Ever heard about the Spenard neighborhood in Anchorage and wondered about its namesake? Joe Spenard was one of our early characters.
Joe Spenard was originally from Canada, and he and his wife Edith ran various businesses in Valdez before they came to Anchorage in 1916. Back then, it was still a new railroad town run by the Alaskan Engineering Commission (AEC). Spenard owned and ran the City Express taxi and delivery business, and was a colorful local. Here’s an indication of his sense of humor, fromAnchorage 1910 – 1940 Legends & Legacies:
When he was running his City Express delivery service, the Anchorage Daily Times described some of his personality: “Joe Spenard caused considerable excitement Saturday afternoon when he attempted to drive his yellow car through the doors of Robarts pool hall. He made the attempt for a box of cigars promised him by Jack Robarts if he accomplished the feat; otherwise he was to pay the damages. Joe is still smoking his pipe.”
Joe Spenard had a warm heart, too. In addition to his taxi and freight services, Joe Spenard used his truck to serve the community, towing firefighting equipment and posting tide timetables and notices on the side of his truck. He also gave free rides to small children and gave them goodies at Christmas.
His gumpton and energy led him to found the Spenard neighborhood. Joe Spenard claimed a homestead just south of town at Jeter Lake (renamed Lake Spenard), intending to cut and haul the wood, then build a resort. With help, he built a corduroy road from downtown Anchorage to the lake. (Some say it winds around in a crooked way because it followed the trail his cows or local moose made, but I didn’t find any evidence to back that up.) Spenard also cleared an area next to the lake. Although the U. S. Forest Service informed him that cutting trees and building resort facilities in the Chugach National Forest was illegal, this didn’t seem to deter him. He also had a reputation for being involved in bootlegging around the same time period, so respect for authority was not his strong suit.
Shady types and regular folks alike frequented his place on Lake Spenard. His dance pavilion and picnic area drew many people to the lake, including some he brought out in his truck. Unfortunately, in May of 1917, a fire destroyed the resort, and Spenard did not have insurance to rebuild. Soon after, he broke his leg and a heart condition grew worse, leading him to sell his business. He and his wife moved to the states, intending to return to Anchorage in the future. Sadly, they never did. But his name lives on in the Anchorage area.
Lake Spenard was declared a recreational site, and continued to be used for picnics and dancing, plus boating, swimming and ice skating. Over time, Spenard became a town as more people settled in the area. For some, the attraction was that it was out of the AEC jurisdiction, so drinking and other racy activities could take place there. Others enjoyed having plenty of space for homesteads and farms while still being close enough to the conveniences of town life. Roads and business popped up. The Lake Spenard float plane base was built in 1934, and later connected to Lake Hood in 1938, expanding the take off and landing area. (I wrote more about that in https://lynnlovegreen.com/lake-hood-alaskan-seaplane-base/.) After roughly forty years of independence, Spenard was annexed as part of the city of Anchorage in 1959 and included in the Municipality of Anchorage that was created in 1975.
Photo of Joe Spenard’s City Express, via alaska history.org