Part of a continuing weekly series on local 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.
Anchorage is a city where strip clubs can become churches, like the Open Door Baptist Church. And Anchorage is a city where churches can become bars, like the Crossroads Lounge. A porn shop can become a café, a brothel can become a restaurant, and many other brothels can become homes. There used to be so many brothels.
Most buildings in Anchorage have lived multiple lives, enduring several identity changes. Consider 3103 Spenard Road, where that crooked road begins to kink its way toward Minnesota Drive. That property now houses the Alano Club, a nonprofit social organization that offers alcohol and drug-free services and entertainment.
You’ve probably driven past it countless times. Maybe you’ve never noticed it, or maybe you’ve seen the one of the most enduring “under new management” signs in Anchorage history. Yet, the Alano is far from the first occupant of the property. Before there was an Anchorage, the area along Spenard Road was a small part of the local Dena’ina’s expansive and wildlife-rich hunting grounds. The first non-Alaska Native resident in the area was likely Thomas Jeter, who built a cabin at what was then called Jeter Lake, now Lake Spenard. He lost his stake in the area after its removal as part of the Chugach National Forest in 1907.
In or around July 1916, construction began on a narrow road that connected the nascent Anchorage to Jeter Lake. Joseph “Joe” Spenard spearheaded the endeavor to access the site where he would build a rowdy lakeside club at the road’s distal terminus. Thus, Jeter Lake became Lake Spenard, a legacy theft albeit just one of many thefts committed by Joe Spenard. Spenard Road was illegally blazed through the national forest, and he then illegally sold the ill-gotten lumber. Likewise, Joe had no legal claim to the land upon which he built his club. These were but a few of his many crimes. However, they effectively set the stage for the community that bears his name, a neighborhood whose reputation is partly built upon a history of often sordid, sometimes violent crime.
For the next few decades, the area around what is now the Alano was sparsely dotted by small farms and homesteads. Urban development didn’t reach Spenard until 1945, beginning around the intersection of Spenard Road and Fireweed Lane.
The Spenard Lounge was the first notable business at 3103 Spenard Road. Al Fox (1909-1952), former owner of the downtown D&D Bar, opened the original Spenard Cocktail Lounge in 1950 at 3102 Spenard Road, roughly across the street from the current Alano. For more than a decade, it fit there comfortably between Sweum’s Spenard Grocery (3104 Spenard Road) and the Spenard Cafe (3004 Spenard Road).
Fox arrived in Anchorage from Montana in 1937 and quickly became a prominent citizen. For several years, he awarded the Al Fox Trophy to the winner of the Fur Rendezvous dog races. His 1952 death was front-page news, and his widow, Lucille, assumed control of the lounge.
In the 1950s, that stretch of Spenard Road was far, far outside the Anchorage city limits and thus far, far from the jurisdiction of the local police. The occasional presence of Territorial Police, now the State Troopers, and an overriding atmosphere of indifference allowed some of the locals’ worst impulses to rise to the fore.
There were plenty of robberies, drugs, prostitution, stabbings, shootings and rapes at the Spenard Cocktail Lounge. Women occasionally defended themselves with bottles. The employees it seemed worked at their own peril. In 1953, a would-be robber shot a bartender in the groin. In 1961, a patron maimed another bartender with a whiskey glass to the eye. For good reasons, locals called it the “Snake Pit.”
Nevertheless, there was a substantial market for devil-may-care bars in greater Anchorage at the time. In late 1963, Lucille Fox (1917-1993), later Lucille Gallant, opened a new Spenard Lounge at 3103 Spenard Road. Gallant managed the bar through her retirement in 1975. This newer lounge appears to have closed in late 1983, perhaps very early 1984.
The current 3103 Spenard Road building was built in 1984, and its first occupant was Spenardo da Vinci’s, a nightclub with a fondness for laser light shows. More notably, the club was one of the vanishingly few Anchorage establishments to enforce a dress code. The biggest Anchorage booster would be hard-pressed to define the city as fashionable at any point in its history. Trends have a way of taking their time to reach so far north, and the weather, of course, is a factor. But at Spenardos, there were no collarless shirts, jeans or tennis shoes, not in the evening at least.
Though a collection of investors — organized by promoter Michael Carrigan — backed Spenardos, cash flow quickly became a problem, and by early 1987, its doors shut for good. After Spenardo da Vinci’s closed, the building hosted a lengthy succession of ultimately ill-fated clubs. Impulse opened in April 1987. By July, it was Club Casino’s turn, which made a minor dent in the local consciousness by hosting a musical revue called “Viva Alaska.” The Anchorage Times described the event as a combination “game show, magic act, stand-up comedy, puppet show, song-and-dance extravaganza.” Jim Henderson, a veteran of Mr. Whitekeys’ “Whale Fat Follies,” produced the show.
Club Casino lasted at least into the spring of 1988. Then, Club Shadows lasted from the fall of 1988 into mid-1989. Country Visions stuck as the name on the joint from late 1989 until April 1990, when it became Celebrities. The interior remained the same throughout these titular changes. Celebrities at least altered the pattern by only playing older R&B classics. Manager Fly Carmack told the Daily News that Anchorage needed a club that pandered to an older crowd. “They’re the ones with the money,” said Carmack.
