Harbormaster office: an unclear chapter of Homer history
By McKibben Jackinsky
With work already begun on a new harbormaster office, the future of the existing one is uncertain. (See related story, page 1.)
“If you want my two cents, this building needs to be removed and we should create parking in this area… until a higher and better use comes along,” said Harbormaster Bryan Hawkins.
Carey Meyer, the city’s public works director, is of a similar mind.
“Maybe the old site can be — and this is a decision for the city council and others — used for additional parking,” said Meyer.
Its future seems as uncertain as its past. Combing through old copies of the Homer News, few details are given specifically about the building.
Predating any newspaper coverage was Wilma Williams’ story about Charlie Erickson, the person who took care of the Homer dock, and his base of operations in the early 1940s. She recalled that a storm in 1941 or 1942 sent waves across the Spit. Freezing winter temperatures coated everything with ice and caused residents to worry about Erickson’s welfare.
“Daddy and Glen Bowers and somebody else tried to drive out to the Spit, worried about Charlie. They drove as far as they could get with Daddy’s Model A Ford,” said Williams. “Then they hiked the rest of the way and took food and when they got where they could see the little log cabin where Charlie lived, it was iced over.”
No smoke was seen coming out of the chimney and the three men set about using axes to chop through the ice and into the cabin.
“When they got inside, they saw him in bed and thought he was dead,” said Williams. “One went over and started to pull the covers back and he said, ‘Don’t pull those back. It’ll be cold.’”
One of the first harbor-related newspaper stories is in February 1958, when the Homer Public Utility District received bids for construction of a new warehouse on the Homer Dock. Then, when the 1964 earthquake caused the Spit to drop, the warehouse was dismantled. It and the office and house of Red Cleaver, described as the “warfinger,” were moved to higher ground.
Rebuilding Homer’s small boat harbor began shoftly after the 1964 earthquake. The city council approved advertising for a harbormaster. In September 1965, work on the harbor was completed and the entire harbor turned over to the city.
In April of 1966, following Cleaver’s resignation, A. C. Gribble was hired to fill the port manager spot and Louis Gjosund Jr. became the harbormaster.
Williams, who knew Cleaver, said Cleaver’s resignation coincided with her memory of his departure from the area to join family in the Lower 48.
In June of that year, there is a Homer News story about the port administrator’s office being moved “to a more convenient location,” and having Harbormaster Gribble and Port Manager Gjosund in the same building. The exact location is not noted; however, with Hawkins’ guessing the current harbormaster’s office is as old as the post-earthquake harbor, perhaps they are one and the same.
Whatever its construction date, the current office’s first of three parts is now used by the harbor’s administrative staff.
“It started out as an oversized telephone booth and kind of improved from there,” said Hawkins.
The first of two expansions was done by moving a restroom from the fish dock area and remodeling it as office space for the harbor officers. A second expansion occurred when Franco Venuti got the contract to add an area now used for Hawkins’ office.
“That must have been about 1981 or 1982,” said Venuti. “We added offices and changed the parking around.”
Venuti also recalled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers placing a sign underneath the old harbormaster’s office that announced the opening of the new harbor.
When Deputy Harbormaster Matt Clarke and his crew cleaned out the office crawl space, they didn’t see the sign. Whether it still exists may only be known after construction of the new office is complete and the existing building is demolished.
If, indeed, it is.
“I’m sure the property will be put out for RFP to see what interest there is in continuing to utilize the building by somebody else or potentially removing it and looking for another beneficial use,” said Meyer. “
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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