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Rosalee Walker
Rosalee Walker
Rosalee Walker talks about the State Office Building in Juneau, Alaska. She tells a few stories about when it was built, moving into the building after it was completed, and how some folks benefited from the new building while others suffered.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2010-06

Project: Juneau Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Nov 17, 1995
Narrator(s): Rosalee Walker
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
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Controversy about the State Office Building

Moving into the State Office Building

Fire drills

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ROSALEE WALKER: Well, it's mainly about the SOB. As Dr. Olson said, Juneau has its character and there's non other in the world like Juneau, I believe, especially when it comes to controversy.

And I know there've been a few controversial issues here that you would think that the community would be torn apart, but it's more like a family fight.

I remember the Capitol School issue between the valley and the town.

Then there was the issue about naming the bridge between Douglas and Juneau.

Then there was the issue about the tram, which involved everybody.

And right now is the mine issue, which involves everybody.

But one of the funniest ones to me was the whole issue of the State Office Building.

And it's been called a lot of names, especially in the beginning, but some I cannot repeat.

But the SOB I will not repeat because it did not stand for State Office Building.

And they called it the, the, the Ray what was it?


ROSALEE WALKER: Fort Ray. Fort Ray, that was named after Senator Bill Ray who at that time was our representative and, this was also during one of those periods when they were trying to move the capitol.

And Senator Ray along with some of his cohorts decided that having a, a new State Office Building and a new court building constructed would be helpful in keeping the capitol here.

The state would show a commitment and, so forth and so on.

Well there this big controversy came up in the community as to whether or not we could maintain it if the capitol moved.

And the mayor at that time was Mayor Macomber and he was adamantly against even putting the building up.

He says," we can't maintain that monstrosity," and he went on and on he thought of every reason why we should not have that building.

And then when he saw the architects plans and so forth and saw all the open spaces.

This was when open space became the thing in architecture.

He really thought he had something to hang his hat on that this was, this was ridiculous to have all this open space out there.

If he was living now, I don't know what he would do because it is ridiculous now, people are sitting on top of each other in the building.

At that time it was fine, but now people sitting on top of each other who have all of this open space.

The patio out there you can only use a couple times a year because it's either raining on ya or snowing on ya.

And the fact that the, the redwood benches they were California redwood benches that are out there, they cost $500 a piece.

Now at that time, that was a lot of money.

AUDIENCE: Still is.

ROSALEE WALKER: And it still is to me, but they that was the cost of these benches.

So he would get on the radio almost daily to talking about it.

Well, there was this debate I've forgotten who he was debating but the other person was kind of getting the best of him and he got angry and he says, "well let them go ahead and move the capitol.

I know what I'll do with this darn building.

I will make the first two floors legalized gambling and the rest of it will be a house of ill repute."

So that, that follows you in that, that was still on his mind you, too...

So, this argument went on and on but never the less the building was beginning to be constructed.

I'll never forget, they said that this architect came from California, so that was a supposed to be a strike against the building in the first place.

That anybody from California doing anything in Alaska, it had to be bad.

And so this went on and on and on and, and little by little the controversy grew.

And there was very little coordination between the architect and the con- the, the construction people and the city.

And the, in truthfully the city really did not have written down where the utility pipes were or anything of that nature.

It was all in Grant Wither's head.

They, I mean if, a water main burst and one time it did burst up there on 6th Street and he was in Hawaii.

The city manager had to call him in Hawaii to come back to show them where the water main was and he sat there in Hawaii and he negotiated another trip.

He negotiated, I don't know what he got out of that deal, but he would not come back until he had gotten what he wanted out of the city manager.

Well the, the, the people building the State Office Building didn't talk to him either.

So one day I was walking down Willoughby and he sitting in his truck, just sitting there.

He said, "Rosalee get in." I said, " I have a meeting" and , I said, " What's up?"

He said, "I can't tell you about it but you have to get in and wait."

So I went on about my business and I came back about it was more than an hour later and he was still sitting there.

So I hopped in the truck and sat there with him.

A few minutes later the dynamite, they were dynamiting that hillside.

The dynamite exploded and water was all over the place, rocks and water it the biggest mess and the, the rocks were clucking on this truck and whatnot.

I said, "What's going on?" He said, he just laughed, he said, "I told them they wouldn't ask me and I wouldn't tell them."

So, there they had burst the water main, the city the downtown was without water for almost a week, all because he wouldn't tell them.

Well, not only that, there was this fellow who had a little house there, Mr. Jenkins and he a bunch of kids, I don't know how many kids he had, hard working man, church going man, very religious and whatnot.

One day he came to my house, he had been drinking, which shocked me to death.

Him, drinking? And he sat there and said, "Oh Miss Walker, Miss Walker I was sitting on a gold mine and I sold it to the state."

What? Well as it turned out where his house was, he did have to sell the property, it's where part of the parking lot is, parking garage and they said there's a gold vein there.

They don't talk about it much, but I understand there's the SOB is sitting on this, gold vein.

And he was just so distraught, he ended up, he left Juneau, he moved and everything because he was upset with himself for selling the state his goldmine, that he was sitting on.

And now all the departments, state departments were scattered all over the city I remember, the Department of Labor at one time was in the basement of where the NBA Bank is now.

There was another part over top of Commercial Liquors.

Budget and Revenue, I think was in the Goldstein Building.

