Louis "Lou" Collier was interviewed on August 20, 2014 by Jan Yaeger at the Seldovia Conference Center in Seldovia, Alaska. In this interview, Lou talks about the history of Seldovia from when there were active canneries, to the 1964 Alaska Earthquake, to how the Urban Renewal Program changed the physical layout of the community, to construction of the new school and community building. He also talks about local government, politics, and planning in Seldovia.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Seldovia Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Aug 20, 2014
Narrator(s): Louis "Lou" Collier
Interviewer(s): Jan Yaeger
Transcriber: Sue Beck
People Present: Michael Opheim
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Coming to Seldovia and canneries there at the time
Life in Seldovia in territorial days and meeting his wife
Filipino cannery workers
Boardwalk in Seldovia and, fish fertilizer plant
Skiffs under the boardwalk, and Natives in Seldovia
Politics and early days of the Kenai Peninsula Borough
Beginning of Urban Renewal
Problems with urban renewal program and lot ownership and building destruction
Lots and new school construction
Meeting his wife
Construction of community building and new post office
Lot size and zoning and planning in Seldovia
Development and city operations in Seldovia
Urban Renewal program and planning
Private re-development after Urban Renewal
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JAN YAEGER: Okay. It is August 20, 2014. It is 1:50 in the afternoon and we are speaking with Lou Collier in the Seldovia Conference Center. My name is Jan Yaeger and this is a recording for the "In Our Own Words Project" of Seldovia Village Tribe.
Now, Lou, you were not born in Seldovia, is that right? LOU COLLIER: No.
JAN YAEGER: Where were you born and how did you come here?
LOU COLLIER: I was born in eastern Washington, and I came here shortly after high school in ’48 on a salmon tender out of Seattle.
Can I talk about a period that I am familiar with from, let’s say ’48 to -- up to Urban Renewal, the earthquake, and perhaps maybe a little after? JAN YAEGER: Absolutely.
MICHAEL OPHEIM: Anything you want.
LOU COLLIER: Okay. Well, when I came here on a salmon tender outta Seattle, as a cook, Seldovia at that time, as the state of Alaska at that time, was a territory. We hadn’t become a state until ’59.
So if I talk about a period, say from ’48 to ’64, ’65 -- Well, when I arrived in Seldovia there were four canneries here. There was Cook Inlet Packing Company, who had nine traps up the Inlet primarily, from Humpy Point just below Ninilchik.
They were hand-set traps. At that time, they drove rebar when the tide was out into the beach and then tied small poles onto the -- creating a trap with webbing hanging in it.
And we serviced that particular trap. That cannery was Cook Inlet Packing Company. And that was owned by a family, Esteses. And Mason was the skipper of that boat. It was about an eighty-footer.
And we serviced all of those people up and down Cook Inlet, delivered into Seldovia. That was a small cannery. And then there was AYR, which was a larger cannery and primarily owned by outside Seattle interests.
And then there was AY -- or Alvila Cannery at the far end of town. That was a privately owned cannery. They had a tender.
If I rattle on here, slow me down. Their tender was an old Second World War sub-chaser.
AYR, they had also two 110-foot sub-chasers from the Second World War. These were wooden boats. At that time, everything was wooden. Fiberglass and all of that hadn’t came about yet.
And there was Seldovia Bay Packing Company, who I went to work for after statehood, because after statehood they -- they outlawed all traps.
There was a pile-driven trap at Anchor Point and there was another one right over here on the other side of Hoen’s Lagoon. And we picked up salmon, run ‘em into Seldovia.
As I say, this was Territorial days. No TV. No telephone. There was just a telegraph office here in Seldovia run by Lipke, who, as you obviously know, Lipke Lane.
I’m gonna rattle on here. She used to chase me out of her building with a broom. About the time Urban Renewal got started and I was project manager on that, but it was an interesting time.
You’re gonna ask me some questions here if I -- I met my wife here in Seldovia. She is a Native, born and raised here in Seldovia. We’ve been married sixty years, just recently.
The canneries at that time was all Filipino help. Each cannery had their own bunkhouse for Filipinos. Most of ‘em -- oh, run anywhere from ten to fifteen Filipino crews, and local people also, but the Filipinos were the background -- or the backbone of the canneries.
Everything was operated -- the whole movement of employment was done by whistles. You went to work, it whistled. Lunch, whistle, back to work, whistles.
Seldovia Bay Packing -- well, they both had bunkhouses and a mess hall. All the crews ate in the mess hall. And the canneries provided housing for the Filipino crew and whatnot.
At that time, the cannery workers were getting paid about two dollars and thirty-six cents an hour. No such thing as a coffee break. You worked a full eight hours or however many hours was needed to process all the fish.
