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Historic 'House of Wickersham' gets long-awaited makeover

New landscaping, parking most visible changes to 113-year-old Victorian

Posted: July 25, 2011 - 8:19pm
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Jim Trucano of North Pacific Erectors digs out the lawn and the front walk for a new parking area at the House of Wickersham on Monday.    Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Jim Trucano of North Pacific Erectors digs out the lawn and the front walk for a new parking area at the House of Wickersham on Monday.

The Juneau house in which Judge James Wickersham lived, known officially — and appropriately — as the House of Wickersham has begun getting some upgrades from the state Division of Parks and Recreation, and has also put some controversy behind it.

“Everybody seems to be happy so far, we haven’t had any major complaints,” said Mike Eberhardt, Southeast parks superintendent for the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.

First up was new parking. The house, on Seventh Street in the venerable old neighborhood known as “Chicken Ridge,” previously had no parking. That meant that visitors all had to arrive on foot or be dropped off.

Now, after the remodel, it will have a single parallel parking space, Eberhardt said.

“It’s about as minimal as you can get,” he said.

That lone parking space will be reserved for deliveries, drop-offs or handicapped access, he said.

The Parks Division is still expecting visitors to arrive by foot when the House of Wickersham reopens to the public next year.

Among the controversies two years ago when parks officials began working to restore the long-neglected house was a proposal to put in angle parking, which would have created three parking spaces, Eberhardt said.

Parks staff eventually agreed that would be too big an impact on the small lot.

“That would have eaten up another 10 feet of the yard,” he said.

There was also concern about the state’s plans to remove the big cottonwood trees, but an arborist confirmed that the trees were rotten and dangerous. They were removed last year.

This year the stumps will be removed, new trees planted and the yard will be restored to what it was like when Wickersham lived there from 1928-1939.

“We’ll be planting at least two, if not three, larger trees,” Eberhardt said.

The species hasn’t yet been determined, but Eberhardt said they’d be “something appropriate to the setting and the era we’re trying to duplicate,” he said.

One species that’s been ruled out is cottonwood, a rapid growing but short-lived tree that was planted there sometime after Wickersham’s death in 1939 at age 82.

Neighbor Terry Hoskinson said earlier concerns from those living in the area have been listened to by Parks officials. They’re keeping the neighborhood informed of the ongoing plans and progress, she said.

A contract for repairing the house is expected to be issued soon, and Eberhardt said he hopes the house will be open to the public for next year’s tourist season.

Wickersham was one of the most significant Alaskans from territorial days, laying the foundation for Alaska to become a state. As its delegate to Congress he won approval for an elected legislature, funding for the Alaska Railroad, and creation of the college that later became the University of Alaska, according to the Parks division’s House of Wickersham history.

Eberhardt said Wickersham, who helped found Fairbanks before becoming a statewide leader, collected significant items from the state’s early days.

Visitors to the house will be able to see a spruce root basket, carved ivory and bone items and other Native art works, as well as items from the Wickersham family’s everyday life, he said.

The house itself was built in 1898, and among its residents were prominent mining entrepreneurs such as Bart Thane, before Wickersham purchased it. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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