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The Alaska State Museum was built to store history. Now it's become history.
Final Friday: Alaskans say goodbye to the Alaska State Museum 030514 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly The Alaska State Museum was built to store history. Now it's become history.

Michael Penn | Juneau Empire

Juneau residents gather at the Alaska State Museum for a Final Friday party on Friday. The museum is being torn down this summer to be replaced by the State Libraries, Archives and Museum building currently under construction.


Michael Penn Photos | Juneau Empire

Above, The Alaska State Museum opened its doors for one last party before being torn down this summer to be replaced by the State Libraries, Archives and Museum building currently under construction.


Michael Penn Photos | Juneau Empire

Juneau residents gathered at the Alaska State Museum for a Final Friday party.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Story last updated at 3/5/2014 - 2:01 pm

Final Friday: Alaskans say goodbye to the Alaska State Museum

The Alaska State Museum was built to store history. Now it's become history.

On Friday, hundreds of Alaskans thronged the museum's galleries and climbing, spiral ramp to say farewell to a building and place that has made local work for 50 years.

"It's bittersweet to me," said Alaska Sen. Dennis Egan, who shared a short story as part of a brief presentation during the museum's Final Friday party. "Many precious things happened here."

For Egan, the most precious was listening to a talk his mother gave about Alaska pioneers and first ladies.

Everyone at the museum had their own precious moment. For many, it was an exhibit or time spent with family. Others had different stories, befitting the museum's status as a building that didn't just preserve history - it made it.

Grace Elliott first visited the Alaska State Museum in 1980, for the fifth annual Juneau Folk Festival.

"I had just gotten here," she said.

Last year, Elliot emceed the 39th folk festival's first day. She'll be back for the 40th festival this year as one of the event's strongest supporters.

"It was only after a number of years that I looked back and saw the seed that was planted here," she said.

The folk fest isn't the only event to get its start at the museum. There have been countless receptions, parties, fundraisers, classes and ceremonies in the white-paneled building on Whittier Street since it opened in 1968.

When the state broke ground for the museum in 1967, it was part of the Alaska Purchase Centennial Commission, which planned more than 40 buildings across the state to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase.

The museum's roots date back to 1900, when Congress created the Historical Library and Museum for the District of Alaska.

Congress neglected to give the museum a building, and it was homeless until 1920 when it was housed in Juneau's Arctic Brotherhood building.

On Friday, Peter Freer recalled going to the museum's previous location. "I still think of this as the new museum," he said.

Freer was 19 when the current museum was dedicated. Like many others on Friday, he said the museum has served its purpose. "I'm so happy to see the new building up," he said.

Ralph "Animal" Austin agreed. He loves the museum's bald eagle tree but said it's time for change. "I hate to see this place go, but I think it's going to be great to see the new museum."

Before the doors opened for the museum's Final Friday, chief curator Bob Banghart had his eyes on the future, too. On Monday, deconstruction crews will arrive and start disassembling exhibits and artifacts.

The museum's basement collection has been secured, and now it's time for exhibits on display to go.

By April, the storage space in the new building will be ready for habitation. Soon after, the white walls of the old museum will start to come down. One of the engraved wall panels will be kept - the others will go.

That leaves only pictures and the memories of long-time museum patrons as well as people like Mila Saldivar.

For her, the museum's last day was her first. "This is my first time (in the museum)," she said. "I know it's the last day, so I wanted to see. Now I can see what everybody was talking about."


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