Palace Hotel a rare remnant of Fairbanks early business district
|Palace Hotel as it looked in November 2012
The old Palace Hotel, a two-story log structure now located at Pioneer Park, is a rare survivor of Fairbanks’ early business district.
According to the City of Fairbanks and the Fairbanks North Star Borough Commission on Historic Preservation, it “is the last remaining multi-story log commercial building representing this early period of commercial development.”
The front of the building is about 30 feet wide, and the sides are about 40 feet in length. The sides are composed of two sections, with both sections similar in construction and probably built at the same time. The authors of the book, Fairbanks, a City Historic Building Survey, speculate this method was used because longer logs were in short supply.
The two-story structure has numerous windows — all tall, narrow, double-hung windows. There are several different window types however, with some being single-pane, others having two panes and others with more. Speculation is that the structure may have been finished at the end of a building season with whatever windows were left at the local hardware store.
The log walls are tied together with vertical corner posts covered with trim boards. Two vertical log posts on either side of the building help support the roof, but whether these are original is unknown. The original roof was galvanized metal, which has been replaced with modern metal roofing.
Pretty much everything else about the building is original, however. The sides and rear of the building retain their original appearance, and the front of the building has changed little in 100 years. Early photos show that the double front door (now in the right corner) used to be a single door in the center of the front façade, and the center window used to be in the right front corner. (Aside from early photo evidence, you can surmise the door installation was done at a different date, since the cuts to the surrounding logs are at a steeper angle than around the windows.)
Although determining when the hotel was actually built is impossible, early records show it was located on Fourth Avenue, between Cushman and Lacey Street, in 1910. The year it was built can be dated earlier, though, based on building materials. The use of logs pushes its origin back to the town’s early years, when logs were commonly used.
The devastating Fairbanks fire of 1906 leveled the four-block central section of the Fairbanks business district — from Turner to Lacey Street, and Front Street (First Avenue) to Third Avenue. Afterward, business buildings were constructed of sawn lumber, so the Palace Hotel’s log construction probably dates it to at least 1906.
The building started off as the Palace Hotel but the name was later changed to the Palace Hotel and Bathhouse. It was near the Fourth Avenue gate allowing entrance to “The Line,” (as the red light district was called) so it was probably a popular stopping place for miners coming in from the creeks.
In 1957 it became the Chena Hotel, and in 1967 the building was moved to Alaskaland (now Pioneer Park) as part of the A-67 Centennial Exposition celebrating the 100th anniversary of Alaska’spurchase from Russia.
It began life at Alaskaland as an example of a Northern Commercial Company store, and then became the Pantages Theater. (Alexander Pantages was an impresario who owned theaters across the Western Unites States and Canada. He got his theatrical start in Dawson City and Nome but never owned a theater in Fairbanks.) The building has been occupied by a variety of tenants over the years and is still one of the focal points of the park’s Gold Rush Town.
– “Historic Preservation Plan,” 2006, City of Fairbanks and Fairbanks North Star Borough joint Commission on Historic Preservation
– Fairbanks, a City Historic Building Survey, Janet Matheson, 1985, City of Fairbanks
– Steamboats on the Chena, the Founding and Development of Fairbanks, Alaska, by Basil Hendricks & Susan Savage, 1988