Juneau inn chosen for TV showcase

Architectural details won building spot on 'If Walls Could Talk'

Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2001

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Linda Wendeborn and her husband Mark Thorson have found a home for the Fred Machetanz prints and the early 20th-century arts and crafts furniture they've been collecting for a decade: a former rooming house.

The couple is in the final throes of converting the house built in 1906 into a cozy bed and breakfast, Alaska's Capital Inn, just up the hill from the Capitol.

Remodeling efforts revealed architectural details that made the house interesting to the Home and Garden TV network, which reaches about 6.5 million homes. According to Emily Yarborough of HGTV, the show, hosted by Grant Goodeve (formerly of "Eight is Enough") looks for "houses with colorful and intriguing pasts." This house was intriguing because a successful gold rush miner, John Olds, built it and lived in it..he main chimney is one of the unusual features of the house because it spirals as it passes through the attic.

"They built the chimney that way in order to go through the hipped roof at the correct angle," Thorson said. "It makes almost a 180-degree swing."

The chimney was one of three architectural elements that came to light during renovation. The other two were serving doors leading from the pantry to the dining room buffet and maple floors on the second floor. These elements will be shown to TV viewers later this month, when Alaska's Capital Inn makes its national debut on "If Walls Could Talk." The show also will feature houses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The appearance on "If Walls Could Talk" is scheduled for Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. Juneau time, repeating at 9 p.m. HGTV, headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., airs on Juneau's cable Channel 70.

The crew of "If Walls Could Talk" arrived in July "when we were really under construction," said Thorson.


Historic house: Alaska's Capital Inn, at 113 West Fifth Street, was built in 1906, originally as a home. The bed-and-breakfast is jointly owned by Linda Wendeborn and Mark Thorson.


"If Walls Could Talk" chose the Capital Inn as one of its "showcase homes" by first consulting Gary Gillette, the planner for Juneau's historic district, Thorson said. "He gave them five or so places under renovation. They did an initial telephone interview, and then picked us."

The production crew also filmed a house in Sitka and one in Skagway, he said. "We were hoping for an all-Alaska show, but they like to spread them out."

The house at 113 W. Fifth St. originally belonged to the John Olds family. Olds came to Juneau from Cornwall, England, during the gold rush. Wendeborn, 42, and Thorson, 50, are the third owners of the house. Red Swanson, former legislator and backer of a road to Haines, owned it with his wife from 1955 to 1997 and converted it to a rooming house.

During the two and a half years they have owned the building, Wendeborn and Thorson have faced a variety of challenges, including researching what the original front porch looked like.

In order to have 1,300 square feet on each of three floors, they excavated 15 inches down in the dirt-floored basement and poured a cement slab with radiant heat. While they finish the kitchen on the main floor, Wendeborn has set up an impromptu kitchen and laundry on the basement level.

The maple floors were originally a roller rink in a YMCA that stood where the State Office Building is today. "When we moved in, it was covered by carpet. We sanded and refinished the wood, and brought it right back to life," Wendeborn said.

Wendeborn's day job is a researcher for the state Department of Fish and Game. Thorson workssor Catholic Community Service's grant program.

Lace cafe curtains, multicolored quilts and gilt-framed Machetanzzrints suspended from picture rails decorate up the rooms. (Machetanz, often dubbed "the dean of Alaska's artists," paints an idealized Alaska of prospectors and mushers.) Original stained glass, reproduction period wallpapers and gleaming woodwork are also featured. Some fixtures were found through the Internet, Wendeborn said.

"We upgraded all the fixtures to keep up with the Joneses in the B-and-B world," she said.

When they bought the house, Thorson and Wendeborn intended "from the get-go" to turn it into a bed and breakfast, he said. "We ran a little, one-bedroom B-and-B in Douglas for three years, and we liked it. We met interesting people, so we said, 'Let's go in way over our heads and have enough rooms to make it a viable business.'"

Capital Inn is accepting reservations for summer guests. Six bedrooms are available. Eventually there will be a seventh, a honeymoon suite in the 600-square-foot attic. For details, call 586-6507.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneaue-mpire.com.

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