Saturday, August 06, 2011

Anchorage, Alaska in the 1970's.

This is the Anchorage I remember.  Before the oil money started to pour through the city streets, and we learned that cash was the key to happiness, while trading away our soul in exchange for strip malls and cookie cutter housing developments.

4th Avenue, at that time the heart of the city.

Seedy bars, adult book stores, and houses of worship were often seen only blocks apart on the same street.
Pre-fab housing Alaska style.

Did you know Anchorage had a Drive-in theater?

Two actually, and in the summer it was too light out to see a damn thing on the screen, and in the winter we froze our asses off while trying to make out the actor's faces through the haze of drifting exhaust emanating from our idling automobiles.

Spenard Road, where massage parlors lined the street all in a row, and the prostitutes too nasty to get jobs in them waved at you as you drove home from school.

I delivered the Anchorage Daily News, every morning at 6:00 a.m. to this one.

This is essentially what every neighborhood I lived in looked like back then.

I have to say that the city is a whole hell of a lot tidier these days, but there certainly was something raw and untamed about the Anchorage of the 1970's. Come to think of it, most of US were raw and untamed back then as well. 

To see many more great photos, just click here.


  1. Dis Gusted4:16 AM

    thankful I grew up in New England. It looked like Norman Rockwell paintings for real.

    I love the views of the mountains and lakes in Alaska. The animals are amazing - yet we hear stories about the grizzlies that are scarier than Grimm fairy tales.

    Thank you for posting the pictures Gryph - it's nice to see real now and then.

  2. Anonymous4:36 AM

    Wow, those pictures bring back memories Gryph! I was stationed at Elmendorf (first tour) 72-75, and loved every minute of it. Second tour, 78-83, fantastic! Moved to Anchorage in 97 and moved outside in 2010. Good times!

    1. Anonymous7:08 AM

      Wow! I was assigned to the T-33s at Elmendorf Apr'76-'78 and again Mar '83-'86. One of the best kept secrets in the Air Force for years. Really good times for sure.

  3. LoveAndKnishesFromBrooklyn4:48 AM

    Great documentation of the days before the Walmarting of America. You can get lost in some of the photos; some are just a hoot! Wish those "simpler" days would return, but we had issues then as well that time tends to blur for us. Love it, Gryphen--thanks for sharing!!

  4. Anonymous4:48 AM

    I'm the same age as you are, Gryphen, and grew up in a small town in NM that had lot's of character. My town grew into a city with strip malls and sub-divisions with houses that all looked the same. It lost it's soul. I do not want to go back to those days for many reasons, but I do miss the days when the United States economy didn't rely on buying shit we didn't really need. Some where around the mid-80's, life in the U.S. really changed. We were manipulated into buying more and more "stuff". Then, the manufacturing jobs for that "stuff" went to other countries. Life has changed for the better in many ways, but somewhere along the way, we lost our way. Is it too late for us?

  5. Cool pictures, Gryphen. I didn't make it up to Alaska until the 80's. The drive in reminds me of the 2 we used to have around here. We get lots of rain and fog, so when you entered the drive in they gave you a clunky metal windshield hood for the rain. There was no cure for the fog. It would roll in during the movie until you couldn't see the screen. I miss drive ins.

  6. I have mixed feelings about the photos, Gryph. I see a simple small town in a great wilderness setting. I also see why Alaska towns attract the unsophisticated 'white trash', Palin's base.

    1. Anonymous12:09 PM

      Pretty guttsy calling us early Alaskans white trash. Good thing your piss ass is hiding behind that monitor.

    2. You sound as if you speak from experience. Are you as trashy as you sound? Certainly catty.

  7. Anonymous6:30 AM

    Thanks for the pics Gryphen.

  8. Anonymous6:46 AM

    dsymre.... Please do not equate people who are poor and live in the country as white trash. That is so unfair.

  9. Anonymous7:16 AM

    A big difference between "then" and "now" is uniqueness. In the 70s there were a lot of one-of-a-kind shops. Neighborhoods grew out of necessity. There's a need for a hardware store so someone opens one. Someone else opens a restaurant with unique menu items. It was much more bottom-up. Someone earlier mentioned the Walmarting of America. Very good description! What we have now is more top-down. Chain stores come in and supply all of the shops and restaurants. Big name builders come in a build rows and rows of identical houses in various towns and cities.

    Two years ago I, with some others, drove from upper state NY - Michigan area to Washington State and last year we drove from the same start point to Maine via MA and RI. It was sometimes a challenge to remember what state I was in! We occasionally stopped at a mall to pick up supplies and the mall layout and stores were nearly identical to the malls at home. It was really easy to forget where I was!

