The Alaska Club

An Alaskan Social Community in Seattle

The Alaska Club was associated with one of the lesser-known facets of the gold rush era, that is, the formation of social and commerical institutions for the men who returned to the Seattle area from the Klondike and Alaskan gold rushes. Although most of the men who headed north found no gold, a small percentage of them did return with more than just memories, and the Alaska Club was founded as a social club with the intent to promote business ventures between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. 

Incorporated on December 7, 1903, with the object of promoting Alaska and its resources, the Alaska Club provided an exclusive social community for those who had ventured forth on what was perhaps the greatest adventure of their lifetime and had returned with a repertoire of engaging stories to tell about Alaska and the Yukon. Through the Club they could make business connections and enjoy the camaraderie of other men who had also traveled through that wild and beautiful north country. They would spend hours regaling each other with their splendid - although sometimes harrowing - adventures. Simply living through them had instilled in them all a common bond; a shared sense of a brotherhood of the north which many nurtured to their dying days. 

The Alaska Club also became a social community for some of Seattle’s most prominent businessmen, providing a gathering place for men with interests in or ties to Alaska, including gold rush miners, travelers en route to or coming from Alaska, former Alaska residents who had chosen to settle in Seattle, and wealthy men whose memorable tales of hardship and adventure enlivened many an evening. 

A 1904 letter from the Alaska Club to its members outlined the goals of the club and encouraged new members to join, stating, "We want to bring close, mutual and friendly relations between the people of Seattle and those who go to the front to open up new fields for the thrift and energy of the American in that new field of wealth, Alaska." 

The letter continued, "We want the Alaska Club in effect to be an Alaska Business Exchange, where all having Alaskan interests, or seeking business therein, may meet 'on change' to discuss matters of mutual interest. We want all Alaskans, Seattle Business Men and Visitors, to enroll their names on the Club’s register books. Any person of good moral character, who is interested in the present and future development of Alaska is eligible for membership in the Club.”

In the Yukon Territory newspaper, the Dawson Daily News, dated September 30, 1907, an article headlined “Troy Is At Helm” told readers how John W. Troy, former editor of the Skagway Daily Alaskan, had been made Superintendent of the Alaska Club of Seattle. Subtitled “Old Time Northern Man Now in Charge of Alaska Club,” the article explained that Troy–who would one day become governor of Alaska–was hoping to secure membership of 5,000 northerners “in anticipation of the rush of Alaskans who will make Seattle their headquarters this winter.”

After explaining that Troy was well known for his ability and integrity, the newspaper noted, “The demands on the club are large. It has done and is doing splendid work. It is Seattle’s contribution to Alaska. The Alaskans never fail to avail themselves of the Club’s privileges. It was in the Alaska Club that the 1909 exposition idea was born and brought to a practical head. It is the duty of every business man from a practical business point of view, if no other, to identify himself with this organization by applying for an active membership.” 

In 1908 a similar organization, the Arctic Club, was formed when it was realized that a more social organization was needed in juxtaposition to the Alaska Club’s largely commercial nature. In 1909 the two clubs merged, taking the name of the Arctic Club.

This merger is described in the book, Private Clubs of Seattle, by Celeste Louise Smith and Julie D. Pheasant-Albright (Arcadia Publishing, 2009). The first chapter is titled ‘The Arctic Club,’ and shares the history behind the association and the part played by the Alaska Club: 

“The Arctic Club was incorporated in 1908, but its roots went back further, to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. On December 7, 1903 the Alaska Club was formed to promote Alaska and its resources and industry. In 1904, the 300 members of the Alaska Club moved to the Alaska Building on the corner of Second Avenue and Cherry Street. Located on the 15th floor, the Alaska Club contained a meeting room, reception room, and a large collection of Alaskan artifacts supplied by J. E. Standley, proprietor of Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe.

“Soon it became apparent that the Alaska Club, which was largely commerial, needed more of a social aspect, and the Arctic Club was formed in April 1908. In 1909, the Arctic and Alaska Clubs merged. The first president was Falcon Joslin.”  

An article by Senior Contributing Staff Historian Jennifer Ott at the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history, Historylink.org, gives more details of the Alaska Club's beginnings and one of its most significant contributions: 

"A group of Alaskans at the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress in Seattle in 1903 conceived of the Alaska Club as a means to promote Alaska. The Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 had focused the world's attention on Alaska's gold resources and gold continued to come out of the northern gold fields, but after the turn of the century Alaskans looked for ways to draw attention to Alaska's other attractions. Other minerals, agricultural land, fisheries, and timber all abounded in Alaska. It remained remote, however, so Alaskans made a concerted effort to get the word out. The Alaska Club, located in Seattle because, "when coming south Alaskans all reach the same place," offered a central point from which to disseminate information about the territory and at which interested parties could gather. 

"Upon forming in 1903, the club had nearly 300 members, including prominent politicians such as Richard A. Ballinger, then mayor of Seattle. Although the club sought to highlight Alaska's advantages beyond gold, that attraction still captivated people's attention. The building promoted this imagery by placing a gold nugget in the front door.”

"In 1905 the Alaska Club played a key role in bringing the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition idea to fruition. Godfrey Chealander of Skagway, Alaska, stopped in Seattle while working on preparing the Alaska exhibit for the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. Having realized that there was not enough time to prepare a sufficient exhibit, Chealander suggested to J. E. Chilberg, president of the Alaska Club (and of the Miners and Merchants Bank in Nome), that Seattle mount its own exposition, focused on Alaska. Chilberg then brought the idea to the Alaska Club executive board, which agreed. The executive board and Chealander proposed the idea to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which also supported the concept. The idea grew to include the Yukon and the Pacific. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opened in Seattle on June 1, 1909." 

The Alaska Club, and later the Arctic Club, played a role in Seattle’s architectural history. In 1904 the construction of the 14 story Alaska Building, the first steel frame skyscraper in Seattle, was financed by Jafet Lindeberg, one of three “Lucky Swedes” who struck gold in Nome in 1898, along with other stockholders. It was the second home of the Alaska Club.

Terra cotta walrus heads line the third floor of the Arctic Building, built in 1916 for the Arctic Club. The orignal design included a polar bear over the Third Avenue entrace to the building. 

In 1916 the Arctic Construction Company, made up of investors from the Arctic Club, built the magnificent Arctic Building, with terra cotta walrus-heads lining the third floor.  It was the last home of the Arctic Club, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. In bringing together men whose business and social interests were invested in Alaska, the Alaska Club helped keep their profits going to Seattle’s merchants, bankers, investors, and others, and by 1910 the city’s population had surpassed that of rival city Portland, Oregon to the south. In 1921 historian Ezra Meeker wrote “without Alaska, Washington would not now have attained the commanding development that is her pride.”

This stained glass dogteam was in the Alaskan Cafe at the first Arctic Club building (now the Morrison Hotel), at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street. The glasswork now hangs in Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI).

From The Stained Glass Dog Team, The Mystery Behind a Craftsman’s Contribution to the History of Seattle, by Helen Hegener, published in 2014 by Northern Light Media. www.northernlightmedia.com