The Alaska Town So Small (Almost) Everyone Lives Under the Same Roof

alaskaAlaska folk, I’ve always imagined, are pretty hardy folk made of some pretty stern stuff, although I admit that my knowledge of Alaska’s residents is mostly gleaned from Sarah Palin, Northern Exposure, and whatever I remember from U.S. History classes.

So when I heard about a town in Alaska whose residents mostly all live in one apartment building, I realized that they’re way stronger than I even imagined — because most of the 200 residents that call Whittier, Alaska, home live in the 14-story building called Begich Towers.

Can you imagine living under the same roof as the entire town? I mean, NextDoor is bad enough when we have side yard and privacy fences between us. Can you imagine how insane the NextDoor fights would be if your primary complaint is that you can smell the Mayor’s burned popcorn and hear the police chief’s Ramones when he plays it too loud?

And in case you are unaware, Alaska is cold. Super cold. So you’re inside with everyone because it’s too damned cold to be hanging out.

“Whittier gets almost 198 inches of rain each year, making it the wettest city in Alaska,” the Anchorage Daily News said. “If it’s not raining, it’s snowing. The average annual snowfall is 258 inches.”

And if you think you can just leave and go to Target to escape them, hahahahahaha no. The store is in the building, which used to be army barracks and was built in the 1950s and turned over to the public in the 1970s. The laundry is in the building. The doctor is in the building. The police station, church, convenience store, and school? Also in the building.

It seems the only things that aren’t in the building is a hotel and the city hall, and one of those things is recent.

“Finding your way to the remote town isn’t easy,” this 2015 NPR story said. “You can get to Whittier by sea or take a long, one-lane tunnel through the mountains, which at any given time only runs one way.”

Courtesy the Alaska.org

Courtesy the City of Whittier

That tunnel is also closed at night, so if you’re there at sundown, you’re stuck. But on the plus side, you have great views of Whittier Harbor.

Thankfully, a nice lady named June has a bed and breakfast in the top two floors of the building, where the condos are kitted out nicely and you have gorgeous views of both the harbor and the Chugach National Forest, the second largest in the United States.

But this Gizmodo story also brings out some intriguing points — like the way the community is pretty much forced by circumstance to work together, or it won’t function.

“In a town of Whittier’s size, it really does take everyone to keep the town functioning. A few residents work on the railroad, some monitor the tunnel, but for the most part, people are employed by the City of Whittier itself,” the article said. “Whether it’s snow clearance, building maintenance, city functions, or the school, for those who stay year-round, Whittier itself is their livelihood.”

“Because the town is so small, everyone has to play a vital role to keep this self-contained organism alive,” it continued. “Without the high school teacher, without the volunteer EMTs,—even without the guys sitting at the bar, drinking from 9 am to closing—Whittier’s social and physical infrastructure just wouldn’t quite work.”

So would you live in a 14-story town? What about a visit to Whittier to stay in June’s condos?

2 Comment

  • Great story about Whittier, Alaska. My brother-in-law ( Dan Blair) is the mayor of Whittier!
    The tunnel access in and out of town keeps the crime rate at almost nothing. Seems criminals can’t easily escape.
    And residents like to brag that “It’s prettier in Whittier”.

    • How awesome, Lydia — and small world, right?
      I came across Whittier when I had a bout of insomnia last week, and went down a wormhole. I bet the views from June’s condos are spectacular!