Old Fairbanks safe holds trash, historical treasure

Posted: Tuesday, October 08, 2002

FAIRBANKS - An old City Hall safe opened for the first time in nearly a decade revealed limited financial treasure but a bounty of the historical kind.

Last week, Fairbanks city employees gathered around a walk-in storage closet to take a first peek inside a 5-foot-high steel safe that had last been opened sometime prior to 1994, when it was moved from the clerk's office at old City Hall.

Since then, the staff had turned over and the combination had been lost.

The safe itself is old. Across the top it reads, "Town of Fairbanks," suggesting it dates from early last century, before Fairbanks was commonly referred to as a city.

City Financial Services Director Ron Woolf said he didn't expect anything of interest to be inside.

"I was just wondering what's there. It's a safe and we might as well make it useful."

After multiple visits and about six hours of work, including drilling a small hole in the side to get a look at the tumblers, locksmith Bob Larson coaxed the doors open.

"By golly," exclaimed Mayor Steve Thompson as he and Woolf began leafing through compartments full of envelopes, papers, tapes, canceled account passbooks, and assorted odd objects.

First out were some gold city cuff links and signature stamps. Then an oversized souvenir key to the city - the City of Tampa, Fla.

"Hey, let's go to Tampa!" said Thompson. "We can get in!"

More digging turned up a 1989 city budget on microfiche, safe deposit keys, 20-year-old documents marked "confidential" and 40-year-old bond coupons that, had they been valid, would have been worth thousands.

A quick phone call by Woolf confirmed the coupons were worthless.

Then Thompson found the real prize. A yellowed envelope tucked in a back corner held handwritten minutes of one of the first, if not the first, public meetings in Fairbanks. It was dated Feb. 22, 1903, nine months before Fairbanks was incorporated.

Nearly everyone at the meeting now has a street named after them.

"That's phenomenal," said Administrative Services Director Pat Cole as he delicately examined the torn envelope. "The guys who handled that paper are the people who founded our city."

Woolf also found two documents that may have more immediate value - uncashed checks totaling $844, including a 1987 permanent fund dividend for $708, signed over to the city.

"I'm going to see about getting those cashed," he said. "I figure that eight-hundred something on the check will more than pay for opening the safe."

"Well, we didn't find any unpaid bills at least," Thompson said.

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