Friday, December 7, 2012

Remnants of F.E. Company housing line Illinois Street

For more than 30 years, the Fairbanks Exploration Company maintained a small company enclave at the north end of Illinois Street. The west side of the street was where the company’s office and industrial facilities were located, and company housing lined the east side of the street. The company or its employees once owned houses from Noyes Slough to Slater Street (kitty-corner to Phillips Field Road). At least 11 company houses used to stand there, but now only eight survive. All of these houses, as well as the office building and machine shop across the street, are included in the Illinois Street Historic District, established in 2001.

At the north end, on the bank of Noyes Slough, sits the grandest of the surviving F.E. Company houses, built for its general manager in 1935. Shown in the drawing, this was known as the “White House.” It is a 3,746 square-foot two-and-a-half story Colonial Revival house set back from Illinois Street in a stand of trees. Typical of Colonial Revival homes, it has a centrally-placed elaborate entry, with paired windows spaced symmetrically on either side. There is a large exterior brick chimney on the northeast side of the house (facing Noyes Slough). The house was supplied with steam heat from the company power plant across the street.

The nomination forms for the Illinois Street Historic District state that the “White House,” along with a large tract of land, was sold to the Catholic Church in 1964 for the site of Monroe Catholic School. The house was the convent for the nuns working at Monroe School until 1994, when it was sold to a private individual who has maintained it in its original condition.

To the south, on the far side of Monroe, is an F.E. Company housing complex now privately owned and called Tanana Mill Office Park. (Tanana Mill refers to the old sawmill that sat on the bank of Noyes Slough, about where the GVEA facilities are now.) This small planned community, constructed in 1927, consists of four similar bungalow-styled one-story houses with hipped tin roofs. Each house had its own greenhouse, with steam heat provided to the houses and greenhouses from the company power plant.

Of the surviving company houses, the oldest is the Noyes house at the corner of Illinois and Minnie Streets. Built in about 1911 by Fred Noyes (who owned the Tanana Mill lumber yard), the house was purchased by the F.E. Company in 1925 and used to house company employees. In 1959 it was sold to a local businessman and is now part of the Chapel of Chimes property. The building’s exterior still retains many of its original features and details.

At the southern end of Illinois Street (on the far side of Minnie Street) are additional houses that, while not owned by the F.E. Company, were constructed by company employees in the early 1930s. There used to be four similarly styled houses between Minnie and Slater Street, but two were eliminated to make room for the Chevron service station. The two remaining ones are both Tudor Revival houses, typified by steeply pitched intersecting rooflines, paired windows, and decorative entryways.

The construction of Period Revival houses by the F.E. Company and its employees was part of a trend. According to the book, “Fairbanks, a City Historic Building Survey,” the building of these types of houses was, “a sign of community prosperity in the 1920s heralded by the arrival of the Alaska Railroad, the rise of air transportation, and the arrival of the F.E. Company.”

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