Perhaps sharing the leading roles in Juneau High School’s 1915 theatrical play clinched the relationship that bloomed into the MacKinnon family legacy of keeping Juneau clean. Young Hazel Jaeger and Sim MacKinnon were praised for their acting in the May 7, 1915 issue of the Alaska Daily Empire.
Hazel Jaeger’s father had arrived in Juneau in 1895 from Tacoma, Washington. The family’s early future was literally a toss-up: a coin flip sent them to Alaska instead of Hawaii. E.R. Jaeger soon leased the Juneau Laundry (formerly located near today’s Baranof Hotel) in 1895. Two years later, he purchased the Alaska Steam Laundry on Front Street.
As the business grew, it needed more space so moved again, this time into a building constructed for the Jaeger family. That building is still standing today and is prominently seen on South Franklin Street. In 1901, they opened the late Victorian style Alaska Steam Laundry with its recognizable corner turret. The Jaegers’ home was on the second floor of the building overlooking bustling Franklin Street, recalls their great-grandson Neil MacKinnon, who played as a child beneath the turret. He is the fourth generation of the Jaeger-MacKinnon family. Two more generations continue the family name.
Life in Juneau in the early 1900s was more fashionably sophisticated than today. Ladies dressed in long skirts with crisp white blouses, embroidered jackets, and custom-crafted hats and gloves. Men wore three-piece suits with gold watch chains looped across their chests. Many miners were single men without laundry facilities. Homes featured table linens and bedding that required heavy washing machines that were not in homes at the time. Similarly, steamships traveling north and south relied on a professional laundry service.
When Hazel Jaeger married Simpson MacKinnon in 1923, Gastineau Channel communities were still recovering from the devastating loss of mining on Douglas Island. In 1917, Treadwell suffered a stupendous cave-in that flooded most of the interconnected mines. Strange noises and creaking timbers alerted the Treadwell managers to evacuate the underground tunnels moments before salt water inundated the workings and spelled the end for Treadwell. Fortunately, no miners lost their lives.
Coincidentally, the Alaska-Juneau Mine and Mill were developing, and within a short time the company absorbed the out-of-work miners as activity shifted from Douglas Island to the mainland. Juneau grew and stabilized. In 1928, work began on a 10,000-square-foot addition with a new entry on Shattuck Way.
By the 1960s, the laundry business changed again. Adapting to a new reality, they built a large facility near Harris Harbor that features a laundromat with coin-op hot showers on one side and the dry cleaning business on the other. These ventures continue today. By the 1970s, as Neil MacKinnon says, “the wash and wear revolution” changed people’s lives; most Alaskan homes had washers and dryers. His parents Skip and Jane MacKinnon were active in the changes, too.
The relocation freed the original 1901 building for new uses. Tourism was growing with more cruise ship visitation. MacKinnons converted the former laundry to upper- and lower-floor retail and office spaces. They named it the Emporium Mall. By the 1980s, the building housed many small local businesses — startups such as Foggy Mountain Shop, Rainbow Foods, and Heritage Coffee — began in the Emporium. Business opportunities thrived once the 1974 and 1982 capital move votes kept state government in Juneau.
Today, Juneau’s iconic turreted building still identifies the city as an authentic Victorian era community. The Alaska Steam Laundry was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It is also within Juneau’s Downtown Historic District.
More significant than the benefit of a six-generation business still operating in Juneau, the MacKinnon name is stamped on more than fresh laundry. It is a key source of photographs preserving Juneau’s visual history at the Alaska State Historical Library. But the photos are indelibly linked to the business. Specifically, the window panes in the Shattuck Way plant.
Many years ago, a man approached Sim MacKinnon with a couple of crates of glass plate photographic negatives that he wanted to reuse for a greenhouse. He asked if the cleaning business could remove the black impressions on the plates so he could have clear glass. A similar situation preserved the phenomenal photo collection of Klondike photographer E.A. Hegg when a woman in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada asked that black marks be removed from glass plates for a greenhouse she wanted.
Sim MacKinnon had a better solution. He had a good supply of individual glass panes to replace those destroyed when the frequent Taku winds blasted the Shattuck Way laundry building windows. Sim proposed a swap: glass plate negatives of the Winter and Pond collection for new clear glass panes that the hopeful gardener desired.
Once Sim had the glass negative plates, he and historian Robert DeArmond made photographic copies from the original images. One set of the negatives and prints went to the Alaska Historical Library. This collection of famous large format Winter and Pond photos is the source of some of Juneau’s extensive visual history. Large format cameras and glass plate negatives make extremely clear images. For example, lettering in shop window signs can be easily read because the superb quality of those photographs. While one set went to the library, the other set remained with the MacKinnon family. (They are now preserved in a climate-controlled vault.) Additional historic photos were donated in the 1980s by William Jorgenson, creating an even more extensive compilation of Winter and Pond images.
Those photographs are priceless to us now as the remnants of the rich lives people led more than a century ago. Along with preserving our community history, the Alaska Steam Laundry building preserves the memory of a bygone era.
Now, the beloved Victorian building is transitioning to a new owner. It has been purchased by local construction renovator Jared Cure’, known for his masterful remodeling of The Narrows bar and the recently remodeled Viking/Percy’s on Front Street, now called the Crystal Saloon.
The alluring historic photos that decorate the passageway walls of the Emporium are some of Jared’s strongest childhood memories. The building he purchased on January 1, 2020 still displays enlarged Winter and Pond images from Juneau’s past. He’s moved some of them to the Crystal for greater visibility. Timing was critical as the Laundry deal went through two months prior to COVID shutdown. No one could have predicted the impact of tourism cessation. The building sustained the pandemic closure.
“This building is stoutly built and has been kept up well over the years,” said Cure’. He is pleased that post-COVID business activity is returning for locals occupying the upper and ground level offices. In addition to the South Franklin Street Imagination Station and Tlingit master carver Doug Chilton’s new Indigenous Art Designs shop, other businesses like Barnaby Brewing, Rae’s Alterations, Downtown Disc, Juneau Food Tours, and Goldtown Nickelodeon
Theater are accessed via the Shattuck Way entrance.
Jared’s appreciation of history and classic structures makes him an ideal person to continue the MacKinnon family legacy. One of his first tasks was repainting the South Franklin Street facade in a muted blue with white and maroon trim plus gold accents that highlight the ornamental cornice features.
For now, the Alaska Steam Laundry will remain the same solid place Juneau has known for 122 years. For decades there were apartments on the second floor, as was true with many other downtown buildings. In the future, there may be a return to that tradition; another level added at the back for possible housing units could ease the demand for downtown residential space. That improvement will keep the laundry building viable for many more generations.
• Laurie Craig is an artist, advocate and avid researcher of Juneau’s historical treasures. Rooted in Community is a series of short articles, published in the Empire on the third weekend of each month, focusing on unique buildings in Juneau’s Downtown Historic District and the present-day businesses (and people) that occupy them. This work is supported by the Downtown Business Association.