When I accepted a job in Anchorage more than a dozen years ago, my new boss told me the neighborhood I’d be working in was sketchy.
She said signs of illicit sex and drug use, along with alcohol debris would be common in the parking lot. And that homeless people would sleep on the porch. It was all true.
That was my introduction to Fairview. But last Saturday I glimpsed a very different version of the neighborhood through the stories of smiling residents who love Fairview, faults and all.
“We’re spending a lot of time trying to re-image this community,” SJ Klein, the President of the Fairview Community Council, said. “You know the idea that people get is kind of what they see at 13th and Gambell.”
The idea he’s referring to is one of a neighborhood racked by drugs, theft and prostitution. But Klein, his family and others here on this snowy morning see a neighborhood with a lot of history worth caring for.
“It was an independent city, 30, 40 years ago and one of the first cities in Southcentral Alaska, after downtown Anchorage, there was another basically township here,” Klein said.
The day’s festivities were part of a civic engagement event organized by the University of Alaska Anchorage.
In the Fairview Rec Center parking lot, people gathered around canopies for a few hours at a “pop up” museum. The idea was to bring residents and others interested in the area together to reminisce, share pictures and mementos as well as plan for positive change and a better image for one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
Klein and his family brought old wooden skis to the pop up museum.
“Kind of wanted to highlight the history of the ski area that was in Fairview,” Klein said. “The first ski area in Southcentral was the Anchorage ski bowl and so from 3rd Avenue down to Ship Creek, that’s where everybody in town would go skiing.”
Klein says it’s now referred to as party hill, where inebriates congregate to drink. He says a group of residents are working to turn it into a ski hill again. Undaunted by pitfalls, Klein sees the possibilities.
Bailey Black agrees. She says it’s less expensive to live in Fairview and there’s a good community feel. She and her husband Duane and daughter Lucy were enjoying hot drinks and live music. Seven-year-old Lucy had her own ideas for improving Fairview.
“Kind of want less stealing and like they need to make a couple more skate parks because they only have like three here,” Black said.
Crime is part of life in Fairview. Orion Donicht took a break from playing the guitar for some coffee. He and his wife own a home a few blocks away. He says more help for alcoholics might help.
“You know, last year they had a big police push, there was a bigger police presence and that certainly cut down on the crime, that’s nice. Hyder is basically a hobo highway from Chester Creek up to Bean’s Cafe. So we’re limited by our location, you know what I mean? It’s the nature of where we’re located and how this situation is set up. I think the homeless problem is Anchorage’s biggest problem right now, obviously I think that because I live in this neighborhood,” Donicht said.
But he says he loves Fairview and he thinks it’s getting better. That good natured tendency to love or at least accept the good with the bad in Fairview is a common theme among residents. Mark and Janet Stoneburner have moved to Spenard, but lived in Fairview for five years. Mark told the story of a drunk who insisted a party was at their house at 2 am one night and wouldn’t quit pounding on the door. He said it was scary. But Janet just called it local color and recalled waiting for the bus, working on a crossword puzzle in the paper.
“And this guy with just wild hair, one eye, sees me from about 30 feet away and starts yelling, and he’s coming toward me yelling, waving his arms, ‘what are you doing writing in the newspaper? who does that? What kind of person writes in the newspaper?’ I look at him and I go, crossword, ‘oh, give me four down. And he stood there did the crossword with me until the bus came and then he wandered off!” Janet Stoneburner said.
The characters in Fairview may be part of its charm as well as part of its problem, but historic gems were also revealed at the pop up museum. Resident Christopher Constant explained the photo display of a man in Fred Astair like outfits named Mike Madill, who lived in a red log cabin.
“He was a internationally recognized performer, dancer, actor. He gave voice lessons to Morgan Freeman, I mean, this guy knew everybody. And so he was really an amazing gem of Anchorage’s history,” Cross said.
As UAA student Devin Johnson entertained the growing crowd, a display of teeshirts under one of the canopies seemed to capture the sentiment of local residents..People’s Republic of Fairview.