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Fire takes a building that lasted decades as a hotbed of politics, art and craziness

A reputed flophouse that burned Friday in Fairview was once a center of creativity and political change.

The Warehouse, also called the Wherehouse or the Werehaus over the years, was headquarters of a hippie takeover of Alaska politics in the early 1970s and the nucleus for an artistic scene that lasted more than 20 years.

A couple of generations of bohemians passed through the building, which had apartments sharing a kitchen and a large common area for parties, concerts and artwork. The community evolved from leftists to feminists, home-birth midwives, vegetarian purists, and finally punk rock kids.

Alumni from this school for freedom connected on Facebook over the weekend to share memories and photos of the building at 1414½ Karluk St. They included former and current legislators, business people, lawyers, bureaucrats and other community pillars.

It's been more than 30 years since the building's heyday. When it burned, people who were crashing there didn't know each other, according to KTVA.

The Warehouse began as a warehouse, built after World War II, but became an art center in the early 1960s, when Wendy Jones bought the building and began screening art films there.

Jones and her husband Glen arrived in Alaska in 1948 and homesteaded in West Anchorage. They roughed out Northern Lights Boulevard to get to their land, now the subdivision off Wendy's Way, near Earthquake Park.

Wendy, who died in 1997 at age 91, was an energetic, eccentric lover of art who claimed to have circled the world nine times accumulating a collection she showed at an A-frame that still stands on the pond at the old homestead. To bring avante garde creativity to Anchorage, she rented out space at the Warehouse for next to nothing.

The political part started with the arrival of a hippie with a big Afro named Bill Weimar, a veteran of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations who drove to Alaska in a VW bus in 1969. When Weimar moved into the Warehouse, it became headquarters of Alaska's Ad Hoc Democrats.

The Alaska Democratic Party of the early 1970s hadn't changed much since the 1950s, rallying around the personality of Gov. Bill Egan, who had chaired Alaska's Constitutional Convention. The ad hoc kids instead put on rock concerts, funding their activities with bags of cash collected from ticket sales.

In 1972, they flooded party caucuses and took over with a platform of peace, liberalism, environmental protection and support for George McGovern for president. After the Watergate scandal, their candidates briefly dominated the Alaska State House.

The insurgents created state parks, passed high oil taxes, decriminalized marijuana and, when they couldn't pass a campaign finance law, took to the streets with an initiative petition that led to the creation of the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

And they had fun.

"The sexual revolution was on and marijuana was the drug of choice. There were other drugs, but you could tell the story without them. You really can't tell the story without marijuana," said Bill Parker, who was elected to the House in 1972, with his long hair.

"'Joint caucus' took on new meaning. You'd call a joint caucus and there'd be sniggering in the back rows," Parker told me in 2010.

The Ad Hoc's printing press remained at the Warehouse in 1974 when Greg Granquist moved in, but the group's day had already passed, with only one member still in residence. Weimar became a millionaire businessman before being jailed for political corruption in 2008 and leaving Alaska.

Granquist lived at the Warehouse 13 years, interrupted by a year when the dogmatic vegetarians voted him out.

The place was chaotic during the housing shortage of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline construction years, 1973-77. People crammed the rooms.

"There were folksingers, Okie oil field workers, chess players, runaways, a professional clown — basically whoever found their way there and had money for rent," Granquist said.

But in 1978 the Warehouse began a golden age of stability. A lesbian couple from Arizona organized the residents into a real community of shared housework, cooking duties and mutual support.

Among the residents from that era, Rona Meyers pioneered the home-birth movement that took on the medical establishment to allow more options for mothers. Meyers delivered scores of babies, including four at the Warehouse when women showed up at the door in labor.

The famous Halloween parties began in the mid-70s and grew every year. Residents would spend up to a month decorating around themes. Hundreds of guests filled the space all weekend until the kegs were gone.

In 1984, during Reagan's presidency, George Orwell's novel "1984" provided the theme. The party involved rented buses, a sojourn for pie in the Presidential Suite at the Hotel Captain Cook, military uniforms and passports to the Eighth People's Werehaus Republic, of which Granquist was president.

But another transition was happening. One crowd was growing up and moving on and the punks were arriving. Granquist cut his hair and died it black. Kids brought intense new music and art to the Warehouse, a scene that continued until 1987, a year after Jones sold the building.

Peggy Wilcox, still a student at West High, remembers bringing a band to the Warehouse and starting a party without warning. She painted murals and learned to play the guitar there.

"It involved poetry and music and art. It was a wonderful, wonderful place," she said. "I met my first boyfriend there."

A lot of firsts happened there, to read the Facebook posts and emails going back and forth over the weekend. Mark Watson recalled, for example, the day a neighboring building burned and disgorged a huge load of bomb casings. They became furniture.

But with the craziness, there was also creativity and gentleness. Granquist tried to keep drugs away. Punk kids who had run away from home received a place to sleep and, in the morning, persuasion to go home.

Wendy Jones' experiment was a success. We need places where young people can share, create and be free.

The views expressed here are the writer's 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. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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