City mulls razing site where 1st Alaska flag flew

Jul 13, 2020, 5:31 AM | Updated: 5:31 am

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The fate of one of Alaska’s most historic yet neglected structures could be decided Monday as city officials in Seward weigh whether to demolish a former Methodist boarding school where the Alaska territorial flag was first flown almost a century ago and where its Alaska Native designer lived.

Benny Benson was among the orphans and displaced children who lived at the Jesse Lee Home, many of whom were sent there after the Spanish flu devastated Alaska Native villages. Benson, a 13-year-old Aleut boy sent to the home after his mother died of the flu, won a territory-wide contest in 1927 to design the flag, which became the state flag after statehood was granted in 1959.

Benson is believed to be the only Indigenous person to design a state flag, said Dorene Lorenz, a former Seward City Council member who has been behind efforts to save the structure for years.

“I don’t understand why you would rush to destroy a landmark when there’s obvious interested parties wanting to present to you other options,” she said.

One such group, the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, plans to make a last-ditch effort to save the structure by making a presentation during a public hearing before Monday’s scheduled vote. If successful, they will bring together those with historic preservation expertise to formulate a plan.

“We got a lot of people who are anxious to get working on this,” the group’s president, Trish Neal, said. “And so I have no qualms that we can’t pull this off. It’s just we have to get the city council to back off and let us do this.”

What to do with the site has been a source of contention since the home was heavily damaged in a magnitude 9.2 earthquake in 1964, the second most powerful ever recorded. One of the three main buildings was damaged and demolished after the quake. The boarding school was eventually moved to Anchorage, and the Seward site has sat unused since.

City officials said the home has deteriorated more in the last decade between engineering studies, but Neal offered another engineer’s report from this spring that concluded while there has been deterioration in the last seven years, “restoration is a viable option,” but must be done quickly.

Attempts by individuals and a group over the years to refurbish the home have sputtered and stalled. Seward Mayor Christy Terry said when the Friends of the Jesse Lee Home lost a multimillion-dollar state grant a few years ago, ownership reverted to the city. The Legislature allocated $1 million of that to the city.

“We do not have the capacity right now to have an homage to a building that’s so degraded because of the inaction, frankly, of a group that was their very last chance to make that happen, that the state funded incredibly well,” Terry said. “Something like that is never going to happen again.”

She said there is no rush to demolish the site but the council has a June 30, 2021, deadline to use state funding.

“For them to blame us for where we are now, they are sorely mistaken,” she said. “So people want to come in at the 13th hour. No one has a check. No one has any ideas about how that property can be operated or what to do with it.”

If the council approves the demolition measure, the city would use the state money to remove hazardous materials like asbestos, demolish the remaining two buildings and haul the material away. The proposal also calls for building a memorial at the site.

That design would involve community input, Terry said, adding she has her own ideas on what a memorial would include.

She would like to salvage any usable beams and incorporate them into a pavilion that would include storyboards spelling out the home’s place in Alaska history. The pavilion could be rented out, she said. Terry would also like to include a new playground at the site and close another nearby playground, turning that lot into single-family housing.

If the council doesn’t vote for demolition, they will then later consider other options, including one that would begin refurbishing the buildings.

Retired Alaska State Historian Jo Antonson said the Jesse Lee Home was an important institution in state history, noting that the Army used the buildings during World War II and even camouflaged them using paint to protect them from the enemy.

“It’s just sort of disappointing that the city and the residents have never embraced trying to fix up the buildings that remain and find a good use for them,” she said.

Today’s Top Stories

All News

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin extremism...
Ellie Kaufman, CNN

Defense secretary condemns ‘nuclear saber-rattling’ but says he doesn’t believe Putin has decided to use nuclear weapons

While U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hasn't seen anything to suggest Russia has decided to use nuclear weapons, he did condemn nuclear saber-rattling
11 hours ago
Hurricane Ian survivor Hope Labriola waited for help as her home filled with water. Photo credit: H...
Caroll Alvarado, CNN

‘I can’t do this’: Fort Myers Beach woman calls for help as Hurricane Ian’s storm surge floods her home

A Fort Myers Beach woman called for help as the storm surge from Hurricane Ian.
11 hours ago
Lisa Garner. Photo credit Draper City....
Mark Jones

Lisa Garner has support of Draper mayor to become next city judge

Draper Mayor Troy Walker is seeking the appointment of Lisa Garner as the city's next judge. The appointment must be approved by the city council on Oct. 4.
1 day ago
Two Murray police cruisers are shown...
Mark Jones

Murray Police warning public to be on lookout for scam

Several reports of a scam have been reported in Murray. According to police, a caller pretends to be from the Murray Police Department and attempts to notify a person of a warrant and insists the person pay the bail amount.
1 day ago
An electronic sign on the campus of the University of Utah was seen displaying pornography today....
Becky Bruce

Slight increase in crime on U of U campus from previous year, report says

There has been a slight increase in crime on campus over the previous year, according to a report released Friday by the University of Utah.
1 day ago
Turkey and cattle farms near Moroni, Utah. Three additional cases of avian influenza have been conf...
Mark Jones

Three additional cases of avian influenza confirmed in Sanpete County

The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food announced Friday that three additional cases of avian influenza have been confirmed on turkey farms in Sanpete County.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Derm Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
City mulls razing site where 1st Alaska flag flew