The windmill: A symbol of Spenardian kitsch

The windmill of Spenard, located in the Koot’s parking lot on Spenard Road and 26 Avenue, stands as a symbol of Spenardian culture. Over the decades the windmill has seen major changes come to the area. From Spenard becoming a part of the Municipality of Anchorage in the 1970s, big oil money and the “world famous” Chilkoot Charlie’s in the 1980s, to today with the introduction of the Spenard Food Truck Carnival and Farmer’s Market; the windmill has seen it all.

JJ Doherty, who has been working at Koot’s since 2006, recognizes the landmark as one of Spenard’s oldest treasures.

“It’s been here since 1970, before Spenard was really Spenard. It’s been a landmark,” Doherty said.

The old white windmill, with chipping paint is strewn with lights shining red, white and green, looms over Spenard as the neighborhood’s most recognizable monument.

“It definitely is a landmark. It’s sort of an icon of the area,” Brendan Stuart, who works in the area of Spenard, said.

Owner and operator of the Spenard Food Truck Carnival, Darrin Huycke, sees the landmark as quintessentially Spenardian, adding to the culture of the neighborhood.

“It’s like a beacon. Like, there’s a lot of action going on here. It’s probably the tallest thing in Spenard period. It’s kind of goofy and definitely straight from the inception of Spenard, you know, back in the day when it was its own little city within a city. It keeps Spenard weird. It was born back then and it’s just been continuing to be a part of that.”

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Before the windmill made its home in the Koot’s parking lot, watching over farmers markets and food truck carnivals, the windmill lived on East Fireweed Lane.

Byron Gillam, owner of the liquor store Kut Rate Kid, located on Fireweed Lane and Gambell Street, was traveling in Sacramento, California in the late 1950s. During his time Gillam discovered a local business with an ornamental windmill in the front. Gillam found a liking for the windmill and asked the owner how to get his own. For $13,000, Gillam bought and installed the windmill kit in front of his liquor store on Fireweed Lane in the early 1960s.

The people of Spenard were not so fond of the new installation. Seeing it as a flashy advertisement, a municipal ordinance was passed prohibiting large commercial signs, in hopes to bring the windmill down. With no advertisement on the windmill itself, the windmill stood tall and stayed.

Throughout the 1970s, the windmill fell into the hands of multiple owners, and due to bankruptcy, became an orphan of Fireweed Lane. Michael “Mafia Mike” Von Gnatensky, local character and owner of a pizza restaurant in the Anchorage area, bought the windmill in the 1980s and gave Mike Gordon, owner of Chilkoot Charlie’s, an offer he couldn’t refuse.

In the mid-1980s Von Gnatensky told Gordon that he would give the windmill to him if he paid to move it and install it in the parking lot of Koot’s. Von Gnatensky also requested that a plaque be added to the windmill detailing the donation by “Mafia Mike.” The plaque is now long gone.

Mark Butler, one of the founders of the Spenard Farmer’s Market, lives in what he calls “lower Spenard,” down the hill by Chester Creek.

“It’s where Spenard started. It’s a significant landmark of this place. It’s funny, we don’t have mountain views, and we don’t have views of the ocean, so in the middle of funky Spenard we have the windmill. Who would have thought?” Butler said.

Local businessman, Bob Gillam, who founded McKinley Capital Management, LLC, admired the windmill for its sentimental value. Gillam made multiple offers to Gordon, while he owned Chilkoot Charlie’s, to buy the windmill from him to assemble it at his family’s property in Lake Clark. Gordon, in an article he wrote on, mentioned he would be willing to make this happen for Gillam, but in the case of a deal would require Gillam to recreate another windmill for the Spenard area. However, the deal was never made and the original remains in the Koot’s parking lot.

In 2015, Gordon sold Chilkoot Charlie’s to a group of employees, who manage the business, and was renamed Koot’s. The new establishment maintains the iconic windmill. The property itself, including the windmill, was sold to Moreland Properties, LLC, who remains hands-off with the operation of Koot’s and the accompanying upkeep of the windmill. The staple Spenardian landmark looks like it’s here to stay.

Moreland Properties, LLC, official and CFO of Moose’s Tooth, Warren Hancock stresses the symbolic value of the windmill to the area.

“No plans to do anything with the windmill. We definitely feel it is an important symbol of Spenard,” Hancock said.

Without any plans for the windmill, Spenardians and Anchoragites can enjoy the quirky monument on the historic corner of Spenard for years to come.

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The Windmill stands tall as an Anchorage landmark and serves as the meeting place for the weekly Spenard Food Truck Carnival. Photo credit: Young Kim