Thursday, May 21, 2015

A look back at the Alaska State Museum, an Alaska Purchase Centennial project

Demolition of the Alaska State Museum, August 5, 2014. Photo by Damon Stuebner.

The Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Library, Archives, and Museum is being constructed on the site of the old Alaska State Museum in downtown Juneau. Last summer, the Alaska State Museum, a distinctive boxy building covered in a flicker feather motif, was torn down to make room for SLAM's new exhibit galleries, classrooms, reading rooms, and offices.

The Alaska Centennial Commission, 1966. Vernon Farbes and Senator Ernest Gruening hold a conceptual painting of the museum building. Alaska State Library - Historical Collections. ASL-Alaska-State-Museum-1.
The Alaska State Museum was constructed in 1967 as part of the Alaska Purchase Centennial celebrations, which commemorated the 1867 purchase of Alaska from Russia. Although the Museum was a state facility, the community of Juneau embraced it as their own. State and federal contributions didn't cover the $1.2 million price tag, so residents of Juneau voted to increase local sales tax by 1% for a year to raise the remaining funds.

For 47 years, the Alaska State Museum was a gem of downtown Juneau, attracting artists, researchers, culture-bearers, and visitors from around the world. Although supportive of the SLAM project, many people were upset by the idea of demolishing the Museum. Part of the effort to mitigate its loss was an attempt to save two of the flicker feather panels, which could be incorporated into the landscaping of the new SLAM. Unfortunately, the panels were irreversibly adhered to the structure of the building and were impossible to remove intact.
Over 1,000 people said good-bye to the Museum at its Final Friday event, February 28, 2014. Photo courtesy of Carl Brodersen.

A more successful part of the mitigation plan is the publication of The View from the Future, 2017: Fifty Years after the Alaska Purchase Centennial. Editor Trisha Brown worked with writers and photographers around the state to revisit the Alaska Purchase Centennial projects and examine their social and economic impacts through photos and interviews with Centennial Commission members, historians, and other Alaskans.
The Library's copy of the book - excuse the glare off the mylar cover!

We'll take a closer look at the book and the Centennial projects in future posts.

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