Historic site running out of chances

Former locomotive repair shop listed as endangered

Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A nearly 100 year-old locomotive repair shop in Juneau is one of the state's top 10 endangered historic sites, according to an announcement by the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation.

"It just becomes more obvious (each year) that it is slowly deteriorating," said Gary Gillette, the director of the Last Chance Mining Museum and a city architect, on Tuesday.

"I am getting to the point where I am at a loss of where to go with it," he said.

The statewide organization has been publishing the list each May for almost 20 years to call attention to Alaska's threatened historic properties in hopes of raising public support and money for repairs.

The wood-frame building was built for the Alaska-Juneau gold mine in 1916 and is 18 feet tall, 75 feet long and 25 feet wide. During its heyday, it contained the equipment to repair local mines' electric locomotives.

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The productive A-J mine operated from 1912 until 1944. When it closed, Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. bought many of the old buildings, including the repair shop. It later sold several of the structures to the city.

The shop, located near the mining museum, has made the list before, but Gillette said it differs from other properties that might be in a similar state of disrepair because renovation poses danger to volunteers who might be able to help.

"A number of years ago, we tried to stabilize it a little bit. It was too dangerous for volunteers to take on," he said.

He said the building was built with an untreated wood foundation. The foundation is slowly sinking into the ground, and the roof line is visibly sagging, he said.

Gillette said the building was in "dire straits" and has been rapidly deteriorating in the past five or six years.

In 2005, Gillette told the Empire repairs could cost as much as half a million dollars, but he said Tuesday that without a current evaluation of the building, it is now too difficult to estimate what a renovation would cost.

"I hate to throw out a number," he said. "We really haven't had a good look at it."

Another building in the area, which served as the powder magazine and stored dynamite, is even worse off but is more difficult to reach than the repair shop.

"It is falling down the hill pretty badly," he said.

The other nine buildings that made the 2007 list include Kake Cannery National Historic Landmark in Kake, Slikok Creek Archaeological District in Soldotna, the Clover Pass School in Ketchikan, Nike Site Summit in Eagle River, the Jesse Lee Home in Seward, the Bureau of Indian Affairs School in Unalakleet, the Historic Soldotna Post Office in Soldotna, Government Hill Neighborhood in Anchorage and Cape Saint Elias Lighthouse on Kayak Island.

• Brittany Retherford can be reached at brittany.retherford@juneauempire.com.

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