    Of course, there was some uniqueness as well (thankfully), but definitely not as much as when I used to make those same trips decades ago.

  10. I moved to Juneau when it was rough and tumble too. I like some of the changes made over the years (We don't have to choose from wilted vegetables and borderline sour milk at the grocery store these days), but I yearn to "move to Alaska" occasionally.

    (You can still see the real Alaska from here...but not Russia)

  11. Anonymous7:29 AM

    Ha - takes me back!! Lived on the peninsula in the 70's and Sunday trips to Anchorage were a regular so we could shop the sales at Longs Drugs and grab a meal at La Mex!! Even saw the revered Jay Hammond once at La Mex - oh the days!!!

  12. Anonymous7:57 AM

    Great photos and some brought back memories as I worked downtown at the bank (FNBA) from 1969 to 1979.
    A very different Anchorage than that of today.

  13. Anonymous11:20 AM

    My dad owned several taxi cabs in the early 70s in Anchorage--we moved to Wasilla in 76 and I attended Wasilla Jr High with Sara Heath. (I should send you a scan of her jr. high picture-biiig glasses).

    But I remember those early 70s in Anchorage when organized crime was moving in--my dad knew all the madams in town. Cab drivers always know the good brothels and the cheap ones.

    I enjoy your site. We left Wasilla in 78 and moved to the lower 48. I was really sad when I read that Palin had chased out the city librarian. She was a great lady and worked super hard to get kids to read. I've disliked Palin ever since learning what she did at the library.

    1. Anonymous12:16 PM

      I remember drinking pitchers of beer (out of the pitcher we all ordered our own) down at Chilkoot Charleys.We would come in to town from Wasilla to party.

  14. Anonymous11:28 AM

    The little place on Spenard Rd. you delivered the paper to, my family lived there in the mid 60's. Of course it was a tri-plex then. It has gone full circle to a church and now a pizza joint. I went to Central Jr. High then.
    Thank for the blast.

  15. mudkitten11:55 AM

    Wow. Strong mixture of revulsion and nostalgia when looking at these. I arrived in Anchorage in '81 and thought it was the ugliest place I'd ever seen. Twenty years later I was pretty happy to leave, so I am surprised at the nostalgia. I followed the link and looked at the whole set. Lots of laughs and memories. Thanks.

    1. Anonymous12:18 PM

      Thats cause you are one of those yuppie types. Never will fit in on the Last Frontier

  16. Anonymous12:28 PM

    Thanks for the memories Gryph.... it was a simpler time for sure...The Mom and Pop businesses, the living with what we had because we had too...I still remember my grandfather mailing boxes of veggies to us in the summer LOL and even going thru the postal system they were fresher than what could be bought! I miss those days...

  17. Anonymous1:31 PM

    I loved Anchorage in the '70s. I moved here in 1975, but had visited my folks (who had moved here in 1969) in 1972 and '73. It was like the Wild West back then. :) Thanks for the memories.


  18. nswfm3:18 PM

    Anonymous said...

    I'm the same age as you are, Gryphen, and grew up in a small town in NM that had lot's of character. My town grew into a city with strip malls and sub-divisions with houses that all looked the same. It lost it's soul. I do not want to go back to those days for many reasons, but I do miss the days when the United States economy didn't rely on buying shit we didn't really need. Some where around the mid-80's, life in the U.S. really changed. We were manipulated into buying more and more "stuff". Then, the manufacturing jobs for that "stuff" went to other countries. Life has changed for the better in many ways, but somewhere along the way, we lost our way. Is it too late for us?

    4:48 AM
    Wasn't that when that Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous came out? I think that and Reagan was the beginning of the end for this country. Ketchup being a vegetable and all, you know.

  19. It's notable that the only foreign car is the yellow VW. Bet that ain't so now.

    1. Anonymous12:19 PM

      The foreign cars all rusted to nothing up there.

  20. Anonymous6:07 PM

    Thanks for the beautiful photos and the link! It's amazing to see how much things change over time. My father in law has a huge collection of photos of his travels in Alaska, and the seventies were a blurr, literally. He switched to the polaroid instant camera, and all those photos seemed to wash out and get blurry as time passes. The film and slides he took are still immaculate and crisp, but in no way the quality of these.

    A few years back, we took our kids to see where we grew up, but the charachter is just gone with all the wallmarts and homogenous looking commercial buildings. We could have just stayed home and had the same expereience. Kind of bittersweet, you can't really go back again, and that's what makes photos like these treasures.

