Growing Up in Anchorage
by Michael R Dougherty
My family moved to Anchorage back in 1950, when I was just three years old -
We flew from Northern, California and landed at Merrill Field. It was a summer day and when the door to the plane opened and my mom saw Alaska for the first time as she stood in the doorway, her first words were "my beautiful Alaska."
Dad had come up to Alaska ahead of us and got his first job as a bulldozer operator, building the Seward highway. He was part of the crew that built the road along the mountains on the way to Girdwood.
Not having a car when we first arrived in Anchorage, our family took taxi cabs wherever we needed to go. On one of our first taxi rides, mom asked the driver if he knew of any places to rent for our family. The driver knew of some apartments in Mountain View, and that's where we first lived.
When winter arrived, me and my younger sister Anna sat by the front window and watched it snow for the first time. We were excited and could hardly wait to go outside and play in the snow. Not long after that, my sister and I were introduced to the cruel world of snow suits. Mom would stuff both me and my sister into our snow suits before we were allowed to play in the snow. And, as anyone knows who, as a child, has ever had to wear a snow suit to go out and play, they are bulky, hard to walk around in, and my well be responsible for the claustrophobia that I suffer with to this day.
We later moved to a log home on Fairbanks street nearer to downtown Anchorage and I attended Denali Elementary school. Back in those days, you could walk to school, even if you were only a first grader.
Just for fun, my dad became a mechanic on a race car crew, Sunday afternoons at the Alaska Race Track on the old Seward highway. One day when we were driving home from the race track, we spotted a fun looking place called Kiddy Land. It had lots of fun rides, including a mini version of the Alaska Railroad. Lots of Fun.
One of the first restaurants we ate at was on 4th Avenue. It was called the Oyster Loaf and that space eventually became Woolworth's, where my mom worked for several years.
Years later, we were back in Mountain View and me, sister Anna and little brother Tom, attended Mountain View Elementary school.
In 1960, after a lot of local promotion, the Disney movie "Toby Tyler", starring Kevin Corcoran, opened at the 4th Avenue Theater. Mom took me, my sister Anna and brother Tom and dropped us off next to the theater's sidewalk for the opening Saturday matinee. I remember there was what seemed like at the time, a large crowd of kids on the sidewalk, waiting for the box office to open. Many years later, I discovered that my wife Mary had also been in that crowd of kids. There I was in 1960, sitting in the 4th Avenue theater, and so was the girl that I would eventually marry. Small world.
A year later I was at Ora Dee Clark Junior High school and remember coming out of school to watch the very first missile launch from the mountain site.
My dad cleared a lot of the land in and around Anchorage.
He cleared the land where A&W Root Beer stood, along with the caged lion. He cleared most of the land around what is now Westchester Lagoon. My dad said that when they first cleared that land, it was so wet and muddy that the land owner offered to sell for practically nothing. Of course today, that land is very valuable. Dad also cleared the land for East High school. Back then, most of that land was swampy and one of their bulldozers sank all the way up to the top of it's tracks. If you've lived in Anchorage for a lot of years, you may recall that there was a large drainage ditch that ran the length of the dirt road leading to East High.
Interestingly, I went to high school at East. My big contribution was playing trumpet in the East High Symphonic Band. I even had an East High sweater (that my daughter later wore to her school, West High), and I lettered in band.
As a Senior at East, I started working on The Varsity Show on KTVA channel 11, Anchorage's answer to American Bandstand. And following my graduation, I made television and motion picture production my career choice. And that career eventually took me away from Alaska and into a very different world called Hollywood.
And there you have it - a short version of my years growing up in a place we call Anchorage - our hometown.
Check out my mom's Anchorage story "My Beautiful Alaska" right now.