THE HISTORY OF SPENARD
Spenard was not a part of
Anchorage until the '70's.
That's Joe Spenard up there
at the right. He was a nightclub owner who set the tone for
becomes Anchorage's place to party in 1916!
The Anchorage Daily Times reported on July 12, 1916 that Joe Spenard had entered the country club business with a resort on Jeter Lake just 5 miles outside of Anchorage.
A self promoter, he renamed it Lake Spenard. On August 4, 1916, the Daily Times reported a "Day of Fun and Frolic Promised ..." The Elks "secured an option on Lake Spenard for that day and under their management the opening day at Lake Spenard will be auspicious and memorable. ... Joe Spenard has a force of men working night and day to complete the dance pavillion, booths and necessary tables ... every known form of entertainment has been arranged for and the fun-loving people of Anchorage will do well to hoard their energy and dimes to wait for next Sunday ..."
The good times rolled to a temporary stop in May of 1917. The Daily Times reported that Joe Spenard's house and improvements on Lake Spenard were burned to the ground ... The loss is total and amounts to about $2,000 with no insurance. ..."
Joe's dreams of elaborate fetes on Lake Spenard did not end there. Keep reading to see some pictures of great times on the lake in the 1950's.
Here's Joe Spenard's first car in Anchorage.
airport at the southwest end of Spenard Road was built in the early
Here are some pictures
of Spenard in the late 50's and early 60's
This is the first Brown Jug in 1967. It is now a statewide business with three stores on Spenard Road.
Here's some Spenard history provided by Tom Snyder Jan 2012
on the picture for a larger view.)
This is something my uncle, Herb McKinney, put together & I scanned some years back. This first one tells a little history & background about his father, my Grandfather on my mothers side, W.D. McKinney & his homestead & some explanation about the Fireweed Lane pix.
Modern day look at where that was. Besides that first house there was another house, a two story building with one large apartment upstairs & one downstairs & a very small one on one side. At one point pretty much all of the extended family lived in this 'compound'. I lived there for my first five-six years. South of the family buildings down to Fireweed lane were a couple apartment houses he rented out.
With his 157 acre homestead McKinney owned much of the property at different times along Fireweed Lane. From B street to Arctic Blvd. & from Northern Lights Blvd. right down to Chester Creek where we used to fish & play in the vast woods. Some of the property between Blueberry & Arctic apparently extended to the South side of Northern Lights Blvd.
More from my Uncle about the next photos.
I have two versions of this old Fireweed Lane photo. I understand that this was a black & white photo & they were tinted by hand as was somehow done back then. This was a bit East of Arctic Blvd & is very familiar to me because it doesn't look much different from when I walked to North Star Elementary School from Fireweed & Arctic from 1951 to 1956. There was a trail off to the right behind the fireweed & brush where someone must have run a bulldozer. North Star Elementary ended up off to the right of that bend in the road.
Here are some photos on Fireweed Lane that my father took. I can see that "big tree" way back there. : )
The back of that photo.
Another of my father's photos. This was maybe 500 - 600 feet West of "C" Street on the South side of Fireweed Lane. I walked past this little house many times but I 'm not sure I knew that it was one that my other Grandfather built. It looks to be patterned after some of the Matanuska Colonist's houses. The curved porch roof is a dead giveaway. There were patterns for some of those colonist's houses. My Father came to Palmer with his family as colonists in 1935, so...
Looking South with Romig Hill in the foreground, down Spenard Road, & Fireweed Lane to just East of what is now Arctic Boulevard. Mid to late 1940s, definitely prior to 1951.
Some things shown on the East side of what is visible of Fireweed Lane in the above photo.
US Army tanks on Fireweed Lane?
Back side, East end of Tom Snyder senior's house, looking North towards Fireweed Lane, early 1950s. Huge rock fireplace!
Front of same house today, American Legion Post 1
The next structure to the East of the FBI Quonset was the North Star Elementary School. Unfortunately the only photo I found of that school was of the principal, Glen Norton, with a group of students in 1952. I was there then & recall Mr. Norton fondly.
North Star School ice pageant. We had a nice big ice rink!
