It used to be that paying for sex was not that big of a deal. Right here, in Southeast Alaska.
Gold, girls and gardening 032713 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly It used to be that paying for sex was not that big of a deal. Right here, in Southeast Alaska.

Photo By Amanda Compton / Capital City Weekly

Karl and Rosemary Klupar stand outside their business, The Historic Skagway Inn. The bed and breakfast was used as a brothel during the gold rush days in the late 1800s.

Photo By Amanda Compton / Capital City Weekly

The guest rooms in The Historic Skagway Inn are named after the working girls who used to inhabit them during the Inn's days as a brothel in the gold rush.

Click Thumbnails to View
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Story last updated at 3/27/2013 - 2:16 pm

Gold, girls and gardening

It used to be that paying for sex was not that big of a deal. Right here, in Southeast Alaska.

Men wanted it, women needed money. Wham, bam, thank you Lottie, Hattie, Flo...and what was her name, the one with the black fishnet stockings? If you were a man in Skagway in 1898, you could pick a woman by looking up into the windows of the second story of a building on the corner of Broadway and 7th Avenue.

Over a century later, you can still look up into the second story of the same building. You can still pick a woman, but just in name. The Historic Skagway Inn - a bed and breakfast in what was once known as "Paradise Alley" of Skagway's Red Light District - rents their rooms under the names of the original girls who turned their tricks there: Alice, Birdie, Cleo, Flo, Dottie, Essie, Hattie, Grace, Kitty and Ida.

In researching the gold rush days for her book, "Sin and Grace, a Historical Novel of the Skagway, Alaska Sporting Wars," Catherine Holder Spude located hand-written receipts from the Inn's premises in state archives that had the actual women's names, verifying their authenticity.

The Inn is currently owned and operated by the husband and wife duo Karl and Rosemary Klupar. They have just started their 14th season, opening for the Buckwheat Ski Classic. They close after the last cruise ship leaves the city's docks.

"From what we gather, the city was moving the prostitutes further and further north until they were pushed out of town," Karl said. "This property was established as the Red Light district in 1902.

Karl said that it was the temperance movement that was effective in pushing the women out of town.

The inn has been through numerous transitions, developments and owners.

From what Karl has found through ownership records, a local man purchased the original building in 1908. His family operated the building as a boarding house for more than 40 years.

"After they retired, the next people that owned it turned it into the Skagway Inn, in the early 1950s," Karl said.

The building changed hands at least four more times before the Klupars bought it in February of 1998. For licensing purposes they changed the business name from The Skagway Inn to the Historic Skagway Inn.

The Klupars operate their business in a yin and yang fashion. Rosemary is spunky, vivacious and carefree.

"My family's motto is, 'Often wrong, but never in doubt,'" Rosemary said. "You just don't ever think that it's not going to happen. You just assume that everything will work out."

She is the creative force behind the retail stores the couple also operates, Lynch and Kennedy, and the more gregarious one, flighting around and eagerly sharing and soaking up exchanges with her guests.

"Karl is the systems guy," she said. "He's very operationally-oriented, and he's a pretty linear thinker. I bring the opposite. He's not as social, I'm more creative. You have to have two sides of the coin to make things work, or hire someone to be something you aren't. He's such a structured person and I'm so not."

Karl's background is in hotel administration, in which he holds a degree from Cornell University.

"I didn't know it was going to be a career," he said. "It was fun putting on functions, I knew I liked that."

Rosemary's background is in art.

"Something productive, you know, something I could get a solid job in," she said jokingly.

After he finished serving in the Army in 1982, Karl was looking for a job.

"The guy who was running the Klondike Hotel flew me up and hired me to be the food and beverage manager and I've been in Skagway ever since," Karl said.

That was in February of 1983.

"It was like The Shining," he said. "It was 10 below zero and the place was half-closed. The lobby was covered in sheets, the wind was howling."

Rosemary also came up in 1983, for the summer. She was working on a graduate degree in photography in Chicago, and took a summer job with the National Park Service as a seasonal ranger.

"I just wanted to see the world starting with the A's," she said.

That summer, Rosemary needed an extra job. She met Karl and asked if he would hire her as a bartender. He didn't.

