dance, filmmaking and performance.
Mt View, and the old Mobile Trailer Supply building particularly were selected as a promising location. The main conspirators, calling themselves the Loosely Affiliated Artists, met in 2004-05 and talked about plans for the new center. I sat in on some of these sessions and made some suggestions on programmatic requirements and conceptual level schemes to convert and expand the building. A report was completed that also included results of surveys of potential users and financial planning strategies.
In August 2005 the group sponsored a summer arts event that kicked off a month-long exhibition in a gallery space in an old and unique part of the building. And this year another part of the building was converted to a gallery and this space is planned for future installations.
Since the planning process began, sale of the building from the former owners, the Carey family to the Anchorage Community Land Trust was completed. And a design concept by a Juneau architect was commissioned. ACLT has its offices in the building, but this arrangement may prove temporary and the arts center will hopefully be allowed to expand organically into the space even as additions are built and the full vision is realized.
The time is perfect to introduce an organization like this to Anchorage and Mt View. I am wondering why the full project is not funded yet? The center would be able to give children arts immersion, something that’s not as prevelant in schools as it used to be in the age of “No Child Left Behind”; and could also be an opportunity for continuing education and artistic development for adults and seniors, that’s no longer as strongly supported by the University.
Build it, build it, build it!


Last year I corresponded with a nice lady in central California who lived in Mt View for a few months in 1963. I emailed her about 50 photos of the neighborhood today. She was really excited about it — said she and her husband stayed up until two o’clock in the morning looking at them and recalling their brief stay in Mt View. Later she sent me a couple photos of her home then. Both of these are taken of Klevin Street south of Mt View Dr. The summer shot looks east and the winter one looks south. The Sadler warehouse building that’s now being renovated sits in the same area, although this house might be a bit south of there. This was in the days before construction of the Glenn Highway. Mt View Dr. was called the Palmer Highway and it was the main route out of town. Klevin St. ran gradually over and connected with the part that’s south of the Glenn. I just love stuff like this. Planning to investigate other historical photos and collect them for some sort of exhibition and/or online archive.

the garden art park

The Mt View Garden Art Park was created in 2001 by Helen and Carol Howarth — sisters who lived here as kids in the ’60s. Their father still lives in the same house. They created the park in memory of their mother. It is on a prominent, wedge-shaped corner at the Mt View Dr.-Commercial Dr.-Taylor St. intersection, across from the car wash and next to the Success By Six Building. The land it occupies is owned by United Way and part of the Sx6 property. There is artwork there created by Margret Hugi-Lewis. In 2001 the park was a more modest installation, and it proved difficult to maintain with private forces. So in 2004 it was redesigned by Land Design North, and it was recently finished and reopened. It now joins the network of municipal parks, surely some of the best parkland for a city this size anywhere.


An impromtu memorial on the side of an apartment building, from two or three summers ago. Recall that the 14 year old who took a random stray bullet in the head had nothing to do with the dispute underway. He died at the scene.
I’m one of those commie pinkos who thinks the country should disarm. You could hardly imagine a better argument for gun control than to learn about incidents like this, eh.

talking to the fireman about poetry


Idea grand —
Strike up the band.

Whole wad is shot —
All gone to pot.

A meager bit —
Just wait and sit.

Same as before —
Flat on the floor.

Think and act on —
Obstacle gone.


By blood or marriage
are we tied
To a court before
we’re tried.

When blindfolded tight
no eyes see,
Emotion blinded —
hit a tree.

What justice this or
is it slow,
God help us if it’s
all for show.

From 365 1/4 by Sal Omon [1966].
The writer has lived on Irwin St. in Mt View for the last 59 years.