Somewhere within this timeline was Bogey’s, which left little more than the eroding memory of its name on the historical record. To be fair, this turnover occurred during the severe Alaska recession of the late 1980s, a downturn fueled by declining construction work and an oil market that bottomed out in 1986. From 1985 through 1987, roughly 1 in 10 jobs disappeared from the state economy, which does not account for losses among the self-employed. Five of the 16 banks present in Alaska closed between 1987 and 1988.
As the state’s construction, logistical and banking center, Anchorage was hit hardest by the recession. Anchorage’s taxable real estate declined in value from $13.9 billion in January 1986 to $8.3 billion in January 1988, a 41% reduction. From 1985 to 1988, Anchorage lost roughly 29,000 residents, and rental vacancies rose from 3% in 1982 to 25% in 1986. The recovery was slow, lasting into the early 1990s.
Back at 3103 Spenard Road, the Roxy was next, opening in late 1990 and lasting through late December 1991. Still, it was around long enough to earn a rough reputation. Operator Patrick McWilliams’ greatest achievement was possibly the two shows by hair metal band Quiet Riot on Sept. 27, 1991.
On Dec. 29, 1991, the club was still the Roxy. The next day it was officially Paragon, which had the shortest tenure of any club at the building. Proprietor Doran Powell, then and now a Chilkoot Charlie’s co-owner, told the Daily News, “The people in here just haven’t had a good format.” However, whatever patrons carried over would have been hard-pressed to identify the differences between the Roxy and its successor. Both clubs leaned into a hard rock format, the decor was unchanged, and the painting on the outside wall still said “The Roxy.”
A Daily News review published nearly two weeks after the Paragon opened pointed out a few flaws, including a bar out of the advertised beer, stale coffee and bathrooms without toilet paper. Not to worry, Budweiser napkins were available at the sinks.
The club never got its own sign. On Jan. 24, 1992, less than a month after the Paragon opened, the establishment was rebranded as the Underground. The Underground Bar, if you were formal, had previously been located underneath the Beef & Sea restaurant, a building that itself is now Kinley’s Restaurant (3230 Seward Highway).
Former Underground manager Bob Bradley leased the 3103 Spenard Road property from Powell to, as best possible, recreate the atmosphere of the original Underground. While no longer literally beneath the ground, Bradley promised “the same music, the same people” as at the previous iteration.
The Spenard version of the Underground was best known for four things: a dark and moody aesthetic, supporting local bands, the 20-foot gecko painting by local artist Duke Russell and a tragic stabbing. Duane Monsen was a drummer for one of those local bands, Broke. On Feb. 25, 1994, he and another patron, Erik Lundy, argued over a spilled beer and began fighting. The altercation continued outside, where Lundy stabbed Monsen in the throat. The drummer died three days later, and Lundy was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The Underground lasted longer than the Paragon, though that was a small honor. The club closed in July 1994 in favor of the brighter, repainted, expanded dance floor of the Silly Rabbit. Under the orders of new proprietors Tim and Becky Lyons, the gecko was gone in favor of the new logo, a crazed-looking rabbit.
The Silly Rabbit lasted until that September, ending with another sudden closure. Negotiations by the Lyons to purchase the location suddenly fell apart, and they felt forced to abandon the operation.
The Wave was next, with a grand opening on April 28, 1995. An early issue of the club’s newsletter appropriately joked that they had commissioned an exorcism to rid the space of former club ghosts. The bar, dancefloor, and club proper occupied the ground floor. Upstairs and overlooking the scene was the non-smoking coffee bar, the Sociatic Tide.
Trina Johnson, daughter of the La Mex founders, founded the Wave. After her parents retired, she ran the restaurants through the closing of the last location in 2021. Apart from its owner, the Wave might be best recalled for its support of local artists, drag shows and general pro-LGBT atmosphere. The Wave closed in 2000 and was replaced by the Alano Club. After two decades at the 3103 Spenard Road property, the Alano finally brought some stability to one little slice of Spenard.
While many Anchorage buildings have lived multiple lives, few have endured as many permutations in as short a time as 3103 Spenard Road. Even if not as extreme, these other stories illuminate other aspects of a changing urban landscape, such as the many former downtown homes that were long ago transformed in beauty salons, law offices and other businesses. What Anchorage building would you want to learn more about? Special thanks to new Anchorage resident Shannon Cole for inspiring this article.
Adair, Sue. “Night Moves.” Anchorage Daily News, April 20, 1990, D14.
“Al Fox Dies in Seattle.” Anchorage Daily Times, July 3, 1952, 1.
Holthouse, David. “Two Club Memoranda.” Anchorage Daily News, May 19, 1995, 8 insert, 23.
Johnson, Maggie. “Underground Bar Resurfaces in New Neighborhood.” Anchorage Times, January 31, 1992, G4.
Ruskin, Liz. “Killer Sobs ‘I’m Sorry,’ Gets 10 Years.” Anchorage Daily News, E-1, E-2.
Sheets, Kelly. “Night Watch.” Anchorage Daily News, January 10, 1992, H17.
Sheets, Kelly. “Night Watch.” Anchorage Daily News, January 24, 1992, D14.
Stange, Jay. “Venue Shakeups Worry Local Alternative Fans.” Anchorage Daily News, August 23, 1994, F3.