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George Rogers
George Rogers
George Rogers talks about his first impressions of Juneau as being a peaceful, laid back place. He also talks about the mines, the canneries, working on the Juneau police force, the "entertainment girls," and bar fights. He also talks about the change in the population of the town over the years, especially after Alaska became a state.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-06

Project: Juneau Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Nov 17, 1995
Narrator(s): George Rogers
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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First impression of Juneau

Juneau's police force and population

Regulating the "entertaiment girls"

Bar fights and the effects of Statehood

City council and population increases

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GEORGE ROGERS:, I'm gonna follow along talking about our, our theme community as a memory and of course this really are related to that by the way. When we first came to Juneau it was a very interesting experience because we were stepping into what was a historical time warp.

The the AJ Mine had just closed down a couple years before we arrived. the Halibut Fleet was full strength. the Taku Cannery was operating.

It had a couple lines shut down because the salmon were getting scarce but it was still the largest salmon cannery in the world. It was wonderful. There were a couple other canneries around in the area.

Things were pretty much as they had been since the ‘20s and ‘30s and although the mine had closed down a, a crew were kept on to maintain the facility. And the community was living in the, the not hope the, the conviction that as soon as the damn war is over the mine would reopen things would go back to normal.

So there was this period in which everything was as it had been, we as in Jean and me, we came from the bay area which was a very sophisticated metropolitan area, stepped into this, this wonderful beautiful place that I say I had the feeling I was stepping back in history and living with people whose memories went back to the turn of the century or earlier.

And it was, it was just a wonderful feeling of this was a community of memories as well, as a community as a memory of that time. And the, one of the things I was interested in was the way the community was organized. I'm an economist and, the, I got involved in the local government as soon as we'd stayed here long enough to be accepted.

And, at that time we had the city council government and the night I was sworn in was my introduction to how Juneau operated. We were sworn in, the second thing order of business was to vote on whether or not to accept the letters of resignation every city employee was required to submit a letter of resignation which the council then determined that,

as it was to not accept them but somebody might have a brother-in-law with who needed a job, in which cases could be taken care of very readily. but the third thing was we then stood up and we were sworn in as policemen.

I'm wearing my police badge by the way and I wear it with pride when Jean isn't wearing it on one of her sexiest dresses. But the police force was something, it was a wonder. Bernie Hulk was the chief, he's still around here and he's an amazing person, he was at that time.

My grand, grandfather had been a miner in the old country, he had been a football, rugby, football player, he'd worked on the Canadian-Pacific Railroad, he was that sort of man.

And he was, Bernie was sort of a, a continuation of the sort of man that I admired, a man who had done these great things, who was a strong man and also a good man.

He well, I think many of you know him and you can see him at Foodland once a week. He comes and gets his supplies and goes back out the road. And he hasn't changed too much, I don't know, god knows how old he is.

I'm, I'm 78 and I was in my 20s then and I thought he was an old man then. But he was an amazing physical person too. you don't mess around with Bernie, I'm sure it's still the same thing.

I think that he could knock a man's head off like you could when he was a young man. But the police force consisted of Bernie, he was the chief, and he had two full time patrolmen.

He had some others that he had off and on, but the rest of us were the auxiliary. We were on tap, any of us who, an emergency come up, well we were sworn in, we were legitimate policemen. so I say we were told to keep the badges with us at any time, you know when an emergency might come up.

But the law and order was, was the first thing I, I got involved with and I, I really was fascinated by that. The population of Juneau at that time and earlier was primarily a bach, it was a bachelor's community.

When you look at the demography of the record for the old census reports the ratio of men to women was, the women were over here on this side the men were over this side, a great big mass of men and the majority were in the 18 to 60 year old age group.

That's a very dangerous age group be having single men running around. So the city had, the city had, I mean there was a line. And it was down South Franklin Street and there were houses also the more well to do men went to the houses.

The ones family men went there, but the miners went with the cribs that came out from on South Franklin Street. Bernie policed that.

If you had a medical problem you didn't go to the doctors clinic on Wednesday afternoon that was reserved for the inspection of all the girls. They were all required to come up with physicals and if they got a clean bill of health they could continue visits.

Bernie would come around at the end of the day and anyone missed out well then she would be out of business for a couple of weeks. there were no fines, you just couldn't practice, you were out.

