When Dale Whitney and Christine Hess finally gutted the Hellenthal Building on Franklin and Front streets, they looked down at a football field-sized challenge: a massive, open-air canvas in which to make their dreams of a commercial-residential space in the “very center” of downtown Juneau come true.
Two of three business partners in Spickett’s Palace LLC, Whitney and Hess, recently completed the two-year renovation of the 102-year-old Hellenthal Building, a 13,000 square-foot mixed use structure, sitting on 6,000 square feet of land, with a history as a bank, law office and vaudeville theater.
The stress of the process has begun to lift, Whitney said during a recent tour of the new Hellenthal Lofts, the residential portion of the new building. But when the building was still empty, stripped down to its Douglas fir and concrete bones, they felt the ambition of the project.
“We were like, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’” Hess said.
The couple, both attorneys, bought the property in 2016. Restoring buildings has become a passion for them both, having done about a dozen renovations in 10 years in the development business. Most of their work has been in the Mendenhall Valley, but they have experience working with downtown’s aging structures after having bought the MacKinnon Apartments, a block away from the Hellenthal Building.
But the Hellenthal Building posed a challenge unique from any project they’d taken on before. Built in 1916, it was originally used as offices for attorneys working for the Alaska-Juneau Mine. The space has since been used as a bank on the Front Street side, and a vaudeville, and later a cinema, the Palace Theater, on the Franklin Street side.
The building had fallen into disrepair over the years and required some heavy renovations, said the city’s Lands Manager Greg Chaney in an interview with the Empire when the Hellenthal Building went on the market.
“These were buildings built around the turn of the century, but they haven’t had a lot of work done on them in the last 40 years,” Chaney said. “To bring them up to current standards would take a lot of investment.”
Made from concrete reinforced by steel bars, or rebar, a developing technology at the time it was built, the Hellenthal Building was designed in an architectural style meant to establish that America, not yet a superpower in the world, was here to stay, Whitney explained.
That means it has “great bones,” Whitney said, as it was built to withstand the test of time. But everything else had to go, save for the original straight-grain Douglas fir beams, now exposed near the top of the 16-foot high ceilings of three loft apartments on the Front Street side of the building.
Six furnished apartments total — three on one floor and three below — make up the residential side of the project. New brew pub Devil’s Club Brewing Company takes up most of the commercial space, where the old Palace Theater used to be. Three smaller retail locations on the first level of the Front Street-facing side of the building round out the Hellenthal’s new uses.
Residential space is hard to find above most of downtown Juneau’s historic buildings, many of whose higher levels need renovation too expensive for a developer to make pencil out, Whitney said. The new loft apartments, with windows high enough to overlook Gastineau Channel, were built with an open floor plan, something more common in expensive apartments in city centers in San Francisco or Seattle.
“That’s what everyone says, ‘Wow, there’s nothing like this,’” Whitney said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.