Replacing 50 years of memories

Juneau writers piece together life after fire destroys manuscripts, memorabilia

Posted: Thursday, May 03, 2001

While longtime Juneau residents Jean and George Rogers were vacationing in San Francisco two weeks ago, their house on Evergreen Avenue burned down.

They lost their books, their CD collections of classics, folk music, opera and 1920s and '30s pop music, fine china, original art and underwear.

"When we got the phone call about the fire from our daughter Sidney, I felt, 'The honeymoon was over.' What we are faced with now is everything is gone," George said.

"We had to buy rain jackets when we got back," Jean said.

The couple are figuring out what else needs to be replaced - and what is unreplaceable from the home they lived in for more than 50 years.

Jean is grateful that photos of various stages of house construction were rescued. "We are just lucky to have them because I just made a notebook and it survived. The covers were burned but the inside survived," she said.

She wishes she could find the photo albums she customized for each of her children, but the fire was so hot, especially in the children's book author's work area, that the only recognizable objects are bed springs. "We lost originals by (local painter) Rie Munoz, including one she did of characters from the three books we worked on together. But that's only stuff," Jean said.

Both writers, the Rogers lost manuscripts. "George has been writing his definitive volume on Alaska, and I had been urging him to get it out of the computer. He made two copies and thought he would take one with us," Jean, 80, said.

"But then I said, 'Heck, we're only going to be gone nine days; I probably won't touch it,'" George, 83, said. So the book was left behind, and the computer melted.

"It's actually a relief in a way," George said, "because I had so much factual information; now I can go back and just tell a story."

The core of the 2,400-square-foot house was a 1913 miner's cabin, a frame building, about 18-by-25 feet with a lean-to. The Rogers had rented it, and when they found it was going to be torn down in 1945, they got permission to move it. As the family grew to include six children, the house grew too.

"I was going to live in it for a while, then tear it down. But once I got it jacked up, I saw how well built it was," George said. "There was no dry rot. It was clear-grained, aged fir that you could hardly drive nails into."


"Frank Lloyd Wright was my hero, so I designed a house that would look like a Frank Lloyd Wright inside," George said. He used exterior tongue-and-groove Sitka spruce inside, and hired the best carpenters - "Norwegian bachelor fishermen with the halibut fleet."

George worked for the Office of Price Administration in 1945 and was involved for 17 years in local government. The house was his second job.

"I worked every weekend, all my annual leaves, and after dinner when we tucked the kids into bed. The older kids said they couldn't go to sleep unless they heard my Skil saw going," he said. "It was built in sections, but there was a master plan in mind."

The counters and sink were built with consideration for Jean's height, 5 feet, 9 inches. To maximize living space, George eliminated halls and doors for the most part. Windows were oriented to the sun's path, and there were multiple decks.

At one stage of building, they ate on a stack of plywood on saw horses. When they used the last piece of plywood, George brought home a hollow core door and attached legs. "The children were very impressed that a table could appear so quickly," Jean said.

"This was pioneering within the city limits," George said. "The hillside was full of springs. We had our own water system."

"George would fill a bathtub with water every morning, and I would dip out of it. Then George would take a bath in what was left at night," Jean said.

"It was a joy to live in because it was exactly what we wanted. We had a big library that went all over the house," George said. The library ranged from classical Greek literature, economics and architecture to Jean's two literary loves, children's books and Jane Austen.

"It was us," George said.

They plan to build on the same spot on the same massive foundation. They love the view, the big trees and the neighborhood. They can hardly wait to start their second honeymoon.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.

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