Alaskan Village in the City
by Michael Hankins
The serenity of living in a rural Alaskan village is something I’d love to experience. It seems a subsistence lifestyle has distinct advantages. Hunting and fishing to stay alive makes a person stronger both physically and mentally. Clean water and air untainted by pesticides and smog can only be healthy. One of Webster’s several definitions for village is: “A self-contained district or community within a town or city, regarded as having features characteristic of village life.” For a tad over four years I lived in such a place within the city. Village residents habituated as close as thirteen feet from one another. We made weekly trips outside the village confines for food. Recreational play and sporting events were held in the street. The place I refer to is rarely mentioned these days. A problematic stigma still exists for many people having lived there. In 1966, before leaving Texas for Alaska, dad informed us we’d be moving to a village. At twelve years of age I didn’t know the true meaning of such. I envisioned living like my childhood heroes Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in a log cabin. Dad stretched things a bit. He’d secured a space at Alaskan Village Trailer Court in Anchorage, Alaska. That’s where we were to park our 10 x 55 foot mobile home.
[caption id="attachment_9699" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Photo credit: Michael Hankins[/caption] My father was a military man serving in the United States Air Force. Just like clockwork every three years we’d move. Dad deemed it financially prudent for us to live in a trailer. With his meager government salary any means to possibly stretch a dollar was taken. Our vagabond life began at George Air Force Base in Adelanto, California. From there dad pulled our little home on wheels to Craig A.F.B. in Selma, Alabama. Brooks A.F.B. in San Antonio and Reese A.F.B. in Lubbock, Texas, came next. Ultimately Elmendorf A.F.B. in Anchorage was dad’s final assignment. I’m sure some folks referred to us as trailer trash, although I don’t recall hearing the derogatory term. If anything it was spoken behind turned backs. Our journey to Alaska was an adventure in itself. Breaking a trailer hitch on the rough and tumble AL-CAN Highway meant a full day of repairs in Fort Nelson, British Columbia (Canada). Coming across the narrow Matanuska River Bridge in Palmer, Alaska—dad got a bit too close and left a green stripe on the rusty steel beams. The morning we rolled into Anchorage was overcast and wet. Misty cold rain helped wash layers of dust from the car, truck, and trailer. Our first meal was hamburgers and fries at Lucky Wishbone restaurant. We spent the night at Mush-Inn Motel on Concrete Street. Early the next morning dad backed our sun-faded New Moon trailer into Space #299—7800 DeBarr Road. I was happy to see kids playing. At our previous home in Texas, my brother and I had to depend on pets for companionship. I sensed this trailer park was going to be different! Our first week at the new residence was spent “skirting.” That was something new to me. Skirting meant taking plywood and insulation and using it to build a mini-wall completely around the bottom of the mobile home. Not doing so would result in frozen pipes and a cold floor come winter. I witnessed more than a few people make that mistake. By November most of those procrastinators were outside with saws and hammers. Yellow sawdust sat prominent on fresh white snow. My brother Jim and I became good at skirting and leveling trailers. Our talents were called upon numerous times to help neighbors.
[caption id="attachment_9698" align="aligncenter" width="673"] Photo credit: Michael Hankins[/caption] There were many brands of mobile homes within Alaskan Village. Some of the names were most unusual: Schult, New Moon, York, Vagabond, Nashua, and Marlette to name a few. Residents of the park would actually argue what trailer was best. To this day the name Vagabond conjures up gypsies, tramps, and thieves much like the song by Cher. A fence separated our trailer court from split-level homes. A few home owners forbid their children from walking to “The Village.” That’s what some people called the place. Mom joked those parents probably thought their kids would never be seen again. I knew of one boy trying to woo a gal from the other side. The girl initially took an interest in him, but soon after the budding relationship fell apart. I believe it had to do with concerned parents not wanting their daughter socializing with presumed “po folk.” My brother and I had paper routes for several years. We delivered both The Anchorage Times and Anchorage Daily News. There were winter days when the temperature plummeted well below zero. That could last for weeks. Large bundles of papers were dropped off at the Alaskan Village office. Right outside the office was a small block structure housing a large water pump. An electric heater inside kept pipes from freezing. Water piped throughout the park was supposedly artesian. To this day I’ve never tasted sweeter.
