The Story Behind the ‘Koots Windmill
by Dave Waldron – KSKA, Anchorage
Today we learn the history of the Spenard windmill in Anchorage. Mike Gordon is the owner of Chilkoot Charlie’s, and the windmill housed in the bar’s parking lot. He’s had it for about 30 years, but it was originally built in the early ’60s by Byron Gillam, an Anchorage businessman. It passed through several different owners before Mike Gordon’s reputation helped him land it.
“Why don’t you go talk to Mike Gordon, he’ll buy anything,” Gordon jokes. “Which is not exactly true, but it has a ring of truth to it because I had just not long before that bought a two-headed pig for the club. It’s still resting behind the bar in its formaldehyde jar. I bought it from some character who set up a booth at the state fair with it.”
Today, the Chilkoot Charlie’s windmill is a staple of Spenard. Gordon promotes events like the Saturday farmer’s market and the Thursday food truck carnival as “under the windmill.” But he says the windmill could be returning to the family that originally built it. Byron Gillam’s son Bob recently approached Gordon about selling it.
But instead of selling it, Gordon wants Gillam to build an exact replica in its place.
“I’d love to have the Gillam family have it, but I’m not going to take it out of Spenard unless there’s another one.”
Gordon is fond of the windmill, but he says getting a new one would mean all parties involved win. The current windmill has problems. The lights are constantly needing to be replaced, and the fan’s motor is burnt out.
“It’s a fleeting magical moment when it all works together. I can’t remember very many times, I can count them on both hands probably.”
There are other issues too.
“One of the problems we had with the windmill right off the bat, we hadn’t figured on people wanting to climb it. We should have, but you can’t be prepared for everything, especially in Spenard.”
Out in the parking lot Gordon shows me some of the improvements he’s made to keep the climbers, who he calls “the loons” off his windmill.
“Concertina wire, and barbed wire. Because some of the loons are pretty dedicated.”
Gordon says now the worst the loons do is throw rocks at the windmill’s lights, which is why they need to be replaced so often. But he says there was a time when the structure had bigger problems, mostly when it was first built by Byron Gillam. Back then, some Anchorage residents convinced the city council to pass an ordinance to tear down the windmill, claiming it was basically a fancy billboard.
“Because back then, as now, some people don’t like flashy advertising. And so they got this ordinance passed and they went to Gillam and presented it to him and he said, ‘It’s not a sign… it’s a light… screw off.’”
Gordon says thankfully he hasn’t had to deal with any real threats to the windmill under his watch, and that’s one of the many reasons he wants to keep it there. Regardless if it’s this one or, a new one.
“I don’t think the windmill has any enemies other than the people who throw rocks at it. But I don’t think they throw rocks at it because they don’t like it, I think they throw rocks at it because they’re stupid,” Gordon laughs.