The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Fern Greenbank
LOG Editor 

Two downtown historic buildings receive preservation grant

 

Fern Greenbank | The Seward Phoenix LOG

The historic "cable house" on Sixth Avenue is undergoing total restoration by the Libbrecht family, aided by an historic preservation grant.

Councilwoman Iris Darling, owner of the Brown and Hawkins Building on Fourth Street, along with Tanguy Libbrecht, CEO of American Red Cross in Anchorage, are the recipients of historic preservation grants to make improvements to their respective projects.

The grant will help Libbrecht in his giant restoration projects with the Cable House on Sixth Avenue and Darling is making exterior repairs to the Brown and Hawkins buildings with her grant.

The grants are highly competitive, said Darling.

"We feel fortunate to be selected," she said. Darling said she is a strong proponent of historic preservation and feels newer materials and construction on or near historic register buildings devalue the properties and don't value Seward's rich history.

Darling will be using her grant to do some window work that have to be maintained according to guidelines for buildings on the Register.

Libbrecht owns the home next door to the historic Cable House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. He said he and his family watched the house deteriorate for more than a year. They decided to take on the restoration because they didn't want to see a piece of history crumble and be demolished.

"This is absolutely a labor of love," said Libbrecht. "I just love old houses."

He said the whole family, which includes his wife and four children, committed to the preservation project. When the family comes to Seward for project days, they all squeeze into the restored areas of the house while they work on a new section.

Libbrecht gets animated when he talks about the house. He said he wants to support Seward's efforts at historic preservation and he's doing his part. The grant he received requires matching funds, which he contributes, but the grant also allows for donated labor and supplies as part of that matching portion. He has local craftsmen and restoration specialists volunteering their time. He said he can take all the help he can get if others in Seward have expertise they can provide.

The Government Cable Office served as a telegraph office connecting Seward with communications in the rest of the United States. One part of the building was the cable business and the upstairs was the living quarters. Libbrecht was able to salvage a part of the counter where people went to send their cables.

The cable office was constructed in 1905 by the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Telegraph service from the lower states first connected to Valdez, Alaska. In summer 1905, submarine cable was extended from Valdez to Seward.

The first message over the line was to A.C. Frost, president of the Alaska Central Railway, who was in Chicago: "This first message transmitted over Alaska Cable connects Seward from this day to the great city of Chicago."

The house formally known on the Historic Register as the Government Cable House, was constructed in 1905.

Before the telegraph line, outside news arrived via steam ship days or weeks later. The office was operated by Army personnel. Service continued until an earthquake severed the line in 1934. By that time, radio communication had been established by the Navy and the telegraph line was not replaced. The government retained ownership until 1961. Since then, the building has served as a private residence and rented apartments.

Today, Libbrecht is working on removal of the stucco, which was crumbling and unsightly.

"The irony is, the stucco actually preserved the original wood," said Libbrecht, as he shows off one full side of the house that is freshly painted original wood.

Although the Libbrecht family are not full time residents of Seward, they are full time Seward lovers.

"I just think this is a cool little town," said Libbrecht. "If it loses its historic charm, it's just any town that is also pretty. I would hate to see that happen."

 

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