By Russell Stigall for Seward City News –
Styles come and go, but being authentic has never been cooler. To actively seek out authenticity in a world of mass-production and seasonal fads is not easy or cheap. When owners of Brown and Hawkins Hugh and Iris Darling decided to update their century-old mercantile they could have gone with modern glass and metal.
“It would have been cheaper,”’ Iris Darling said.
However, Seward’s historic nature steered the Darlings to embrace their building’s past.
“I care about what I do, but I also care about the town. I think if we keep changing the core values of Seward we will lose them like other Alaska towns,” Darling said. Along with Seward’s other attractions “people come for the history.”
Brown and Hawkins earned plaques from both the National Register of Historic Places and and Seward’s Historic Preservation Commission Register of Historic Places. The former is bestowed by the United States Department of the Interior, the latter by the City of Seward.
Before its historic remodel, Darling said, Brown and Hawkins hadn’t been significantly changed since Darling’s family built it in 1904. This played to their advantage attaining registry status. She said she worries that other historic building could lose out if they change.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Darling said.
“People love history,” Darling said, “we need to encourage people to keep the historic aspect of this town.”
“We get a lot of people coming through our building and we are proud to show it,” Darling said. Brown and Hawkins has hosted two United States Presidents – Warren Harding and Barack Obama.
State Historian and Executive Director of the Alaska Historical Society,Jo Antonson presented Iris and Hugh their plaques.
“With their energy to fix it up and keep it going, they made a big difference,” Antonson said.
It was fitting Antonson brought the plaques. She was with the Darlings when they first started down their path to National Historic recognition.
“Years ago…upstairs [of Brown and Hawkins] in her living room,” Antonson said. “She was a hard sell,” she said.
While there are requirements owners must consider when a historic building is remodeled, Antonson said, these rules would not prevent the Darlings from updating Brown and Hawkins.
“I told that listing in the register didn’t mean she couldn’t still use change and make the building modern,” Antonson said.
Listing in the National Historic Registry comes with perks beyond a groovy facade. Businesses on the registry are eligible for in-kind grants and tax credits.
“And there is publicity and notoriety,” Antonson said.
Antonson said Seward is in a great position to capitalize on its history. Seward has a long history and a corresponding long list of historic places.
“This town has quite a few,” Antonson said. From the Ballaine House to the Sweatman House, the Depot, The Van Guilder, the Jesse Lee Home “which is threatened and endangered,” and the Lowell Creek Flood Control Project. These and other sites are a benefit to Seward, she said.
Seward’s historical assets are bolstered by a good historical society and museum, its great local writers of history and playing host to the start of the Historic Iditarod Trail. Seward is also a formal partner with the state registry. However, there is more Seward can do, Antonson said.
As an example, Fairbanks offers tax freezes to owners of historic buildings.
“As long as they maintain the status and character of the historic building,” Antonson said.
Seward is old for an Alaskan city, so it has a lot of historic potential
Tomas J. Mudgett lent a hand at least one drill bit. He has experience mounting plaques – Mudgett unofficially plaqued his own building for its centennial. The green two-story with a shop front at 227 Fourth Avenue is slated for a historically inspired remodel. Built in 1916 the building was originally owned by Seward’s Sexton family.
“We want to keep it old,” Mudgett said, “because it is old. We want to make it safe and better, but I like that old-timey stuff.”
The building has lots of potential, Mudgett said. Previous work shored up the structure so its bones are solid. It also has a lot of character. Like an cement-encased floor safe and and a second floor on a slope.
“Our current project is to level the floor, but it was built on the old roof,” Mudgett said.
The Darlings continue to enjoy the fame and financial success that comes in some part from authenticity. Their plaques now flank a central entrance to the three-building complex.
For more information, please contact Resurrection Bay Historical Society at email@example.com or at the Community Library and Museum at 224-4082.
For more information on how to become part of the historic registry contact Alaska Historical Society at the Office of History and Archeology in the Department of Natural Resources www.alaskahistoricalsociety.org.