That was all one-pound cans. And, of course, all the fish were supposed to be in the can within twenty-four hours, but that rarely ever happened. In fact, oftentimes you could see maggots layin’ on the table where the women were packing the -- you could get -- sometimes you could get two or three humpies in a one-pound can.
You -- we may have heard the expression, "The Iron Chink?" Well, that came from way back, even before the Filipinos.
Originally, the labor in just about all of the canneries in the earlier days, even before I got here, was done by Chinamen. And at a later date, they invented a machine that they named the Iron Chink because it replaced so many Chinamen.
It was a -- it was quite a large cast iron machine that the fish came down the flue into this, and it arranged -- you had to point the fish in the right direction and a knife came down, chopped off the head.
And then it went on a little further and it went up in a big interior wheel on the inside of this, probably, oh, three and a half feet across circumference.
And it held the fish with the open body up, and a brush and lots of water. Scraped it all out and down, around this wheel. They would go then onto another cleaning table.
It was a -- quite a large table but it --probably twelve feet across and it rotated. And all the women, they were called slimers, they finished dressing off the fish. Cleaning ‘em up a little bit.
But this machine chopped off the heads and done the bulk of the cleaning. All of the -- the heads, guts, and whatnot just went into the bay.
At a later date, the canneries used scows with about three-foot sideboards on ‘em, and all the head and the guts and whatnot went into the scow. But they often overflowed. They weren’t very well tendered.
And at the height, the processing the bay out here, along the shoreline, you’d get about six, eight inches of nothin’ but pink foam on it from the processing.
We had a boardwalk, as you know, that run the full length of town. And the seagulls just had a ball. They would eat so much that they would literally stagger up and down the boardwalk, or fall off the rail, literally.
In the wintertime -- discussing the boardwalk -- in the wintertime, when the snow got deep, two or three feet deep, there was just a walking trail right down the center of the boardwalk.
And, of course, the dogs would turn the snow yellow. And the poop, with the dogs and whatnot, it was pretty messy.
At a later date, they came up with a fish processing plant making fertilizer, which had a horrible odor. Just absolutely horrible. And it was seventy, eighty-pound bags -- burlap bags.
It was a rotating drum, probably thirty feet long maybe, and about the size of a five hundred gallon oil drum in height -- in width. And it rotated.
And it was a cooker at the same time that it rotated. And they would shovel all of this into this big cooker, and it would turn it into kind of a -- oh, a sawdusty consistency. And we bagged it up.
Well, and then at statehood when the traps went out, the company that I worked for closed shop ‘cause all they had was traps.
And a little later on there was a shrimp processing plant that came to town. They’d established themselves in one of the older buildings -- warehouse. It was a -- Wendt was the name. It was a privately owned shrimp canning thing.
We drug shrimp out here in Kachemak Bay, but there was such a large variety and there was about five different variety of shrimp -- coons, spots, pinks, that they had to devise a different method.
They had, at that time, a shrimp peeling machine called a Skrmetta. There was another one that came at a later date called a peeler. But the one here used Skrmettas, and that was about five decks, each one of ‘em on about an eighteen degree angle.
When I say decks, it was just one on top of the other. And the rate of flow of the shrimps goin’ through it was regulated by water. The more water, the faster the shrimp went.
And each little bar which went across each one of the platforms had little hammers on it. Little plastic hammers that looked very much like a hammer, but not with the claws and whatnot.
And they went up and down and pounded on the shrimp to loosen up the shells on ‘em. And as I say, if the shells were soft, depending upon the age, the shells would come off relatively easy. If not, you had to slow it down.
And then there was a picking table that there was probably ten, twelve ladies standing on each side of it, picking off the shells that didn’t get all the way off.
The man had an interesting -- I run the Skrmetta machines for him for about a year. He only lasted about three years. They couldn’t control -- well, a variety of things -- the cost of doing the shrimp, and the process of trying to separate ‘em out -- they finally got a separator.
But I run that thing -- machine for him for a coupla years there, and he would have me come to work at a quarter to eight, but I couldn’t punch in 'til eight o’clock.
Yeah, and I would run the machine getting there that early, so by the time the gals got there to pick off the shells at eight o’clock they were ready to go to work. They were already on the table.
But he wouldn’t let me shut off the machine until straight up noon, and the gals had to have the table all cleared off, which took ‘em another fifteen minutes. So he was gainin’ about forty-five minutes a day of free labor.
All the boats at that time anchored out in the middle of the bay. There was no breakwater, and you rowed to shore.
And the skipper -- well, most of the skippers at that time, they would sit in the back of the skiff and the crewmember rowed the captain into the shore. And we tied up all the skiffs underneath the boardwalk.
And at that time, the bars went until there was nobody left sittin’ on the stool. So oftentime the tide would come in and swamp the skiff, because it was tied underneath the boardwalk.
