TALL RESTORATION ORDER
NPS laborer Tyler Anderson hammers a board inside the roofline of the old YMCA – part of the effort to stabilize the old building for restoration.
Restoration begins on Alaska’s first YMCA bldg., Jeff Smith’s Parlor
Story & Photos by KATIE EMMETS
The first YMCA building in Alaska, a gold rush era meat market, and Jeff (Soapy) Smith’s Parlor are currently being restored by Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Two years ago, the National Park Service and the Municipality of Skagway received the George and Edna Rapuzzi collection, which includes five buildings and about 450,000 artifacts.
The NPS acquired Soapy Smith’s Parlor, located on 2nd Avenue between Broadway and State Streets and the two buildings in the Meyer Complex, located on the corner of State Street and 5th Avenue. Within the complex are the YMCA building and the Arctic Meat Company building.
The municipality received the Commissary building, located next to Soapy Smith’s Parlor, and George and Edna Rapuzzi’s house, located on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Main Street.
Susan Boudreau, KGRNHP superintendent, said the park will receive about 30,000 of the artifacts, all of which pertain to the gold rush era. Right now, the 450,000 items are being inventoried into three categories: NPS, municipality, and items that neither party is interested in.
KGRNHP has two main objectives for its project: to allow tourists to see the important artifacts, and to restore the historical buildings.
The first priority is to restore Jeff Smith’s Parlor, Boudreau said.
Boudreau said the park hopes to have a living history display in the building where period-clothed interpretive rangers, complete with a bartender behind the bar, will give visitors a sense of what took place there in the heyday of the gold rush.
In regard to the Meyer Complex, Boudreau said there are no concrete goals or plans for the buildings as of now.
“Right now we are concentrating on stabilizing it with scaffolding,” she said. “When it’s stabilized, then the focus will be on Soapy’s.”
Currently raised off the ground with cribbing and wood supports, Soapy’s will have a foundation and a floor at the end of the park’s fiscal year, September 30, said Chief of Maintenance Jonnie Powell.
Powell said archeologists have been digging under the raised building to get a better feel for the surrounding area while searching for artifacts nearby. The archeologists found a cement structure, nails and a large bottle used for distilling whisky.
This week, park maintenance workers will begin to dig out the ground underneath Soapy’s and create a foundation.
Next year, the goals for the building are to construct a new roof and to restore some of the exterior. Powell said it will be difficult to recondition the outside of the building because the wood siding has to be taken off, cleaned up and placed in the exact same place it was before.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Ranger Jay Proetto explains the renovations and the history of Jeff Smith’s Parlor to tourists on a walking tour this week.
This year, the park received about $60,000 for Jeff Smith’s Parlor, and each year they will be requesting more money than they received the year before, said Powell adding that it will take at least $200,000 to stabilize the building on the ground, create a roof, do siding repairs and make it water tight.
In both buildings of the Meyer Complex, scaffolding is in place to keep the buildings from collapsing.
The specific type, Safway Scaffolding, is the same scaffolding that was used to protect the Statue of Liberty when the 5-year restoration process took place, Powell said.
This year, the Park Service received $120,000 for the Meyer Complex, and Powell said more money was requested for the upcoming fiscal year.
Starting this week, the archeologists will move from Soapy’s to the YMCA and the Arctic Meat Company buildings to begin work there.
Powell estimates that Jeff Smith’s Parlor will be finished first in 2014 and the YMCA building will be finished closer to 2017. He also added that he couldn’t venture a guess for the Arctic Meat Company, considering it is the building that needs the most work.
Both gold rush-age buildings will have electricity and a proper sprinkler systems, Powell said.
Although the park and municipality received the buildings two years ago, the park had been attempting to acquire them since the 1970s.
“We tried to get the collection a couple times in the past and it just didn’t work out,” said Theresa Thibault, KGRNHP chief of resources. “This was the third and final try.”
The park first expressed interest in the buildings to George Rapuzzi himself in 1978, and nothing happened before the couple’s deaths in the mid-1980s. In 2001, the park tried again to acquire the buildings, but this time the collection was in the hands of the couple’s niece, Phyllis Brown.
Although Brown always intended for the historic collection to be part of the Skagway community, Thibault said it took seven years to finalize the deal.
“She always wanted the Park Service to have it,” she said. “It had more to do with us getting all of our ducks in a row.”
After receiving grants from the Rasmuson Foundation, partnering up with the municipality, and assigning staff to the project, the transfer of the collection took place in 2008.
Brown asked for $1 million for the entire collection, which includes the five buildings and the 450,000 artifacts.
Being that the park is specifically dedicated to gold rush era projects, it would not receive funding for the World War II Commissary building or the Rapuzzi house.
Because Brown refused to split up the collection, the park service asked the municipality to join in on the acquisition. Thibault said the municipality plans to use the Commissary building as a WWII museum, while the Rapuzzi House may be used for municipal or clinic employee housing.
The Rapuzzi house sits vacant, awaiting restoration.
In order to acquire a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, NPS had to make sure the Municipality of Skagway was willing to match funds from the potential grant at some capacity. The borough put in $100,000 with an additional 10 percent to fund project staff, and in late 2007, the Rasumuson Foundation awarded the project $900,000.
“The Rasmuson Foundation also gave us grants for the collection appraisal and the hazardous material investigation of the buildings and properties,” Thibault said.
Because everything that was in the original Martin Itjen Museum will be going back into Soapy Smith’s Parlor, Thibault said those working the displays will study historic pictures to make sure everything is put back in its exact place. Items include glasses, bottles, the original Soapy Smith bar and a diorama with two moose interlocking antlers. In the original museum, the walls were covered with newspaper clippings and Thibault said those papers will be replicated and placed back in the exact spots of the originals.
As of now, the NPS has restored 22 buildings in Skagway.
In addition to the buildings that have been acquired in the Rapuzzi Collection transaction, Thibault said the park will be adding another Skagway building to that list: the Frye-Bruhn meat storage building, next to the Moore homestead.
“The Frye-Bruhn Meat Packing Company was a pretty major company that was around in the gold rush era,” she said. “The building still had the meat hooks hanging from the ceiling and the walls were filled with sawdust for insulation.”
For that building, Thibault said the park plans to turn it into a museum that will highlight Skagway’s electricity during the gold rush.
“A lot of places still didn’t have power, but way up north in Skagway, they had electricity,” she said.