Sunday, October 2, 2016

Government Hill, A Place Apart

In my novel, Secondhand Summer, I place most of the action on Government Hill, a community in Northern Anchorage across Ship Creek from downtown.  I choose this location because it has a distinct character created by it's isolation from the rest of the city and because most of the events that inspired the book took place there.
Sam Barger's Caribou Club

My family moved to Government Hill in 1965 after my dad died, just like in the novel.  We didn't have much money and the apartment buildings on the east end of Hollywood boulevard were cheap and available.  This was also a short commute for my mom who worked at the Anchorage Westward Hotel, which is now the Hilton.
Another structure from Secondhand Summer
Look at Government Hill on google maps and it's pretty obvious that this is a unique neighborhood.  Cutoff from downtown on one side by the port and railroad yards along Ship Creek— guess what we used to call it— and the Air Force base to the North, this tiny wedge of real estate would develop a character all it's own.  When I lived there, it was a strange mix of feeling remote from the rest of town, but crowded apartments and traffic to the Air Force base made it feeling busy and crowded, very inner-city.  The were single family houses here too, mostly small bungalows in clusters along the West end of the community, but also a few big house that looked like they started out as homesteads.  At the top of the hill where Loop Road from downtown enters the community, was and is a cluster of small businesses.  When I lived there it included a drugstore, a small grocery, a burger joint, and a slot car racing venue.  Does anyone remember that fad?
Scene of the Comic book Caper

Slot cars were small electric cars that came in sizes not much bigger than today's Matchbox cars to cars then inches long.  The cars ran on tracks that streamed electricity and gave them power.  The racing loops would have several tracks so cars could race.  Guys would bring their own cars or use the ones at the shop and have races.  Most of the time we didn't have money to race but we would hang around and watch.

I have often wondered how Government Hill came to be.  Why didn't the Air Force take that area too the government formed the base.  I'm guessing that the community was well established when the base was built during World War II.   Wikipedia has good description of how it all came to be.  (wiki/Government_Hill,_Anchorage) It seems the Alaska Engineering Commission had built some homes there and created a community that was preserved when the Air Force took over the extensive farmland to the north.  As in 1965, the modern Government Hill is a distinct and somewhat isolated community with a proud sense of Identity, so it has a  presence on Facebook and active groups fighting to preserve the integrity of the area.

The New Government Hill 2016
I drove through Government Hill recently  and was glad to see that the apartment building I lived in was gone, replaced with attractive homes and condos with a view of downtown.  The "Caribou Club" is still there and so is the the strip mall where Sam and his partners stole the comic books.  There is still a feeling of being close to Anchorage, but not in it though the community seems better off than when Sam and his partners roamed the streets.  I saw boys there on bikes that could have been Sam and Billy.  Some things never change for there will always be restless boys trying to grow up.

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