There was a good deal more Natives at that time than what there are now, by far. And they were treated pretty badly. You rarely ever hear the word "siwash" anymore, but that was a pretty common word at that time.
And that’s interesting, too, because we halfway used that word when I was in Korea. That and "gooks," of course. Anyway, in --
Like it was here in ’48 and ’49, and then I went to Korea for two years, and I came back here in ’53. Things were very much political at that time.
Mr. English was the local magistrate, and if you wanted to get married, you had to see him. And when the baby was born you had to see him. And when you died you had to see him for a death certificate.
And if you wanted to get into the old folks home, you had to go see him, which generally required that you turn over all of your property to him.
I could probably tell you many things about the political -- politics at that time. They haven’t really changed a great deal now than what they were then, with the exception of now it’s a number of people, while at that time it was only one person. So --
JAN YAEGER: Well, I guess speaking of politics, one thing that I’m interested in, you know, you were I think on the city council right about the time that the Kenai Peninsula Borough was being formed, right, and then you were on the Borough Assembly?
LOU COLLIER: Yeah.
JAN YAEGER: Can you talk about what that was like in the early days of the borough and how Seldovia was represented there?
LOU COLLIER: Yeah, I was on the Borough when it was first formed in ’61 or ’2. I can’t remember which. The chairman was a man by the name of Harold Pomeroy.
And at that time it was a nine-member committee. And as I said, statehood in ’59. And it took the state about a year there to figure out how to set up a borough.
And, of course, when we all got there to Kenai, we were meeting in Kenai, the question was, just what the hell is a borough and what are we supposed to do? ‘Cause none of us knew. We were just local representatives.
All of the books on a borough -- there was nine different books of directions that we later got, and then the first order of business was, how do we get money?
Everybody at that time swore up and down there would never be a personal property tax, which as you know how that worked out.
Yeah, I set on that for about two years, I guess, and at the same time representing Seldovia on the Council. I served three terms on the Council over a period of about twenty-some years. That was interesting.
Talking about the Borough, I got a letter one -- or a phone call one evening from Mr. Pomeroy, and he said, “Lou,” -- that was right after the earthquake. He said, “Lou, how would you like an Urban Renewal project in Seldovia?”
And, of course, I said, “Well, what the heck is that?” “Oh,” he said, ”They come and tear down your houses and rebuild ‘em.”
He says, “You want me to send some people down?” And I said, “Sure.” So here they come and that was the beginning of that.
You hear many things about Urban Renewal and what happened and what didn’t happen. And I was project manager on that for six years. The way that occurred, we had to have a vote to see whether we wanted Urban Renewal or not.
‘Course at that time the town was flooding. The boardwalk was flooding, and as you know, that was all hand-set piling. None of it was driven, so every time the tide would come in the boardwalk would kinda float.
We wound up putting a little over four thousand sandbags on the boardwalk, in addition to quite a few in a couple of the warehouses to keep them from floatin’ away.
‘Cause they weren’t -- again, they weren’t pile driven. They were just set piling, dug in by hand.
Yeah, I lost my train of thought there for a minute.
JAN YAEGER: I think you were talking about the election in terms of whether to have Urban Renewal or not.
LOU COLLIER: Oh, right. Whether we were to have it or not. So the city come up with a -- a plan of -- had a YES column and a NO column. Had it up -- "Shall we have an Urban Renewal project?"
If you wanted it, you signed in the YES column and if you didn’t, you signed in the NO column. This was kept in City Hall. So this was quite a lengthy project -- process.
Problem with that is, you’d go down the street having written either yes or no and talk to one of your friends or something. They may change your mind, so you’d go back down to City Hall and change your name from the NO column to the YES column or vice-versa, whichever the case may be.
So that didn’t work very well. So we decided to have a secret ballot, which we had.
And the city clerk counted them ballots in the city offices. And it come out about two to one in favor of having an Urban Renewal project.
Well, the opposition cried foul, "it was rigged."
So we had another election, and this time all the ballots were dumped out on the council chambers table. And they were counted right there in front of the audience. And it was quite a large turnout, as you can imagine. And it still came out about two to one. So that was the way it went.
JAN YAEGER: And when they came in and initially proposed the Urban Renewal project to the council and to the city, did they give you a good explanation of what that was gonna be?
LOU COLLIER: Oh, no. Oh, no. Like any bureaucratic programs, they always just played the good part of it, you know -- the expression is, the devil is in the details.
So it wasn’t a case of them coming in and tearing everything down and rebuilding it. That wasn’t the way it worked.
The contractor that bid on it, it was a federal project, the contractor that bid on it, and it was accepted by the Alaska State Housing Authority, who I later went to work for. It was accepted -- by then, he basically, technically owned all of the buildings in town.
JAN YAEGER: The contractor did?
