BETTER KNOW A NEIGHBORHOOD
Similar to the “Better Know a District” feature on the “Stephen Colbert Report” comedy show, here is the first installment of an insider’s view of Juneau’s various neighborhoods. Without his writing team and gift for humor, this is going to be a mostly factual (but hopefully not too dry) look at some of the characteristics and hidden features of our fair city: Juneau, Alaska.
Downtown Juneau is a picture postcard capital city with its steep streets and tourism glamour. A few apartment buildings are mingled with businesses in the downtown core.
Residences surround the business center of Juneau and several homes in downtown have been converted to offices. To the left of downtown, Main Street runs up the lower portion of Mount Juneau. A left at the corner of 4th street and Main leads to Calhoun Avenue where several grand old mansions line the west side of Main Street past the State Capital Building and the road alongside the Governor’s mansion.
On past the Governor’s mansion and down the hill, the flatter areas of town are built on the mine tailings of long ago. With this topography, downtown Juneau has a great “walking score” (provided that you don’t mind a few hills). Capital City Transit provides excellent access to the greater borough areas, thus making a personal automobile optional.
Recreation & Hiking Trails:
One of the best aspects of living in downtown Juneau is the immediacy of access to hiking trails. Mount Juneau and Mount Roberts trails take off from the hills at the top of the town. Basin Road, an old mining road cut alongside the valley between these two mountains is popular with dog walkers and strollers. Smaller “pocket parks” dot the neighborhoods. One of the hidden gems is the larger “Cope Park”. At the bottom of the hill from the Governor’s mansion, this park once had an outdoor swimming pool just beyond and to the left where the rock sign is now. Inside the park are 2 tennis courts, a small baseball diamond, and a playground. Wintertime, this park is the place for sledding!
Up the hill and to the right of downtown is a neighborhood known as Starr Hill—named for Frank Starr who arrived in Juneau around 1880 to mine gold, but mainly worked in construction. He staked land claims on this hill which leads to Basin Road, and the Silver Bow Basin gold fields.
This neighborhood of homes was greatly expanded in the early 1900’s to 1940 with houses on postage-stamp size lots. Several of the homes from that era are on the National Register of Historic Places. The residences are built up the side of Mount Roberts and some of the streets are fairly vertical, including some “streets” that are really stairs.
Many of the Starr Hill homes have great views of downtown, Gastineau Channel and mountains. The convenience of living downtown tends to translate into higher home prices.
The Mount Roberts trail takes off from 6th Street on Starr Hill. The trail leads to a nice overlook at about 1500’ and then up to the Mount Roberts Tram. Another mile and a half of fairly steep hiking past “the cross” takes one to the top of Mount Roberts where the views of the fjords and valleys of the area are spectacular.
It is possible to take the Mount Roberts Tramway up from South Franklin Street to the Tram elevation. This leaves plenty of energy for the rest of the hike. There is a nice restaurant, bar and gift shop at the top of the Tram.
This Juneau neighborhood grew up around the original Alaska Native campsites and expanded as the mine tailings were deposited there. Most of the homes date from the 1910’s to 1950. The major grocery shopping area and cultural district are the anchors in the flats. It is populated by cozy craftsman-style homes with small yards.
As with other homes in the downtown area, the prices command a slight premium over comparable homes in the area due to the convenience of living near town and Juneau’s major employer—state government.
Farther past the “Flats”, along the coast of Gastineau Channel, approx. 1 mile from the center of town is Juneau’s “Highland” neighborhood. Starting up Highland Drive from the Juneau Douglas High school the streets wind up the south side of Mount Juneau. On the lower street many houses have flat roofs to accommodate the view plane. There are several large homes near the top of the hill. Lot sizes tend to be larger and the views come with a price. These homes are of the 1950-60 vintage and the styles reflect that era.
A great attraction of this neighborhood is its proximity to several area schools and harbors. The Juneau Douglas High School, and Harborview Grade School are just down the hill across from Harris Harbor and Aurora Harbor.