House or Mansion?

Juneauites know what they have in governor's residence

Posted: Friday, July 08, 2005

On the WaterfrontBy Elton Engstrom

I don't go along with calling the Governor's Mansion a house. I like to call it a mansion.

I know that the first ladies recently got together and according to the Empire "the women were quite vocal about not calling their former residence a mansion, but a house."

This distinguished group of Alaskans included Neva Egan, Ermalee Hickel, Bella Hammond, Michael Stewart and Susan Knowles, as well as their host Nancy Murkowski. I think they just want to be like the rest of us. After all, at least 99 percent of us Juneauites live in houses.

This presents a conundrum for me, because when I was growing up we always called it the mansion. What has caused the change?

I decided to consult another Juneau-born resident Pat Holloway. "Pat," I asked, "what do you call the place where the governor lives?"

Without a pause to reflect, he answered, "the Mansion."

I know there's a recent movement afoot to call it "the House." I expect this will soon start to appear in the letters to the editor, and it has.

Of course, they have an august example. In Washington, D.C., they call it the White House.

But I like the sound of mansion. "In my father's house are many mansions," is a famous biblical quote with a wonderful ring to it.

I need to go back to the beginning to find the real answer. It was Jan. 1, 1913, at the first official function of the new Governor's _____. Let me leave a blank until I get to the end of the story.

In the Jan. 2, 1913, edition of the Alaska Daily Empire, a marvelous story tells of the open house held from 3 to 5 the day before. It also describes at great length the physical characteristics of the new building. I would say the whole story is at least a thousand words.

At the very end, the reporter asks, "Why the Governor's House?"

The answer was, "Gov. Clark says that personally he does not believe that the new official residence should be known as an executive mansion, but simply as Governor's House."

But wait. At the time, in 1913, the residence and the office were one, that is Gov. Clark transacted most of his business at the mansion. We all know that when the Capitol was built, the governor was provided a separate office. Now everyone who gets a chance to see the governor officially most likely will visit the third floor of the Capitol. So the residence is just a home.

The residents of Juneau, with the perspicacity of common people everywhere, over the generations knew that they really had a mansion.

• Elton Engstrom is a lifelong Alaskan, retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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