The neighborhood has come together over the Paradise Inn palm tree, a 22-foot-tall broken neon symbol of Spenardian pride. After a federal seizing, a legal battle, an auction and more, Spenardians have an idea for where they want their symbol to go.
Melissa Rustemov Lohr and Mike Linz both said in comments on our Facebook poll that they’d like to see it parked near food trucks, situated next to its sister symbol, the Koot’s windmill. While others have say the palm tree represents a dark history. Kim Whitaker, the president of the recovery group Real About Addiction, told KTVA news that the the palm tree is evil. "If it was up to me, it would be shattered — like the lives that have been shattered and taken advantage of here. And the families of the loved ones that were here that have been traumatized," Whitaker said.
Paradise comes to Spenard
The palm tree sat at the site of the Paradise Inn, which was built in 1962 as the South Seas Hotel and Lounge. The hotel and even the palm tree were sisters to the South Seas Bar and Lounge, which sat on Fourth Avenue and G Street in the 1940s. There, a smaller, curvier neon palm tree in the same California tiki-style, sat on top of the bar’s sign. Anchorage Daily News reported that the hotel was built during a time when Anchorage was in need of accommodation options for a growing number of tourists.
After new ownership, the Paradise Inn began to attract sex trafficking, drug dealing and other criminal activity. In 2014, Kyong Taek Song, former owner of the Paradise Inn, was sentenced to prison after he sold meth to a government informant in the basement of the Spenard hotel. Since then, the Paradise Inn is now evicted, boarded up and in the hands of the United States Marshals Service, tree and all.
Who’s tree is it anyway?
The story doesn’t stop there. A legal battle, a crowd-sourcing effort and more would decide the historic palm’s fate. Denali Disposal, a local waste removal business, was contracted by the Marshals to remove 12 30-foot dumpsters and two 24-foot trucks of garbage from the building, in which the government paid $37,000 to remove. While removing the trash, Denali Disposal’s Bernadette Wilson was told she could take the tree. So she did. Then, the Marshals said they made a mistake. The tree was to be auctioned. In April 2018, the battle ended in court and in the favor of the Marshals who repossessed the palm and placed it for auction with a starting bid of $4,500.
Jay Stange, president of the Spenard Community Council, created a GoFundMe page to raise the $4,500 needed to buy the tree at auction. When the deadline came Stange had only raised $2,700. The auctioneers, Gaston and Sheehan, created a new auction with a minimum bid of $2,700 that Stange won with the donations of 59 other people. Stange originally planned to temporarily house the palm tree behind the Church of Love, but Vulcan towing, the company that was contracted to store the tree, was not able to fit their equipment in the back lot. Stange said he’s working on a new plan to find the tree a public, permanent home.
“If we put it on private land, it might disappear again,” Stange said.