The Beleaguered Buckner Building of Whittier, Alaska

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

The Buckner Building stands in Whittier, Alaska—the gateway to Prince William Sound—as a relic to a forgotten past. It is tucked away in the hidden port town of Whittier, a town that can only be accessed by boat, plane, or through a single train tunnel that moonlights as a passage way for big rigs, and automobiles. The bay area that surrounds Whittier is solely deep-water ports that stay ice-free year round and the railroad port is one of two, all-weather ports that supplied Anchorage with military necessities and during times of war was of key importance in order for it to stay functioning and safeguarded. The climate that the port operates under is one of nearly constant cloud coverage, which is beneficial in the respect that it protects the port and its facilities from air strikes. With all aspects of this port town taken into consideration, Whittier was possibly the most perfect place to have a military base of this caliber.

The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska Photography by Mary Farnstrom
The Buckner Building in Whittier, AK
The Buckner Building in Whittier, Alaska
Photography by Mary Farnstrom

The Construction and Function of the Buckner Building

Early in the course of World War II General Simon Buckner, the commander of the defensive forces of the state of Alaska was highly concerned that the state would be vulnerable to air attacks. Buckner also believed that the best type of facility would be one that autonomous, with its own power plant, sufficient storage space, and bomb-proof. The Cold War began two short years after the end of World War II and in 1953, six years into the second red scare, the construction of the Buckner Building was completed, and having been cast in place by reinforced concrete on a bedrock of slate and greywacke the building was on stable ground not susceptible to seismic shifting from earthquakes, or from thawing of any remaining permafrost.

The building was once listed as one of the largest in the state, it stands six stories tall, is approximately 500 feet long and between 50-150 feet wide (depending on which part of the floor plan it is)—all of this adds up to around 275,000 square feet of space. This massive concrete building was built in seven sections, each section having been separated by eight-inch gaps—as a means to have the structural flexibility to ride out large magnitude earthquakes and concussive forces.

In its heyday, The Buckner Building once housed the entire city of Whittier, Alaska—within its walls were also all of the relevant services were located. There was a small hospital, a 350 seat theater, four-lane bowling alley, six-cell jail, church, bakery, barbershop, library, radio station, rifle range, photography lab, commissary, officers’ lounge, as well as a mess hall, and innumerable sleeping quarters for military personnel and their families.

The Earthquake of 1964

In March of 1964, Alaska was hit by the most powerful earthquake in the history of North America (second most powerful throughout world history)—registering at a magnitude of 9.2 and lasting a full four minutes and thirty-eight seconds, the Great Alaskan earthquake caused multiple ground fissures along south central Alaska, but it also collapsed structures and caused multiple tsunamis—all of this resulted in an estimated 131 deaths. Whittier itself was not immune to the natural disaster, with thirteen people dead and damages to private and federally owned property that were over five million dollars. The Buckner building itself was also slightly damaged, although the structural integrity was not compromised due to the foundation upon the bedrock—the rest of the town received considerably more in damages due to the unconsolidated sediment that it rests on.

The Abandonment of the Base

The building was in operation until 1966, when the military finally pulled out of the Port of Whittier, the building was then transferred to the General Services Administration; after being vacated by the military, however, the ownership of the building changed hands several times. At one point Pete Zamarello, a man dubbed as the “Anchorage Strip Mall Czar”, obtained ownership of the Buckner Building with ideas of turning it into the state prison—but his deal with the state fell through and it was purchased by the citizens of the new City of Whittier in 1972. By the 1980s, the building had fallen into disrepair, windows and doors were missing, so the building began to decompose—being exposed to the elements allowed water to begin accumulating, and the building itself being in a constant state of freeze and thaw.

By 2014, nearly every inch of the building, inside and out, had been vandalized—the floors were covered in at least an inch of water, and was riddled with asbestos, mold, and mildew—suffice it to say it was no longer a safe environment for people to go exploring in. The problem was, was that there was hardly any regulation in place to keep people out of the building—so they began to crack down on trespassers on the property.

