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Seward City Council approves resolution to demolish Jesse Lee Home

The City of Seward Council members voted to approve a resolution to demolish the Jesse Lee Home Monday.
The City of Seward Council members voted to approve a resolution to demolish the Jesse Lee Home Monday.(Cheyenne Mathews)
Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 9:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a council meeting Monday, the City of Seward Council members voted to approve a resolution to demolish the Jesse Lee Home.

The home, which has not been in use since it was damaged during the 1964 earthquake, is best known as the home of the Alaska State Flag, which was designed at the home by Benny Benson.

Council Member Sharyl Seese was the only member of the council present at the vote to vote against demolishing the structure.

The vote followed a public comment period that lasted almost an hour with testimony delivered through the phone or in a written format and read aloud to the council. The public testimony was mixed, with some asking for the demolition of the structure as a “thorn in the side of many residents” and others saying it was important to preserve the history the building symbolizes.

During a public testimony period, people from across the state suggested alternate uses for the house such as a lodge, a museum or a school. The resolution approved by the council accounts for adding a memorial at the site of the Jesse Lee Home.

One of the people to testify was Trish Neal, president of the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation. The association had named the home as one of the ten most endangered historic properties in the state.

“It’s not just about Benny Benson, it’s about the Alaska flag, it’s about the other children that attended school there,” Neal said. “Many went on to become leaders within the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

The approval of the resolution means site demolition and removal of hazardous materials can begin.

“The reason why we are here today right now is this has been looked at a number of times and each time it’s been looked at its failed,” Council Member John Osenga said. “So I will be voting for this, for demolition. It’s just time in my view.”

Seward Vice Mayor Sue McClure said she’s a fourth-generation resident with friends who attended the Jesse Lee Home and she’s aware of failed efforts to save the home.

“It’s a building that was being broken into when I was still in high school and I’m old. It’s a hazard,” McClure said. “It’s time.”

The demolition is estimated to cost between $800,000 and $1.3 million, Community Development-Planner Jackie Wilde said at the meeting. The demolition will be primarily covered by a grant from the State of Alaska, but any costs over the million-dollar grant will need to be approved and covered by the city.

Seward Mayor Christy Terry said she thought the city was being painted in a negative light as a place that didn’t respect history. She thought additional grant money could be used to preserve the history of the home.

“We have the opportunity to preserve the history and the legacy of a very important structure to the Alaska people, but it doesn’t mean we have to preserve the building,” Terry said.

Terry said she hopes to have a future community meeting to hear what residents want to happen at the site, as many ideas about how to use the land and the building have been suggested.

The full council meeting is available online here.

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