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Travel

A town under one roof: Whittier, Alaska, the world’s weirdest place to live

@TomTaylorFO

There are one horse towns, and then there’s Whittier, Alaska, a one house town… literally. On the plus side, there’ll always be someone in to sign for your parcels, but if you don’t get on with your neighbours then you may as well sling your hook and search out an obscure existence in some other far-flung corner. 

This civil oddity is located at the head of the Passage Canal, about 95km southeast of Anchorage, or for those who might not be familiar with the metric system or their North American geography, it’s roughly the middle of the middle of nowhere. And at the centre of the middle of the middle of nowhere is one massive building, The Begich Towers Condominium, which houses near enough every one of the town’s 272 population across its 14 floors. 

Perhaps more peculiar than the bare-naked facts of the town is that you will often find the locals commenting: “Yes we all live in the same building, and it does sound strange…” at which stage, any outsider will surely assert, ‘I’ll stop you there, that’s one of the world’s maddest town’s in the world you are talking about, so yes, pardon me, but it does indeed sound strange’. 

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Nevertheless, local teacher Erika Thompson continues: “But essentially it’s a condo association, and you get really cosy with your neighbours.” That’s just as well, can you imagine the cold indifference of enduring the bleak endless dark hours of midwinter with the Los Angeles lifestyle of cold shoulders. Having said that, imagine the awkward anxiety and dread of awaking from a loud night and fearing that sort of treatment from everyone in town?

The site of modern-day Whittier was first used as a military harbour and logistics base for the US Army during World War II. Because of its secluded protection, the US planned to develop it into a large-scale facility after the war. Begich Towers was designed in 1953 to serve as the headquarters of the US Army Corps of Engineers, hence why the condominium has all the necessary amenities under one roof. 

Perhaps eerily, the towers got their current name after Nick Begich, an Alaskan Congressman who disappeared in the area and was never seen again. It is presumed that he died in a light aircraft crash, but nothing has been found – it’s like that up there in Alaska, many mysteries are subsumed in the vast wilderness. 

However, the vast wilderness soon became much more interconnected when cruise ships started docking in the area. As ever, this provided commercial opportunities. And then, in 2000, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel opened linking the site to Anchorage. Thus, the town’s tower slowly began to fill with those seeking a quieter community existence within distance of wider civility.

However, the tunnel closes every night at 10:30 and it’s an hour-long drive to Anchorage so if you’re popping out for a meal you best be sure to linger over starters otherwise your home literally becomes inaccessible. 

Beyond the oddity of the one roof spirit, it is also beleaguered by horrendous storms. However, Thompson asserts that it isn’t as weird as its reputation makes out. “I think what people don’t realise is that it’s just like an apartment building. Or it’s just like a high rise condo in a large city. So, for me, it’s not that strange. That’s where I grew up—I grew up in a big city everybody lived in an apartment building… but not the entire town.”

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