Along a well-traversed, albeit remote, stretch of the Alaska Highway system sits an irregular structure. As the years cross over its craggy skull, bringing the unrelenting malice of winter weather, the gawking of confused onlookers and the cruelty of vandals and thieves, the melancholy white dome known to many as "Igloo City" persists -- unabated, but with little faith.
Abandoned and neglected, this dilapidated four-story shell sits 180 miles north of Anchorage along the George Parks Highway on the quiet drive to the Interior Alaska city of Fairbanks. The Igloo's nearest neighbor, Cantwell (aproxomate population 222), has witnessed the Arctic bungalow and its accompanying gas station thrive, dive and slowly age under the elements and the shuttering lenses of passing motorists, during its 40-plus years in existence.
In its infancy, the Igloo was someone's "dream," but due to some missteps in original construction, economic hardship and the rapid increase in fuel prices this Alaskan oddity never realized its original potential.
'Quite a history behind it'
Brad Fisher, of Fisher's Fuel Inc. in Big Lake, is the current owner of the Igloo, the gas station and the 38 acres they sit on. Unlink most of the Internet's musing on the structure and its "string of owners" Fisher reports that his family is really only the second set of hands the Igloo has passed through.
The Fishers acquired the property from the Smiths, the original owners. To be fair, the Smith patriarch, Leon, had sold the structure three times before, but in all instances he had been forced to reclaim it because the new owners were not making their payments.
According to Fisher, toward the end of Smith's life, as his health was fading and his concern for the security of his wife growing, he came to Fisher and simply told him that he needed to "get rid" of the Igloo.
"He said 'give me an offer,' but we didn't really want to buy it, so I gave him a low price and, after about 20 minutes out in his car, he agreed," Fisher recalled. "I didn't have a use for a property and I remember thinking 'Oh no, that's not really what I wanted to happen!'" Fisher laughed, "But we bought it and put a few generators up there and put in a sewer system. Our plan was just to keep the traffic going for now and make the updates as we went along."
Following the purchase, Fisher employed families to run the gas station and the cabins behind the property and act as Igloo caretakers while he made plans to renovate the building and turn it into a working hotel.
"Basically," Fisher said, "The windows in that place are too small. They weren't put in according to the blue prints, I don't know why. So we came up with a design to bring it up to code. We had a lot of plans but unfortunately we just ran out of money to (follow through). When the price of fuel went up it just became unrealistic."
The End of an Igloo
In the early 2000s, when Fisher's project hit a financial wall, the momentum and effort behind the Igloo's renovation came to a scratching halt. And in 2005, the gas station and the rentable cabins on the property were shut down for good.
"By the time we pulled the plug (on renovations) prices had gone up to $4 a gallon for generator fuel, we just couldn't afford the electricity needed to run the place so we kind of just mothballed it," Fisher said. "It will almost take someone with a lot of money to turn it."
Despite the Igloo's forlorn appearance, the structure is well loved. "It was just a dream (of Smith's) to have a hotel that looked like an igloo ... the biggest thing about it is that one man built this thing almost entirely by himself," Fisher said. "It's kind of remarkable."
Fisher openly admits that he hasn't the heart to give up on Smith's vision and hard work. "I had to go to severe extent to close it off to theft and vandalism," he said, adding that over the years, "someone actually lit a camp fire in there ... and people have stolen some of the wood from the inside.
"I'd really like to see someone go forward with it. The fact is it's too good to tear down and I keep hoping, at some point, to put it to use."
Outside observation: hype and horror
Most Outside press -- and there's been quite a bit recently-- has taken a pretty harsh lean on the Igloo calling it an "architectural monstrosity," a "towering blob of a structure" and a "proverbial sore thumb," among other things. But locally the Igloo is still regarded as a welcome landmark.
Cantwell resident Mike White said he's never had a problem with the structure. "It's just a really cool building, you know when you get to that you're getting close to home!" White and his wife Kathie run the Backwoods Lodge in Cantwell. White says they see about 2,500 people a year and as far as he can recall he's never heard anyone say anything bad about it. "Everybody pretty much thinks, number one, that it's cool, and, number two, it's interesting because it's the only thing around for a ways."
Fisher agrees with White's spin on the building.
"I think most people are fascinated by it. Sure, the architecture's not anything fantastic, but it was more or less built by one man (and) structurally, for that area, it's one of the best designs you could have," he said.
Fisher is open to listen to anyone interested in making an offer on Igloo City as long as they're willing to do the work necessary to renovate it into a working hotel. "We're just open to any suggestions at this time," he said. "I'd love to one day see it in operation."
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Contact Katie Medred at katie(at)alaskadispatch.com
Alaska Dispatch Publishing