A crucial decision in 1982 preserved the heart of downtown Juneau when Tom and Gail Findley elected to rehabilitate the historical Valentine Building they had purchased two years earlier. Located at the corner of Front Street and Seward, today the building houses Juneau Drug on Front Street and several small local businesses on the Seward Street side of the building.
By 1904, pioneer jeweler Emery Valentine completed the first phase of the building farther up Seward Street near today’s entrance to the upstairs offices. Over nine years, Valentine expanded the structure into the large elegant Victorian three-story building we see today, completing the second phase in 1913. In the early days, Front and Franklin Streets were the original shoreline at high tide. Much of Juneau is built on fill.
Valentine is regarded as a founding father of Juneau’s white population. He came to the young mining camp in 1886 and opened a gold and jewelry store. Valentine was also a key founder of the Juneau Fire Department, one of the essential entities in a town of mostly wooden buildings at the time and which is one of the reasons Juneau survives today. Valentine served as Juneau’s mayor and a city council member also.
By 1980, the Valentine Building had deteriorated significantly. After the Findleys bought the building that year, they got an engineer’s report which bluntly laid out the options:
“One alternative is to use the building without repair until it is untenable. The other alternative is to reconstruct the building using as much of the original material as possible,” wrote Tongass Engineers, Inc. engineer Robert Lium on Nov. 22, 1982.
Lium devotes two pages to describing the failing condition of the foundation, mudsills, walls, joists, plumbing, roof and other portions of the first and upper floor.
Fortunately, the Findleys chose the second alternative and began restoration of the Valentine Building in 1983. The major overhaul took nine months and hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the course of removing the contemporary drop ceiling in Juneau Drug, contractors discovered and restored the strikingly beautiful coffered ceiling with ornate gilded molding that exists today. They rehabilitated the private second floor offices that are currently occupied by many small businesses.
For their efforts, on March 25, 1985, the Findleys were presented with the Gold and Blue Ribbon Capital City Citizens Committee beautification award by then-Mayor Fran Ulmer.
Over the years, many shops have occupied the Seward Street storefronts while Juneau Drug continues to anchor the corner space. It is now the only pharmacy in downtown Juneau after Foodland’s pharmacy closed last year. Hudson’s Shoes existed for decades in the place where Shoefly is now located. Rainy Retreat books, The Rookery Cafe, and one of the newest businesses — leather goods designer and manufacturer Willow + Luna — face Seward Street.
Today, Gail Findley and her son Scott Walker Findley own the building. Tom died in 2006, but his family’s legacy continues to preserve one of Juneau’s most handsome landmarks. The Valentine Building is in Juneau’s Downtown Historic District and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
• 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.