High on a Chugach slope overlooking a panorama stretching south to Anchorage, west to Mt. Denali and north to Knik Glacier is a site its owner called “No Place.” Envisioned as a tourist destination, then an Alpine subdivision, for years it has stood vacant, access blocked by a locked gate. Today it remains closed off, surrounded by Chugach State Park, its future in limbo.
No Place was on the homestead taken out by Thillman “Til” Wallace in the mid-Fifties. It boasted of an artesian well that was sufficient to keep a large pond filled and even streamed down the mountainside to fill the duck pond at the Eagle River Car Wash. For years, people filled their water jugs from a dugout across from the car wash, that spot now covered by the Spenard Builders sign. Always coming up with big plans, Wallace once proposed connecting a public water system to the well even though hydrologists said such wells could not be counted on to remain productive.
A conglomeration of rustic cabins, some built in the 19-teens, were moved to the site and horses were stabled there. The owner’s vision was to bring tourists up Skyline Drive, give them horseback or buggy rides to see the sights around the large open area, then feed them an Alaska-style meal with entertainment. The view is unexcelled, giving well over a 200-degree view of everything lying more than a thousand feet below.
Unable to see that plan fulfilled, Wallace planned to subdivide the homestead, calling it “Swiss Alps.” He envisioned alpine-style homes on large lots, designed to take advantage of the view. His plans were approved by the Greater Anchorage Area Borough Planning Commission. Before developing the lots, however, he decided to change the design—which required a new consideration by the governmental body. In that process, occurring some years after the original subdivision approval, people who had bought homes along the road leading up to the property raised objections based on environmental concerns. They were able to stop development and Wallace turned back to his tourism plans. By this time he said he had spent more than a million dollars in defending his efforts.
Wallace and his wife Ella lived on the homestead for many years.
The two met when the Swiss Miss and two friends, also from Europe, rode through Eagle River. They had come through Canada, riding bicycles, to explore Alaska. Offering to serve as a guide, the awe-struck young man made arrangements to look them up at their campsite the next day. It marked the start of a lifetime together until Til passed away on March 24, 2015. Ella continued to live in the family home in Chugiak until her recent death.
Wallace and his two brothers, Mike and Art, came to Alaska from New York. They settled in Chugiak and went into the construction business. Seeing an opportunity to profit from the rapid growth of the community, the brothers built molds to make concrete blocks by hand. Each block was laboriously mixed from cement, sand, and lime then poured into the framework resting on a flat tabletop holding six to eight blocks at a time.
From that meager start, Wallace established Klondike Concrete Co. on adjacent land on the Palmer Highway. The site where they first made blocks is where brother Art built Fuji Gifts which he operated for many years.
The Wallace brothers were active with the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department, whose station was directly across from Fuji Gifts. Whenever an alarm came in during business hours Art was known to hurriedly gather up and toss an assortment of baskets on display outside the store back through the door and leave to drive the fire engine. If there were customers inside, he would tell them to just leave the money for their purchases on the counter and lock the door when they left. He once said he seldom lost money in the process.
The fire station at Birchwood Airport is named for the Wallace Brothers in recognition of their service to the community.
On a lot adjoining the Fuji building, Til Wallace placed the wooden hull of a salvaged fishing boat built in 1912 he brought in from Kachemak Bay. The 72-foot Chacon was a tender built for the Fidalgo Island Packing Company and based in Ketchikan before striking a rock and sinking in 1936 in Zimovia Strait. She was raised and moved to Kachemak Bay by William Tillion. The boat is said to have assisted with the evacuation of Old Harbor residents when their Kodiak Island village was devastated by a tsunami in the 1964 Earthquake. The Chacon recently was moved across the lot line onto an adjacent property and remains as a memorial to Wallace.
In 1970, local business persons formed the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce to promote business and to serve as a voice for the unorganized community. At that time community councils had not been formed and the area had but a single representative on the Borough assembly. Many issues of importance faced the area and the Chamber was seen as much needed to make known the needs of residents. Wallace was elected as the Chamber’s first president. He flipped a coin to determine the order of neighborhood names to be given the group. As was the case with Operation Chugiak High School seven years earlier, Chugiak came up first.
Wallace was a colorful person, always upbeat, with a keen sense of humor.
He had the community at heart until the end as he constantly expressed new ideas on how to improve it. One among those that did not catch hold was to rename the Old Glenn Highway section in Eagle River as “Main Street.” Every town, he said, should have a main street.
Wallace made several attempts to fulfill his dreams for the 360-acre No Place site. He appeared before the Chugach State Park Advisory Board and also at hearings held by local legislators, asking that it be acquired and added to the park. It was excluded from the surrounding park boundary when America’s second-largest state park was created in 1970.
Lack of funds is expected to continue to be a stumbling block to that effort. Still, it is a beautiful spot with an unparalleled view.
Many people feel it would make a splendid addition to the park, readily accessible and offering a large and level area for parking. Whether a park, a rustic tourist attraction or an alpine residential area, Wallace’s faith in those visions kept him fighting to see them come to fruition.
NOTE: A YouTube video posted by Jonathan Henkel shows the tremendous view from Til Wallace’s “No Place” homestead.
Lee Jordan has been an Alaskan since 1949, moved to Chugiak in 1962 and in 2016 moved back to Anchorage. An Alaska history buff, he enjoys writing about the place where he did not want to be sent, but came to love. He has written four books on Alaska history and has a blog at www.byleejordan.com.