My turn: Preserve Merchants Wharf for its history

Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2005

I want to thank the Juneau Empire for raising public awareness of the city's waterfront plan.

Elton Engstrom, Dee Longenbaugh and Steve Wolf also wrote informative columns or letters in support of preserving Juneau's aviation history and Merchants Wharf.

Merchants Wharf, first a seaplane hangar rebuilt in 1939, needs to be preserved for Juneau's aviation history, charming ambiance, and thriving businesses with interesting shops and great cuisine.

Please consider these reasons:

Merchants Wharf has nearly 20 thriving businesses and employs more than 100 people, many full time. All the businesses create sales and property tax for our city treasury. The city could plan with the owner to replace some of the pilings, expand and improve the walkway for the public and work on additional funding for the refurbishment of the historical building. Expansion of Marine Park and a sea walk to the Douglas Bridge could still be possible with Merchants Wharf left intact.

Merchants Wharf has excellent restaurants for locals and tourists alike. It's fun to experience the atmosphere at the Hangar on the Wharf or Doc Water's Pub, as they bustle with excitement and music. People enjoy sumptuous food and a spectacular view of the sea with floatplanes, sailboats and cruise ships dotting the horizon. During busy times, all the eateries, including Pizzeria Roma, Pel'Meni, Chikat Cones and Costa's Kitchen, are packed to the gills inside and outside on the dock.

The Hangar Ballroom is a community hall used by many local organizations. Here are some examples over the years: the Lady Lou Review, a musical play; poetry slams; Juneau Symphony receptions; Perseverance Theatre productions; Chamber of Commerce luncheons; art shows; receptions; recitals; concerts; dances; young people's musical events and more.

Many times in any given year, at no charge, the ballroom is used by families in need for fund-raisers and memorial services. For the past six years, the Hangar on the Wharf restaurant has provided the Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner for 400 residents.

Juneau's aviation history could be preserved in the 1939 hangar building with creative solutions such as: 1) get it on the National Register of Historical Places (like the Alaskan Hotel); 2) contact the state Office of History and Archeology in Anchorage for its recommendations; 3) open up space within Merchants Wharf for an aviation museum; 4) utilize local author and aviation historian Jim Ruotsala as a resource and expert on the hangar; and 5) when the above is accomplished, refurbish the building with the help of federal funds, still keeping its unique "personality" and atmosphere.

We stand to lose more than a wooden building with successful businesses that was once a hangar for seaplanes. We'll also be without the hub of downtown Juneau; the character and charm of Merchants Wharf for all to experience in our beautiful city; the opportunity to enjoy the preservation of Juneau's most significant historical building for aviation; and young people, concerned and longtime citizens of Juneau who may decide this community is going in a direction they can no longer support.

I urge each citizen of Juneau and Douglas to contact the following Juneau Assembly members as soon as possible: Stan Ridgeway, Jeff Bush, Johan Dybdahl and Marc Wheeler. Let them know how you feel about the proposed plan to demolish the 1939 hangar building that houses Merchants Wharf. I believe together we can make Juneau a place where citizens and tourists alike share common goals of preserving our heritage for all to experience and enjoy, now and for future generations.

• Barbara Wilmot is a Juneau resident and is active in the arts.



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