The city of Whittier came under the ownership of the Buckner Building in 2016 when the building officially went into foreclosure, it was at this point that a fence went up around the building to keep trespassers out. While the Whittier Department of Public Works and Public Utilities has done work on the property, and the city continues to express their desire to maintain it in order to preserve history, the Alaska Department of Environment Conservation has recommended demolition. While there have been many discussions to demolish the building, it has been ruled as being cost-prohibitive—this is due to the sheer amount of asbestos that is in the building and that the only land route in and out of Whittier. This route is through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, a two and a half mile railroad tunnel which allots thirty-minute windows for cars to travel through at certain times during the day—the only other option to remove debris would be on ships.

Having been abandoned for over forty years has taken its toll on the interior—where the ceilings are falling in, the light fixtures are and some parts of the exterior of the building which is tagged and degraded. The Buckner Building does still stand as of July 2020—it stands as a crumbling, darkened, cracked, and adulterated monument of an era of military and government ambition that has not since returned.

A Look Inside the Abandoned Buckner Building

Is the Buckner Building Haunted?

While this enormous abandoned building in Whittier looks incredibly spooky against the typically overcast, grey dreary skies of this hidden port town, there are also rumors of the building being haunted. While this writer’s personal investigation didn’t result in the capture of any evidence of the paranormal, other people have reported encounters and experiences that they have been more than happy to share. The Buckner Building is closed to the public, so going into the building itself is a no-go unless you want to risk health complications (mercury, lead, and asbestos poisoning is possible), injury, death, or–most likely, a hefty fine from the local police. Locals of Whittier are pretty vigilant to keep people away from and out of the building, but it doesn’t mean people haven’t ventured in to get an up-close and personal experience inside of these reportedly haunted walls. There are believed to be multiple presences within the building, although there are no records to explain these hauntings.

Due to the dilapidation of the building, the first basement is only accessible through a hole in the wall now, where the second basement is now only accessible through a hole in the floor. These two rooms are said to house an entity of “pure evil,” and people are warned to stay away from the area completely, especially the stairwell that has red, detached wiring hanging from the ceiling. Far southwest stairwell, the second corridor on the second floor, the jail, and the third floor are all haunted by apparitions–in particular, an entity that is witnessed hanging from water pipes on the second floor, and a little girl who is seen wandering the third floor crying. Room three to the right of the mental ward of the hospital, within the corridor right before the jail is reported to be especially haunted, to the point that the entity within will only allow certain people to enter the room. If this entity does not accept the person trying to enter, the door will slam shut before they can enter and seems to be locked from the inside.

The Haunting of Captain George Conrad Flavel House in Astoria, OR

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

About the House

The Flavel House in Astoria, while now a museum, was once a mansion that is haunted by the spirits of those poor souls of the family who once inhabited its walls. The phantom remnants of the Flavel family have made themselves known by speaking amongst themselves—which has been reported as disembodied voices—as well as practicing music in the empty rooms. A woman’s ghost has been sighted in the hallway, and Captain Flavel himself has been seen in his old bedroom before promptly vanishing.

The Interior

A Queen Anne style, two and a half story, 11,600 square-foot behemoth, the Flavel House sits on the corner of a fairly large plot of land—there is traditional woodwork around the interior windows, doors, windows, and staircase, all of which are Eastlake-influenced in design. The doors and window trim were made of Douglas Fir and were crafted by a master carpenter to look like mahogany and burl rosewood. There are six unique fireplace mantels within the house and they feature different imported tiles from around the world, an elaborate hand-carved mantel and a patterned firebox designed to burn coal. The first floor features fourteen-foot high ceilings, where the second floor’s ceilings sit at twelve feet high and are both embellished with crown molding and plaster medallions. The house was also fitted with indoor plumbing—incredibly state-of-the-art at the time—as well as gas-fueled lighting.

The first floor is dedicated to the public rooms, such as the grand entrance hall, formal parlor, music room—where the Flavel daughters held their music recitals—the library, dining room, and conservatory. The more private rooms on the first floor included the butler’s pantry, kitchen, and mudroom which were reserved for the housekeeping staff. The second floor was where the main bathroom, five bedrooms, and a small storage room or sewing room were. The attic floor is large and unfinished and houses the two plain wood bedrooms that were used by the Flavel’s domestic help. The four-story tower was made for the Captain to have a 360-degree view of Astoria and the Columbia River as a way for him to keep an eye on the local ship traffic coming through. There was also a dirt-floor basement that housed the large wood-burning furnace that kept the house warm.

