Van Gilder Hotel has been serving Seward for almost 100 years
|Van Gilder Hotel in 2012|
The community of Seward, at the northern end of Resurrection Bay, had an auspicious start in 1903 when developers with the Alaska Central Railway (ACR) landed at the site to begin construction of a railway northward across the Kenai Peninsula to Cook Inlet and beyond. Initial hopes were high, but the railway, which was privately financed, was perpetually short on construction funds. The ACR filed for bankruptcy and was replaced by the Alaska Northern Railway but it too succumbed to financial difficulties. Consequently, the optimism of Seward’s residents, and community development lagged.
That changed in 1914 when the federal government took over the task of completing the railroad from Seward to the new town of Anchorage on Cook Inlet, and beyond to Fairbanks in Interior Alaska.
Hopes once again soared, and new investments flooded into Seward. According to the Seward Historic Preservation Commission, in 1916 $200,000 worth of construction projects (the equivalent of $4.5 million today) were started in the city.
One of the new developers was E. L. Van Gilder, a native of Kellogg, Idaho. Anticipating a boom in commercial activity at Seward, Van Gilder came north to build a modern two-story office building. Seward’s fraternal groups convinced him to add a third story with meeting rooms for local organizations. The building was completed by October of 1916.
Unfortunately for Van Gilder, Seward was also competing with Anchorage for a role in Southcentral Alaska’s economy and for development dollars. The added cost for his building’s third floor, plus slower than expected economic development forced Van Gilder to sell his building only months after its completion.
Regardless of Van Gilder’s personal finances, the new building was a grand addition to Seward’s business district. Located at 307 Adams Street, next to the Bank of Seward (now gone), it is 34’ wide by 85’ long, with a full basement. It was one of three reinforced concrete buildings constructed in 1916—the largest and finest. It boasted central heating, and hot and cold running water. The south (front) and west sides of the building were finished in stucco, while the east and north sides were painted concrete.
The completed Van Gilder Building had little problem finding tenants. The “Gateway Newspaper,” the second-largest newspaper in Alaska in 1915, moved into the basement, with professionals such as doctors and attorneys moving into the first and second-floor offices. The Oddfellows, Masons, Christian Scientists, and Seward Women’s Cub found accommodations on the third floor.
By 1921, the Oddfellows and Masons had built their own lodge buildings and most of the other tenants had found different accommodations. Mary Barry’s book, Seward, Alaska, a History of the Gateway City, states that in early 1921 the building was converted to apartments, and in September of that year the building was modified to serve as a hotel. The hotel, of course, was named the Van Gilder.
Like many trendy historic hotels, the Van Gilder is supposedly haunted. The spirit of Fannie Guthry-Baehm, a woman murdered at the hotel by her estranged husband in 1950 can still supposedly be seen wandering the building.
Naturally, the hotel has gone through a series of owners. From 1950 to 1964 it was called the Renwald Hotel (after the owner at that time). In 1964, with new owners, the hotel was renovated, a dining room was added, and its name reverted to the Van Gilder Hotel.
In 1980 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The drawing shows the hotel as it looked in 2012. The Van Gilder, serving up history and hospitality, still looks much the same as it did when the hotel opened in 1921.
- “Novelist Promotes Book, Hotel and Its Ghost.” Heidi Zemach. In Seward City News. 9-10-2010
- Seward, Alaska: A History of the Gateway City. Mary. J. Barry. MJP Barry. 1995
- “Van Gilder Hotel.” Seward Historic Preservation web page, <http://www.cityofseward.net>. 2004
- “Van Gilder Hotel – National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Margaret Deck. National Park Service. 1980