Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Remember The Fireside?
By June Allen


April 2, 2002
Tuesday - 10:00 pm

A lot of things depend on how long you've lived here. Did it take awhile to feel accepted by folks after you moved here? Just remember, there's an old Ketchikan saying that "An oldtimer is anybody who has lived here longer than you have."

Like many of us, do you now call some location or business by the name it used to be? Oh, and do you remember the Fireside? If you do, you probably remember the great food and Firdsideambience of Stan and Punky Hewitt's restaurant, lounge and dance floor in the old Elks Club building next to the downtown fire station on Main Street.

Many of us remember when that magnificent old Art Deco, glass-block-studded building was the Elks Club. Now painted blue and serving as storage space for the present owner - First Bank, the sturdy concrete structure was built in the '40s. Don't know if it's true, but there's an old story that because of a lack of rebar during and just after WWII, both the Elks Club and the fire station next door were reinforced with railroad tracks salvaged from narrow gauge lines from abandoned local mines.

According to the late Art Simonsen, the elegant new Elks Club first supported itself from its huge membership and from profits of games of chance - which were legal in Territorial days.

Such as punchboards. A punchboard today would be a museum artifact! They were fat little cardboard gameboards about an inch thick. A string with a little metal key hung from it. For whatever it cost per punch, you could push the key-thing into the tiny hole of your choice and out the back popped an tightly accordian-pleated slip of paper. Open it up, and if the number printed on it matched a number printed on the front of the board, you were a winner!

I hadn't lived here long back in the '60s before I was roped into helping make crepe paper flowers for decorations for the Emblem Club's Purple Bubble Ball. That was a huge annual event! The highlight of one of those balls was the time the free-spirit wife of a local dignitary arrived at the ball wearing two purple bath towels clipped together with gold pins at shoulder and hips and worn over a nylon body suit!

In those days, Heckman's women's wear was at the corner of Dock and Main where Julie's is today. Heckman's routinely carried gorgeous formal wear for things such as the Purple Bubble Ball. Because back then - and that's only like 40 years ago, there were a number of formal and semi-formal occasions each year to "get to dress up" for. Loved it.

A favorite memory of the Elks Club, however, was the annual Sons of Norway fund raiser smorgasbord prepared for the public in the Elks' big second floor kitchen. Rain or shine, people were lined up two and three deep all the way up to the corner of Grant. The lineup itself was part of the festivity - meeting friends. Once inside the building it was up the wide curved staircase to the tables laden with the most delicious food ever prepared!

One other memory: It was 1966, I think. The First City Players productions of the Fish Pirates Daughter was just gaining local fame. But since it was performed in the banquet room of the old Stedman Hotel - a bar - it was open only to adults. But, the Kayhi Class of '66 pleaded to be allowed to see it, and so the play was put on in the second floor auditorium of the Elks Club, just for the graduating seniors. It was a familiar place to the kids, because teen dances were held there then, to the magic music of...The Glaciermen!
But wait. That's the Elks Club. Back to the Fireside. When the fraternal order could no longer support the sizeable building and its activities, the Elks sold it. And it became the Fireside.

There's one more sidebar to this story: First there was another Fireside, the one up the stairway to the second floor of the building now occupied downstairs by Subway. It was owned by Bjarne and Magda. It was small but it had the piano, the signature crystal chandelier and the best darn food ever cooked in the City of Ketchikan. Who could ever forget Magda's fruit salad and her.


Comments From A Reader

Remember how you used to have to step down into the dance floor? The dance floor itself was ringed with many tables and of course a banister. One night a lady slipped on the dance floor and broke her leg or ankle (I can't remember which).

The ambulance was called. It was the era when air splints were new and
ambulance crews were all excited to put them to use. A devoted new recruit was on duty and he led the crew. He decided that nothing would do except for a full leg splint in order to immobilize the break.

Slipping it on her leg deflated turned out to be a job in itself, and please
remember that dancing was at a halt, the lights turned up and all eyes on the "arena," so to speak. The lady is laid out on the dance floor, the
splint on her leg, and now the crew leader has to inflate it.

To his horror he realized that the inflation device was positioned at the
very top of the splint, in a most embarrassing position. But, doing his
duty, he laid his cheek against her lower abdomen and blew until the splint was fully inflated. The crowd went wild! Quite a picture to behold, and no one who was there will ever forget it.

Thanks for letting me share.



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Digital photo by Gigi Pilcher....


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