[caption id="attachment_9697" align="aligncenter" width="669"] Photo credit: Michael Hankins[/caption] Knowing how to slyly get inside that locked structure was taught to us by a previous paperboy. A screwdriver hid inside a cracked cinder block was the key. These toasty confines saved our butts numerous times when the temps were frigid, and papers were late. Having two paper routes at the same time during school months was not conductive to good grades. My Clark Junior High report cards are a testament to such. Since there was no playground, village kids hung out in the street. It wasn’t unusual to see them playing baseball or badminton. Jump rope was another favorite activity. The speed limit was 5 MPH so vehicle danger was of little concern. During winter months those fortunate enough to own snow machines drove them for transportation. My brother and I used ours to deliver papers. Of course with it being noisy, we didn’t fire things up on the morning route. Some of the names I remember from my paper route days are: Sanborn, Cloud, Rooks, Malone, Staley, Leland, Jones, Bingaman, LaCau, Greene, Maya, Kunda, Northcutt, McElveen, Roberts, Clapp, Giland, Rich, Dyer, Fostervole, Collyer, Martinez, Wardlaw, Vincent, Giradet, Kennedy, Fisher, Chron, Hahn, and Zobel. Hooky bobbing was a common village activity during winter. If a car drove past with snow on the back window, it was easy to run up and grab the rear bumper. With slick icy streets a kid could get pulled quite a distance without the driver knowing. As dangerous as it sounds I do not remember anyone getting hurt. There was an ongoing rivalry between trailer courts. Rangeview Mobile Home Park was approximately three quarters of a mile down Muldoon Road. There were guys from Rangeview who liked to bully Alaskan Village kids and vice versa. One of the Rangeview clan wore a thick metal chain around his waist. He had a reputation of being tough. There came a day that my brother went berserk, tired of this fellow’s pushing and shoving. We had to pull Jim off the boy after so many lashings. Bullying ceased—at least it did from that fellow. I wouldn’t call such gang activity, but it was definitely a turf war. We moved out of Alaskan Village in 1970. Within 10 years the park started going downhill. The trailer court originator and developer Roy Metcalfe died. Kids called him “Old Man” Metcalfe. Mr. Metcalfe took pride in his sprawling endeavor. He’d cruise slowly through it each evening in a blue Ford Thunderbird. A detailed park map tacked to his office wall had a cluster of trailer spaces circled in pencil. Mr. Metcalfe deemed this “the trouble zone.” Space #299 was smack dab in the middle. I only knew this because one of my friend’s mom worked there as a secretary. There were close to 400 trailer spaces by the time Roy Metcalfe passed away. Infamous real estate developer Pete Zamarello purchased the facility soon afterwards. He let things quickly slide into decay. By the time Zamarello died the village resembled a war zone. Burnt and unoccupied trailers were everywhere. Crime was rampant. City officials including most people living in the area were glad to see the village closed.
[caption id="attachment_9696" align="aligncenter" width="688"] Photo credit: Michael Hankins[/caption] Today very little remains of my old haunt. Walgreen’s occupies a portion of the grounds as well as Begich Middle School. A new fire station takes up a small spot of land. Townhouses have been constructed with more development planned. A Krispy Kreme Donuts, Body Renew Gym, and BurgerFi Restaurant now occupy the general area where the block well-house once stood. I’m sure that artesian stream still flows unobstructed many feet below the structures. For the most part kids I grew up with in Alaskan Village turned out to be successful. They enjoyed careers in business, education, management, ministry, law enforcement, construction, military, and health care. One lucky fellow went on to fly 747s. In another 30-years all memory of Alaskan Village Trailer Park will undoubtedly be erased. The majority of folks having lived there will be history as well. I doubt there’ll ever be another place like it. Trailer parks are quickly becoming extinct. In 1966 had the choice been mine, I would’ve chose a rural Alaska village to live in. There’s no doubt Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone would do the same. Fate placed me at this village in the city. It was still an Alaskan adventure; an experience that I’m thankful to have been a part of!
If you enjoyed "Alaskan Village in the City" check out "Hope, Alaska - Memories of Mining, Camping and Reviving One's Spirit."
I think we lived here—Debarr rings bell in memory. I attended Williwaw elementary. I also remember a nearby library where I walked to for Girl Scout meetings. Also, a tore up racetrack where we played all day and night. Worst whipping I ever had was forgetting to come home one summer night when it was still daylight at 11:30pm.
Enjoyed the read of my old stomping grounds. We lived in space #339 from the summer of ’74 to the spring of 1980! Best years of my life! Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. And I agree, best tasting water… EVER!
My family moved to Alaska and Lived in the trailer park in 1963. I believe our space was 126, facing the creek. Lots of memories from that creek. My dad Bill Waldo helped clear the land and put in the roads across the creek for the expansion. Thanks for sharing .