But it was well regulated also the line had another thing that came off of that. John Bishop was the buyer for the -(?)- you remember John don't you?

and the girls every year would get their new outfits and John would shop for them and they were all originals. Jean got a Hattie Carnegie original, Adrian, I, I don't know them, but anyway it was very impressive because it was a lovely very expensive suit but,

JEAN ROGERS: Eight dollars

GEORGE ROGERS: Yeah. But, but the, these were ordered primarily for the girls and they selected them, and then what was left over John put on sale for the ladies of the town, the upper part of town these were the ladies of the lower part of the town.

John made enough from that to open up John Bishop in Seattle. That was one of the dress shops that has doors that go up two stories and when you come in there's nothing inside, inside except a couple of sales girls and lighting.

And I asked for John Bishop and he came flying out from the back and greeted me and threw his arms around me and he says, "come and see some of the things I have here" and you did, things were not, you would show ‘em the things, that was the sort of place John ended up at. Well that started with the girls on the line too.

The mine was shut down, a lot of the young men had gone off to war or were over in Japonski, up further north but this was a rest and recreation area for, for the army. So we had a lot of single men to fill up the spaces left by the miners and you still needed the line.

Even though as I said the line was still regulated and taken care of. That was one of the law and order things that was taken care of and it was accepted by the community.

The girls were doing a service to us, for us, they kept these guys in line, satisfied and so on. And then as I say there were the fancy ladies too but that I won't go into that, they were, were outside the law.

The other thing was law and order and by that I mean bar fights. Saturday night was the place you didn't go down South Franklin Street unless you had to go to South Franklin Street. Bernie and his two patrolmen patrolled the streets on foot.

They had one car by the way it was a sedan with a warren net so they could and they could throw dangerous criminals back there and lock the doors, or drunks. Or during the day they used to throw stray dogs back there and take them to the pound.

It was an all-purpose vehicle. I'll tell you a little bit more about how they did this too. The cabs were also very helpful, if for 25 cents you could go anywhere in, in the city, you could go to Douglas even if you wanted to go to Douglas.

It was incredible what you could do for 25 cents in those days. And when the cabs got radio dispatch that was a great asset because they would ring they would they, the cab driver would be out in the sticks some place

and he would see a problem and he would call in, the dispatcher would call Bernie, and then Bernie would or one of his men would take a cab to go out and take care of that business.

But the bar fights were very interesting because as I say it occurred. I grew up in a part of San Francisco which was Irish emigrants and Italian emigrants and Saturday night was always a bad night to be out in the streets because down in the park there were always fights.

And this was a ritual, the men would get drunk, they would go down and have fights and stand around. And the bar, Bernie as I say the stories I've heard about him breaking up a whole, fight between a bunch of drunken miners in the bar was from you know he's one of these people well I'm not sure if these stories are true or not.

He would throw the men out and haul them off in his, in his car and stack them up and take them off. And he was, people at least respected him and his two patrolmen.

And when they walked into the bar everything became quiet, and that was fine. So we took care of things in those days very, very efficiently, very effectively. There wasn't much left over.

There were card games, gambling games, a lot of other things that went on. Those were done in the back of the pool halls and they never got out of hand. so things were pretty smooth. there were a lot of other interesting things.

The first thing I, when I was looking the, the city books I said, "what is this?" and they said, "well that's a statement" and I said, "well it doesn't make any sense." It turned out that the city clerk didn't know double entry book keeping and he invented his own system of book keeping a single entry sort, which after a while you figured out how it went.

And one of the first things I did as, as a council member was to introduce the city to double entry book keeping. But I won't go into that story.

But the, this went on and on like this and things worked beautifully, I'll give you some figures here. In 1939 the census of the Juneau city involved area that includes Douglas, Thane out the road, everything, was 7,647.

But in 1950, which was five years after we were here, was 7,818 great growth there. part of the problem you see was that we were the capital, but we were a territory.

We didn't have very much to say about everything being in one room. This is what the, the territorial government was. The population wasn't that big the federal government did everything.

In 1960 the population rose to 9,745 that was a big jump. And that was primarily because we became a state and suddenly we had to gear up to be a real capital. So that, from that point on things went to hell.

The next, the next census the population increased by 40%, the census after that they increased by 51.24% and it went on and on like that.

And it, it, the Juneau that we first arrived and saw and live and were apart of was gone forever except in little monuments, except in the memories of our community and they're still alive and green and after that I mean they're always going to be with us.

I liked what happened afterwards some of it I don't like. Jean and I and all of our friends took part in creating things and doing things. In fact in my last, no, no it wasn't my last thing. I went on to the city borough assembly but this period ended for me in 1959.

I was elected to a charter convention for the city. This was just before statehood, it was the first charter that we had for our local government and it was organized and when things get organized as departments it says they're dead.