Next to (West side of) Blueberry road was Dick Catherwood. W.D. McKinney had sold this to Dick, but he was able to talk Dick into selling to the school district. W.D. was on the school board and he wanted a school in Spenard. He gave Dick some ground on Northern Lights Boulevard.
Next to Dick Catherwood’s ground on Fireweed, W.D. McKinney sold eight acres to Nick Weiler that borders Arctic boulevard on the West. I think the price was $750. Weiler rented the ground to the FBI for a listening station.
Further West along Fireweed Lane... I remember being in McKay's Hardware at least as far back as 1951. Wish it was still there.
Parker's department store was at the Southeast corner of Fireweed & Spenard.
The photo below is prior to my memory of it. A much larger structure was built over & around the Quonset shown here. The Parker family lived in the basement. It anchored the North end of what might be considered a 1940s -- 1950s strip mall. A wood boardwalk fronted the businesses for a block. I recall a barber shop, a bar, & other businesses that seemed to come & go. At the North end of the block was a tiny log cabin that housed a small grocery store. The very same building that would much later become Chilkoot Charlie's. That cabin has grown considerably since then.
Later we were able to shop at the Piggly Wiggly grocery & the great Bert's Drug store on Spenard Road. At some point that store was a Safeway grocery & at different times some other different grocery stores as I recall. Piggly Wiggly, about 1957. The Piggly Wiggly was in the existing building just North, across West 27th, of what is now the Bear Tooth theater.
The Bear Tooth was originally the new Denali Theater that replaced the Denali that was destroyed in the 1964 earthquake Denali Theater & 'Flap Jack Jim's' on West 27th, about 1965.
Of course we could still buy our favorite dairy products at most any store in town.
Just North of that Piggly Wiggly was a Sears & Roebuck store. Our Christmas gifts & many other things came from Sears & Roebuck in the 1940s & '50s. At some point this little building was a shoe store. Remember those X-ray machines that you put your feet into to check the fit of your new shoes? I think it was in that entryway. Sears & Roebuck, about 1955
Spenard Road traffic could be fairly heavy. I know it certainly was during rush hour in the early 1960s. No date or exact location for this Spenard Road photo. I get the impression that it is looking North from Northern lights Boulevard.
Further North along Spenard Road you would pass by & get the wonderful smell from the Sunrise Bakery, something that I can hardly remember not being there, then down Romig Hill to Chester Creek.
My dad & Grandfather built a dory that they launched there a couple times to go across Cook Inlet to go moose hunting. Haven't been able to do that since they flooded it for that lagoon & added to the destruction of Chester Creek. That lagoon was our loss in my opinion.
A rodeo on the old Chester Creek Flats!
Overlooking Chester Creek Flats was the radio station that we listened to, KENI.
South & West of 'Downtown Spenard' was a location that was a popular destination for recreation for many, many years, Lake Spenard. Like my mother & her siblings I learned to swim there.
Anchorage International Airport, 1959.
Way out on the West side of Spenard the Anchorage International Airport was constructed. "Operations began at the new International Airport at Anchorage, Alaska during the winter of 1951- '52,"
Of course we can't forget the destruction caused by the March 1964 earthquake. Such as in this 'upper class' West Spenard subdivision of 'Turnagain by the Sea'. Some of it became 'Turnagain IN the Sea'!
The Spenard Utility District, 1948. The letter writer, W. D. McKinney, was my grandfather on my Mother's side. Working for CEA in the 1970s I still remember the overhead power lines in alleys in the area behind , West of, the Sunrise Bakery. ML&P line on one side of the alley & a CEA line on the other.
Michael “Mafia Mike” Von Gnatensky owned a chain of pizza restaurants in the 1980s including one at 2608 Spenard Road. He appeared in TV commercials wearing a fedora and ran for mayor in 1987. One of his platforms was to legalize gambling. Look close for the row of '$' symbols on the button. Who wouldn't support that?!
How different Anchorage would be if he had won instead of Tom Fink!
A Scholarly Consideration of the History of Spenard, Alaska - Mr. Whitekeys
Mike Gordon, owner and founder of Chilkoot Charlie's, writes very entertaining stories about Anchorage and Spenard. Check out growingupanchorage.com.
Corridor Technical Report April 2011
Please consider a donation to support the Spenard Chamber of Commerce.
chamber [at] spenard.biz