How did Fourth Avenue become the main street of Anchorage? Some say, “it just happened,” while others say look at its location in relation to the land disposition in 1915.
Many original lot owners lived in “Tent City” and had established businesses in their tents along Ship Creek. The area that was to become Fourth Avenue was the obvious choice for commercial establishments, because it was the closest land to the railroad terminal yards that offered many lots for sale on level ground. While First, Second and Third avenues were actually nearer to those yards, major portions already had been set aside for government purposes.
So Anchorage’s founding fathers designated a large portion of Fourth Avenue as the business district, while two blocks were withheld from public sale that constituted the Federal Reserve and the Municipal Reserve.
The lots then were surveyed and staked, providing for an 80-foot-wide street. According to an article in the Cook Inlet Pioneer, businessmen were encouraged “to visit the townsite and to go over the ground as thoroughly as possible so as to become informed” before the auction began.
When the bidding from the first auction ended, local merchants had paid more for lots along Fourth Avenue than anywhere else in town. The first bids on Fourth Avenue property averaged $548 per lot (almost $13,000 in today’s dollars), whereas the average price for other townsite lots ran about $225 ($5,300).
Corner lots along the center of the avenue, between C and F streets, sold for between $800-$1,000 ($19,000-$23,500), twice the appraised value. A headline in The Seward Weekly Gateway on July 10, 1915, proclaimed, “Highest Anchorage Lot Goes for $1,150.”
On July 17, 1915, the Cook Inlet Pioneer reported: “While perhaps local residents did not anticipate the fancy prices that were paid for lots, it is better that there should have been an eager demand than a lack of interest and consequent cheap prices. The one means faith and optimism and the other doubt and pessimism. And confidence is a large contributing factor that builds a center of population.”
Once lots had been purchased, merchants hurried to build along the new main street. Many businessmen had stockpiled construction supplies and had permanent commercial enterprises up and running in no time.
While some merchants hauled their tent-covered frames up to their lots, others built substantial structures like the Wendler and Lathrop buildings, Brown & Hawkins and the Carroll Building. Soon a bustling town grew up on the plateau and later became the largest city in Alaska.
Here’s an idea for another book, Laurel. Tell us how streets got their names!
I know that the alphabet and numbered streets came about because engineers with the Alaska Railroad laid them out … no imaginations!