LOU COLLIER: Yeah, the contractor did. And it was his right to dispose of ‘em in any way that he wanted to. ‘Cause he was responsible for removing all of ‘em and putting all this fill in, which is roughly three hundred and ten feet at its widest point. It was all fill.
Basically, all of the property belonged to him. I had to set up -- that was kinda hard to take -- I had to set up a -- a rent program ‘cause that’s the way those project works.
People who owned their homes and owned their building all of a sudden found themselves in a position of paying rent on ‘em. That rent money was funneled back into the project to help pay for it.
But the real problem come in rebuilding the town, ‘cause some of these buildings here were up to eighty years of age. They still had the old-fashioned, black, single-strand electrical wiring in ‘em through the little white porcelain insulators. They were that old.
So the people basically -- the bank wouldn’t lend ‘em any darn money on it, ‘cause at that time they wouldn’t meet codes. We had to adopt plumbing codes, electrical codes, and all of that.
Well, it was automatic, really. The minute we accepted the Urban Renewal money we also accepted the Uniform Building Code and everything that went with it.
Well, here’s all of these old buildings that are subject to flooding, still had this old wiring in it, still had plumbing that was whatever you had.
So the banks wouldn’t lend ‘em any money on it. So that basically pretty well meant removal. Which it was.
The on -- about one of the only buildings that within the project area is that one that Chuck Gillick lived in over here. Frankie Sarakoff’s old place?
And the only reason that got saved was because I made it a point to. It was -- at that time was the only concrete foundation in the entire town. It was in the project, but I managed to get it cut out of the project just for that reason.
The value of that -- of the houses within the area -- the housing authority did two separate, distinct appraisals of ‘em. If you didn’t like the appraisal, you could get your own appraisal. And then it was negotiated between either the two or the three.
Sometimes it worked out where you got what you wanted, sometimes it didn’t. But at that time you gotta consider just what is a -- what is the value of a piece of property or a home that floods every time the tide comes in? What is its value? How do you determine that?
Particularly, when it’s gonna be torn down. So it’s, you know -- but still, you -- you -- it’s about impossible to put a value on it. We tried to --
We got a hold of the Salvation Army and ask ‘em if they would help us on a local level. And they sent us twenty screw jacks. I don’t know if you know what a screw jack is, but it’s -- it’s about that tall, and you crank it around and around and it raises things.
Well, obviously with the building sittin’ underneath -- or sittin’ on the beach, particularly at that end of town. And it was all sand, so when you attempted to jack up the building, the timbers that the house were sittin’ on were so rotten that the screw jack just went right on through ‘em.
So we couldn’t jack ‘em up. But on some that we tried, Hank West, Cleo’s ex-husband, had a little sawmill outta town. The Salvation Army came up with eight thousand dollars for him to cut timbers and whatnot to help jack up some of these buildings.
But as I say, that didn’t work because most of ‘em were so rotten sittin’ on the beach that you couldn’t jack ‘em up.
‘Bout the highest priced house down in that end of town was $6500. But you gotta keep in mind, too, at that time you could buy a bad lot in Seldovia for $25, and you could buy a damn good one for a $100. A lot, at that time.
So anyway, that was about the story of it as far as the Urban Renewal thing was concerned. They started at that end of town, and that’s why if you look at the map, it’s where they got it one, two, and three. It’s divided into three sections -- subdivision one, two, and three, I think it is.
We started at that end of town. We cut down Cap’s Hill over here, which is over there where Mike Williams -- or Mike Miller lives. I -- as I recall, we got ninety-eight thousand cubic yards of material outta there. Leveled that all off. That was all --
And then I can’t recall what we got out of Giles’ property down here in the boat yard to do all of the fill and whatnot. Vivian’s house up there on the hill? That was, oh, right about down in here someplace.
It’d just recently been built within a couple years before the earthquake. I tried to buy that from the contractor. We had made a deal on it. I owned all -- well, I didn’t own all of it, but I owned four lots where the school presently sits, and I wanted to move it up there.
But the roads were so narrow I couldn’t move it up there. So I was gonna pay four thousand dollars for it, which was a lot of money at that time. Somehow or other it got moved down to the other end of town when I discovered I couldn’t do anything with it.
I had four foundations for cabins up there where the school sits. The borough decided and the city decided they wanted to build a new school.
There was about four people involved in the property that the borough wanted for the school. Harold Yuth, Gladys’ husband, Frank Raby, myself, and one other individual. I can’t remember who that was.
Anyway, they had all signed to just let the borough have their property. And I had just gotten those four lots that I had there, where part of the school sits. And I had four concrete foundations on ‘em for cabins. So I refused to sell.
So it got to the point where just about everybody in town just really disliked me. So, of course, they threatened to condemn me, which they would have, and I didn’t -- I didn’t have the money at the time to go through all that expense. Get a lawyer and all that kinda good stuff.
