Agency quizzes Ketchikan on color for historic building

Posted: Thursday, May 01, 2008

KETCHIKAN - The federal government has an important question for residents of Ketchikan: cream or pink?

Those are the color choices for the outside of the city's Federal Building, one of 2,300 federally owned structures on the National Register of Historic Places, and officials from the General Services Administration conducted a public meeting Tuesday night to gather opinions.

GSA architect Story Swett said paint selection is not normally brought to the attention of the public but federal officials thought it was important in the case of the Ketchikan landmark.

Ketchikan's 1938 building is significant for its modern European-influenced architecture. It's about five times larger than the average federal building for a community of Ketchikan's size, he said.

The building has four Native art murals painted directly on the concrete walls on the fifth floor of the building. The murals were painted by prisoners when the building was used as a jail, Swett said. The space now is used by the Social Security Administration and the murals are protected by glass.

The exterior of the Federal Building has been painted about 15 times. The most recent paint job used rubberized paint that does not let water evaporate from the porous concrete walls.

"In your climate, moisture really is an understatement," Swett said. Whatever paint is chosen must allow the building to breathe.

The GSA's Rebecca Nielsen led the audience through a brief history of the building. The first design, drawn in 1933, called for a terra-cotta hexagonal building. That plan was scrapped due to expense, she said.

When the L-shaped concrete building opened in 1938, it housed 11 federal agencies, including the U.S. Post Office, a jail and the federal court system. In 1954, the building was featured in the movie "Cry Vengeance."

The building was painted pink - or salmon, as some prefer to call the shade - in the early 1990s. A local committee chose the color.

National Register guidelines call for a historically appropriate color, in this case cream, but there is leeway if the community prefers pink, Nielsen said. Informal surveys and public comment indicate an even split.

The preference at the sparsely attended meeting Tuesday was pink.

Celia Callagher moved to Ketchikan about five years ago and said it was a shock to see a big, pink building in the middle of town.

"But I'm starting to think it's just a big thing that doesn't go with anything else, so maybe it should stay pink," she said.

Artist Ray Troll said he looked at the Federal Building every day of his life and liked that it was pink. Ketchikan usually has gray weather and pink helped alleviate the monotony, he said.

"Pink is kind of a delight to see," he said. "It's distinctive and it's become a landmark."

Amanda Welsh said painting the building a color that matched the gray weather would be "dismally boring."

"I'm here to support the pink," she said.

No decision was made Tuesday. Swett said a hue will be picked before June.

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