Z.J. Loussac was broke when he arrived in the United States from his native Russia in 1901. The 18-year-old boy, a refugee from the Tsar’s secret police, landed in New York City and found a job running errands for a drug store in a Russian neighborhood. He worked there long enough to learn basic English – enough so he could understand the glowing tales he heard of Klondike gold.
When a man emptied large nuggets from his pockets to prove his stories of Yukon wealth, it was enough for Loussac. Since the streets of New York weren’t paved with gold, as so many immigrants had been led to believe, Loussac decided to go where he thought he could pick up gold by the handful.
Twice he sought riches and failed – once in 1903 and again in 1907. The North drew him back again, though, and in 1916, he landed in a new tent city on Cook Inlet. The third time proved to be the charm for Zachariah J. Loussac, for he got in on the ground floor of the town that would grow to be Alaska’s largest city.
He soon made a reputation for himself as an up and coming merchant. He opened a drug store and advertised it as having “what you want when you want it.” He put in a writing desk and supplied it with paper and envelopes free to anyone who wanted to write a letter home.
Each succeeding year proved better than the last for Loussac. By 1939, he was out of debt for the first time since 1901. The mushroom growth of Anchorage during World War II was the turning point in his business – he found money “rolling in by the bushel baskets!”
He then threw himself into a civic career and was elected to three terms as mayor of Anchorage. Ben Boeke, who was city clerk during Loussac’s terms, said he was a “progressive mayor,” who pressed for street paving and utility expansion.
In 1946, Loussac set up the Loussac Foundation, funding it with half his wealth, which he dedicated to the recreational, cultural, scientific or educational activities in the Anchorage area. It was hailed as the “most generous gesture ever made by a living Alaskan toward his fellow Alaskans.”
“I hope it will set an example for others who came here to Alaska and accumulated some wealth,” Loussac said. “I hope it will encourage them to keep the wealth here and make Alaska a better place to live.”
Loussac died in March 1965 at the age of 82.
Read about him in the library that carries his name.
Yes, George, he really was an amazing man. My aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson, was the Alaska reference librarian at that library when it was located in downtown Anchorage during the 1960s-1970s.