James Brooks | Juneau Empire  The Eighth Street gate of the Choate Mansion.

James Brooks | Juneau Empire The Eighth Street gate of the Choate Mansion.

Inside the Choate House, ‘the fanciest building in Alaska’

The city of Juneau has existed for 137 years.

Mark Choate expects his new house to last for 1,000.

“My idea was to build a house that will last 1,000 years,” he said during a Thursday tour given to the Empire.

After eight years and several million dollars, he may have just that. The secret passageway, elevator, wine cellar, and tower-top study are added bonuses.

“This is a commitment to Juneau, a commitment to the community for longevity. Juneau’s a place you can plan to live generations in,” he said. “For this amount of money, we could’ve built anywhere in the world, but we wanted to be here.”

Mark and Sun Hee Choate bought their home at 230 W. Eighth St. in 1991, paying about $270,000. At that time, the home was more than 75 years old. Its purple and green shag carpeting and tacky wallpaper were saturated with nicotine from an avid-smoking previous owner, and the asking price was $40,000 more than the assessed value.

The couple had been eyeing it for years and daydreaming about what it would be like to live there, across the street from the governor’s mansion.

“We were lucky; we were just able to afford it,” Mark Choate said.

Choate, a successful lawyer, became more successful in the years that followed.

“We thought for years about improving it and fixing it,” but after an abortive remodeling attempt, they instead decided to split time in Hawaii and Juneau, and travel around the world.

After they decided to return to Juneau full-time, “that’s when we started saying, we should get the project going,” Mark Choate said.

Sun Hee Choate created a scale model of what they wanted the home to look like, but rather than hand the project off to a supervising contractor, they decided to oversee things themselves.

“The problem was, both of us were perfectionists,” Sun Hee Choate said.

“We didn’t want to cut any corners,” Mark Choate added.

That meant obtaining triple-paned, mahogany-finished windows from France; bricks reclaimed from a Chicago factory; stone from Europe and a roof from a European-trained coppersmith who now works in Utah.

“That roof should last, literally, 1,000 years,” Mark Choate said.

The finished house — the Choates say the exterior is 95 percent complete — is drawing attention from outside Juneau as well.

This year, the Choate’s house was named one of the top 10 copper building projects in North America.

Erno Ovari is president of Fine Metal Roof Tech, the company that built the Choates’ roof.

“It’s certainly the fanciest building in Alaska,” he said by phone on Thursday.

Down south, a roof like the Choates’ might take two to three months to manufacture and install. In Juneau, it took more than two years because of Juneau’s inclement weather.

“The winter came and the summer came and the snow and storms came. That pretty much slowed the project down,” he said.

Other things slowed it as well. The Choates tore out their kitchen smoke hood four times before they were happy with the result. Sun Hee asked the hired carpenters to tear out and redo interior fixtures several times.

When the installed floor squeaked, the Choates tore it up, sent it to the landfill and cut stone themselves to get the look they wanted.

All of that took time and money. They started planning before 2010, construction started in earnest in May 2011, and it still isn’t fully complete. Nevertheless, the end seems to be in sight, which is a relief for the Choates, who have been living in their incomplete home since Christmas Eve 2014, when Sun Hee decided that the only way they could say on top of the rogue project was to literally live with it.

“Every inch was work,” Mark Choate said.

When complete, the house will be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Choate. He grew up in a military family and was deployed twice to Germany with his father, who served in the U.S. Army.

As they arrived in the country, taking a train from Hamburg to a base near the border between East Germany and West Germany, they passed castles and other imposing structures in the night.

“I think as a 3-year-old, that caught my attention, that sense of age and longevity. I’ve always liked it since,” he said. “I always wanted a tower. … it’s part of what you get to do when you build a house or remodel it: You can just say, what would I like?”

He has the tower that he wanted, plus a hidden staircase connecting the garage and master bedroom. He has a home gym, a wine cellar and plenty of nooks and crannies for grandchildren to play and hide. He’ll soon have a bookcase with a secret door, and a spiral staircase leading to the top of the tower.

He’s heard people say that it was a waste of money, that he could have done something different if he had socked away his savings in the stock market instead of his home.

“It’s OK to have your money invested in where you live, in your space,” he said.

He envisions his home as a family institution, one that will be passed down from generation to generation.

Last month, the Choates returned to Europe, traveling to Venice and staying in a convent designed by the 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio.

As they walked through Palladio’s work, they couldn’t help but think of their own, back in Juneau.

“We’re looking at the interior going, ‘We did OK in Juneau.’ It’s a great building, he’s a great architect, but we did pretty well,” Choate said.

 


 

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.

 


 

PHOTOS BY James Brooks | Juneau Empire  Sun Hee and Mark Choate stand in the living room of their new home on Thursday.

PHOTOS BY James Brooks | Juneau Empire Sun Hee and Mark Choate stand in the living room of their new home on Thursday.

Mark Choate rides the elevator of his new house with his dog, Obi Wan Kenobi, on Thursday, July 6, 2017. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

Mark Choate rides the elevator of his new house with his dog, Obi Wan Kenobi, on Thursday, July 6, 2017. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

State senators meet with members of the media at the Alaska State Capitol to discuss education legislation after a press conference by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on the topic on Tuesday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Dunleavy threatens veto of education bill if more of his priorities aren’t added

It is not certain there would be the 40 votes necessary to override a veto by the governor

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Nanibaa’ Frommherz, a student at Thunder Mountain High School, testifies about a proposal to help the Juneau School District with its financial crisis during a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday night at City Hall. The meeting was moved from the Assembly Chambers to a conference room toward the end due to technical errors that disrupted the live online feed.
Little public reaction to city’s bailout of school district this year, but big questions beyond loom

Only two people testify Monday about proposed $4.1M loan and taking over $3.9 in “shared costs.”

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

A photo by Ben Huff being exhibited as part of his presentation at 6:30 p.m. at the Alaska State Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Museum)
Here’s what’s happening for First Friday in March

Both the state and city museums are celebrating 20 years of artistic… Continue reading

Goose Creek Correctional Center is seen in fall. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Corrections)
Alaska prison failed to provide adequate dental care to inmates, state investigator finds

Goose Creek Correctional Center has gone years without a hygienist, forcing patients to wait

Most Read