A new name that acknowledges the downtown area’s indigenous history seems imminent for the Willoughby District. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

A new name that acknowledges the downtown area’s indigenous history seems imminent for the Willoughby District. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Prominent downtown district is set for a new name

Say goodbye to the Willoughby District

The Willoughby District probably won’t be called that for much longer.

Monday night, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole unanimously voted to recommend the Assembly adopt a resolution renaming the downtown commercial hub the “Aak’w Village District.”

The new name observes the indigenous history of the area that was home to a neighborhood known as the “Indian Village” and was a traditional summer village site for Alaska Native people.

The Willoughby District is named for Willoughby Avenue, which establishes a sort of boundary for an area that includes Centennial Hall and Zach Gordon Youth Center. The resolution would not rename the downtown street.

The Willoughby District, which is named for the downtown Juneau street, could have a new name soon. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire File)

The Willoughby District, which is named for the downtown Juneau street, could have a new name soon. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire File)

The street name comes from Richard Willoughby, who made money selling fraudulent postcards that supposedly depicted a distant Russian village dubbed “Silent City.”

Willoughby claimed to have photographed the reflection of the city during a visit to Muir Glacier at Glacier Bay and sold postcards of the image. The photo actually depicted a city in England.

[What Egan Drive work means for downtown-bound drivers]

Both Aak’w Kwaan spokesperson Frances Houston and writer Ernestine Hayes, who grew up in the “Indian Village,” have made the case that the area should have a name that reflects the land’s traditional caretakers.

Fran Houston is the daughter of Aak’w Kwaan tribal leader Rosa Miller. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Fran Houston is the daughter of Aak’w Kwaan tribal leader Rosa Miller. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

While the resolution was forwarded by the committee with a recommendation for approval from the Assembly, there were some questions about how the district will be defined.

“When we talk about downtown, there’s no map that says downtown,” said Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski. “This to me is that sort of thing or could be that sort of thing to make it go faster.”

Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said part of the reason a name change is in the works now is so that the new, official name could be reflected in blueprint and wayfinding processes, which will probably answer some of those questions.

“I think the wayfinding piece would certainly have some boundaries associated with it,” Cosgrove said. “I can certainly consult with them and see if they have some boundaries for what they consider the Willoughby District now.”


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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