New bridge means end for Fairbanks landmark

Samson Hardware, built in 1903, to be torn down in January

Posted: Wednesday, November 12, 2008

FAIRBANKS - A wrecking ball is in store for a Fairbanks landmark.

The Samson Hardware building, built in 1903, will be vacated in January to make way for another bridge over the Chena River, which runs through downtown Fairbanks.

Historic photos of Fairbanks often include the store, which has been on the northern bank of the Chena almost since the city was founded more than a century ago.

Owners of the building last month were ordered by a judge to move out.

"I guess it's progress, we do need a bridge there," said customer Mike Dynes, who stopped early Monday afternoon to buy a steel chimney brush. "(But) there's a lot of history in this old building."

The store manager said owners hope to reopen somewhere close to the current North Cushman Street site but have yet to solidify plans.

Work on the bridge is to begin in two or three years. In anticipation of that, the Alaska Department of Transportation has bought properties along the river's north bank. It plans to begin demolishing the hardware store and surrounding buildings early next summer.

The state has purchased other properties along both sides of Illinois Street, including an apartment building and a warehouse, which like the store were owned by the Jackovich family.

The store was built in 1903, according to Jackovich family members who testified in court hearings. It was originally a wood-frame building that burned and was replaced with concrete block walls.

Company manager Mike Pederson said the store will need to close Dec. 15 so it can meet the judge's mid-January eviction deadline. May is likely the earliest the store could reopen.

"We're just crossing our fingers," Pederson said.

The store stocks tools old and new - pulleys, rope, duct tape, coolers, shovels, plus the usual nuts and bolts. One wall near the back of the store is reserved for antique tools from Fairbanks' historic mining-town years.

A pair of cracked leather boots once belonging to Jimmy Barrack, who owned the store for a stretch during the first half of the 20th century, hangs from one post.

Disagreements over a fair sale price for the store and other buildings sent the state and Samson's owners to court this year.

State officials eventually offered more than $900,000 for the cluster of properties, slightly more than they offered two years ago but less than half what the family had sought, according to court records.

Superior Court Judge Mark Wood issued an order in late October directing Samson Hardware to move out by Jan. 15.

Pederson said Fairbanks-based state transportation specialists worked well with the store's owners but the company experienced a mix of "disappointment and disgust" when top-level state officials pushed, and the judge agreed, to evict the company.

"After 104 years, you'd think they'd treat us a little better," he said.

The road and bridge project has been on the table for decades.

The state plans to build the new bridge as part of a multimillion-dollar rebuild of Illinois Street and North Cushman Street, along with a bit of road work south of the Chena River.

Road planners first announced the so-called "Illinois Street Project" in the 1970s. After delays and a reworking of the plan, state and local officials revived efforts a few years ago and drew funding from other proposed projects to get started.

The Illinois Street project will spare another landmark of sorts, the International Bar & Lounge - best known as the Big I - in the same strip mall as Samson Hardware.

State transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey said the state is developing plans to demolish the buildings, which contain lead paint, asbestos and other hazardous materials, this spring.

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