"He told me I could be a dishwasher," she said. "Then he fired me."

But Karl had a car and a TV, popular items in the early 1980s.

"He had the geekiest glasses, and parted his hair in the wrong spot," Rosemary said. "I fixed that."

Rosemary returned for a second summer, after which they became engaged.

Karl was promoted to the general manager of the Westmark. As was protocol at the time, the general manager's wife ran the associated gift store, something for which Rosemary found she had a knack.

"I did pretty well," she said. "(The store) made a lot of money in the 500 square foot gift shop. I'm really shocked in hindsight at how much I sold."

Her talents came in handy. The National Park Service renovated dilapidated historic buildings, and the Klupars put in a bid for the Lynch and Kennedy dry goods store. They won the bid in 1993.

"It took about 10 seconds to figure out what to do," Karl said. "I resigned."

They lived on the second story of the store while developing it into a now successful retail shop and starting their family.

"Back then, our mission was to get (the tourists) out of the area before they died," Karl said.

"The only people who could afford a cruise were retired," Rosemary added. "Now they're much younger. It used to be people's last trip of their lives. Now 10 or 12 people can go on a cruise; you don't have to see uncle Harry besides at dinner."

After their retail store was up and running and they had purchased the Inn, they began two large renovations. They redesigned the layout of the building, swapping the location of a small retail store adjacent to the Inn with a small restaurant that had previously been developed, and also expanded the restaurant. The couple named it Olivia's, after their first child (of five). They also re-plumbed the building so some of the rooms had private bathrooms.

The second remodel removed the two guest rooms located on the ground floor and put a lobby into that space.

"Every building in Skagway has some kind of history," Karl said. "The contractor found two cards, an Ace and a Jack, behind the stud when they were taking down the oldest part of the Inn. The walls were stuffed with newspaper and horse hair."

The Klupars currently have around 12 staff members, including Karl's mom, and they developed the yard into a garden.

"It's a kitchen garden," Karl said. "A lot of herbs, edible flowers and vegetables. We have enough lettuce greens to make it work, enough mint for mojitos, enough flowers for garnishes and rosemary, thyme and chives."

They added apple trees, and began utilizing the four rhubarb plants already on the premises for desserts they serve at the restaurant.

Karl began a garden gourmet tour, marketed at cruise ship passengers. He buys fresh seafood and has the tour participants go out on a garden scavenger hunt for items he prepares in a live demonstration.

"I give them a quick tour of the garden then they get a list of items to collect," Karl said. "The kitchen cleans them, but then we have a cooking stage, with a flat screen TV on the wall that comes out and I stand behind it and do the cooking. When they can actually see what's going on they get excited. They get a handout of the recipes."

Rosemary helps prepare the breakfasts for the Inn guests and uses her creative talents for the two retail stores.

"I do all the buying all the product development," Rosemary said. "I do the displays, the windows, the advertising. At the Inn I do the decorating."

The couple work hard. Really hard. They deal with accounting, tend to the garden, feed their guests and customers and direct their staff. They're part of a city tour highlighting the spicier places from its - quite literally - golden age.

"People think that a (bed and breakfast) owner is standing around holding a cup of coffee," Rosemary said. "Bed and breakfasts are not for the faint of heart."

One thing that Karl and Rosemary both find rewarding is the interaction with their clientele.

"You get to meet a lot of really fun people," Rosemary said. "We've had people that have hiked the Chilkoot trail five or six times that stay with us. Twenty-five percent of our business is repeat business. Of that, about 20 percent are Alaskan or Yukon (residents)."

Karl agreed.

"Staying at a historic place is more fun," he said. "If you're going to go backpacking in Yosemite you can stay at the Holiday Inn, but if you're into the history and (like to) imagine what things were like during the gold rush, it's nice to stay at a place that has the same history; it makes their trip more fun."

Every day is different, Karl said.

"I love that my day is so diverse," Rosemary said. "When you own a small business you do everything. I like the challenge. You have to do your marketing, write your business plans, your budgets, accounting, displays, hiring, product development. It's very interesting. You get your finger in every single pot."

Amanda Compton is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at