So I said okay. And for four lots where that school sits there was a nice sloping ground with a southern exposure. It was a great place for even a home. I got the grand total of three thousand five hundred dollars for four lots. So --
And then, of course, I met my wife. I think we got married in -- gee, I don’t know, you can do the math. We just got done having a sixtieth wedding anniversary.
She worked in a little restaurant -- you may have heard the comments of people go. There was little Greek guy in there. Louie was his name. He run the restaurant. My wife worked there. And I got acquainted with her in there. You can -- you could go from the bar into the restaurant.
Oh, there’s another interesting thing on Urban Renewal. At the time of -- we decided as -- as the bar was the prime location of everybody in town and we were about to tear everything down, we got a waiver from the feds to use part of the Urban Renewal money to build a community building. So we built one about where the store is.
It was sixty feet wide by a hundred and twenty feet long. A steel building. And we had the Polar Bar, the Linwood Bar, the liquor store, the post office, and a restaurant all within that building.
And it was really great, because you could just go from one bar to the next without even goin’ outside. The post office was in the front of the building, just a small area.
And then there was a restaurant. And down the middle was the hallway and the bars were on both sides of the hallway. And if you didn’t like the company in one bar, you could just walk over to the next one.
JAN YAEGER: And where did you say that building was? Approximately?
LOU COLLIER: Oh, let’s see. Oh, I don’t know. Somewheres right around in here. I have a -- even when I look around today, I have a hard -- somewhat of a hard time of -- you know, good grief, this was fifty years ago.
JAN YAEGER: So that was the post office kind of in between the original one that Adam Bloch built -- ? LOU COLLIER: Oh, no, no. That was further downtown -- JAN YAEGER: -- and then the current one? LOU COLLIER: -- here, yeah.
JAN YAEGER: Okay. LOU COLLIER: Yeah. Yeah. Adam Bloch --
JAN YAEGER: ‘Cause that was the post office until Urban Renewal, right?
LOU COLLIER: Yeah, oh God, that was phew.
JAN YAEGER: It’s an old building.
LOU COLLIER: That was a three generation -- show you how politics work. That was a three generation family-run post office, from Adam to Susan to Bob Gruber’s wife to -- yeah.
Yeah, you see a picture of that post office with a bicycle and a little kid on it? That’s my wife and Raymond, her brother.
That post office, when they tore it down, the logs were just absolutely sawdust. There was about twenty-some cats that come out of that building.
You went down there to pick up your mail, you know, and you kinda walked downhill into an arctic entryway. And it stunk so bad of cat pee you just would not believe it. You couldn’t get outta there quick enough. It was really terrible.
Yeah. Jack was the -- was the wheeler and dealer of Seldovia at that time, as a Territory, and him and I, we were constantly locking horns over Urban Renewal.
Jack had six properties that he had been the executor of for many years. Fact of the matter is, the house that my wife and I finally bought over across the slough -- partial logs -- that he had been executor of for many, many years. One of ‘em was up to twenty-six years that he had never settled it.
Jack had been collecting the rent off of all those houses, unbeknownst to the heirs of the estate. That was one of the reasons why he fought Urban Renewal so bitterly. ‘Cause he was about to lose his income.
He was a genuine thief. But he was a clever politician. Christmas time there was always bags of oranges or apples, or maybe even a small turkey for the needy folks.
At that time, you could solicit votes comin’ outta the bar. In fact, it was quite prevalent. The bars could stay open at that time. Didn’t have to close on election day.
There was always a fair amount of money passing back and forth between Jack and whoever was going on. That was in Territorial days. That was when Gruening was still the Representative for the Territory of Alaska.
Later on, it was Ralph Rivers. I met him once in the Westward Hotel, which is now the Hilton, when I worked for the state. I introduced myself, told him I was from Seldovia.
And just right off the top of his head, he says, “My only contact in Seldovia is with Jack English.” End of conversation.
As they say, Jack and I were friendly adversaries. I used to go down and visit him when he lived in that little house there, which is another story in itself of how he managed to steal that from the Elks.
But I used to go down and visit him. He had what he called file thirteen. That was where he kept his Canadian Club.
He always had telegrams just scattered all over the table, you know. I always had the -- there were so many of them that I just had the feeling that they were just telegraph envelopes that he’d gathered up to show his importance, ‘cause they were just littered on the table.
Well anyway, there’s many other things I could tell you if I could think about ‘em, but --
JAN YAEGER: So one question that I’ve had is, you know, the average lot size in Seldovia is quite small. And certainly in the boardwalk days when everything was on pilings, there’s no need for a yard, so why would you need a big lot? I’m assuming.