The Carriage House was home to the family’s caretaker, and was also originally made to hold the family kept their carriage, sleigh, and small buggies—where it had three temporary holding stalls for their horses, a tack room, and an upstairs hayloft. In time it was transitioned to hold the more modern vehicles, such as the Flavel’s Studebaker sedan, and the family’s driver kept a room upstairs.

The Grounds

Not too long after the house was originally built, the family’s gardener, Louis Schultz, began planting trees, beautiful roses, as well as bulb flowers and shrubs—many of which were typical of a traditional Victorian garden. A number of the trees on the premises were officially named Oregon Heritage Trees—there is also a pond and a bench under the pear tree where Flavel’s daughters would sit in the shade. The entire house is considered a significant architectural and historical treasure for the entire Pacific Northwest.

The Timeline of the Flavels, Their Houses & Fate

1886

While the construction of the Captain George Conrad Flavel house was started in 1884, and it was finally finished in the spring of 1886. The Flavel House was built for Captain George Conrad Flavel and his family. The house was designed by German-born architect Carl W. Leick and the construction bordered between the Victorian and Colonial Revival periods. It was considered a prime example of Queen Anne architecture; one of the few remaining well-preserved examples in the entire Northwest. Due to the Captain’s long history and contributions to the community of Astoria, the Flavel family had long been considered the most prominent family in town.

The Captain had made his name and fortune as a prominent businessman through real estate investments and his occupation as a Columbia River bar pilot—becoming Astoria’s first millionaire—at the age of 62, he was finally able to retire in the house that he had built for himself and his family.

1887

The Carriage House was built on the south-west corner of the property.

1890s

Alex Murray, the family’s hired caretaker, called the Carriage House home while in the employment of the Flavels.

1893

Captain Flavel lived in the house for seven years with his wife Mary Christina Boelling and their two adult daughters, Nelli and Katie. Their son, George Conrad Flavel never resided within the George Conrad Flavel House, as he was already married and living in a house of his own. During his seventh year in the residence of the Flavel House, Captain Flavel passed away, leaving the to the family.

1901

Captain George Conrad Flavel’s son, George Conrad Flavel would build his house—the house that is now often referred to as the Harry Flavel House. George Conrad Flavel Junior had worked as a bar pilot for his father, becoming a Captain as well.

1922

When most of downtown Astoria was destroyed by a fire, the Flavel House was one of the only survivors.

1934

The Captain George Conrad Flavel House remained in the family until the great-granddaughter Patricia Jean Flavel gave the property to the city as a memorial to her family.

1936

The house was set to be torn down to establish an outdoor community property—the city ended up having financial difficulties and returned the property to Patricia Flavel—that same year, Patricia deeded the residence to Clatsop County, but with conditions. The understanding was that both the grounds and the house would be kept in good repair and used for public purposes.

1937

From the time the house was deeded the to county, until the end of World War II, the Public Health Department, Red Cross, and local Welfare Commission all had offices within the mansion.

1951

The Captain George Conrad Flavel House was officially added to the list of the National Register of Historic places, before which it was nearly demolished twice—once for a parking lot and again for a community park, but the townspeople rallied against the proposal and it began to be operated by the Clatsop County Historical Society in 1950.

2003

The Camperdown Elm, Sequoia Redwood, four Cork Elms, Bay Laurel, Pear, and Ginkgo Biloba trees on the premises were named official Oregon Heritage Trees in a state-wide dedication ceremony that was held on the grounds.

The Haunting at Captain George Conrad Flavels House

Truly, ever since the Flavel house was converted into a museum in 1951, there have been many reports of hauntings; phantom music and voices were heard on the first story of the house which was believed to have been a product of the Flavel sisters, as they were gifted musicians. The Library has always housed an unhappy and strange presence. There is an apparition of a woman who roams the hallway on the second floor, but she vanishes when approached—and a floral scent can be smelt at strange times in the bedroom of Ms. Flavel, when no one has been around. In Captain George Flavel’s room, his apparition can be seen, but he disappears into the floor once he has been noticed.