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Why tourists like Whittier City? Where all people live in one building

Why tourists like Whittier City? Imagine that you don’t have to spend hours in traffic jams on your way to the office. No need to be squeezed in a crowd of commuters at rush hour. To get to the supermarket, you don’t even have to go out. Just press a button in the elevator or walk down the stairs if you’re in an athletic mood. Sound like a miracle?

Whittier City in Alaska
Whittier City in Alaska

In fact, there’s a town in Alaska whose citizens have everything they need under one roof. It’s Whittier, maybe the strangest town you’ve ever seen. Whittier is situated on the coast of Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska. It was named after the glacier nearby; and the glacier, in turn, got its name thanks to 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Was he “wittier” than the other poets? I digress.

No need to go outside

All of Whittier’s 220 citizens live in one building; a tower of condominiums. No mistake. Well, actually there’s one guy, Paul, who thinks he’s special and lives in a camper nearby. Citizens don’t only live in the same building, but go to work, school, and do their shopping by just pressing different buttons in the elevator.

The 14-story building is called Begich towers, and it has pretty much everything you need in life: a police station, 2 supermarkets, town offices, a covered playground, laundry, post office, and a clinic. They even have a church down in the basement. Residents of Begich towers can stay there for weeks running and not go outside.

Why it’s not easy to live here

Whittier is isolated from the rest of the world, and lives mostly off natural resources. Fishing is the main activity of the locals, and one of their main income generators. There’s no public transportation in the town, and more boats than cars. Still, it’s not easy to live here. Although the climate is more moderate here than deeper in Alaska, thanks to the ocean, winters are very snowy, and summers are rainy.

You’re pretty lucky if you happen to be in Whittier on a nice day, without any moisture. Apart from that, because of the high surrounding mountains, there’s no sun here from November to February. The locals have a joke that they can always go to Anchorage if they miss the sun.

A paradise for introverts? Not really.

Whittier is cut out by huge mountains and a lake, and there’s only one way to and from the town. The road is a one-way tunnel through the mountain, that changes its direction every 15 minutes and is closed at night. It’s not so bad though: the criminal activity here is very low just because it’s really difficult to run away from Whittier. The place is just different.

Whittier is cut out by huge mountains and a lake
Whittier is cut out by huge mountains and a lake

For one thing, it’s isolated; and the population density is low here. You might think that it’s a paradise for introverts, where you can get lost forever. But you’ll hardly find a more interactive and social town than Whittier. It’s the only place in the world where you literally live above or under the population of a whole town. You’d better be on friendly terms with your neighbors – they’ll probably never change!

Citizens can walk around the many corridors of the building in pajamas and feel comfy among their neighbors. In the months when there are no visitors, and local shops close their doors, there’s a special feeling of coziness. Anyone can knock on the policeman’s door at any time. If students are struggling with their homework, they just knock on their teacher’s door – no pro; he lives in the same building and they can do their homework in his kitchen.

So why everything you need is under one roof?

There’s a good reason for having everything you need under one roof. During the winter months, Whittier is covered with a 20 ft (6 meter) layer of snow. If you’re still sure you need to go out, the wind, which blows at a speed 60 miles per hour (96 km per hour), on average, won’t let you get too far. The wind is so strong, it even keeps the bears away; and there are lots of them here. That’s also why the playground is inside.

Winter is coming
Winter is coming

You know the quote “Winter is coming”, right? Well, if you’ve ever seen “Game of thrones”, I’m sure you do. George Martin probably borrowed it from Whittier, since there’s no kidding around about winter here. The whole population of Whittier prepares for it. All the citizens, including students, work in the covered garden to get ready for the harsh season. Vegetables are grown using special equipment, resulting in faster growth. Summer is too short to grow veggies here, even if you use a greenhouse.

What made these people come to this town

You wonder what made these people come to this town in the first place? Well, they didn’t choose to live here. They basically found themselves Whittier citizens because of the circumstances. The town was founded in 1943, and the location was chosen not for its magnificent beauty, but for the natural isolation.

The town was built as a defense facility for the US military. They wanted to build an army base in a solitary place surrounded by mountains. So, Whittier was an ideal place for that. Apart from the fact that the bay doesn’t freeze in winter, it’s also suitable for big cargo vessels and military ships. At that time, the only way to get there was by sea. That’s why the military hacked a 2-mile (3 km) tunnel through the mountain to connect the town with civilization by land.

Several standard houses were built for the staff working in the harbor there, with very simple architecture. Buckner Building was constructed for Engineer Troops. Not far from it, a 14-story barracks was built for soldiers called the Hodge Building, the tallest in Alaska. Later it was renamed Begich Towers, after a congressman from Alaska, Nick Begich, who had gone missing after his plane went down.

The Tower was built based on the design of engineer Anton Anderson. The army changed its plans after March 27, 1964, when the Great Alaskan earthquake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, occurred. It was the strongest earthquake in US history, and the second strongest in the history of the world, with a magnitude of 9.2. This is equivalent to the explosion of 1200 atomic bombs! As a result of the earthquake, which lasted for almost 5 minutes, a huge tsunami wave demolished the coastal Alaskan towns – Valdez, Seward, Kodiak and Whittier.

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Valdez was rebuilt in a different place on more solid ground. As for Whittier: the harbor, the petroleum base, and the railroad were destroyed. Both Buckner Building and Begich Towers were seriously damaged. After that, the military forces left Whittier, but the people who’d worked in the harbor and other facilities, stayed. In 1969, Whittier was passed to the citizens and officially became a town.

People who live there now are descendants of soldiers and workers who lived there at the time of its building. Buckner Building was neglected and still isn’t used. They decided not to pull it down because of the amount of asbestos in the construction materials. The dust, which would have appeared after the building destruction, would pose serious health threats. So they just left it like that.

Begich Towers was reconstructed to become the hub of life that it is today. Some Whittier citizens go to work in Anchorage, which is 65 miles (105 km) away. A two-way trip through the tunnel isn’t cheap – $15, and they must buy an annual pass for $500. Many citizens work in the harbor, where several tourist ocean liners come during summer months.

Why tourists like Whittier

Like most coastal Alaskan towns, Whittier is much more crowded in the summer. The place where Whittier is located is beautiful. It’s surrounded by mountains covered with dense forests, waterfalls and glaciers. Tourists come here to experience the beautiful nature and have a sea adventure. It’s a starting point for cruises, where one can see icebergs and whales, sea lions, seals, sea and land otters, sea birds, glacier bears, Sitka black tail deer, and mountain goats.

There’s also deep-sea fishing for those who like that. Me? I just get sea sick and throw up a lot. Whittier also has a couple of restaurants especially for tourists: a Chinese buffet and even a motel booked for months ahead. There are 200 apartments in the Begich Towers, and half of them are empty now. Some people own an apartment, but live in a different place, like Anchorage. It’s one thing to visit for a weekend, and quite another to live here all the time.

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Real estate in Whittier isn’t in great demand, and the population is shrinking a little each year. So if you’re thinking about visiting Whittier, you’d better do it soon, before all the citizens leave Begich tower forever. Now it’s your turn. Do you think Whittier is a comfortable place to live, or is it just weird? Let me know down in the comments! If you learned something new today, then rate this article “Why tourists like Whittier? Where all people live in one building” and share it with a friend.

Credit: Bright Side

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