On December 7, 1903, the Alaska Club incorporates with the object of promoting Alaska and its resources. Housed before long on the 15th floor of the new Alaska Building at 2nd Avenue and Cherry Street in downtown Seattle, the club offers a meeting room, a reading room, and an exhibit on Alaska in its reception area. The club also serves as an information bureau, publishing The Alaska Almanac annually. In 1908 the Alaska Club merges with the Arctic Club, a social organization of people from Alaska or connected with it through business. The new club, known as the Arctic Club, combines the social and business aspects of the two organizations. After 1914, the Arctic Building at 3rd Avenue and Cherry Street houses their offices and gathering rooms, including the famous Dome Room. The club disbands in 1971, most of its members having succumbed to old age, 74 years after the Gold Rush started.
Getting the Alaska Word Out
A group of Alaskans at the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress in Seattle in 1903 conceived of the Alaska Club as a means to promote Alaska. The Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 had focused the world's attention on Alaska's gold resources and gold continued to come out of the northern gold fields, but after the turn of the century Alaskans looked for ways to draw attention to Alaska's other attractions. Other minerals, agricultural land, fisheries, and timber all abounded in Alaska. It remained remote, however, so Alaskans made a concerted effort to get the word out. The Alaska Club, located in Seattle because, "when coming south Alaskans all reach the same place -- Seattle, which is the chief point of arrival and departure for every portion of Alaska," offered a central place from which to disseminate information about the territory and at which interested parties could gather (Alaska Almanac, 1905, 4).
Upon forming in 1903, the club had nearly 300 members, including prominent politicians such as Richard A. Ballinger, then mayor of Seattle. The group located its headquarters in the Alaska Building, built in 1904 at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Cherry Street. Built after the Great Fire of 1889, it was the city's first steel-frame skyscraper. Although the club sought to highlight Alaska's advantages beyond gold, that attraction still captivated people's attention. The building promoted this imagery by placing a gold nugget in the front door.
J. E. Standley (1854-1940), owner of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, provided the Alaskan artifacts for the cultural exhibit in the club. The objects included hunting, fishing, cooking, and sewing implements; ceremonial items; clothing; pipes; and carved figurines from Alaskan tribes. L. L. Bales had collected most of the items for Standley while in Alaska and a number of them dated to the pre-contact era. The exhibit also featured ores, gold-bearing sands, and samples of the different grades of coal mined in Alaska.
Alaska Club and the A-Y-P Exposition
The club published an almanac each year that provided a wealth of information about Alaska. A newcomer to the region could find in the almanac a business directory for 25 towns in Alaska, a compilation of local laws, maps, United States Geological Society articles about its work in Alaska, a table of distances, a listing of federal officers, newspapers, mail routes, army posts, railroads, and more.
In 1905 the Alaska Club played a key role in bringing the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition idea to fruition. Godfrey Chealander of Skagway, Alaska, stopped in Seattle while working on preparing the Alaska exhibit for the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. Having realized that there was not enough time to prepare a sufficient exhibit, Chealander suggested to J. E. Chilberg (1867-1954), president of the Alaska Club, that Seattle mount its own exposition, focused on Alaska. Chilberg then brought the idea to the Alaska Club executive board, which agreed. The executive board and Chealander proposed the idea to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which also supported the concept. The idea grew to include the Yukon and the Pacific. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opened in Seattle on June 1, 1909.
Alaska Club/Arctic Club
In April 1908, the Alaska Club merged with the Arctic Club, a social club for Alaskans in Seattle. The new organization kept the name of the Arctic Club and combined the social nature of that club with the promotional efforts of the Alaska Club.
The Arctic Club opened its club in 1909, at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street. The Arctic Construction Company, a separate corporation with many investors from the Arctic Club, built the building.
In 1914 a conflict between the club and the construction company led the club to relocate to the Arctic Building at 3rd Avenue and Cherry Street. Unable to leave their old bar behind, several of the members stole the bar from the old building by hoisting it out the window, and then installed it at the new building without telling anyone how they had obtained it. They later paid the Arctic Construction for it.
The Arctic Club disbanded in 1971, nearly 80 years after the Klondike Gold Rush began. By then Alaska had achieved statehood and transportation improvements had made Alaska less remote and less in need of promotion. Besides, many club members who had enjoyed the opportunity it afforded to meet with fellow Alaskans who had lived through the gold rush years, had died, diminishing the community the club served.