Historic association helps preserve peninsula's past

Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Of the 10 buildings named to the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation's list of endangered buildings, three are on the Kenai Peninsula.

The Jesse Lee Home in Seward was once the home to 120 orphans, and at one point, Benny Benson, designer of the Alaska flag, also lived there. Today it is vacant and deteriorating.

"Seward already has a lot of strength in its downtown area. Losing a building like Jesse Lee Home would be deteriorating to the feel of downtown," said Sean Boily, chair of the Projects and Issues Committee for the preservation association.

He said he sees that in the future the building can be used as an office building or hotel. He would prefer not to see a building stand vacant once it is restored.

"To me that doesn't really do much for the longevity of the effort," he said. "It needs to have that use, otherwise it will just fall apart."

Boily noted that other buildings in Seward have been on the association's list in the past. St. Peter's Church was one, as was the old Seward train depot. Its place on the list earned it recognition, and in 1998 the Chugach Native Corporation restored it back to its original glory.

As for the western peninsula, two buildings are located in Kasilof. The first is the two-story log winter watchman's house built in the 1890s.

The third peninsula location, the Victor Holm cabin, lies off Cohoe Loop. It has been named as an endangered building for the past three years, said Boily, and is one of the oldest homestead cabins on the peninsula. Also built in the 1890s, the architect and original owner, Holm, left behind many artifacts of early life on the peninsula.

According to Boily, the Holm cabin has never been nominated for the $3,000 grant it is eligible for as a result of its place on the list. He said that's possibly because it still has quite a lot of structural integrity and is not threatening to disappear soon.

"We are finding that this kind of work in Alaska is increasing," Boily said. "We've seen some fairly significant projects come up in the past five years."

This year, 28 properties were nominated for a place on the list.

"Each year we get two or three more than we got in the previous year," he said. "I think there has been a bit of publicity on this larger scale restoration, and people are seeing it as a possibility."

Nominations are not restricted to buildings. City districts and boats also have been chosen by the association.

The organization has existed since 1990 and has grown to more than 250 members both in the state and Outside. Grants are funded through membership dues and specific donations because the association is a nonprofit organization.

To become a member of the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, write to the AAHP at 200 W. 34th Ave., No. 1184, Anchorage, AK 99503.

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