Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Renaissance for Neglected Jesse Lee Home

Am extremely happy to discover that the new group working on the Jesse Lee Home project seem to be set on turning this historically significant building into more than just a housing project.

Previous proposals for the building included low income, senior, or assisted living housing. These were shortsighted and inappropriate uses of what should be a public building.

With its ideal location next to residential neighborhoods and local schools, Jesse Lee begs to be made a place where friends and neighbors join together to explore the legacy of our past and to bring to fruition the hopes we have for our future. Alaskan children were the focus of the Jesse Lee Home, and children should be inside her walls again.

If the building is physically suitable to be an apartment complex then she is fit to be an interactive learning library and museum that greatly enhances the quality of life for ALL of our citizens. Revamp the stage that is already there and you have a delightful place for a readers theater, roadshows, one-act plays, music recitals and small group meetings. A place to grab a cup of cocoa, talk about the latest mystery novel, or research on the internet would draw regulars.

By combining an interactive museum with the public library we could have displays that educate and stimulate, room for archives and researchers, and consolidate staffing. We would be able to host traveling exhibits and symposiums.

A few well-placed meeting rooms inside the Jesse Lee Home could help support its maintenance by hosting group small conferences - that year-round income doesn't hurt the rest of Seward either. Such a venue also brings the perpetual grant money that straight housing will never find.

Anyone who suggests that it is too far away from downtown and no one would go there, or that moving the museum/library from downtown would somehow diminish the quality of what Fourth Avenue has to offer is being less than progressive in their thinking. Seward is only three miles long, access is not an issue, and the Jesse Lee Home merits being a focal point in this community.

Seniors have a great transportation network in this city, no doubt the trolley would be happy to follow the same route the school buses do. The lots behind Jesse Lee could be paved and landscaped into an attractive parking lot. Students from all over could stay at Jesse Lee for a semester while attending classes unavailable in their villages.

With a population that is 30% Alaska Native, Seward is rural student-friendly in size, layout, and location. Jesse Lee is ideal for that purpose. Historically we opened our arms to those populations. As the Gateway to Alaska we embraced all of the state's cultures with respect and dignity, which is how we got the Jesse Lee Home here in the first place.

Jesse Lee could be successfully marketed as a destination location for the tourist trade, while at the same time enhancing the quality-of-life of the people of Seward as a public-use campus...honoring our past, meeting the needs of our present, and ensuring the strength of our future generations.

Restoration of the Jesse Lee Home has been plagued by naysayers since the earthquake. It is a proud legacy, not just for the people of Seward, but for all of Alaska. Our heritage deserves better than to be dumbed down into a low income housing complex.

I am happy that the powers that be have reconsidered the proposed use of this remarkable building and under their stewardship Jesse Lee will be given the opportunity to make as significant an impact on our future as she has made on our past.

I was relieved last night when the Seward City Council voted unanimously to place the Jesse Lee as the number one priority for the Historical Preservation Commission.

I am grieved to note that one of my fellow council members expressed concern that this project may shift city administration resources from other projects they deemed "more worthy."

We need to get behind this effort, 100%, with no reservations. Our stewardship over this historical gem has been horrendously irresponsible, and that wrong needs to be righted.


Anonymous said...

Your site looks terrific. P.S., my mom worked at Jesse Lee in the 50's and totally agrees with your vision of what it could be. Good luck with your blog (the first one I've ever visited!).

Anonymous said...

I have considered the use of the JLH for a
museum/library and find that the current traffic
pattern is horrendous. Whether accessing the site from
Resurrection Blvd/Swetmann or Phoenix/Dora Way, it is
very congested, limited, and potentially dangerous.

All the residents of Dora Way spill out down a narrow,
curving road that lacks sidewalks, and either continue
down a much narrower, winding Phoenix or turn onto
Bear and then onto Resurrection Blvd/Swetmann. Teen
drivers speed down this road 9 months of the year. It
is very busy with a concentration of multi-family
housing units.

Swetmann/Res is wider with sidewalks, but also curves
dangerously. Bear Drive east is a mandated yield that
is by nature dangerous, especially in the winter when
school buses prefer the yield to a stop due to the ice
and a slippery slope.

Encouraging kids, who must walk or bike, to go to a
library/museum on unsafe roads is never a good plan.

When I picture my family trying to go to the library
or museum up there compared to the ease of accessing
it downtown in its historic location, I find the
downtown location to be much safer and thus
preferable. There are sidewalks, it is not hilly, and
there are multiple access roads.

A few other thoughts: a new building can be
constructed in compliance with ADA regulations and for
high energy efficiency. A new design will accommodate
current and future needs much easier than a remodel.

I encourage you to contact Librarian Patty Linville.
She and others have studied this matter extensively
and would be happy to share her expertise.

I appreciate the effort you have put into this issue.

Anonymous said...

I think the Jesse Lee home should be exactly what it was intended for for. After my involvement with the Stoner kids and seeing they had no place to go,and the Bon Appette, accused of messing with the kids,and Pennys last problem kid that ended up in Kenai and Palmer.

These kids need to stay near their family and friends,churches,etc. I think it would be possible to use the heritage money to fix it up.

The drug and drinking problem has grown everyday and we need a place for these kids to stay. The Stoner kid was 15 when his mom died from drinking and his father died within the year.

He lived hand to mouth for two years. No place to go. This has happened with several families and I think it is a travesty to not address this issue, but no one wants to.

I realize in this day it should not be called a orphanage, so we will call it a group home.

Anonymous said...

I thought about this all night and I think that they should name the small house the Penny Hardy Center.

I don't think you realize how many kids Penny, Kathy at Kates Roadhouse and I have tried to

Providing a place to live, food,clothing,etc.(out of our pockets.

I spent $550 plus a month at the Marina restaurant buying people food that were hungry. I sent extra food in Shauna lunch for two
of her friends whose parents had died.

I have no numbers how many kids in Alaska parents are both locked up and the kids have no place to go. I know there are alot.

I know that Penny and has taken in 14 to 20 kids over the years not asking a dime from the government. Those days are over and the town and state NEED a place.

I have worked on projects like this with Sister Bernardine the good shepherd order all across the

With the Heritage money to refurbish and monthly amount for the care of children it is possible.

We can spend $32,ooo for bronze birds in the boat habor we can
do this.

Dorene Lorenz said...

I agree strongly with the access problem. It is my understanding that since the Jesse Lee is a historically significant site - and the Seward Highway is a dedicated scenic byway there are non-matching grants available - multi-millions over several years - to change the access route to the "tourist" location via a special program for just this purpose in the Fed DOT.

Someone told me that their used to be a right-of-way that was vacated that would have made for a smoother transition. Do you know anything about this?

Anonymous said...

I believe the Bear Road extension that goes across
from Urbach's home and behind JLH was vacated by
special request, and not in the public's best
interest. It is now a dead end.

P&Z has discussed it. This access road should
definitely be reopened to provide more access to and
from Dora Way.


Anonymous said...

I take it you don't like my ideal about Jesse Lee

Dorene Lorenz said...


It is not that I am against your idea, I am just not sure that it is the best use for that particular facility.

At the end of the day I would just be very happy to have an appropriate year-round vender in the location that keeps the buildings on the National Historic Register.

As much as I adore Penny Hardy, I am also aware that the buildings already have names well steeped in tradition.

Goode Hall, for example, was named after a woman who all on her own raised the fantastic amount of money to construct the building at a time when cash was very short.

I am certainly not opposed to naming most anything after such a honorable and distinctive individual as Penny Hardy.

There are so many nameless things that there really isn't a compelling reason to take someone just-as-deserving's name off of a pre-named-thing.