The City Under One Roof: Buckner Building
After World War II plans were conceived by the U.S. military to construct a massive outpost in Alaska, due in part to the growing concern of suspected Soviet activities next door. Whittier was strategically chosen and construction on the 273,660 square-foot facility would begin in 1948. Five years later the Buckner building was operational. At the time it was the pride of Alaska, the largest building in the state.
The pride would be short-lived. When the Great Alaskan Earthquake struck in 1964 the facility was permanently damaged, leaving it exposed to the elements for the next 50 years.
The building was named after General Simon Buckner, the highest-ranking Pacific Theater U.S. military officer killed in action during World War II. Finished in 1953, the complex consisted of eight levels – two of which were subterranean.
Designed to act as a fully-indoor military installation, it would include a jail, cinema, gymnasium, hospital, classrooms, an auditorium, library, pool, a PX, radio station, rifle range, and even a bowling alley. It was built with thick concrete walls to defend against the harsh elements and withstand bombs, should the cold war conflict escalate.
(Click thumbnails to enlarge)
The decision to build in Whittier was not by accident. The proximity to Anchorage, the year-round ice-free port, and heavy fog cover for much of the year presented positive conditions for military operations. Everything was designed to function under one roof; if push came to shove none of the troops living in the 1,000 apartments would ever have to leave the facility. This was by design, minimizing ground movement in case of enemy aerial surveillance.
The Buckner building would be structurally compromised when The Great Alaskan Earthquake and tsunami would strike on March 27, 1964. The earthquake registered a 9.2 on the Richter scale and was the most powerful in U.S. history; incidentally it was also the second most powerful ever recorded by a seismograph.
Unfortunately, the building designed to withstand bombs could not endure Mother Nature’s worst. The Buckner building was severely damaged from the earthquake and deemed too costly to repair.
Walking through the building, one can discern safety concerns have not stopped adventurers from having their fun. Graffiti with foul language plagues many walls and every single window has long been broken. Rusted pipes and wires hang down displaying years of exposure to the elements. Wind whistles through the windows and the occasional wild animal scurries across the floor. Entire sections of the building are in complete darkness, and the lowest level is reportedly flooded.
In almost 50 years since the building was abandoned, nature has done her part in the reclamation project. There is standing water on most floors and the constant sound of cascading water echoes throughout the complex. Bears have been reported both wandering the upper floors in the spring and hibernating on the lower floors during winter.
Speaking of winter, forays into the building during this season can easily result in broken ankles and wrists; the freezing winter months will turn the standing water on each floor into massive sheets of ice.
For the near future demolition of the Buckner building seems unlikely. The structure contains dangerous amounts of asbestos, and limited access to Whittier means the difficulty in disposing of the debris would pose too much of a financial burden. And with no rush to re-develop the land, the local municipality can hardly justify spending the money to properly raze it “just because.”
For now, this Cold War monolith stands as a relic of a different era.
Recently some creative urban explorers made a Buckner building ski video, “Five Floors of Fury.” They did a spectacular job, we recommend you check it out: