World Facts Index > United States > Anchorage

A mix of the familiar and unusual, metropolitan and wilderness, it's not uncommon to see moose walk through the parking lots of skyscrapers in downtown, or to be stuck in traffic while sled dogs fill the road to begin the Iditarod. Built at the edge of the Knik Arm, which is part of the Pacific's Cook Inlet, this largest city in Alaska is at sea level, and cradled east and west between the Chugach Range rising to 13,000 feet, and the always snow-capped Alaska Range rising beyond 20,000 feet from the west side of the Knik Arm.

Government Hill
This oldest of districts and the northernmost part of Anchorage was one of many places that felt the destruction of the 1964 earthquake, when 400 feet of its bluff collapsed, destroying a school and dropping the raiload yard and shipyard by 30 feet. Only partially rebuilt, its shipyard has six fuel ports, that handle approximately 15 million barrels of petroleum each year and the Alaska Railroad operates daily with freight and passenger service. You'll find The Sourdough Motel in this district, along with several restaurants, small businesses and gas stations. The residential area here is home to railroad and shipyard employees as well as off-base military personnel.

Ship Creek
Selected as the original tenting site of pioneers arriving to build the railroad, in 1914-1915, they filled the area down by Ship Creek first, then spread north up to Government Hill. During summer, join the fun of amusement rides, car races and the Saturday Market. Ship Creek is a great place to be when the salmon are spawning, and provides excellent salmon fishing (approximately 9000 king salmon spawn here yearly). The large parking lots used by fishermen in summer host the ice sculpting contests during the February Fur Rendezvous Festival.

Teeming with activity and filled with high-rise buildings, businesses, restaurants and hotels, you can see the historic 4th Avenue Theatre, lunch at the Downtown Deli, and check out the Club Paris restaurant and nightclub. From the log cabin that houses the visitor's center, view 20 storied hotels, such as the landmark Captain Cook Hotel, a brand new Marriott, and the downtown Hilton. Several blocks away are glass walled skyscrapers of the multi-billion dollar oil industry offices and other business firms. Nearby, the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, offers local and international opera, theatre, dance, chorus and symphony performances. From its second floor, take the Fifth Avenue skywalk to overlook the town square, while walking to the Egan Convention Center. Here also, is the Anchorage Fifth Avenue Mall, containing The Gap, Nordstrom, and others, as well as housing the Sullivan's Steakhouse Restaurant, and Alaska State Troopers' Museum.

Don't miss Captain Cook's Resolution Park platform, at the Inlet's edge. With the telescope available, you can close the 120 mile gap between yourself and Mt. McKinley and see why, this mountain, of 20,320 feet, is referred to as the "Great One".

In this "practical district" you'll find schools, gas stations, and grocery stores spread across an alluvial plane. You can find any type of food here from Chinese, Italian, Greek, and Japanese as well as a selection of busy nightclubs. Shopping here includes the R.E.I. outdoor store, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, and more while the Northern Lights Hotel, the Hampton Inn, and SpringHill Suites welcome guests to this area. At the west edge of Midtown and on the waterfront, find the sumptuous Knik and Turnagain Arm homes, many still owned by the founding families of this state.

Spenard District - Central,West
Once considered the "red light district" due to the heavy presence of massage parlors and escort services, a revitalization program has cleaned up the area and brought in many new businesses. The closest thing to "bohemia" in Anchorage, there are new cafes and juice bars here, like the Organic Oasis, and Q Cafe, and a recent addition, the Doggie Diner and Coffeehouse (a dog cafe, with coffee for humans, & 30 kinds of "cookies" for dogs). Some of the older Anchorage flavors remain, like Chilkoot Charlie's Nightclub, (dirt floor and stump seating), and The Fly By Night Club (with music and comedy acts), and Gwennies, an Alaskan restaurant. Brand new hotels like the Holiday Inn Express, and the Longhouse Alaskan Hotel, as well as seasoned hotels like the Regal Alaskan, and the Best Western Barratt Inn are near the airport and fill this area.

Near here is a fantastic viewing spot by the airport, named Pt. Woronzof. Because Anchorage grew out from the water's edge, and the Turnagain Arm is a semi-circle, Pt. Woronzof's view from atop an 80 foot bluff, is directly across the water to the Anchorage downtown skyline. This is also near Lake Hood's floatplane runway with an average of 225 takeoffs and landings daily. Several flying services provide fishing, hunting, or sightseeing adventures located on the shores of this lake.

South District
This trail-filled district, begins at Dimond Blvd, location of the Dimond Mall Shopping Center with more than 200 shops. The Siam Cuisine restaurant, and the Southside Bistro provide some of the first-class, yet casual dining in this district. Pockets of business areas dot the residential areas made up of wide yards and quiet neighborhoods. Campbell Creek Greenbelt winds its way through the South and Midtown districts beginning at Dimond Blvd and stretching three miles to the east next to salmon spawning streams and several small lakes. Another three mile trail is the Connors Lake trail for hiking and cross-country skiing. Here, residential areas circle several small lakes, such as Campbell Lake, which is also a float plane runway, and many of its residents park their floatplanes in their back "yard." Also in this district, from the far west end, is the Kincaid Park. It is home to the Blues on the Green music festivals, and hosts many special events and races in 40 miles of beautiful, wild, woods teeming with moose. The Kincaid Park may be accessed by traveling from the downtown, Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to its southernmost point, which ends at Kincaid.

University District - Central
Tucked between Midtown and Muldoon, this district of the University of Alaska, Anchorage and the private Alaska Pacific University, together swallow up nearly a mile square that includes two small lakes and a multitude of walking and biking trails. In these casual campuses, professors are nearly always referred to by their first names, by students who sometimes cross-country ski to class. Many sky bridges and buildings joined by hallways help in avoiding the elements. Across the street from the Providence Medical Center, the UAA campus is home to the popular Seawolves Hockey Team which recruits international and local players, and, drawing from the vast expanse of Alaska, their student body's second highest ethnicity is Alaskan Native. APU draws students from around the nation for their Christian liberal arts program and both schools have busy schedules of music, drama and dance performances.

Muldoon - East
This blue collar neighborhood, in addition to its residential pockets, contains the Northway Mall, the Alaskan Native Heritage Center, the Botanical Gardens, the attention grabbing Saint Innocent Orthodox Cathedral with its 12 "onion" shaped domes, the Totem Cinemas Theatre and restaurants such as the vegetarian friendly, Thai Kitchen, or the Club 210 East, and the hotel, Ramada Limited. The 10 mile Muldoon/Tudor trail winds its way from the Centennial Camper Park east to the Spenard Recreation Center for the biker or hiker in you, to enjoy.

Hillside - Far East
Hillside, east of Muldoon is strictly a residential area of huge, beautiful homes, built up the lower hills of the Chugach Range which provide exceptional views of the city, Inlet, and the Alaska Range. These homes are constructed to withstand the 40-100 mile per hour winds that are not infrequent in this location.

Mountain View - Northeast
Just across the Glenn Hwy from Muldoon, and a mile east of downtown, is the home of the busiest noncommercial runway in the United States. The Merrill Field Airport averages 567 takeoffs and landings daily and was the first recognized runway in the Alaskan Territory back in 1930. This district is one of the earliest residential areas, and is community oriented, with many small businesses and a community health center, that provides no-cost medical treatment. The Mountain View community has built a Recreation Center completely outfitted with a dance studio, martial arts room, gameroom and more, for the benefit and use of its locals. Acting as the northeastern boundary of Anchorage, beyond it lies Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases and the city of Eagle River.

