First Anchorage mayor faced weighty issues

During the summer of 1917, 18 blocks of 12-foot concrete sidewalks and two blocks of 6-foot sidewalks were constructed in downtown Anchorage. The townsite at that time had more than 1,349 buildings, five churches, electric lights and telephone systems.
During the summer of 1917, 18 blocks of 12-foot concrete sidewalks and two blocks of 6-foot sidewalks were constructed in downtown Anchorage. The townsite at that time had more than 1,349 buildings, five churches, electric lights and telephones.

With all the recent talk about the nation’s leading lawmakers, and politics in general, I started thinking about the early movers and shakers in Alaska history. They had huge problems to deal with, too.

For instance, Anchorage’s first mayor, elected on Nov. 29, 1920, bore the responsibility of governing a railroad town after five years of Alaska Engineering Commission management ended.

When Judge Leopold David became Anchorage’s mayor, he helped the new city council develop ordinances to provide law and order. The laws included establishing a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for youth under 16, setting a speed limit of 8 mph in town and outlawing spitting in public places.

Judge David, an immigrant from Germany, came to Alaska in 1904 with the U.S. Army and served as a pharmacist’s assistant in the Hospital Corp. at Fort Egbert. After his discharge a year later, the 24-year-old settled in Seward, married Anna Karasek and managed the Seward Drug Co. Like many pharmacists of the time, his basic medical knowledge earned him the title “Dr. David” among the townspeople.

Ever public service minded, he served as the U.S. Marshal at Susitna Station in 1909 and also as a U.S. Commissioner at Knik when he moved there in 1910. It’s believed he studied law while living in Knik and served as ex-officio probate judge.

David continued his role as Commissioner and District Recorder after he arrived at Ship Creek in 1915 and affixed his signature to almost every land transaction in the new community.

Documents for land use for Anchorage’s 1915 townsite stated the property was not to be “used for the purpose of manufacturing, selling or otherwise disposing of intoxicating liquors, or for gambling, prostitution or any unlawful purpose.” However, those vices flourished.

Thirty or 40 women “entertained” construction workers in tents and shacks southeast of town, but they were forbidden to mingle on the main street with the townspeople.

The mayor and Anchorage City Council tried to curtail gambling by adopting a “curtain ordinance,” which required an unobstructed view from the street into “pool halls, cigar stores, soft-drink emporiums, and other businesses of a similar character.”

The problem of alcohol and bootlegging proved more difficult to address. Although prohibition had been adopted in 1918, David found it virtually impossible to keep alcohol from flowing in the frontier town.

After two terms as mayor, David, who’d passed the Bar of the state of Washington, turned his attention to his law practice with L.V. Ray. But at 43, heart disease took his life. He died on Nov. 22, 1924.

The city’s first mayor was buried in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, where his headstone erroneously identified him as “Physician and Surgeon” rather than “Attorney at Law.”

Many stories about early Anchorage fill the pages of Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Three.

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