Project ’20s kicks up dust from Project ’80s reflects on Anchorage’s single largest civil construction project – Part 1 of 4

While Alaska’s most significant economic downturn loomed on the horizon, Anchorage voters were presented with a selection of public-works projects in which to reinvest oil revenue from the State of Alaska – They approved all of them.

Anchorage’s single largest civil construction project dubbed Project ’80s kicked off with four major public facilities intended to launch Anchorage into city status with Le Corbusier inspired brutalism and posh ’80s mauveness.

As we enter the ’20s, we’re presented with a new ballot initiative to reinvest in our community – let’s take a look back at what we’ve learned from Project ’80s.

William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center

At the onset of the 1980s, Anchorage needed a convention center to attract national meeting business being solicited by the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau, formed just a few years earlier in 1975. Project ’80s made that a reality.

Enter, the William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center.

The new convention center was set to begin construction in 1981 on the site of the Anchorage Public Library (original Losussac Library) at 427 F Street. The 14,000 SF library designed by Anchorage architecture firm, Manley & Mayer featured a definitive mid-century modern facade with a 6,000 SF main level, basement, and 1,200 SF mezzanine. It was replaced 5 years later by a much larger building with the same name, in midtown – also part of Project ’80s.

Original Loussac Library – Manley & Mayer 1953

A citizen-led effort attempted to block construction of the Egan Center, citing a 1965 initiative that dedicated future use of block 42 as parkland. Members of The People’s Vote Must Count Committee led by Ruth Moulton, Avis Cupples, Lanie Fleischer, and Tom Leddy would eventually be successful in establishing Town Square Park, across the street.

Designed by Anchorage-based architect Edwin B. Crittenden the 45,000 SF Egan Center was completed in 1984 at a cost of $31M. Its distinctive curved glass roof, pink-hued travertine, and complementary color selections were consistent with contemporary ’80s design and remain so today.

Rendering of Egan Center – Edwin B. Crittenden, courtesy of Architects Alaska

Egan Center’s role in the ’20s

Today, the Dena’ina Center is Anchorage’s premier convention and event venue, offering over four times more floor space while Egan Center is a more affordable venue, accommodating smaller meetings, seminars, and events like local boxing. Egan Center could further enhance Anchorage’s convention portfolio if augmented by the Anchorage Conservatory.

We lost the original library, it’s gone and that’s unfortunate because it was a well-executed example of MCM architecture but, who cared about that in 1981?

A retrospective lesson from Project ’80s is recognizing the value of existing infrastructure, forethought, and adaptive reuse.

What if the Egan Center was to be updated to a more contemporary/neutral (not beige) color scheme with greater longevity? Could the internal configuration be optimized for multiple long-term use cases? – Branch library? The full-length atrium on the main level provides abundant natural light which is enjoyed by the collection of large ficus trees. The recessed seating areas and artwork transfer easily into modern design constructs. As for the mauve travertine, I’ll leave that to the experts.

The next 3 installations on Procect ’80s will be released consecutively, daily.