Valley's old Army buildings may be demolished

Posted: Tuesday, November 02, 2010

One of Juneau's last vestiges of its World War II history is being sold to a private developer, who said he is likely to demolish it.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

After the U.S. Army dismantled its Juneau base following the war, the U.S. Forest Service took possession of two Quonset huts in the valley, and used them for the next half-century.

Now those huts, the last two surviving from numerous ones once located in the Juneau area, are being sold off as surplus.

"I can't think of anything else from the war that remains," said Addison Field, curator of collections and exhibits at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.

The Quonset huts are on 2.68 acres of land at the intersection of Mendenhall Loop Road and Atlin Drive, across from Mendenhall Mall Road.

Developer Richard Harris is purchasing the site from the federal General Services Administration after he was the high - and only - bidder for the property. He obtained it for the minimum bid of $375,000.

"That surprised me," Harris said.

"I think we're in the midst of a great buying opportunity right now, but banks are tight and it's not easy to get money at this point."

Harris said he did not yet know what he'd do with the property once the sale closes later this month, but its current residential zoning is probably not the highest and best use of the property.

The property is heavily timbered and borders the small lake near Duck Creek and could be used for homes, apartments or condominiums, he said.

"Part of me feels that it's kind of a waste of this parcel," Harris said, which might be better suited for commercial development.

The property's current residential zoning calls for 10 units per acre, which might work for condos, said Dale Pernula, city development director. The city's 18-units per acre zoning designation is what's usually used for apartment buildings, he said.

Pernula said he didn't know whether the city would approve a zone change to commercial.

"The fact that it's got an intersection there is very much a plus, whether or not it can handle a zone change would have to be looked at very carefully," he said.

How much of the site is can be developed is unclear, as the proximity to the lake suggests parts of it may have some wetlands, he said.

The two Quonset huts are 2,180 square feet and 629 square feet, along with several smaller wooden outbuildings, according to the GSA.

Harris said he doesn't know what will become of the Quonset huts, but can't imagine any way that they wouldn't be demolished.

The site was known as the Duck Creek Administrative site when it was used by the Forest Service for many years said Ken Mitchell, retired Southeast District Ranger.

The Forest Service has been using the site since before he arrived in 1964, and likely acquired them soon after the war, he said.

For years they were used as warehouses for storing firewood and other Forest Service equipment, Mitchell said.

At least one was heated with a wood stove made from a 55-gallon drum as crews used them during the winter to paint and maintain signs, benches and other campground structures.

The Forest Service now has new, more conveniently located facilities on Mendenhall Loop Road.

"The big thing I was always told was Bob Hope did one of his USO shows back in World War II in one of those Quonset huts," Mitchell said.

He said it would be nice to be able to save the huts, but can't imagine what commercial value they would have to anyone.

"I think their useful life has been amortized out," he said, given they're nearly 70 years old.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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