And so I’ve always wondered, is the current small lot size in the downtown area, is that kind of a relic of the pre-Urban Renewal times, or is that just a coincidence?
LOU COLLIER: Most of -- of the area here, really the lots are about the same size as they were prior to it. They just straightened ‘em out a little bit, which was a horrible mistake in my view.
At that time, the Alaska State Housing Authority had a planning department head by the name of Lidia Selkregg, who was also -- both her and her daughter at a later years remained head of the planning department for the City of Anchorage.
She was a little Italian gal. Spoke pretty broken English. She was really a geologist. She wasn’t a planner.
And she had the idea of a European-style community down there where the clinic and the fire station are. That was quite a big area, quite a big lot.
And on both sides of the street, primarily on that side where Hopkins lived, her concept was a European-style community with a core of the township right there and all the little shops around it, like some European village, was her concept.
That’s why they were as small as what they are, which upset me very badly at the time.
Lidia came to me one day and handed me a plat of Seldovia, this area, with a box of colored crayons -- colored pencils. And she said, “Lou, zone Seldovia.” So I said, “Okay.”
So I colored in those areas that I thought was residential and what I thought was commercial. And without bragging, they’re still the same today as what they are then, only the definitions have been changed.
That has always been Seldovia’s problem in my view. The community is so small that the moment that you step out of line -- and when I say step out of line I don’t really mean it in that sense, but the minute you suggest something that upsets the area in general, you be -- immediately become a bad guy. That’s one of the reasons why so little is ever done here.
You know, you think about it. You know, I drive up and down the Kenai Peninsula, and in sixty years, when I came here the road from Anchorage to Seldovia was about fifty percent gravel. It wasn’t paved.
And now I drive up and down the area from Homer to Anchorage and I see the accomplishments that Homer has done. I see the accomplishments that Soldotna has done. What Kenai has done.
And I look at Seldovia and it just about makes me cry. Do you know there hasn’t been any asphalt laid in Seldovia, with the exception of that -- where they dug up there -- in better than forty-five years.
We’re still bouncing over the same potholes that we were forty-five years ago. And I wonder why. You think about it.
The city of Seldovia has been operating on grants. God knows when. Everything that is done in Seldovia in the way of water and sewer, any improvement, is on grants.
I ask myself, what the hell is happening to the taxpayers’ money? Where’s it going? I can see where it’s going. It’s going at City Hall.
When all of this -- you know, Elaine used to be the clerk, the treasurer, and the whole ball of wax. That was when the population was four hundred and fifty people. Now it’s less than three hundred and fifty -- or two hundred and fifty or right in that area.
But now we’ve got -- what do we got? One, two, three -- we got three people in City Hall plus the city manager.
Everything that is accomplished around here is done with grants, and if it’s not done with grants, basically the city turns around and hires Hopkins.
So ask yourself, where’s your money goin’, and how come the potholes aren’t leveled off when they need to be, not when somebody is convenient for ‘em to do it?
So as far as I’m concerned, the city’s really gettin’ shafted. Has been for years. For years.
And to me, it just really upsets me. Part of the reason is, shortly after -- we were stuck with Urban Renewal planning and zoning for thirty years. That was the way the law was written.
That expired, oh, gee, I don’t know, five, six years ago, maybe more. I’ve forgotten. Along with the dock -- ASHA built the damn dock down here, not the city, through a bond issue. That was the first sales tax we ever had. One percent. Was for that dock.
Under those conditions, that one percent was supposed to have expired -- ‘scuse me -- when those bonds were paid off. That one percent is still there.
There’s not enough people around that remember that. As time went on, the city and the planning and zoning commission has watered down the building permits so drastically, and if you know the right person it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference anyway.
You know, I see it every day. You can’t build two structures, residential structures, on one lot. I see it down there with the helicopter guy. I see it down there with Perley.
They’ve cut back the setback so drastically, if they ever had a fire down there on Shoreline Drive, the whole damn place would probably burn down. It’s a hazard.
I suppose you could say part of the reason is the lots are so small that the setbacks are difficult to handle. But then on the other hand, the planning and zoning commission as the ordinance requires, could say to the potential builder, “Hey, you gotta build somethin’ smaller.”
But no, they don’t say that. They either give him a conditional use or a variance. So anyway. So --
JAN YAEGER: So Urban Renewal started in 1965?
LOU COLLIER: Well, we actually didn’t really get going until about 1966. Then it was a six-year program.
But they didn’t -- everything shut down in the wintertime. So it was just for that short period of time.
All the -- the contractor, Studnick, he bunked his crew up in the old Seldovia Lodge that Freddie Newmeyer used to own.
And prior to that they really built a nice bar. Jackie Purcell’s grandfather was the original developer of that property. And he built a hell of a nice bar. Nice cocktail bar, nice restaurant.
