Reminiscing in Spenard

Photo by Young Kim
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Photo by Young Kim

Every so often, we get an email from a fellow Spenardian requesting we write about this place or interview this person. One suggestion noted Lynn Brautigam Boots, who owned Junior Towne on Fireweed Lane — formerly the Little Cuties Shop. For many years, it was one of the only children’s clothing stores in Anchorage; many locals were dressed in their clothes at one point or another during adolescence. 

I met Lynn last year and wrote a piece about Junior Towne, but we kept in touch. I went to one of her art shows. Her husband contributed to one of our stories about Center Bowl. 

Each year, Lynn tries to get together with her oldest friend group. They grew up together in Spenard, where Kelly’s Photo Lab, McKay’s Hardware, Fireside Cafe, Bob’s Pizza and Caribou Wards occupied the neighborhood. Pre-pandemic, I went to a dinner hosted by Lynn and attended by her longtime friends, Ann Bly Ringstad, Mary Ann Bassler Paul, Marilyn Rulolph, Susan Bassler Kobelnyk and Alice Bassler Sullivan. Tina Thompson Hansen, their seventh-spot, couldn’t attend, but shared some of her memories beforehand.

All of the women have a connection to Spenard in some way. Susan, Mary Ann and Alice’s  parents were stationed on Woody Island near Kodiak, Cape Yakataga, Moses Point and Summit before being eventually stationed at Merrill Field and moving to Spenard on 23rd Avenue, next door to the Bly family, Ann’s parents.

Ann’s parents met on a blind date in Anchorage. After helping construct the Alcan, her grandfather opened a dental practice and her father started Bly’s  Funeral Chapel, followed by Food King, a grocery store downtown. 

“He was pre-New Sagaya,” Ann said.

Her mother directed the music at Holy Family Cathedral for years. She remembers watching Inlet Tower sway during the Good Friday earthquake. 

And Mary Ann met her husband at Chilkoot Charlie’s — now Koot’s — Spenard’s most famous watering hole.

“It was mid-afternoon, a big snow storm around April Fool’s Day… that’s how we met, and we danced, so that sparked up our relationship,” Mary Ann said.

Lynn’s mother wasn’t the only one that was a business owner. Marilyn’s mother bought a little bit of land near Junior Towne and opened her own shop — Rudolph’s Corsetry and Lingerie — which fashioned bras and lingerie for women. The building is still there, repurposed as a hair salon, she says.

“I was always embarrassed by it because mom had mannequins of women in bras and lingerie on."

Marilyn says her parents built their home in 1948; in 1990, she bought the house after they passed away and has been back in the neighborhood since then..

Back in the day

Spenard was different back then, they told me.

“Nobody worried about us, we played in the woods all day,” Lynn said.

Summer months were spent taking cardboard boxes from the alley behind Junior Towne to create props for their plays, charging the younger kids to come in. Berries were picked where Replacement Glass on Fireweed currently stands. Marilyn remembers renting tandem bikes at a shop where Koot’s lives.

“I don’t remember that,” someone interjected at the table.

“Don’t you!” Marilyn said.

Someone remembers riding Pickles the horse down Fireweed Lane before it was paved. Others recall watching movies at the Denali Theater and drinking milkshakes from Bert’s Drug Store, which was in the same building as Piggly Wiggly’s. Before Westchester Lagoon was constructed, they would go down to the Inlet and play in the mudflats. Later, they would watch bands like Grateful Dead, the Turtles and Santana at the West High Auditorium. 

And, of course, the slumber parties.

“We would try and stay awake all night. The next-door neighbors hated us because of that,” someone said.

“Was that the Blys or the Rischs?” another asked.

"Today, I feel bad about that,” someone else interjected.

“And we were rude, we were kids,” someone else chuckled.

During the wintertime, they would sled at Sunflower Hill, which is now the intersection between Fireweed Lane and Arctic Boulevard, and Billy’s Hill — named after Marilyn’s older brother. Inner tubes, cardboard and visqueen were used more often than sleds.

“That was where the big kids went because it was really steep.” Marilyn laughed.

The girls attended North Star Elementary, where they recall handmade cinnamon rolls from Connie, their lunch lady, and Ice Carnivals hosted by former principal, Mr. Norton. Apparently, he was a skating enthusiast and taught all students how to do so. 

“The whole school knew how to skate,” someone chimes in.

Now, when I drive down Arctic Boulevard, I envision berries being picked and children flying down the hill in inner tubes. I like to imagine the past lives of the places I’ve frequented. Bear Tooth Theatre was Denali Theatre; Play it Again Sports was a Piggly Wiggly. What other lives have Spenard’s homes and spaces lived?

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What’s a Rich Text element?

What’s a Rich Text element?
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The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

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