from the September 27, 2002 Skagway News

Skagway in danger of becoming facade of former self

Recently we came across an interesting photo in a glossy cruise publication on Alaska for the 2003 season. The caption said “Skagway is the best preserved gold rush town in the United States.”
The photo above was of the Golden North Hotel dome, a Skagway landmark. If only next year’s visitors knew the sad saga behind the sudden demise of this once-proud Skagway preservation effort.
Last weekend the hotel’s owners sold off all the restaurant and bar furniture and fixtures, presumably to turn most of the downstairs into yet another huge retail space – the business they know best. There are many reasons for this: restaurants don’t make enough money, bars are headaches to operate, hotels make a minimal profit at best, and, of course, the well-chronicled tussles with the Historic District and Planning and Zoning commissions, City Council/Board of Appeals, ad nauseam.
Who’s to blame for this possible passing of a Skagway institution? Everyone, in a sense. Skagway’s downtown is becoming a victim of its own success. Elements of the town’s gold rush soul are slowly disappearing behind the well-preserved historic facades.
Over the last decade, once-proud landmarks like Kirmse’s and the Pack Train, for example, have seen a historic safe and back bar moved out of sight and out of mind, so spaces can be filled with more of what sells best and returns the biggest profit: jewelry and T-shirts. It’s hard to blame the owners of these buildings – it’s a lot easier and more profitable collecting rent from a chain store than running a small business – but a price is being paid. Why hide the history of a building? Find a way to make it work in your favor.
The Golden North Hotel dome certainly won’t disappear, that is certain. But can we ever look at this landmark the same if it becomes just the top floor of another retail giant?
“Skagway is the best preserved gold rush town in the United States.” That’s certainly something to be proud of – if only it were true. – WJB