Three generations of the Behrends-Gruening family stand outside the bank founded by B.M. Behrends. Standing from left: Jack Vines, Caroline Gruening Vines, Anne Gruening (great-granddaughter of B.M. Behrends), and Win Gruening (grandson of Governor and Senator Ernest Gruening). Young Norah and Jack Vines stand in front. (Photo by Laurie Craig)

Three generations of the Behrends-Gruening family stand outside the bank founded by B.M. Behrends. Standing from left: Jack Vines, Caroline Gruening Vines, Anne Gruening (great-granddaughter of B.M. Behrends), and Win Gruening (grandson of Governor and Senator Ernest Gruening). Young Norah and Jack Vines stand in front. (Photo by Laurie Craig)

Rooted in Communty: Behrends Bank

Banking on the future of a mining camp

This story has been updated correct details about the naming of Foggy Mountain Shop.

In 1887, the seven-year-old mining camp of Juneau enticed the owner of the Sitka Trading Company to open a branch on Front Street at the present location of Miners Mercantile, formerly Lyle’s. Its first manager made a name for himself that remains cemented in our history today.

By Oct. 8, 1931, the Alaska Daily Empire updated the story, printing, “forty years ago in Juneau, a tall slim young man with meager capital opened a sparsely stocked general merchandise store which in the absence of any monetary institution in the town offered the accommodation of accepting money for safekeeping.”

With those words the local newspaper celebrated Bernhard Meeno Behrends’ contributions of a bank and store that bore his name. When the early trading company’s venture in Juneau didn’t pan out and the Sitka owner closed it, Behrends remained in Juneau and opened his own store in 1891. It served as a general merchandise business, but also as a bank. The secure storage of miners’ gold was needed and Behrends’ mercantile offered a safe.

The Third Street post office in the 1914 Behrends Bank building. The department store name can be seen on a sign on the far left above the bank roof line. (Photo courtesy Anne Gruening)

The Third Street post office in the 1914 Behrends Bank building. The department store name can be seen on a sign on the far left above the bank roof line. (Photo courtesy Anne Gruening)

The business grew as the town transitioned from a mining camp to a community. Like many businesses over the years, Behrends’ endeavors burgeoned and hopscotched around the business district. In 1905, he published his own newsletter as a multi-page illustrated pamphlet encouraging frugal money habits and checking accounts. He called it the “Juneau Alaska Nugget.”

In 1914, the sturdy, well-maintained concrete building that stands today at Third and Seward streets opened its doors as the B.M. Behrends Bank. The name and dates of 1891 and 1914 bookend the banker’s name cast in concrete above the pillared Seward Street entrance.

Architect C.W. Winstedt’s four-page letter spells out the design criteria for the deep basement, large lobby with its 20-foot-high ceiling and the adjoining post office with its 16-foot-high ceiling. The property was formerly Coon’s Drug Store, an original Juneau business. There was a post office connected to it. The bank’s 1914 construction included a new post office with a Third Street entry.

Scenic painting and decorative design on the original bank vault in the basement of Behrends Bank/Foggy Mountain Shop. (Photo by Laurie Craig)

Scenic painting and decorative design on the original bank vault in the basement of Behrends Bank/Foggy Mountain Shop. (Photo by Laurie Craig)

In keeping with the financial industry of that period, the bank lobby featured protective grill wiring for the teller’s, cashier’s and vice president’s stations. Paneled woodwork formed the enclosures with filigreed metalwork and glass above. A floral pattern decorated the wide crown molding. An ornate teller’s window belies the history of a dramatic event that occurred there.

The grim scenario played out on Seward Street in January of 1932 when a bank robber ran out of Behrends Bank with $3,000 stolen from the teller. After threatening the clerk with two pistols, the robber escaped out the front door, but was soon shot outside by another bank employee. After the thief was immobilized on the sidewalk, the Behrends’ employee retrieved the cash from the bleeding perpetrator’s pocket and returned it to the bank. The robber was carried off to St. Ann’s hospital. He died after a few days, all the while griping about failing to shoot the bank employees.

The teller’s window where the likely forced handover occurred was a substantial ornamental glass and metal cage with a spittoon discreetly placed on the floor for customers. Nearby a glass case with elegant gold scales for weighing dust and nuggets can be seen in a historic photo.

