Anchorage’s Wendler Building was one of first commercial buildings completed in the new city
|Larson & Wendler Grocery as it looked in 1916.|
Anton (A.J.) Wendler owned a brewery at Valdez in 1915. However, with the temperance movement gaining traction in Alaska, A.J. decided to seek new business opportunities not involving alcohol. It was a wise decision, for three years later, the Alaska “Bone-Dry” Law took effect, prohibiting the importation, transportation, manufacture, sale, and possession of any alcohol. (Not even medicine containing alcohol, or sacramental wine was allowed.)
In the spring of 1915, A.J. moved his family from Valdez to the railroad boomtown at Ship Creek on Cook Inlet (eventually named Anchorage). Aside from an Alaska Engineering Commission (AEC) camp at the mouth of Ship Creek, the community consisted of a ramshackle tent city upstream from the AEC operations.
“Tent City” already had hundreds of residents when the Wendlers arrived. John Bagoy’s book, Legend & Legacies, Anchorage 1910-1935, states “There were at least a hundred more…people who debarked weekly from steamers or hiked the end of the Alaska Northern Railway line at Kern Creek (head of Turnagain Arm). A tent city…described as a ‘collection of ragged, unsanitary tents and temporary wooden buildings,’ sprang up.”
Tent City was transitory though. The AEC planned to build railroad yards along Ship Creek, so a 350-acre townsite was developed on benchland south of the creek.
At a July auction for city lots, Anton’s wife, Florence, and Ray Larson (whom the Wendlers partnered with) bought a corner lot at Fourth Avenue and I Street. The lot was on the western fringe of the downtown district.
A.J. and Larson began construction immediately, and by fall they opened the townsite’s first grocery store, called Larson & Wendler Grocery. The store sold more than just groceries though. If you look closely at the drawing, there is a small sign attached directly under the store sign that advertises gasoline for sale.
The building was a wood-frame shiplap-sided Victorian-style structure. It was one of the few two-story buildings downtown, and featured a hexagonal turret projecting out over the corner entrance. A tall flagpole surmounted the turret’s pyramid-shaped roof. The distinctive building stood out among its neighbors.
The I Street side of the corner entrance featured a large plate-glass window with transom windows above. The Fourth Avenue side had double plate-glass windows, also surmounted by transom windows.
The 62’ x 26’ building had a single-story 18’ x 26’ storage shed attached at the rear. The first-floor store featured 13’ ceilings, while the second floor, where the Wendlers lived, had 9’ ceilings.
Larson left the grocery within a few years to open a building supply store and work as a contractor. Anton closed the grocery in 1920 when he accepted a position as head of the AEC’s cold-storage department. According to the publication, Wendler Building Relocation Study, the building was used for warehousing until Florence converted it into apartments in the mid 1930s, probably after A.J.’s death in 1935.
During the apartment conversion, Anchorage architect R. Ellesworth Sedille redesigned the exterior in a style reminiscent of Victorian Stick Style architecture (mimicking the half-timber construction technique of English Tudor architecture). The first floor’s plate-glass windows were replaced with casement windows, and the truncated-corner entrance was framed-in and enclosed. Small gabled porch roofs were constructed over the I Street doorways, pent roofs were added below the cornice, and a series of octagonal design elements were applied beneath the second-floor windows.
In 1948 Florence and her daughters started Club 25, which initially was a women-only private club. Membership was opened to men the next year, and Club 25 remained a restaurant and social club until 1982.
Florence died in 1965 and her daughter, Myrtle, became owner of the restaurant. In 1983, bowing to development pressure from the Captain Cook Hotel, Myrtle donated the building to the Municipality of Anchorage with the provision that it be relocated.
In 1985 the Municipality moved the building (sans rear shed addition) to its present location at the corner of Fourth Avenue and D Street. After the move the building’s corner entrance was re-opened. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The Wendler Building now houses the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous headquarters.
- Buildings of Alaska. Alison K. Hoagland. Oxford University Press. 1993
- Legends & Legacies: Anchorage 1910-1935 . John P. Bagoy. No publisher. 2001
- Patterns of the Past. An Inventory of Anchorage’s Historic Resources. Michael Carberry & Donna Lane. Municipality of Anchorage. 1986
- Photo of Wendler Building in 1916, in Anchorage Museum history collection
- Wendler Building Relocation Study. Municipality of Anchorage. 1983