This is the start of a weekly series on Anchorage history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.
Carolyn “Linny” Pacillo — no one called her Carolyn — was born in 1959 in California. In 1974, her family moved to Homer, and she graduated from Homer High in 1977. For the next decade, she worked in the Homer area before moving to Anchorage in 1988 to manage the family’s gas station, what became Anchorage’s last independent station.
Courtney’s Tudor Service, with its bright pink art-deco sign, was near the intersection of Tudor Road and Lake Otis Boulevard, an area of town once known as “gasoline alley” for its multiple stations and price wars. Independent gas stations have been a dying breed across the country. Their chain and branded replacements, like Holiday stations, don’t have the same idiosyncratic charm. The full-service Courtney’s was a reflection of its fast-talking, opinionated, colorful manager. Other stations don’t fill service wells with sand for a beach promotion with grass-skirted Pacillos pumping gas. They don’t run Halloween contests for the most grotesquely rotten pumpkins. They don’t have signs featuring political commentary, give away gas proving they didn’t price gouge, or close to protest disparities in oil and gas prices. Courtney’s did all that.
But Linny’s fame did not come from the family gas station; she became a local legend due to parking meters. In July 1994, Linny received a $75 ticket. She had recently purchased a new truck, and the previous owner had placed the renewal sticker on the wrong side of the plate. She appealed but only got the fine reduced to $25.
“So, I’m mad now, and I got a big mouth,” said Linny in a 1994 interview with the Anchorage Daily News.
The Anchorage Parking Authority (APA) had a reputation for aggressively ticketing the smallest offenses, and offenses that had nothing to do with parking, such as studded tires out of season and cracked windshields. Linny offered $75 in gas as a prize for the best/worst Parking Authority story. In one submission, a woman was ticketed for parking in a handicapped spot. Her car was properly tagged for handicapped parking, but she was downtown for several hours while her children participated in a spelling bee at the Performing Arts Center. The bee was long, so, during the lunch break they left. They returned and parked around the corner from their morning spot. She was told it was “illegal to park twice in the same block in the same day.” In another submission, a man claimed he was ticketed for parking 10 inches from the curb — even though Anchorage code allows a gap of 18 inches.
The APA made a mistake when they provoked Linny. As Sheila Toomey of the ADN wrote, “It’s not a good idea to make the Pacillo sisters mad. They believe in revenge and have an abnormal tolerance for embarrassing themselves in public.” The parking fairy concept originated with Linny’s sister, Susan, who grew upset with overzealous parking enforcement while working downtown in the 1980s. Linny asked Courtney’s customers for donations to fill expired meters. The donation jar quickly filled with $86 in change, and the Pacillos donated to round it up to $100.
Then Linny and Susan dressed in tights, tutus and wings. They became the parking fairies, civic heroes who patrolled downtown for expired meters, saving locals from far costlier tickets. Linny also bought and refurbished a 1973 Cushman, a three-wheeled vehicle previously used for meter maid patrols. Thus, the newly “Courtney Pink” Cushman became the Fairy Mobile, an advantage over APA’s foot patrols. “What we did,” said Linny in a 1997 ADN interview, “was we went downtown, and we weren’t allowed to leave until the money was gone.”
APA head Dave Harbour was initially amused by their antics, which he saw as little more than advertising for their gas station. He thought the donations would dry up, and the entire episode would pass within a couple of weeks. Thanks in part to some national media attention, including a 1994 USA Today article, the donations kept pouring in. People in offices would drop donations from windows. Passersby would run up with change. Cars stopped so drivers could add their support.
So, the fairies maintained their patrols, and the APA collected more than $100,000 less in 1994 than 1993. By the summer of 1995, Harbour felt pressure to make changes, though he tersely refused to acknowledge the fairies’ impact beyond “raising awareness.” That year, he told the ADN, “We’re doing different things now. Some of them came up during the dialogue with the Assembly.” In March 1996, he surprisingly resigned. In 1997, voters placed the authority for parking enforcement solely with sworn police officers.
Linny and her sister kept going. In 1996, they and some volunteers camped overnight in Town Square, filling meters to raise donations for hungry children abroad. Some Assembly members like Charles Wohlforth tried to court the fairies in an attempt to revive the Parking Authority but failed. Finally, in September 1998, the fairies retired, burning their wings in a ceremony outside City Hall. State Rep. Fred Dyson presented Linny and Susan with a citation recognizing their good deeds.
In 2003, the Pacillo family sold Courtney’s. In 2006, Linny died at age 47 after lengthy battles with muscular dystrophy and injuries from a car accident. In 2007, state legislators named a new parking garage in downtown Anchorage after Linny. The Linny Pacillo Parking Garage, which is located between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, across from the Atwood Building, opened in September 2008. The southwest corner features glasswork depicting two fairies dropping change into a parking meter as well as the Fairy Mobile. Inside, a plaque offers a history of the Pacillo Parking Fairies.
The parking garage was designed by the Anchorage-based KPB Architects. You might recognize their handiwork from the downtown Williwaw or the Cook Inlet Housing Authority building that replaced PJs at Spenard Road and 36th Avenue. The Alaska chapter of the American Institute of Architects designated the Linny Pacillo Parking Garage as the winner of the 2010 AIA Merit Award. If you’re wondering how a parking garage wins a design award, you’re not alone. The awarding jury noted, “It’s not easy to do a beautiful parking structure — but this one manages to reach a very high level of design.”
The year Linny died, she was able to see another attempt to revive the parking authority defeated at the polls. However, in 2011, voters removed parking enforcement from police. This time, the parking authority is only allowed to ticket downtown parking violations, not the broad range of offenses that so enraged Linny.
While I’m sure the Pacillos were justifiably happy with the very public honor of naming a significant structure after Linny, I’m less sure that a parking garage was the right place for her name. As one Yelp review notes, “The garage might be named after one of the parking fairies, but I don’t think the fairies would be too pleased about the $20 highway robbery.” Another review says, “I don’t think the Parking Fairies would endorse this overpriced cave.”
A better honor for the parking fairies is the score of imitators across the country. The Anchorage parking fairies appear to be the first to receive national attention in America. There were similar meter maids in Australia dating back to 1965, but they dressed in tiny, golden bikinis. In other words, they weren’t exactly making the same point. One of the most colorful successors was a clown street performer in Santa Cruz, California, named Mr. Twister. He garnered national media coverage in 1995 after he was ticketed for putting a quarter in an expired meter.
Business associations in Canada and America have seized upon the idea of parking fairies. In 2004, a group of Coconut Grove, Florida, business owners hired an actor to work as a parking fairy, hoping to make customers feel more comfortable about parking in the area. The Coconut Grove fairy’s wings and tutu borrow directly from the Pacillos. In 2013, the city of Keene, New Hampshire, sued a group of meter maids, there called the Robin Hoods. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 2015 in favor of Keene Robin Hoods, allowing them to continue. Linny would have been happy.