Alaskan Hotel & Bar History
The Alaskan was built at a turning point in Juneau and Alaskan history; just the year after the state became a territory. This accounts for a great deal of the hotel’s architectural diversity. The style, as noted by its ornate stringcourse, Victorian bay windows, and plush interior, is decidedly done in the late Victorian “Queen Anne” style.
The “Alaskan Hotel” is the oldest operating hotel in Alaska, opening on Tuesday, September 16, 1913. The hotel is an excellent architectural example of transitional change between 19th and 20th century. As a frontier mining camp, Juneau had developed a coterie of miner’s boarding and rooming houses; but few hotels. In the year 1912, an interesting triumvirate was formed: Jules B. Caro, promoter-entrepreneur, and the McCloskey brothers, James and John. Veteran miners of the Canadian Caribou, the McCloskey brothers had finally struck a rich pay-streak in the 25,000,000 diggings at Atlin, across the mountains northeast of Juneau in British Columbia. They acquired a prime location next door to the declining Central, in close proximity to the steam ship docks and central to the business district.
Construction of the building began in April, and took five months to finish. The opening night was a gala champagne event with two bands and free ferries between Douglas and Juneau. The Dispatch stated that, “At 6 p.m. the management will formally unlock the doors and the keys with then be attached to a toy balloon which will carry them out of sight. From the moment the doors swing open , never to close, the hotel will be for the accommodation of guests.”
Features of the hotel included Steam Heat and a wireless station of 1 1/2 kilowatts on the roof. The hotel was called a “pocket edition of the best hotels on the pacific coast.”
The “Alaskan Hotel” was placed on the national register of historic places October 25, 1978. Present owners Mike and Bettye Adams, have renovated the hotel into its original Victorian style.
The Alaskan was built at a turning point in Juneau and Alaskan history; just the year after the state became a territory. This accounts for a great deal of the hotel’s architectural diversity. The style, as noted by its ornate string course, Victorian bay windows, and plush interior, is decidedly done in the late Victorian “Queen Anne” style.
The current owner’s son, Joshua Adams, has written a book about the Alaskan and it’s history. This book is for anyone interested in Juneau Alaska’s seamier side. It details the life and memory of a hotel built to impress, but destined to pander to Southeast Alaska’s lowest tastes. As it was inaugurated, the Alaskan Hotel was described by the papers as “a pocket version of the finest hostelry on the West Coast.” The high fashion and glitz was a paltry concealment for the legal prostitution and sale of illicit substances that went on there throughout its history. The Alaskan Hotel survived the 1918 imposition of “Bone Dry” Prohibition, enacted in Alaska two years before the Volstead Act of 1920. The original owners, John and James McCloskey, decided to turn the bar into a cafe for sodas during that period, like most “speakeasies” of its time. The Alaskan Hotel was a brothel twice in her history, first legally and secondly as the rough-and-ready Northlander, which was shut down and condemned in 1977 by the Fire Marshal and the Litter Control Board. The end result is due to an extraordinary couple who bought the place and turned it into their private restoration project. Just as anyone who has passed through her wooden doors feels that the Alaskan Hotel is a place of cultural importance to Alaska, this book proves and cites the details of her unique role. The photo below shows the construction of our Victorian reproduction bar, as built by Micheal T. Adams in 1982; it forms an integral part hotel’s restorative history.
Certain elements of the Alaskan are so well-preserved that long-time Juneau residents comment on how little the place has changed. Sizzling with real characters and life stories, “The Life and Times of the Alaskan Hotel” is a must for any bookshelf containing works of Alaskan history.