Sunday, November 29, 2015

The man who laid down the Anchorage grid

Anchorage townsite, circa 1915
Just thought I'd post this piece written by Charles Wohlforth in which some more details about Andrew Christensen's private life is revealed. Christensen's name has been thrown around quite a bit this year as Anchorage celebrated its 100 year anniversary. For those not familiar, Christensen was a federal official who oversaw the city's founding and was in charge of laying down the street grid for the Anchorage townsite -- today Downtown Anchorage. He also served as the auctioneer as plots on the new townsite went on the market (a reenactment of the auction was held earlier this summer). Of course you may also know him for there is a street that bears his name running from the railroad depot up to 3rd Avenue. But for me at least, what kind of tarnishes him from being a "heroic founding father" of Anchorage was his negative attitude toward the Anchorage area later in his life. While FDR was moving Depression era farmers to the Mat-Su two decades later, Christensen (now back in the States) penned a piece for Time Magazine in which he bitterly referred to the Southcentral region as a wasted and futile effort when it came to economic development and self-sufficiency. His days in Anchorage too were not without controversial moments. He bitterly fought with the Forest Service and plowed forward with the establishment of a red light district within the Chugach National Forest boundaries. He also denied Dena'ina people entry to the townsite, though I suppose this was just seen as business back in 1915 and nothing more.

Something I did not knew until reading this new article was that Christensen lived until 1969, reaching the age of 90. It makes me wonder whether he saw the development taking place in Prudhoe Bay for it was during the late 60s that oil was discovered and the first oil lease auction was held in Anchorage. Did he see what became of the Anchorage townsite? Once a quiet home to cottages and backyards, by the late 60s it became home to new highrises such as the Hill Building (now City Hall), First National Building, Anchorage Westward (now Hilton), and the Captain Cook. All of this development taking place on his grid.

More info on Christensen and the city's founding can be found here.