State of Disrepair

Governor's Mansion, mine building make endangered list

Posted: Monday, June 20, 2005

Two Juneau landmarks - the Governor's Mansion and the Alaska-Juneau gold mine's 89-year-old locomotive repair shop - recently made the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation's list of the state's Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties for 2005.

The association has been publishing the list for 15 years to call public attention to state historical landmarks that need to be stabilized or repaired. For the last 11 years, the organization has offered a matching grant program for nonprofit organizations that hope to mend the endangered buildings.

The Governor's Mansion is suffering from rotting windowsills, cracked columns, foundation problems and general rot, said Karen Newton, the executive manager of the home. The Friends of the Alaska Governor's Mansion Foundation, a nearly 2-year-old nonprofit organization, was formed to save the building. But Newton hopes the AAHP list will give the group's mission more prominence.

"The mansion looks nice to people from a distance, but if you get up close you can see the cracked columns," Newton said. "This lets people know that the experts have studied the building and we are on that list."

The state has done some general maintenance on the building over the years, but there is no cost estimate for how much it would take to completely repair the building. Newton estimates it would be a five- to 10-year project.

Nothing is being done to save the locomotive repair shop, according to city project architect Gary Gillette, co-manager of the Last Chance Mining Museum. A member of the AAHP, he nominated the shop for the list.

It stands uphill from the museum, near the Perseverance Trail trailhead, resting haphazardly on rotting, untreated wood piling timbers. The building is not open to the public, but of the hundreds of mining camp buildings that stood during Juneau's gold and ore heyday, it's one of the few remaining.

"This building in particular has some potential of being saved, although its time is getting short," Gillette said. "The whole idea of the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation list is to try and call attention with the hopes that maybe something will be done sometime."

The wood-frame repair shop was completed in 1916. Eighteen feet tall, 75 feet long and 25 feet wide, it contained equipment to repair the mines' electric-powered locomotives. With the flip of a manual switch, two tracks curled off the main line and entered the building. Workers could fix engines, motors and brakes there. An overhead crane could lift parts out of engines and on to work benches.

After the repair shop was built, the A-J constructed a series of snow sheds to shelter the locomotive tracks from snowfall. The tracks stretched from the A-J mill, near Gastineau Channel, to the ore tunnels that burrowed into Mount Roberts.

The mine produced more than $80 million in gold before closing in 1944. AEL&P bought many of the old structures, including the repair shop and the present-day museum, and sold most of them to the city.

The repair shop still contains a battery-operated locomotive, used by the Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1960s to shuttle tourists from the Jualpa Mine Camp to the A-J's mill site at Gastineau Channel. The building also houses a car that transported people into the mine, and a self-dumping ore car.

"It's kind of sinking slowly, because the foundation boards are rotting," Gillette said. "It was built on the edge of the hill, and that's probably why they used timber. Some of the timbers are pretty short, as it goes out from the edge of the hill. The building that the museum is in has a concrete foundation and retaining wall, so that's all intact.

"Ultimately, I think it would be nice to save it and fix the foundation and do some repair," he said. "Do what we did with the (1913) compressor building. Repair the windows and the siding and make it an expansion of the museum."

That would likely require between $350,000 and $500,000, Gillette said. He was one of a handful of volunteers from the Gastineau Channel Historical Society that did some patch-up work in 1996 and 1997 on the shop's foundation and temporary roof.

"It was obvious that we were not skilled enough, and that it was too dangerous," he said. "We needed a contractor."

The other eight properties on AAHP's list, released earlier this month, include the Bureau of Indian Affairs School in Unalakleet; Flat City Historic District in Flat; Japonski Island Boathouse in Sitka; the Jesse Lee Home in Seward; Cannery National Historic Landmark in Kake; the Capt. Saint Elias Lighthouse on Kayak Island; the historic Soldotna Post Office in Soldotna; and the Nike Site Summit in Eagle River.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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