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Preserving an Endangered Historic Property

Boys at Jesse Lee Home, ca. 1946-1955. Photo courtesy of Seward Community Library Association.

The Jesse Lee Home was established in Seward, Alaska, in 1924 as a boarding school for displaced, Alaskan children. For nearly 40 years, native and non-native youth alike were educated and nurtured at this school. When tuberculosis became a statewide epidemic, the Jesse Lee Home provided a safe place for many children who lost their parents or were exposed to tuberculosis.

The Jesse Lee Home has a very rich history. In 1927, the American Legion of Alaska sponsored a competition among Alaska’s school children to design the state’s flag. A 13-year-old boy named Benny Benson, a student at the Jesse Lee Home, submitted the winning flag design. On 9 July 1927, the new state flag was raised for the first time at the home. Benny Benson and his design for Alaska’s flag are a source of pride for the Alaska Native community and all Alaskans.

Unfortunately, the Jesse Lee Home was damaged in the 1964 Great Alaskan earthquake, one of the most powerful earthquakes recorded in U.S. and North American history. Registering a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter scale, the city of Seward’s infrastructure was devastated during the earthquake and the home was abandoned.

What was a vibrant, community of learning for Alaska’s youth is now two forlorn-looking, abandoned buildings that sit on a breathtaking 2.5-acre site overlooking Seward and Resurrection Bay. They are all that remain of the former Jesse Lee Home where Alaska’s flag was designed. If these buildings are allowed to continue their ever-quickening deterioration, an important part of Alaska’s history may be lost forever.

The Friends of the Jesse Lee Home (FJLH) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving this landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on Alaska’s list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic properties. For the past 10 years, FJLH has been working tirelessly with the State of Alaska, corporate partners, and educators to develop a unique, statewide leadership school to be housed at this historic home. FJLH’s vision is a “legacy of leadership”—a place where Alaska’s best and brightest youth will develop the skills, insight, and vision necessary for future success.

BergerABAM has been contracted as the project’s historic architect, along with the prime architect, Kumin Associates, to ensure the project’s overall compliance with the U.S. Department of the Interior - Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. BergerABAM is working with Kumin to develop a long-term sustainable model, provide project management oversight for the historical restoration, and to assist with the owner’s application for a 20 percent historic tax credit from the Internal Revenue Service.