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An executive mansion or an Alaskan house?

Views on the governor's official residence have shifted over the years

Posted: July 19, 2012 - 12:08am  |  Updated: July 19, 2012 - 7:47am
"White House of the North: Stories from the Alaska Governor's Mansion," by Carol M. Sturgulewski.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
"White House of the North: Stories from the Alaska Governor's Mansion," by Carol M. Sturgulewski.

Does Alaska’s governor live in a house, or a mansion?

The big white structure on Calhoun Avenue is big enough to be considered a mansion, and when Congress appropriated money for its construction in 1912 the funds were designated for an “executive mansion.”

But Gov. Sean Parnell, the current occupant, and First Lady Sandy Parnell, think the current usage of “Governor’s House” might be the best way to go.

“We call it the Governor’s House, but it started out an executive mansion,” said Sandy Parnell.

Author Carol Sturgulewski came down on both sides of the question in her just-published history called “White House of the North” using one term in the title and another in the subtitle.

The book’s secondary title is “Stories from the Alaska Governor’s Mansion.”

Juneau residents use the two terms seemingly interchangeably.

Sturgulewski is scheduled to attend today’s public celebration of the house’s 100th anniversary, from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on the north lawn.

Among her book’s fascinating tidbits dug up during years of research was the official congressional appropriation: $40,000 for an “executive mansion” for Alaska. That amount was intended to cover $35,000 for construction and $5,000 for furnishings.

The name change got a boost when President Warren Harding called it the “White House of the North” in 1923 when he addressed an umbrella-wielding crowd from its verandah with its white columns, Sturgulewski said.

The Parnells said they call it “the Governor’s House” but don’t worry too much when others use different terms.

Calling it “‘the Governor’s House’ is more fitting for Alaskans,” Sandy Parnell said.

“And for the Alaska families that occupy it,” Sean Parnell said.

Still, it is three stories, including the public spaces on the first floor and the family quarters on the upper floors.

“At 14,000 square feet I guess it really is a mansion,” Sandy Parnell said.

She described the house as “very livable, even though it is such a large house.”

Several former occupants of the house are expected to attend today’s celebration.

One of those who won’t be there is Sen. Dennis Egan of Juneau, son of two-time governor Bill Egan. There’s a photo of 15-year-old Dennis Egan, wearing Xtratufs, in Sturgulewski’s book.

“I knew how great it was to live in the mansion, and I’d like to point out that I never did any physical damage to the place,” Egan said. “That’s something ... the Gruening kids can’t say.”

Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening lived in the Governor’s House before the Egans did. Grandson Clark Gruening, who also became a state senator, is scheduled to speak today at the anniversary celebration, along with former Gov. Bill Sheffield.

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

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