Whittier, Alaska’s 14-story Begich Towers has its own post office, police station, health clinic, and grocery store
Begich Towers (photo by Jessica Spengler, via Wikimedia Commons)
About an hour southeast of Anchorage is the small town of Whittier, Alaska. In its pleasant summer months, when daylight can last nearly twice as long as in the lower 48 states, the town serves as a beautiful tourist destination and port of call for cruise ships along the Alaskan coast. But Whittier has another claim to fame that sets it apart from its neighboring communities: Nearly all the town’s residents—close to 200 of them—live in a single building, Begich Towers, a former army barracks that’s been converted into a 14-story apartment complex, complete with its own post office, laundromat, and grocery store. The town’s governmental offices are there, as well a small health clinic, the police station, and even a bed and breakfast on the top floor.
Whittier’s school and gym are located in a separate structure, but are connected to Begich Towers by tunnel, allowing for access from one building to another during Alaska’s brutal winter months. It is during those same winter months that Whittier’s coastal harbor is rendered inoperative, and the town becomes accessible solely via air, or by the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel: A single-lane extension of the Portage Glacier Highway that stretches over two miles through neighboring Maynard Mountain.
Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel (photo by Mark Flickett, via Wikimedia Commons)
As remote, and isolated as the town may get, and as strange as it may seem to think of living alongside your entire municipality in a single structure, it is, as Whittier resident Erika Thompson explains in this video from 2013, not dissimilar to life in any apartment co-op in a large city:
[youtube ratio="0.5625" position="standard" caption=""I Am A Whittier Teacher""]
In some ways Whittier, perhaps by sheer necessity stemming from its geographic isolation and close-quarter living, exists in strange equilibrium with itself. A photo essay by Reed Young and Erin Sheehy for The California Sunday Magazine describes a marijuana growing operation uncovered by Whittier police, the hydroponic equipment from which was re-purposed and donated to the town’s school for an indoor vegetable garden. And while life in Whittier may not be for everyone, it appeals to its different residents for different reasons. As Thompson told National Public Radio’s All Things Considered: “Some people love it because it can be really social, and some people love it because it can be reclusive”