Cordova Chronicles: Another historic landmark is gone

110-year-old Remy’s Florist is demolished

On Jan. 8, 2019, while waiting for another dump truck to arrive, Wilson Construction Manager John Baenen confers with excavator operator Gene Wooden, while Mike Glasen examines what is left of the Reception Building. (Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times)

While the fate of the Cordova House remains uncertain, the demise of another local landmark is complete.  Wilson Construction made short order of the building that once housed Remy’s Florist, demolishing the 110-year-old structure in just two days.

Operating under clear skies and bitter temperatures, an excavator began tearing the old Reception Building down at daybreak on Jan. 7, 2019, and by late in the day only the front face and the north wall were still standing. Several Wilson dump trucks were busy hauling off loads of debris, and by mid-day on Jan. 8 cleanup of the foundation was almost complete.

By late afternoon on Jan. 7, 2019, much of the demolished Reception Building had been hauled away in Wilson Construction dump trucks. (Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times)

“The cold weather actually made it much easier,” Wilson mechanic Terry Phillips said. “We didn’t have to deal with icy streets alongside the building, which would have been quite a challenge.”

The speed with which the structure came down surprised many on-lookers, who also expressed dismay.

“It’s a sad day,” said Nicole Nothstine, who was on her way to pick up her children at Mt. Eccles when school was out at 3:30 p.m. “There goes more another piece of Cordova history.”  Ironically, her husband Tom was one of the truck drivers hauling it off.

The historic Reception Building gets demolished. (Photo by David Little/for The Cordova Times)

Located on the corner of Second Street and Browning Avenue, the building dates back to 1908 and the birth of Cordova. The long rectangular two-story structure was built in the summer of that year for “Link” Waln and J. Williams to house the Horseshoe Saloon, which was famous for a warm reception to thirsty workers building the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.

Carpenters at Cordova’s fledging townsite had to be experts at tossing up saloons, as it seems that nearly every other building in the newly-cleared area was a pub. This one had an extra attraction, namely an upstairs full-length hall that was a popular place for parties and dances.  Anticipating large crowds, workers placed heavy support beams on the floor of the dance hall, which were discovered when remodeling was being done 80 years later.

Waln became sole owner of the 25-foot-wide by 100-foot-long building from 1918 to 1941. He was a pioneer Alaskan who came north during the Klondike Gold Rush, and eventually found success mining gold in Nome, using profits from that enterprise to purchase a saloon in Unalaska. After settling in Cordova, he became a founder of the local Cordova Pioneer Igloo.

When Prohibition caused closure of the saloon in 1918, the building was converted to apartments, and the distinctive original front with columns and black plate glass windows was removed.

A series of owners followed Wain and allowed the building to decline. The building was on the brink of condemnation when acquired by Cliff Collins in 1973, who went about stabilizing and repairing the facility. He used it as a location for Collins Insurance Agency, while his son Phil operated Sea Land Shipping in the same location.

In 1983, Bill and Remy Johnson bought the aging building and opened a gift and floral shop on the bottom floor, while moving into an apartment in the back of the lower floor.

Bill and Remy Johnson, who spearheaded remodeling and repair of the Reception Building, pose near the entrance to Remy’s Gift and Floral Shop in August 1984. (The Cordova Times file photo, 1984)

“We bought it partly because it will make a nice place for our flower shop,” said Remy in Nov. 22, 1984 Cordova Times article. She added, of the restoration work ahead, especially for the second floor, which had been unoccupied for over 10 years, “It’s for Cordova … for the next generation.”

The building had been placed on The National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and received a grant from the State Office of History and Archeology in 1983 to help efforts to stabilize and restore the building. Part of this grant required replacing the decorated cornices and front columns to match the original design of the building front. Eventually, the Johnsons had the building completely repaired, including three apartments upstairs as well as family quarters downstairs. Remy’s shop was a going concern, providing flowers for all occasions, and sweet treats for youngsters dropping by.

When Bill and Remy retired and moved south eight years ago, they retained ownership of the building, with Mike and Linda Glasen operating and maintaining the apartments.

Eventually, aging and elements took their toll. The big windstorm of January 2018 caused major damage to the roof, compounded by more structural problems and leaks in storms this fall.

“It took considerable time to settle the insurance claims to the roof and ensuing water damage in the interior,” said Mike Glasen, who watched the demolition from the parking lot of another Cordova Historical Building Site, the former Post Office and Court House, now home of the U.S. Forest Service. “Just recently, the building was condemned, so it had to be torn down.”

There are no current plans for the land after the structure is removed.

“Right now, it’s one step at a time,” Glasen said.

At least he won’t have to deal with vehicles sliding down notoriously steep and sometimes icy Browning Avenue.

From left, Mike Glasen and his nephew Xavior Burgerman stand in front of the Road Closed sign on Browning Avenue late on Jan. 7, 2019. Glasen and his wife Linda have been caretakers of the Reception Building since Remy and Bill Johnson left in 2010. (Photo by Dick Shellhorn/The Cordova Times)

“More than once cars have skidded down the hill and crashed into the side of the building,” said Glasen. “It looks like they’ll have a clear landing area now.”

Glasen did keep the building’s Historic Landmark Plaque and will be mailing it down to Bill and Remy. “They were very proud of all they did to restore the building and have many fond memories of their time in Cordova.”

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