Julie St. Louis/Turnagain Times
Al and Jill Greer of Homer, helped to build the Roundhouse in 1960, pose in front of the restored museum and interpretive center.
Julie St. Louis/Turnagain Times
Children attending the newly restored Roundhouse Museum look at a three dimensional relief map of Glacier Valley.
By Julie St. Louis
Turnagain Times Correspondent
On Saturday, April 26, amidst falling snow on Mt. Alyeska, benefactors and members of the Girdwood Inc. Board of Directors cut the ribbon to officially open Alaska’s highest and roundest museum.
The Roundhouse at Alyeska is actually an octagon-shaped structure built in 1960 that appears round when viewed from afar, and is now fully restored to house an upper interpretive center and museum and a lower ski patrol outpost.
Community leaders who supported the restoration, and several sourdoughs who helped build the Roundhouse from its foundation up, were present for Saturday’s invitation-only event. The first group to check in for the event was the Greer family.
“I helped build that,” proudly announced Al Greer, when asked his name. Greer, 86, and his wife Jill accompanied by other family members, made the drive from Homer to be a part of the opening ceremony.
Bill Carlson, an independent contractor who worked with the late Eddie Gendzwill to build the Roundhouse foundation and many well-known establishments and homes in Girdwood, also reflected on the original construction.
“I can remember riding in the big tool bucket, or hiking up the mountain daily to work on the foundation of the roundhouse,” he said. “In those days there was no chair-lift or tram to get us up or down from the worksite, and we’d run down the mountain at the end of the day.”
Carlson was on hand for the festivities along with Assemblyman Chris Birch, former Olympian Rosie Fletcher, and about 100 other Friends of the Roundhouse.
The effort to restore the Roundhouse has been a 10 year-plus endeavor for Girdwood residents and business leaders. When it looked like the Roundhouse was going to be destroyed by then resort owner, Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, because it was no longer being used and in need of repair, Chris Von Imhof, former vice president of Alyeska Resort, rallied fellow Girdwood citizens to save the building. He and others formed Girdwood Inc., a non-profit organization created for educational and charitable purposes in the Girdwood area, making the Roundhouse its first project.
One of the first steps Girdwood Inc. took to help secure the Roundhouse’s future was applying for and obtaining historic designation for its significance in Alaska’s development as a ski and outdoor recreation destination. Since its 2003 listing on the National Register of Historic Places work has proceeded steadily to prepare the grand old structure for this debut. Renovation was made possible through a combination of public and private money, including the Rasmuson and Atwood Foundations, the National Park Service, HUD, Turnagain Arm National Heritage Corridor Communities Association, the Eddie Gendzwill estate and private donors.
“We are proud to help with the restoration and the historic designation,” said Ed Rasmuson, board chairman of the Rasmuson Foundation. “Three generations of our family have enjoyed skiing on this mountain. We were here when it was built, and we are glad we could be here now as part of its future.”
Judith Bittner, Alaska’s state historic preservation officer also spoke to the attendees reminiscing about having been in high school when Alyeska first opened. She commented that, “Spring was the best skiing then and it’s still the best skiing now.” She also read a statement from U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, who was unable to attend. His letter congratulated and thanked Girdwood Inc. and Girdwood 2020 on the opening of the Roundhouse and stated that, “this is an historic moment for Girdwood, and I am happy to be a part of it.”
It took $2 million to restore the Roundhouse to its former and a bit newer glory. The Roundhouse will exhibit the history of the Girdwood Valley and promote the areas ecological uniqueness and ideal location for outdoor sporting enthusiasts.
The focal point of the museum is a large three-dimensional map of the valley showing the surrounding glacier and mountain locations and names. Interpretive panels and memorabilia cases show a timeline for Alaska’s evolution from discovery to present, and include historical photos, and artifacts depicting the areas ski and gold mining heritage. Interactive videos documenting the history of skiing at Alyeska and avalanche mitigation play on wall-mounted flat panel TV’s.
A partnership with the U.S. Forest Service will allow personnel from the Glacier Ranger District and Begich, Boggs Visitor Center at Portage to staff the museum four hours per day, seven days a week.
Lezlie Murray, visitor center director says that, “she and her staff are excited to help support such a special project.” Seasonal U.S. Forest Service staff will alternate between the Roundhouse and other sites in the Glacier Ranger District.
“The Roundhouse at Alyeska is the newest of our interpretive partnerships, said Murray. “We will be here to answer questions about the valley and the surrounding area, discussing its varied natural and cultural history with visitors.”
Funding from private grants, souvenir sales and a portion from tram ticket sales will help keep the Roundhouse going. Newly hired executive director, Marianne Daniels was already successful in getting Anchorage TV station KTUU Channel 2 to feature the opening weekend and encourage viewers to drive out to Girdwood to see the refurbished building and it’s contents.
The Roundhouse has now been through a few openings—a “soft” community opening this past December, the recent ribbon-cutting event, and a community open house that followed on Sunday, April 27. After all of these test-runs, the Roundhouse will officially open with the U.S. Forest Service staff and volunteers on May 10. Admission is free to the public seven days a week, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
In the meantime, while you’re doing your spring-cleaning, keep an eye out for memorabilia that you’d like to donate for museum exhibits. Unsure if what you have is of value, e-mail Marianne Daniels at email@example.com. To help show your support, the museum offers Alaskan-made wooden lapel and souvenir pins, posters and notecards. For more information on the Roundhouse, visit http://www. Roundhouseatalyeska.org.