Health and Social Services was over there in what they called the Coast Guard Building, where Community and Regional Affairs is now.

And the Department of education part of it was in the Alaska State Building where Social Services is now.

The, the department part of it was there and part was over in the American Legions Building.

That's where I worked. I worked for the Department of Education.

And so, they were supposed to set the moving date to start in January of 1973.

Well of course, the legislature comes in in January right?

There was this big hoopla that Mr. Winchell had had scheduled who was to move and when and now everybody was to pack and this that and other.

There was big brouhaha about, they couldn't move certain departments said "We can't move the legislature's coming in and we've got to deal with the legislature and we're not going to be digging in our boxes looking for information for them.

So we're not gonna move."

So that went on and on for months about whose going to move, well I think three departments moved into the, into the building.

Meanwhile, personally I had moved from in town out to north Douglas one weekend and that Monday morning I was sore, I was tired.

I came in there, there was this big staff meeting and we were told that they had run out of money for moving

And we were all packed up and, they had run out of money so we had to move ourselves which meant, you know, I mean literally.

We had to do the moving and I said, "I'm not moving anything because I just finished moving this weekend and I'm beat."

Well, women don't have to move the heavy furniture, the men will do that and the women will move the boxes.

I said, "wait a minute, paper in boxes that's just as heavy as the furniture."

And I stood there and argued with them and nope you're gonna move. And I said," no I'm not."

I went and got my leave slip, filled it out for a week. Leave without pay and started out the door.

Some of the other women came along behind me they did the same thing.

So the women just left and left the men to move it all. T

hey never let us forget it however.

But, I was determined I was not gonna lift a box, believe me.

Well, we moved into the building and it, it was pitiful because as I said the money had run out

and some departments had to move themselves and some of them took their own sweet time about doing it, if you know what I mean.

And it, it, that year I don't know how the legislature operated really because they didn't, they operated without a lot of help from the department heads and so forth.

But after we got into the building, I don't know some of you may remember Bill Hagevig, he was the first state fire training person.

The and, his desk was, and they put him in the Department of Education and we had this open concept.

My desk was here, and his was there and this that and the other. There were no partitions or anything.

So one day I was just sitting there looking around, I had this uneasy feeling about something.

I said, "Bill we don't have a fire sprinkler system in here."

He said, " I know." I said." How come?"

He said, "The building's supposed, the building's supposed to be fire proof." I said, " With all this paper here, it's supposed to be fire proof?" He said, "Yep."

So I said, asked him, " What the heck do we do if the place catches on fire?"

He looked at me saying, "In case of fire yell fire."

And so I just sat there, I, I was very uncomfortable the rest of the day.

So that afternoon I guess about 2 o'clock I picked up the phone and called the commissioner, Dr. Lynn.

I said, "Commissioner we have an emergency situation here and I need to talk to you."

Well, I was always pulling pranks on him and he pretty well guessed.

Anyway he strolled down the the aisle there to my desk. "Yes Mrs. Walker what do you want?"

I said, "Well there's no sprinkler system in this building."

He said, "I know." I said, "Well what are you going to do about it?"

He said, "What am I supposed to do about it? What do you want me to do about it?"

I said, " Well whatever it is you would do if you were a high school principal again because that's what you gonna be if anything happens in here."

So sure enough, what he did he went out and pulled the fire alarm.

We had a fire drill. It took 45 minutes to empty that building because nobody knew where to go.

You know the one stairway goes up to the eighth floor and you have to crossover the others come down to the eighth floor then you have to cross over.

Nobody knew that, I mean we in this building we didn't know that all of the fire equipment was locked.

The alarm was locked, everything was locked and so when it took 45 --

Well, coming down the stairway, we had to use the stairway down.

We were on the sixth floor and he, I got hung up the stairway isn't that wide if you know, if you go there.

And here was huge lady, she was very well endowed believe me. She was big and you couldn't get past her.

And she was going down each step clump, clump, clump and I was stuck behind her.

And I was impatient trying to, trying to find a way to ask her to move over which she couldn't do anyway.

And but I was trying to get past her and I looked behind me and there was the Commissioner leaning on the side of the wall just laughing.

Oh he it, he got the biggest kick out of that.

Well after that, they had a fire drill everyday for a week.

And this, this was in late winter and early spring so it was kind of cold and whatnot.

But that last day, that Friday when they, we knew it was a fire drill but nobody knew what time.

They were trying to get things, regulated for us to get an easy escape.

And so that after, that afternoon, no I guess it was just before lunch.

About 10 minutes before lunchtime the fire bell rang, the building emptied, got outside and it was a beautiful sunshiny day.

Nobody came back to work and so that afternoon nobody was there but the Commissioner.

I guess he went home too, but nobody in our department went back to work.

Anyway, but it, it was it was really interesting because during that winter also the ventilation system went out.

And the person, the only person that could fix it was in Seattle.

Nobody in town knew what to do with it.

So they called for him to come up.

He got on the plane, the plane overheaded, went to Anchorage and then he came back the plane overheaded again went on somewhere else.

So he went on back to Seattle.

So we had another week off, until he was able to get back in.

But there are many interesting stores I could tell you about the State Office Building but I've just been signaled here.

But it, it's still has it's complaints.

But it's a fascinating building and at sometimes I wish someone would talk about that organ, that oh and how it got in there.

So thank you very much.