Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and make the mistake of thinking about various issues, and I find getting upset over them doesn’t help me get back to sleep. Last night the issue was the possibility that the city will destroy the historic buildings on Telephone Hill. My friend, Skip Gray, has spoken out about the neighborhood, hoping the CBJ has the good sense to preserve this small enclave of historic homes that date back to the late 1800s.
As a teenager, I babysat in two of the homes on the hill. The small yellow cottage known in city records as the “Bosch-Carrigan” house was one of the most beautiful homes I can remember. It had hardwood floors, beautiful woodwork throughout, and a great kitchen area. Even as a teenager in the mid-’60s I could appreciate that it was built in an earlier era with a fine eye toward detail.
Another of my early jobs as a late teen and a 20-year-old was in the home known in city records as the “Edward Webster” house, owned then by the Hurley family. One area of the home was devoted to a switchboard and breakroom where I worked as a directory assistance operator. I suspect young people don’t even know what that job was. We would get calls from people from all over the country asking for the phone numbers of local residents. I remember one caller looking for the number of Mark, a friend of mine. I gave him Mark’s number but added that if he wanted to reach Mark right away, he should call another residence because Mark was at a party there. Juneau was really a small town then. I also have fond memories of Dorothy Hurley who was our boss, giving me and my friend Joan a bonus when we quit to take a trip to Europe in 1970. There wasn’t a nicer boss!
The homes on Telephone Hill have long memories for me and others, as reported recently on KTOO. Skip Gray is right to ask people to get involved to save it. Other cities appreciate their historic neighborhoods and have worked hard to preserve them. Why aren’t we?
As sleep evaded me, I thought of other places that could serve as housing and would enhance Juneau rather than destroying our history along with a beautiful neighborhood. If our assembly and city manager used just a little bit of vision, they would survey several properties that are not only eyesores but could be rehabbed or torn down and rebuilt as housing units. The city could take by eminent domain or other means for the following buildings that are not only eyesores, but embarrassments to Juneau: the old Elks Club building on South Franklin that is a terrible mess, rotting on its lot; the Gross Twentieth Century Theater building in the middle of downtown that has numerous apartment units and has sat empty for decades; the dilapidated Triangle Building that was purchased by an outside owner who doubled the rents and caused long-time businesses like Hearthside Books and Annie Kaill’s to move; and what about the empty lot across from the Mendenhall Apartments that was the American Legion Hall, where nature is returning maturing willow and alder trees (along with garbage) to the site behind unattractive wooden fencing.
Another thing I recall about neighborhoods in Juneau in the 1960s is when the city used eminent domain under the guise of urban renewal to destroy a neighborhood where hundreds of people lived—the area that the Departments of Labor and Fish & Game sit on, along with the Parkshore condominiums. Most of the families living there were Indigenous or multiracial. It’s a scar that many will never forget. This time let’s use eminent domain or other means to save a neighborhood — let’s save Telephone Hill. Tell our city manager and assembly that Juneau’s history deserves to be protected, not destroyed. You can contact the mayor, all assembly members and the city manager at: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Kimberly Metcalfe is a lifelong Juneau resident who believes in protecting Juneau’s historic homes and neighborhoods.