It’s time to rethink the question of making Cap Lathrop’s old movie theater into some kind of historical tribute to Cap’s faith in the future of Anchorage.
The 4th Avenue Theater played a small but noteworthy role in Anchorage’s history when Cap invested a million dollars in 1947 in what became known as Alaska’s most audacious movie house. The problem then and now is the art deco style that went into the buildings accouterments is what this aging Irishman would call downright ugly.
I’ll probably catch hell from my wife for saying so — and she reminds me that a lot of people think it’s a beautiful place—but the charm of things like the 4th Avenue Theater is lost on me. I think my wife is beautiful and so are the mountains, lakes, forests and seas around us. But Cap Lathrop’s expensive theater, not so much. My wife and I arrived in Anchorage in 1967 and attended a lot of movies in that theater before it closed in 1987, some good flicks and some blah.
There are already several great museum properties within a few blocks of the 4th Avenue Theater property, including the excellent Law Enforcement Museum on Fifth Avenue below the big parking garage, and the crown jewel of Alaska museums, The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center in the heart of the city.
If the 4th Avenue Theater is to be made a permanent part of this city’s heritage, which seems a good idea, it would be far better to do that as an exhibit in an attractive place like The Anchorage Museum. I haven’t discussed the idea with Director Julie Decker but she would be the first person you’d want to consult on such an idea.
The Anchorage Museum recently completed a major remodeling and now seems to be fulfilling its potential as a great Alaska institution. I attended a major function there this fall and got a tour of the place. Wow. It gives an incredible perspective on the history, art and culture of the heart of Alaska. And it’s worth noting that everybody I told about the museum mentioned what a great job Julie Decker is doing. I have to agree.
The Law Enforcement Museum is one of this city’s most fascinating institutions. It was built by members of the Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers, an organization of retired Alaska police officers, and the team that did it took good advantage of the accumulated knowledge and experience of retired police officers, the men and women who worked on this state’s most interesting criminal cases. The exhibits include items they collected and more that were retained in the files of police agencies across the state.
I first realized the potential of such an institution when I was working on my first true-crime book, Murder at Forty Below. My old friend Tom Anderson, one of the founders of the Law Enforcement Museum, is a retired colonel and director of the Alaska State Troopers. I started work on the book after a fishing trip on which Colonel Anderson started telling about some of the criminal cases he was familiar with.
Tom introduced me to a number of the officers he worked with during his career. I was a reporter years ago and interviewed many officers about crimes they had worked on. With that experience and then having the opportunity to talk to officers after they retired I found that once they hung up their badges, police officers were much less reluctant to talk about their cases than when they were still working.
They were understandably careful about what they said, but the difference between being retired and still on the job made them wonderful sources of tales of true crimes. Those who have read my true crime books will know what I mean.
Colonel Anderson and I took advantage of that unique opportunity a few years ago when we put together a book of true-crime stories by retired police officers entitled North Country Troopers.
The Law Enforcement Museum is about to close for a few months for a major remodeling. The museum will be giving up a bit of its space but in doing so it will be focusing on the most powerful stuff and intensifying the visitor’s experience.
One of my favorites that should get better attention is a mug shot of actor Steve McQueen who got busted for doing wheelies on 4th Avenue years ago. McQueen has a big grin on his face and has his fingers in the familiar ‘V’ sign.
Tom Brennan is an Anchorage columnist and author of five books. He was a reporter/columnist for The Anchorage Times and an editor and columnist at The Voice of The Times.