GlennCaren Park 2221 Muldoon Rd., ‘75 – ’79. Good, clean, well maintained and managed park. If you could scratch up the money to get into a trailer, you were putting at least a little money into sending your kid to college rather than the apartment landlord’s kids. In those days if you took care of them a trailer would hold its value or maybe even appreciate a little in a good park; beat Hell out of apartment rent.
I lived in the Alaskan village from 1971 to 1972 then we moved to Birchwood.
Lived in Alaskan Village Trailer Park from 1965 to 1969 when we moved to Eagle River. I believe we were sp #109. thanks for this memory.
I lived in Idle Wheels on Tudor RD. 10X55 trailer I can relate
I lived in the trailer park in space 521 from 83 until we were forced out when it closed in May of 2002. Zamarello was an ass, and just wanted money w/o investing back in, but I was it wasn’t completely crime ridden. There were a few abandoned trailers which became our playground in addition to the streets, but still plenty of us where decent folks. ;0)
Moved in Summer of 68 and then on base in 71. Some good times and learned a lot living in a Florida built trailer in Ak village.
Thanks for sharing and yes my family was in the Air Force and we lived in a similar community as in like the pictures as seen in this blog.
Remember, we had to always be aware of bears when going outside as a kid and those days of no sun or total daylight every 6 months of the year was something else.
It was such a fun place growing up at as a kid with so many memories of sledding, ice skating on frozen 3-4 ft shallow mini lakes, created by the mountain’s runoff of melted water that might be only about 60 yards in diameter.
Fishing was great, it was all just great.
one of the most amazing places to live in the world, that life happened to have giving me the blessings to live in.
Indeed Alaska is the final frontier of America.
Thanks for sharing YOUR story as well.
Great article! Never been to Alaska, but would love to visit there.
I lived off of Richardson Hwy from 1970-1975. Best years of my life and I wish I had never left but I also hear that things have changed for the worse from friends who have visited in recent yrs. I guess it’s true, you can never go home.
I lived in Alaskan Village from 1971 to 1973. You brought back so many memories. I ended up moving over to another trailer park on the other side of town Diamond Estates off of Diamond Boulevard and Jewel Lake Road I ended up going to June mirrors Junior High and diamond high school those were the best times of my life I live I moved up there and 1969 and I left in 1979 I was 16 years old when I left and I’m 54 now and I think of those memories those great memories and the Beautiful mountains that surrounded Anchorage and I’ve always wanted to go back and I never have thank you so much for bringing back memories and the best times of my life thank you. When I moved up there then there was no freeways I think the biggest road was Minnesota Boulevard and Northern Lights Boulevard I believe it was those were such good times I think that’s going to be on my bucket list to go back up there but I heard it was crime ridden now. What a shame beautiful beautiful city beautiful state thank you
We live there from 1968 to 1972 when we moved to Chugiak. Thanks for the memories.
I really enjoyed this article. It bought back so many memories. The military shipped our “home” from Colorado to Anchorage in 1966. We lived in the Alaskan Village from 1966 to 1970 and our daughter attended the Montessori School on Muldoon Road while my husband and I worked at Elmendorg AFB.
Our lot was on the corner with the creek across the front. The trailer court was clean and neat because the manager had a yearly clean-up. Those who didn’t keep the lots neat were evicted. We had good neighbors and felt safe. At that time people helped each other and looked out for each other.
I have several pictures of our trailer there.
Thanks for the article!
Anchorage was so much cooler in the 60s and 70s. Real Alaskans actually lived there. I felt privileged to live up on Government Hill, but I had friends from trailer parks.
Thank you for sharing your story. Wife and I moved to Alaska in 1984, and found a place in Alaskan Village. Raised 2 wonderful kids, and called it home for 10 years. We remember the big star up on the ski hill for Christmas. The skiers skiing down on Valentine’s Day with red torches. Oh yea, getting under my trailer to unthaw pipes and helping others in need. Moose coming up to our eat on our flower baskets and plants. Basketball , and teaching the kids to ride their 1st bikes in the road. Fortunately, we did sell before all hell ( Pete) broke loose. We moved to Wasilla until 1997. We loved Alaska and the friends we left behind. We’ve been back once and hope to return soon. We believe our space was 272 ? Wonderful memories, no regrets.
Lived inAnchirage for 11 years. Enjoyed reading!
Thanks for writing this. I grew up in Anchorage in 60s-70s, but never in Alaskan Village, though I knew it well.
The term “trailer trash” didn’t exist back then, but there was certainly a disdain for some parks.