And it burned down New Year’s Eve, before it ever opened. And then we had Newmeyer.
Oh, and then the store there, where the liquor store is, had a -- a little bar in it, run by Chuck Knight, where you could cook your own steak. Frank got that at a later date.
JAN YAEGER: You said Urban Renewal was a six-year program, so that -- what was all encompassed in that? Was that, you know, I know that buildings were removed and that the fill was created and put in place.
What was considered kind of the final stage of Urban Renewal, for the project itself?
LOU COLLIER: Well, really, it just kind of faded away when the contractor got done. The contractor put in all the water and sewer, put in all the streets. Wasn’t done by the city.
And when he got done with the project, we were stuck with the planning and zoning part of it. We couldn’t change that up until it –- ‘til that thirty year period ended.
But that really wasn’t paid any attention to. When the contractor got done and the city signed off on it was really -- well, it was about the time the contractor got done, the city signed off on it, and then they were responsible for it.
But as a small community and everybody tryin’ to get along, it just kinda went by the wayside.
JAN YAEGER: Did the community get any say in, say the layout of the streets and that type of thing, or how did that plan happen?
LOU COLLIER: Well, yeah, that was the first comprehensive plan. We were required to come up with a comprehensive plan, which the city wanted no part of.
And the housing authority, Alaska State Housing Authority, primarily developed the plan. Which was -- I’m really disappointed.
It’s amazing to me how things rarely change. You go down and read that comprehensive plan that’s pinned up on the wall, and there’s so much BS in it, that isn’t that way and won’t be that way, that it -- it to me is pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.
I was involved in the comprehensive plan and I was involved in the planning and zoning, and that thing there is probably the worst one I’ve ever seen.
JAN YAEGER: The current one?
LOU COLLIER: Yeah, the current one. It’s just a guideline, but in reality, in my view, the central business district is primarily owned by the City of Seldovia.
If you look down the street down there by the harbor, and all of that from that so-called pavilion, clear up to The Buzz Shop, is owned by the city. That’s the primary development property in Seldovia.
The boat harbor, or the boat storage area, is also owned by the city. Well, all of that area down there is free parking to the tourists for three and a half months outta the year.
So when the city talks about growth and development, they’re kidding themselves. How can you have growth and development when the city owns all of the damn property within the business district? And it’s free parking.
Okay, then you might say to me, “Well geez, Lou. What would happen? We need the harbor.” Obviously, we do.
The harbor is not only an asset, but it’s a liability. Just for that reason. I say let them -- you’ll notice as quick as the tourist season is done with, all those cars will go back out to the airport. That’s where most of ‘em stay. That’s where most of ‘em are parked.
So the city maintains that whole area for free parking that does nothing for economic development. The storage area here, I think they charge an extra five bucks for somebody to put their boat in there.
The city is not responsible, in my view. Them same boats that are normally down there in the harbor could remain down there in the harbor in the wintertime, and that property would become available for development.
Besides, they might hire two or three guys to shovel snow off of them boats to create a little bit of income for the local people.
So it just seems to me that when the city likes to talk about growth and development, they’re kidding themselves. ‘Cause where you get the growth and development when the city owns all the developable property? Can’t get it.
And sooner or later, the city is going to be forced to admit they’re going to have to raise the sale taxes. Most particularly, when Michel’s building ever gets done, if it does, ‘cause there’s no way in God’s world he’s gonna be able to heat that thing.
As you may know, the store there cost SNA about sixty thousand a year just to heat it. Michel’s gonna have serious problems.
The city’s gonna have to just about give it to him, like they gave Buck Blodgett -- same thing. Same situation.
So it really saddens me to see what could’ve been a hell of a nice community if they hadn’t watered down the building codes and maintained that property that is only active three and a half months out of the year and the city don’t get a dime off of it.
You may say, well yeah, the tourists who come to Seldovia create -- you know, you sell a few beers and a few sandwiches in the local buildings, but it’s not doing the community -- the people who live here -- any real good. It’s not.
JAN YAEGER: So what was the process, you know, when all the people whose properties were along -- in the project area -- and those were all bought out. So what was the process for kind of reprivatizing this area and getting it redeveloped?
LOU COLLIER: The process was those people who were displaced by the Urban Renewal project had priority on rebuilding on whatever location they wanted to on lots that were created along the waterfront. They had first priority.
That required a building permit, of course, at that time. And I don’t mean a pencil-drawn sketch. Like any large city or any city, you had to have an architectural plan. You had to show the electrical, plumbing, all of that. The mechanics.
The city watered that down. Then, of course, now I think it’s five bucks you can get a builder’s permit in Seldovia to build a million-dollar house. While in Anchorage you’d be payin’ about ten percent of the cost of that development. Or in Homer. So there again.
