By Victoria Petersen
The windmill standing in the old Chilkoot Charlie’s parking lot has created a life for itself as an Anchorage landmark and a symbol of Spenardian culture.
One of the most distinct features of the Spenard area is the old ornamental windmill looming over the Koot’s parking lot. The windmill is decorated with lights of green, red and white. Many remember it always being there at Koot’s, but the windmill’s history extends beyond the parking lot of the infamous watering hole.
Anchorage businessman Byron Gillam owned a liquor store on East Fireweed Lane. He was traveling in Southern California when he discovered a build-yourself windmill kit. Gillam bought the kit and installed it in front of his liquor store on East Fireweed Lane in the early 1960s.
The windmill lived on East Fireweed Lane for many years, with different owners as years passed. By the 1970s the windmill was in the hands of a local character known as “Mafia Mike.” Mafia Mike told Mike Gordon, owner of Chilkoot Charlie’s at the time, that he would donate the windmill to him if he paid to have it moved to his parking lot. Part of the contract noted that a plaque be placed on the windmill forever honoring Mafia Mike’s donation. The deed was done and the windmill was installed in the Koot’s parking lot in the early 1980s. The plaque is now missing, but the windmill is here to stay.
When the windmill was first installed in the Koot’s parking lot a celebration occurred and a time capsule was placed underneath the windmill. The community gathered to fill a 55 gallon time capsule with trinkets and other memorabilia. The time capsule still sits under the windmill with no plans on when it will be unearthed.
The windmill currently stands above the Spenard Farmers Market every summer as well as the Spenard Food Truck Carnival. These events use the windmill as a landmark to let locals know the events are- “under the windmill.” Both events stem from local initiative and thrive on the quirky culture of the area.