History of Anchorage

Much further than a stone's throw from anywhere, Alaska has a history of access through the money found in deep pockets. The first non-Native person to discover this area was Captain James Cook in 1778, with the funding of the British Admiralty intent on their search for the elusive Northwest Passage. Though Cook Inlet was not what he hoped for, it impressed the explorer with one of the greatest fluctuating tides in the world (39 feet); springtime bore tides with six foot high walls of water moving at 10 knots or better. Also greeting Cook and his crew were the Alaska Range (topped by Mt. McKinley, highest North American peak) and the Chugach Range with its 13,000 foot vertical rise bordering the east side of what was to become a metropolitan city.

After Captain Cook, it was Secretary of State William Seward who in 1867 "discovered" Alaska and prompted the United States Government to purchase the territory from the Russians for $7.2 million (about 2 cents per acre). It took 101 years and the first major oil discovery for "Seward's Folly" to be recognized as an asset. The Russian presence can still be seen in Anchorage's historic churches and throughout the surrounding area. St. Nicholas Church in the nearby town of Eklutna was built in the 1830s and is the oldest building within the Anchorage municipality. The Eklutna Historical Park offers a glimpse of a combined Russian Orthodox and Athabascan Indian settlement.

It took more government money to motivate the arrival of the first white pioneers in Anchorage, though once there they needed little encouragement to stay. Beginning in 1914-1915, and hot on the heels of President Woodrow Wilson's authorization of the first federally funded railroad, 2000 Americans flooded the Ship Creek valley looking for federal employment. This massive and undeveloped but resource-rich territory lacked transportation; legislation allocated funds to build a railroad 474 miles in length from Seward to Fairbanks, passing through Anchorage. The city was a coin's toss away from being named "Woodrow" or "Anchorage's Knik" before the 1915 decision of "Anchorage." The first land plots were sold in 1916 for $25 and the Pioneer School was built immediately. Businesses began spreading across the newly organized Fourth Avenue, where they remain today, and residents expanded north and south from the original tent city of Ship Creek.

A truly wilderness city in the beginning years, moose and bear regularly crossed through downtown streets, ignoring their new neighbors but appreciating the varied and accessible food sources of growing vegetables, compost piles and garbage heaps.

Among the founding fathers of the city who arrived in these early years was "Zack" Loussac, who came to Anchorage in 1916 and opened a drug store on Fourth and E downtown. He served three terms as mayor and created the Loussac Foundation, which quickly built the lovely three story Z. J. Loussac Library in midtown. His foundation went on to give grants to the Alaska Pacific University and the University of Alaska, Anchorage schools as well as the Anchorage Community Theatre.

Another founder and baseball fan William Mulcahy found employment as the Alaska Railroad's station auditor assistant and in his spare time helped to establish the Anchorage Baseball League in 1923. He also introduced Little League baseball in 1950, helped establish the city's YMCA and worked ceaselessly to help the Salvation Army. The Mulcahy Park stadium and ball field were named in his honor for his selfless and tireless promotion of recreational organizations and facilities for young people.

Aviation is a more common source of transportation here than anywhere in United States, with six times the average private pilot's licenses and 14 times as many private planes per capita. The Merrill Air Strip averages 800 takeoffs and landings of private planes each day during the summer and was named in honor of one of the city's aviation pioneers, Russel Merrill, who flew many heroic missions. One of these was to an outlying village for a lifesaving medical rescue in 1927. Returning to land in Anchorage at night and without runway lights, people in town edged the airfield, now known as The Delaney Park Strip, listening for the plane's engine. When the engine was heard in the distance, they lit bonfires, flares and old tires and turned on the headlights of their cars edging the runway to help Merrill navigate the landing. The school teacher he saved with this flight recovered from her gunshot wounds while Merrill, several years later at the age of 32, crashed in a mountain pass during a solo flight to Bethel; the pass was later named in his honor.

Since the first arrivals, adventurers and explorers have been drawn to this area more than 2400 driving miles north of Seattle, Washington. The 1400 mile Alaska/Canada highway (ALCAN), built in 1942 as a World War II emergency route, offered an easy, if rather long, access road to Alaska's largest city. From a population of 4229 in 1940 to 11,253 in 1950, the city slowly grew.

