If you have ever driven to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, you have likely noticed the upside down building that sits near Lake Hood. You see it driving on International Airport Road not long after you pass Spenard. It is hard to miss as it really stands out. This building is the Central Region office of the Alaska Department of Transportation.
I moved to Alaska in 2004 and have probably driven by that building a thousand times. I never thought much of it other than it is an odd looking building. Truth be told I only recently learned it was a DOT building. Turns out, like many things in Alaska, that building has quite an interesting history. The building was designed in the early 1970s. Construction began in 1974 and was completed in 1975. This was during the same time the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was being built.
While working on another story someone told me there are jail cells in the basement of the building. I thought it was odd and was curious why the building would have jail cells in the basement. I contacted Shannon McCarthy, Alaska DOT’s Media Liaison, to inquire about these so called jail cells and to ask permission to take a look. I was in luck. Turns out there are jail cells down there and Shannon agreed to let me come by and take a look.
Why would an Alaska DOT building have jail cells in the basement? Simple answer, because it was not originally built to be a DOT building. According to several people I spoke with at DOT and the Department of Public Safety, the building was originally built for the Alaska State Troopers. This explains the jail cells.
The story I heard is that once the Troopers were ready to move in, someone became very concerned about all of the windows in the building. I can see how cops would not be thrilled about being in a building full of windows. I was not able to get a hold of anyone with first hand knowledge of what went down back then. Whoever had a problem with the building was certainly a high level person. Were they really concerned with the windows? Were they not happy with how the building looked? Hard to say.
McCarthy said she heard the Troopers actually did occupy the building for one year. However, due to security concerns about the windows, the Troopers swapped headquarters with DOT, who were originally in the Troopers building.
While the jail cells remain in the building, the bars have been removed and no one is being locked up in there. However, they do make for good paper storage! Another strange piece of Alaska history that few of us likely knew about.
I would like to thank Shannon McCarthy for showing me around the building. I would also like to thank Mike Bennett from DOT for providing me with the original artistic rendering of the building.