Anchorage’s Old City Hall served the city for over 40 years
When the Alaska Engineering Commission (AEC), the federal agency responsible for building the Alaska Railroad, laid out the townsite of Anchorage in the spring 1916, it set aside a “municipal reserve” for city government buildings on Fourth Avenue between E and F streets. During Anchorage’s first two decades a small wood-frame municipal building, a fire hall, and several smaller structures were built on the site.
According to the 1981 publication, Old City Hall, development in Anchorage declined during the 1920s and early 1930s. By the mid-1930s the cultural landscape in Anchorage’s business district was still dominated by wood-frame false-front commercial buildings built during the city’s first few years.
In 1935, utilizing New Deal economic stimulus programs instituted by the federal government during the Great Depression, Anchorage residents passed a bond issue to build a new municipal building. Constructed at 524 Fourth Avenue by Gastineau Construction Company, the new City Hall cost approximately $75,000, with almost $33,000 provided by the federal government’s Public Works Administration.
The reinforced concrete building was designed by Anchorage architect, F. Ellisorth Sedille, incorporating classical design elements such as a cornice with dentils beneath the soffit, and rounded door arches. Sedille also designed other historic Anchorage structures such as the Anchorage Hotel (originally the Anchorage Hotel Annex).
National Park Service records state that the overall dimensions of the city hall were 54 feet by 78 feet, including an 8-foot by 32-foot front projection that included the building’s main entrance. The projection is capped by a classical triangular pediment and has a semicircular fanlight window over the front entrance.
A single-story 35-foot by 44-foot wing on the west side of the main building housed the fire station, which also incorporated a 35-foot-tall fire-hose drying-tower. A 35-foot-long, one-story extension was later constructed on the western end of the fire station, followed by the addition of a second story over the fire station’s original section.
During the City Hall’s early years, nearly every city department was housed there. In 1936 its first and second floors housed the mayor’s office; telephone switchboard; city council chambers; offices for the police chief, city engineer, and public utilities superintendent; and the city library. In the basement were three jail cells, a “tank room” to accommodate drunks overnight, a caretaker’s apartment, and quarters for on-duty fire fighters.
The City Hall was not the first concrete building in Anchorage. That honor belongs to the Alaska Building (still standing) and Cap Lathrop’s Empress Theatre (now gone), both constructed in 1916 adjacent to each other farther down Fourth Avenue.
The new City Hall did usher in a new era of downtown development, however — an era typified by a series of reinforced concrete public buildings. Other concrete buildings constructed during this period included Anchorage Central School at Fifth Avenue and F Street (now gone), the old Providence Hospital at Ninth Avenue and L Street (now gone), and the Federal Building at Fourth Avenue and F Street (still standing).
In 1975 the city of Anchorage and the Greater Anchorage Area Borough merged into the municipality of Anchorage. In 1979 most municipal offices were consolidated into the Hill Building at 632 Sixth Ave., and the old City Hall building became vacant.
The next year, 1980, Alaska Pacific Bank stepped in to lease the building from the Municipality. Before moving in, the bank undertook a major restoration of the interior and exterior of the building to its 1936 appearance. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places that same year.
Northrim Bank purchased Alaska Pacific Bank in 2013 and moved its operations out of Old City Hall. The building, still owned by the Municipality, is now occupied by Visit Alaska, formerly the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau.
- “Anchorage City Hall, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Michael Carberry. National Park Service. 1980
- Old City Hall. no author. Alaska Pacific Bank. 1981
- Patterns of the Past: An Inventory of Anchorage’s Historic Resources. Michael Carberry & Donna Lane. Municipality of Anchorage. 1986