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Neighbors query improvements to historic house

State parks officials plan tree cutting and parking spaces at House of Wickersham

Posted: Wednesday, June 03, 2009

State parks officials are planning a series of improvements at the historic House of Wickersham, but neighbors are questioning whether removing trees and expanding parking are really improvements.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"Cutting down trees does make the house less attractive and inviting," said neighbor Terry Hoskinson. "I certainly don't want to see a parking lot at the Wickersham."

Hoskinson and several other neighbors are just now learning about the planned changes, but Southeast Area Parks Superintendent Mike Eberhardt said the improvements are modest, and have been in the works for some time.

"We have done an interpretive plan for the building, and we are going to redo the lawn back to a more historical state," he said.

Eberhardt is responsible for what's known officially as the Wickersham State Historic Site, located at 213 Seventh Street downtown.

Some cottonwood trees are nearing the end of their lives and will have to be removed, he said.

"These are very old cottonwoods that have been pruned beyond their useful life," Eberhardt said.

Mountain ash, a smaller tree that was on the site originally, will replace the cottonwoods, he said.

Eberhardt said he's holding off cutting any trees and will be meeting with neighbors on the site at 7 p.m. Wednesday to fully explain the plans.

The House of Wickersham was built in 1898 as a home and purchased by the state in 1984. In between, it was home to prominent Juneau residents like Judge James Wickersham, and Bartlett Thane of the Alaska Gastineau Mining Co.

After Wickersham's death in 1939 it passed to his wife, and then to his niece Ruth Allman who lived in it for decades before the state bought it.

Eberhardt said the cottonwoods are old by cottonwood standards, but they're not historic.

"Judge Wickersham didn't plant the cottonwood," he said. "My guess is Ruth Allman did, we don't have any record."

For safety reasons, they'll have to come down because they rot from the inside and could fall without warning.

"They're old, and it's time," he said.

Plans for more parking are also raising concerns. The house only has street parking, and most visitors arrive by foot or by cab, Eberhardt and neighbors said.

"Parking is one of the issues we want to deal with, currently there's no legal off-street parking," he said.

Eberhardt said they plan to replace the current parallel spaces with diagonal parking.

Frederick Hoskinson, Terry's husband, questioned the need for more parking, saying its few visitors usually come on foot.

"It's on the walking tour, but its not like down by the trinket shops so it's usually those who are interested in looking around," he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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