Preserving Juneau History

While attempting a non precision instrument approach to Juneau Municipal Airport at approximately 12:15 pm on September 4, 1971, Alaska Airlines Flight 1866, a Boeing 727, crashed 2500 feet up a slope in the Chilkat Mountains roughly 18.5 miles west of the airport. The NTSB called it “a non survivable incident.” All 104 passengers and seven crew members were killed on impact.

For the next seventeen days, the National Guard Armory in Juneau was used as a temporary morgue.

Afterward, the armory’s floor was replaced, and its walls were repainted. Ivan James, a Tlingit who served in the guard at the time, was asked by his commander to paint murals on the inside walls of the newly cleaned building.DSC_8160.jpgOver the years, as the building has been repurposed, most of the murals have been preserved. When the walls were repainted, frames were built around the artwork as a border against the new wall color.

DSC_8102According to the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council (JAHC) website, “When we moved into the Armory and converted it to the Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC) in 2007, the murals were still there. Mr. James would come by occasionally to talk and to help repair some of the paintings.”

Ivan James passed away in August of 2019, and now, in the face of a global pandemic, the building is being repurposed again, this time to serve as a homeless shelter.

The eventual fate of the building is uncertain, but if JAHC plans to build a new JACC come to fruition, the building will eventually be demolished.

This week, during a 24 hour window between JAHC moving out, and the city moving in to prepare the way for the shelter, I had the opportunity to set up shop and photograph the murals.

It is my intention to find funding to exhibit large prints of the photos as a memorial to Mr. James and the 111 people who died in the crash of flight 1866, and as a reminder of so much storied Juneau history in which this building has played a role.

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What a wonderful opportunity! These murals will live on because you had the foresight to document them. Bravo, Jim!

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