Bound bank ledger volumes including September 1897. (Photo courtesy Anne Gruening)

Bound bank ledger volumes including September 1897. (Photo courtesy Anne Gruening)

While the Behrends name remains a historic remnant, the family history extends ahead for generations and expands to include other notable families. Bernhard married Virginia Pakle in 1889. She was a young missionary and teacher who arrived in Sitka in 1886. The wedding ceremony was conducted by renowned Sitka Presbyterian Minister Sheldon Jackson who signed their marriage certificate. The couple had one daughter. She married John Mullen; they had three children. One of them had a daughter who is well known in Juneau today: Anne Gruening.

Banker Behrends’ great-granddaughter is long-time resident Anne Fox Gruening. Anne married Win Gruening in 1971. He is the grandson of former Alaska territorial governor and U.S. Sen. Ernest Gruening. After military service as an Air Force Academy graduate and Vietnam-era pilot, Win returned to his childhood home of Juneau with Anne and their children. Win joined the banking business and was serving as Behrends Bank executive vice president when the bank was purchased by KeyBank. He later retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for KeyBank in 2012.

Margaret V. Pakle and Bernhard Behrends’ 1889 marriage certificate signed by Sitka Presbyterian Minister Sheldon Jackson. (Photo courtesy Anne Gruening)

Margaret V. Pakle and Bernhard Behrends’ 1889 marriage certificate signed by Sitka Presbyterian Minister Sheldon Jackson. (Photo courtesy Anne Gruening)

Behrends Bank operated for almost a century before being bought by national chain KeyBank in 1989. The building remained a KeyBank branch office until 2021 when it was purchased by the Goldstein Improvement Co. The following year, long-time local outfitter Foggy Mountain Shop relocated there from Franklin Street.

Today the original 20-foot high former bank building ceiling and tall windows provide soaring views of mountains that inspired the name Foggy Mountain Shop. Betsy and Scott Fischer sold their shop in 2014 to Sean Rielly and Courtney Nicholl, both long-time employees. When Sean and Courtney relocated the business to the Behrends Bank building from Franklin Street in 2022, they designed their sales counter to give customers great vistas of Mt. Juneau. On winter days they can watch their off-duty staff climb the steep mountain and frozen waterfalls that are clearly visible through the large windows.

Standing at the custom-built counter made from Hoonah’s Icy Straits Lumber, Courtney reminisces about the stories shared between early climbers and younger ones when they talk about different routes on familiar mountains.

Foggy Mountain Shop owners Sean Reilly and Courtney Nicholl with their daughter Alder stand at their custom-built Icy Straits Lumber counter. Courtney designed the space to focus attention on inspiring outdoors activities with the steep mountain backdrop. (Photo by Laurie Craig)

Foggy Mountain Shop owners Sean Reilly and Courtney Nicholl with their daughter Alder stand at their custom-built Icy Straits Lumber counter. Courtney designed the space to focus attention on inspiring outdoors activities with the steep mountain backdrop. (Photo by Laurie Craig)

“It’s the warm, meaningful conversations this space seems to encourage that makes this place so enjoyable,” Courtney says of the generations of outdoors people who come together in the shop to learn and remember.

In summer, the former bank lobby is full of high-quality outdoor clothing, hiking boots and running shoes, and a variety of climbing essentials such as ropes, harnesses and helmets. When the seasons change, some display racks switch to skis, ski boots, cold-weather outerwear and thicker base layers. Wool socks and mountaineering gear are popular items year-round.

In the basement, the ski shop workbench is full of specialized equipment for custom-fitting ski boots and jigs for mounting bindings to a wide variety of skis. Colorful slender skate skis are stacked on tidy racks awaiting the first snowfall. Neat rows of inventory fill a warren of storage rooms. This vast storage space is critical for keeping backstock, Nicholl says.

Down one passageway an ornately painted scene covers the heavy metal door of a century-old bank vault. Inside, early history of the bank is preserved in leather-bound ledgers. Opening the 1897 book reveals clear cursive handwriting with lists of accounts bearing familiar early business names reminding viewers that record-keeping is an essential task of financial institutions.

Celebrating the Behrends’ family legacy recently, three generations of the stalwart banker’s family posed for a photo at the intersection where the bank and the Behrends 1904 department store served customers for years. For the first time in its history the 1914 bank building hosts a non-financial business. There is new life with the Foggy Mountain Shop sign on the exterior and hardy outfitter merchandise inside, closing a full circle of business more than 135 years in the making.

Today, the Gruenings’ Douglas Island home has an expansive view of Juneau across Gastineau Channel. It seems fitting that the Behrends-Gruening family reside on Pioneer Avenue overlooking the town their families helped build.

• 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.

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