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Why is Fairbanks, land of weird street names, upset over 'Terminal Street'?

  • Author:
  • Updated: July 7, 2016
  • Published April 26, 2016

FAIRBANKS — In a place where Sixth Avenue crosses Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue intersects with itself and a street named "Fugarwe Court" all find a spot on Google Maps, the local furor about "Terminal Street" came as a surprise.

The nonchalant attitude about Fairbanks street names helps explain the presence of Lois Lane, Yellowsnow Road, Da Nephew Street, Da Niece Street and At Your Own Risk Road.

But it took action Monday by the Fairbanks City Council, overturning a move by the Fairbanks North Star Borough, to keep "Terminal Street" from getting wiped off the map.

Truth be told, it's not much of a street, about 120 paces long, but it leads to the headquarters of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

The address of the borough has long been reported as 809 Pioneer Road, which is posted on the sign outside the building, but that has been wrong since the building opened more than three decades ago.

The legal address for the borough should be Terminal Street, which touches the downtown property on the banks of the Chena River. Pioneer Road is nearby, but not close enough for government work.

If anyone knew about this in the past, no one cared enough to demand a change. This was something that was best ignored, like the long-ago edict to borough workers by former Mayor Billie Bob Allen that coffee cups were never to be seen on desktops.

With a change of administration last fall, the new mayor asked borough employees for their suggestions about improving the workplace. As it happens, someone suggested that Mayor Karl Kassel should get the borough address straightened out.

Sometime after that, things went a bit off the tracks.

Instead of changing the sign outside the borough offices to "Terminal Street," someone said a new name was in order because "the street name has morbid and dreary connotations," as one borough summary put it.

"Citizens Way" arose as the preferred alternative.

No one has yet suggested whether there are dreary connotations in Fairbanks to Dead End Alley, Tribulation Trail, Aggravation Alley or Stubborn German Court.

After several months and many long hours in borough meetings with a trail of legalistic pronouncements that could cover all of Terminal Street, the Fairbanks City Council delivered a fatal blow Monday to Citizens Way. Local pioneers and historians have been arguing for months in favor of the old name.

In one sense, this exercise served a useful purpose. It demonstrated that the local platting and planning boards need to be allowed to exercise independent judgment and take historical significance into account, which the current code prohibits. Instead of changing the street name, I suggest a revision of borough code.

The name Terminal has nothing to do with death or dying. It refers to the former site of the railroad depot that played a central part in the survival of Fairbanks after the gold rush.

Debating the move to override the borough plan Monday, Fairbanks City Councilman Jerry Cleworth said he grew up playing on the old steam locomotive engine that has been in Fairbanks since 1905 and used to be parked near Terminal Street.

"I never thought of it in a morbid sense," Cleworth said of the street name. "If I'm driving to the airport and I see 'Terminal Parking,' is that only for dead people?"

Several people testified in favor of keeping the old name, saying that even though the Alaska Railroad terminal has moved outside the city center, this connection to the past should remain.

The terminal doesn't have to be on the street to justify the survival of the name. After all, there is a good precedent a couple of miles away at a business that once sold GMC products. Today, you'll find the local Toyota dealership at 1000 Cadillac Court.

Columnist Dermot Cole lives in Fairbanks. The views expressed here are his and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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