  21. Anonymous8:05 PM

    Thanks for the photos and the link to more photos.

    Wow, the city really changed after my only visit there in 1967, when I was ten years old.

    I only spent a week there. Outside of Anchorage, I got to Portage Glacier and the Alyeska ski resort.

    I still recall flying into Anchorage, daylight (summer) and being able to see so much as it wasn't cloudy that day. That impression still lingers with me. Perhaps as it was only my second flying experience. A Northwest Orient flight nonstop from ORD to ANC.

    As I recall, the skyline then only had a few tall buildings. The (then called) Anchorage Westward Hotel was one.

    I also was fascinated (still) by the quake of 1964, my Mom took my brother and me out to earthquake park.

    PS ... also otherwise, thanks for your website. Paul - Minnesota

  22. Anonymous2:48 PM

    Wow Gryph, those pictures bring back memories. I was born and raised in Anchorage and have so many memories of that era. I remember cruising Northern Lights (two-way street before Benson came in and ruined our fun :) It was like American Graffiti. Brown's Drive In for those yummy fries and rootbeer, Alma's Deli, wow lots of great restaurants back then. It didn't matter if we could see the movie at the drive-ins because of the light..we were there to socialize and go from car to car. I remember going to the Fancy Moose, RonDon's, Chilkoot Charlies, all the local bars (I just came of drinking age in the 70's!). Then we would all go out to breakfast at..that pancake place off Spenard Road about 5 a.m. when the bars closed. Next day it was LaMex. There were still "Happy Hours" everywhere back then to go to after work. (hmm..lots of alcohol related events as I remember!) I worked downtown and it's true, it was a real mix. I worked at a bank and we'd find bums sleeping in the elevator when we'd arrive in the morning. No matter what kind of car trouble you had, someone ALWAYS stopped to help you..true Alaskan pioneer spirit. Anchorage today is like a foreign country, doesn't feel like part of Alaska anymore. Except for the beautiful mountains on the skyline..that will never change!

    Just Club Paris still around? They had the best filet mignon! My parents used to go there in the 50's and it was still around in the 70's.

    This all makes me homesick..I'm living out of state now..but Alaska will always be home.

  23. Anonymous3:55 PM

    The best times of my life were in Anchorage in the 70s. Your pictures remind me of of how much Anchorage was the last of the wild west. I lived in the basement of the Foxy Lady and built and ran The Booby Trap and Wild Cherry in the 70s. An ex of mine owned the Barbary Coast on Spenard and I had a big time 456 game for a short time. There never was a shortage of fast women.

  24. Anonymous11:35 PM

    I grew up in the heart Spenard in the late '60's and left in '99. It was all that, and so much more. Regular businesses, mixed in with whore houses, bars, after hours joints, gambling dens, drug houses, street walkers, random gunfire through the nghts as guys let off steam. Half wild and half civilized. Was a great time to live there.

  25. Anonymous5:05 AM

    to those of use from the 1950's through today. thank you. You, along with GrowingUPAnchorage have brought back my childhood. Born and raised in Mt. View (wasn't Anchorage at the time) it was so wonderful. The saying was as long as you didn't scare the moose, no one cared. From the quake (64) to the horrible 70's of pipeline boom. Nothing quite beat Anchorage. I still fondly recall Mt. View (Caribou's, A&W Root Beer with Lions, Piggly Wiggly store.) I"m still attempting to keep stories going about East Anchorage. I've a real interest in a true history of the area (homesteading, citations, etc.). JANA at GUA is doing us all a favor.


  26. Anonymous1:58 PM

    where was the white spot located in the 70s

  27. You wouldn't happen to have a closer up picture of Woolworths on 4th and F street would you? Looking for a shot that shows an office above Woolworths with "Thomas T Walker Account" stencilled on the window.

  28. I've been in 5 of the places shown during that timeframe...OK, 6.

  29. I was a transplant but grew up in Anchorage in the 60s and loved it! Many of my friends' parents laid the foundations upon which Anchorage was built. I never saw the town as being undesirable as some comments here suggest. Just wondering if anyone has a photo of the lions at Brown's A and W drive-in. Thank you so much for this post.

  30. Anonymous11:42 AM

    I lived in anchorage in the 70's thru 2005. The neighborhoods did not all look like this but some yes. I lived over in Turnagain in a beautiful area and also on the hillside off Upper O'Malley. Parts of the city were undesireable as in ANY city. Anchorage was beautuful then and still is now.


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