Town under one roof

Almost the entire population of Whittier, Alaska, lives in a single building.

Whittier, Alaska
Enrico Blasutto, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in 2019 I wrote about the apartment building that used to house one percent of the population of Greenland. On the opposite side of the continent – in the city of Whittier, Alaska – there is another building with a similar reputation: Begich Towers.

Whittier began its life as a US military base called Camp Sullivan. In the mid-20th century it was a port for army personnel travelling to and from Alaska; unlike nearby Anchorage, the bay stays ice-free year round so it was strategically advantageous to build there. In 1954 and 1957 a couple of large buildings were constructed to house the occupants of the base. I presume that they went with such large towers because it was more efficient to heat and house everyone together.

At the time they were built, there were few larger buildings in the whole state. The towers had it all: church, boilers, bowling alley, and living quarters for hundreds of people. If you didn’t want to leave, you really didn’t need to step foot out of the front doors. And, given that the daily mean temperature in December doesn’t get above zero degrees Celsius, I wouldn’t exactly blame you for staying inside.

The army left in 1966 and civilians replaced the army; the area was incorporated as a city in 1969. It’s not a big city – in 2010 the estimated population was 210 people – but almost everyone who lives in Whittier today lives in just one of those two towers.

Begich Towers is a condo with a school, a playground, a store, and a laundromat – everything you need under one roof. Pretty much the entire town lives there. The other complex in the city, the Buckner Building, has been empty and abandoned since the army left. I assume the Buckner Building is haunted.

[Thanks to Gareth E.]

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