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How The World Wags

The More Things Change ..
By Dave Kiffer


October 05, 2004

Ketchikan, Alaska - Just about once a decade, some enterprising artist/entrepreneur gets the bright idea to sell advertising space on a "map" of Ketchikan, usually of the downtown area. Some are big and colorful like the one that fledgling artist Ray Troll did in the early 1980s, some are tiny and in black and white like ones that were done by local photographers in the 1920s and 1930s. I collect these maps because they are fascinating snap-shots of what the community was like in a given a year.
jpg Dave Kiffer Ketchikan, Alaska

It should be noted that the snaps shot are not comprehensive. The only businesses that get shown are the ones that buy ads. Just like the only local businesses that are recommended on cruise ships are the ones that pay for it. Some things never change.

But over the years, most of the businesses do take part and the maps offer a great visual reference of our changing community. A while back, I came across a 1961 version on my favorite guilty pleasure, EBAY.

The 1961 map was drawn by Har-V Wolfson. It features those two "sayings" that we are fond of repeating ad nauseum. "Creek Street, the only creek in the world where men and salmon go up to spawn" and Deer Mountain: "If you can t see the top, it s raining. If you can see the top, it s going to rain."

It also features the cutsie-pie pix of bears, wolves, deer, sheep, seals, salmon, whales and herring that seem to crop up on all similar maps. Just to show that even though we have tamed the wilderness to build our fair city, there remains a little "wildness" on the outskirts. Oddly, enough the only wildlife that seems to have disappeared in the last 43 years is the lowly herring. But that's another story.

The 1961 map features long gone downtown icons like the Ketchikan Spruce Mill beehive burner, Main School and the Ketchikan Cold Storage. The funky old cupola of the Stedman Hotel graces the corner of Dock and Front and most of the waterfront is taken up by the Alaska Steamship docks. One end of the map is anchored the Billiken Bowl and the other end by the city Recreation Center, both familiar haunts of my youth.

You can also see how businesses and other sites move over the years. In 1961, the Alaska Bar was on Mission Street, and the Frontier (with swinging saloon doors and sawdust!) was on Front Street. In recent years, the Alaska Bar (before it closed last year) was where the Frontier used to be. In 1961, the Chief Kyan totem pole was in the alley behind city hall. Later it moved to Main Street and now is in Whale Park. The Masonic Temple was at the corner of Main and Grant (prior to the State Office Building) and now is on the corner of Grant and Front which used to be the Eagles Lodge which is now on Creek Street. You get the idea.

Some places stayed in the same location but the names changed. The New England Fish Co of my youth is now Alaska General Seafoods and Whitney-Fidalgo is now Trident Seafoods. National Bank of Alaska is now Wells Fargo.

Some places are just plain gone. Despite all the grumbling about a lack of "parking" in downtown, the 1961 shows four sites - Main School, Holy Name Church, Dave's Chevron and the Cold Storage - that weren't parking lots in 1961 but are now. I'm sure there were fewer cars in Ketchikan in 1961 than there are now, but given this town's decades long obsession with the automobile as umbrella, I'm sure that the relative percentage was just as high.

Some places haven't moved or disappeared. The Gilmore Hotel, Tongass Trading, the Sourdough Bar, St. John's Church, the Redman Lodge, the Methodist Church and the First National Bank still occupy the same sites they have for generations, although the old Methodist Church was a heck of a lot more scenic than the newer one.

There has also been a fair amount of new public building construction since 1961. In those days, the jail and the post office were in the Federal Building on Stedman. The city police department and the city library were in the city hall building. The Ketchikan Hospital was on Bawden Street. There were no borough offices, because at that point (just a couple of years after statehood) there was no Ketchikan Gateway Borough (ah, those were the days)!

In addition to the steamship dock, inter city transportation in 1961 was covered by Ellis Air Lines, Alaska Coastal Airlines, Pan American Airlines and Pacific Northern Airlines. Now, we have only Elastic Airlines and the increasingly Marooned Highway System.

Everyone always assumes that the tourism industry is a recent arrival in Ketchikan, but there were always some visitor industry stores, even early in the 1900s. In 1961, downtown Ketchikan had The Ketchikan Fur Shop and Gifts, Schallerer's Photo and Gifts, Pruells Jewelry and Gifts and Alaska Specialties- Gifts and Souvenirs. Of course, those were the days when we bemoaned the fact that some of the stores sold those little plastic totem poles that were made in Japan or Taiwan. We didn't think they were "authentic" enough. In retrospect, they were a lot more authentic than tanzanite or black coral.

Perhaps the biggest example of the "march of time" as shown by the 1961 map is apparently literal. My family used to accuse me - when I was a dawdling child - of moving slower than continental drift. But the 1961 Ketchikan map indicates that the continent is drifting faster than we thought.

In 1961, according to the map, Seattle was 702 miles away. Today, after consulting three different sources, the distance is "officially" 667 miles. That means that Puget Sound is bearing down on Ketchikan - or Ketchikan is bearing down on Puget Sound - at something like 3/4 of a mile per year. Perhaps not any sort of land speed record, but we're looking at a really, really, really serious impact sometime around the year 2800.

To heck with bridges and new docks, I want to know how we're going to deal with the Southcenter Mall and the Safeco Field sitting right in the middle of Front Street!

Dave Kiffer ©2004


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