A downtown street is getting a new name in early November, and the City and Borough of Juneau Public Works Streets Division is wasting no time to make the transition as swift as possible.
On Thursday at the sign shop in the CBJ Streets facility, Streets Superintendent Scott Gray and Equipment Operator Chris Anderson spent their morning designing and creating five new Heritage Way signs that will replace the outgoing South Seward Street signs located on the two blocks between Front Street and Marine Way.
The swap is scheduled to take place on Nov. 1 and, along with the news signs, City Hall’s mailing address will be changed. The portion of Seward Street from the stop sign between Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. and Juneau Drug towards the Alaska State Capitol will not be changed.
The idea to rename the street has been floating around since April when Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl announced during a public ceremony the nonprofit intended to change the street’s name to Heritage Way.
“The reasons to change the street name is to make the street name compatible with the Northwest Coast arts people, the Heritage Square, the Walter Soboleff Building, the arts campus, the new SHI Fab Lab that will work to incorporate Indigenous and Western Science, and furthering Juneau as the Northwest arts capital of the word,” she said to the crowd.
Soon after her announcement SHI submitted an application to the city and in June the Planning Commission unanimously OK’d the change.
A historic change
Seward Street is named after William H. Seward, known during his lifetime as a former U.S. secretary of state and senator, and New York governor, who is more widely known in Alaska for his role in negotiating the purchase of the Alaska territory from the Russian Empire in 1867.
Many residents may recognize the statue of Seward from Dimond Courthouse Plaza across from the Capitol. Though Seward died in 1872, he has been a source of controversy in recent years as people have reexamined his legacy.
On one hand, Seward has been recognized as an abolitionist in the Lincoln administration, and an aid to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. When the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1864, Seward was Lincoln’s Secretary of State and contributed language to early drafts of the document, according to the Library of Congress. Documents from the William Henry Seward Papers at the University of Rochester Library show Seward sold a plot of land to Harriet Tubman, founder of the Underground Railroad.
On the other hand, Southeast Alaska residents — including Worl — have condemned his role in the suppression of Alaska Native culture. In a letter sent to the Empire, Worl said Seward’s hand in the purchase of the Alaska territory represents “the imperial ambitions that drove the United States to dispossess Indigenous peoples of their land and exclude them from the political institutions of the state.”
Making the signs
With the abundance of signs necessary to ensure safety in Juneau, Anderson said the city opts to make its own — it’s cheaper and, often, easier that way. He said on any given day he could make dozens of signs if projects need them quickly. The five signs he made for Heritage Way, along with another for Marine View, only took about an hour from design to finish.
Anderson, using the city workshop, also helps make signs for other municipalities in Southeast from time to time, like in June when they created the first batch of street signs using the Lingít language — including a stop, yield, children-at-play and street names — for Haines.
He said if Juneau wanted to do something similar it wouldn’t be a difficult task on his end.
Anderson said the Heritage Way signs should last at least 20 years. The hardware is sturdy to make sure ravens don’t eat them — a problem that occurs more often than one might think he said.
“Oh yeah — they chew on them, they enjoy them,” he said. “They’re something else.”
After the signs are finished, a few will go up behind the current South Seward signs so that they can flip them when Nov. 1 hits. The others will be installed when the day comes.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 528-1807.