In 1954, with Alaska still a Territory, supporters of statehood traveled to Washington D.C. to pound their fists on President Eisenhower's desk and demand that his voiced encouragement of Alaskan statehood be brought to the House Floor, not just announced in private conferences. But the President desired his Republican majority more than he did the addition of this promising Territory with Democratic majority. Unable to sway the President, the route to statehood took a different turn. In 1958, some House and Senate members were persuaded to vote in favor of statehood after the persuaders acquired some information into their private affairs and generously offered to publicize the information broadly; this served to topple the scales at last and Alaska became a state in 1959.

Anchorage's first few years in the new state, remained relatively quiet from a business and resource development standpoint, then it was dealt a devastating blow. In 1964 North America's largest recorded earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, released 10 million times more energy than an atomic bomb and centered in Prince William Sound approximately 60 miles southeast of the city. Amazingly, Anchorage's damage included only nine lost lives although a school fell 30 feet, the Turnagain neighborhood dropped into the Inlet, the brand new downtown JC Penney's store lost a corner of its building, and streetside buildings toppled onto parked cars. Almost immediately after this earthquake, and in spite of the 65 million dollars of damage, the soon-to-be governor Walter Hickle built the Captain Cook Hotel to demonstrate the continued prosperity of Alaska's largest city, which then had a population around 30,000.

The real changes didn't occur until 1968 when the far north Prudhoe Bay began to develop its oil fields. Prudhoe Bay's first year earned $900 million in North Slope oil lease sales. Within two years Alaska's gross products doubled and after three years, the 800-mile Trans-Alaska pipeline was finished. Development projects around the state, including the oil fields in Cook Inlet and nearby Kenai Peninsula, added to the economy and population of Anchorage. The tremendous outpourings of the oil fields led to the formation of the Alaskan Dividend Fund in 1980, decreeing that a portion of the royalties earned by the oil companies is distributed equally among the residents. Beginning in 1983, the distribution of royalties among all residents was $1000 per person. Each year in the fall residents receive their check, which since 1997 has been for more than $1500.

Growing in leaps and bounds between 1970 and 1980 the population soared from 48,000 to 174,000 with rascals, adventurers and (fortunately) business people. Catering to the transient and cash rich, predominantly male population, the red-light district of Spenard flourished with massage parlors, brothels and streets littered with sparkling girls in skimpy outfits. Fortunately this decade also brought investors, serious about Alaska's future, who arrived with money for development. Though the Spenard District has been reformed and the genders are more equally represented, there is an old favorite saying of local women: the odds are good, but the goods are odd.

Anchorage has been the starting point for the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race since 1973. Watched via television and the Internet worldwide, the 1100 mile race travels across two mountain ranges and follows much of the trail used in 1925 to deliver 300,000 life-saving units of diptheria serum to epidemic-threatened Nome. Another major event, the Fur Rendezvous Festival, started as a fur trading event and "fixer of the winter blues," and has since been labeled the Alaskan Mardi Gras bringing in fans from many countries. One of the largest annual winter festivals in the United States, it began in 1936.

Now home to more than a quarter million residents, city planners continue to focus on Anchorage's natural beauty and accommodate its native wildlife. Immediately next to the city, and within the municipality boundary, is the 500,000-acre public access Chugach State Park wilderness area. Throughout the city you will find more than 190 parks, trails and gardens, and they continue to offer forested havens and access to wildlands and wildlife similar to that seen by the first pioneers. Even now, the moose still garden, the bears like to take out the trash, and lately, bald eagles and wolves are showing a fondness for small pets.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 21 25 34 42 54 61 65 64 55 40 27 22
Avg. Low 8 11 18 28 38 47 51 48 41 28 15 10
Mean 15 18 26 36 47 54 58 56 48 35 21 16
Avg. Precip. 0.8 in 0.8 in 0.7 in 0.7 in 0.7 in 1.1 in 1.7 in 2.4 in 2.7 in 2.0 in 1.1 in 1.1 in


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