Anyway, the process to answer your question was, the people who were displaced could buy those lots back. I might add, those lots at that time sold for about a dollar twenty-five a square foot.
And the improvements to those lots were about three dollars and fifty cents a square foot. The water and sewer, the stub-outs -- they all had stub-outs.
So really, it was an ideal situation. But about at that time the king crab really got goin’.
When we started fishin’ king crab in Kachemak Bay was about ’53. By the time ’64 rolled around and prior to that, Kodiak was -- Kodiak had twenty-six canneries at one time.
I think they’re down to about three now. Three or four. The king crab effort moved to Kodiak. Josie left. Karl Olssen, he left. Not to mention, it was a combination of both. ‘Cause we were buyin’ their houses.
JAN YAEGER: Is that Josie Carlough?
LOU COLLIER: Yeah. So there was quite an exodus at that time, brought on primarily by the big push for crab and what happened here on Urban Renewal.
If your house is gettin’ torn down, what are you gonna do? So it was kind of a combination of both.
And then you gotta stop to consider, too, at that time, here come the borough. And borough tax. You know, it was just all kinds of things happening within that five or six year period of time.
The cannery, AYR, kept givin’ the Alaska State Housing Authority a bad time, in the sense that we can’t build in Seldovia because they have no dock and no way to get our product out. ‘Course they’d been gettin’ it out before.
But they kept coming up with all kinds of excuses of why they couldn’t do anything. We later found that they were moving to Port Graham, unbeknownst to us.
They were getting -- they were getting what they called a self-move that I managed, where you could move yourself and get paid to do it. Hell of a good deal.
Wakefield, that was interesting with Wakefield. They got a loan for $750,000 that originally built the original Wakefield plant.
You were probably here when that was goin’, weren’t you?
MICHAEL OPHEIM: Towards the end, yeah.
LOU COLLIER: Yeah, that was the original. ‘Bout down there now where the supposed fish plant is gonna be.
He got a loan, SBS loan, for $750,000 to build that, and then the Housing Authority found out he was going to build in Port Lyons.
No taxes, no wharfage. So the Housing Authority told him, hey, in small business, you either build in Seldovia or you don’t get no loan. Or that cannery wouldn’t a been here.
So he was forced to build here. Which is another interesting story. I had an office down at the far end of town, owned by Carl Nordenson, Bruce’s dad.
And I got a call one day and the boss says, ”Lou, I’m gonna send some people down to ya and I want you to lease a boat.” I said, “Okay.”
So later on that morning, here come an admiral, two senators. I don’t know, there was about a half a dozen of ‘em anyway. And I leased -- I don’t know if you ever recall the old John Adams. It was owned by Sam -- not Sam Selbog -- but, oh well, whatever the case may be.
And they come into the office. There was half a dozen of ‘em or more. Wanted to know if I got the boat.
So they’re all lookin’ at maps and whatnot, and pretty quick I hear, “We’re gonna move Seldovia to Port Graham. It’d be too costly to do all of this fill and whatnot.”
I said, “Oh, wait a minute.” I said, “That’s not gonna -- “ at that time Port Graham and Seldovia were -- were pretty much adversaries, just as Homer and Seldovia was.
And I said, “Whoa, that’s not gonna go over very well with the people of Seldovia.” What was left of ‘em. And a big discussion ensued from that.
About that time, fortunately, the wind come up and it just turned the bay here into nothin’ but whitecaps. All of these folks weren’t quite used to that weather so they canceled out and flew back to Anchorage with a pilot called Lucky Pierre.
During that period of time, there was about six airplane crashes going on. So anyway, they flew back to Anchorage and that pretty well ended that discussion. But that was the plan.
Oh, and then they were also gonna sink three Liberty ships out here across the mouth of the bay so the swell coming in wouldn’t tear up the boardwalk.
And in the meantime, prior to all this redevelopment and tearing the town down and whatnot. That’s where the admiral come in.
And they finally decided, well, that might be a little costly and it wouldn’t do a hell of a lot of good. There wasn’t that much swell and besides the tide -- wouldn’t do much for keepin’ the tide down, so it was really -- it was really comical.
They didn’t have the faintest idea about a tide. None of ‘em. Talk about a tide, or raising twenty-four feet or whatever, you know, and they -- it just didn’t register.
They were people from New York City and New Mexico. I think a couple senators, one from New Mexico and I don’t know where the hell the other one was. But anyways. So besides they’d have to send divers down and prepare the bottom to sink these Liberty ships.
You know what a Liberty ship is?
MICHAEL OPHEIM: Yeah, I think I’ve seen one.
OU COLLIER: Yeah. They were ships that they used in the Second World War for movin’ troops. Fact, I went to Korea on one.
Anyway, that’s my story. There’s lots of other little incidents. I don’t know, I -- I really like Seldovia but I’m certainly --