The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is readying itself for the upcoming summer season by preparing for the opening of Jeff Smith’s Parlor on Second Avenue.
Built during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, the building originally sat on Sixth Avenue and served as the First Bank of Skagway. Soon after, it became a base for the notorious Soapy Smith and his swindling gang.
In 1900, the building was home to Skagway’s volunteer fire department and in 1935, Martin Itjen took control and turned it into a museum for tourists, honoring the infamous Smith. The museum featured animatronic mannequins and a wildlife diorama of two moose locked in combat.
After the death of Itjen in 1942, museum operations went to Jack Grelsbach and George Rapuzzi, but closed in 1950. The building was moved to Second Avenue in 1963, and George and his wife Edna, re-opened the museum. It served as a tourist attraction until the elderly couple was unable to operate it. They passed in the mid-1980s, and the building sat for many years until it was sold.
In 2008, KGRNHP acquired the building from the Rasmuson Foundation, which had negotiated the purchase from the estate, along with other parts of the collection that was divided between the municipality and park.
Since the park’s acquisition, the building has received a new foundation, reinforced walls and a new cedar shingle roof, coming a long way from its original conditions.
To commemorate all three of the building’s influential men, it will be restored to reflect the Rapuzzi’s influence, as well as Itjen’s original displays.
Tourists will begin outside, where they will be introduced to Jeff Smith. Once inside, visitors will learn how Itjen built upon the legacy, how Rapuzzi saved it and how KGRNHP plans to preserve it.
Thirty minutes in length, the tours will cost $5 per person, bringing in approximately $102,340 for the park should 24,080 tickets sell. But according to KGRNHP data, it will cost approximately $112,440 to sustain the building, with staffing, building maintenance and artifact preservation taken into account.
In comparison, Itjen’s cost for tours in 1935 was $.25, equivalent to $4.64 in 2015.
During the summer season, those wishing to visit must purchase tickets in advance at recreation.gov, where they will be able to select a certain time for up to five people. Tours are limited to 10 visitors at a time due to artifact security. Children six and under can attend for free.
Skagwegians hoping to see the museum can select from an assortment of free visits, including opening week from May 1 to 7, the NPS Centennial from Aug. 21 to 27, the park’s fortieth anniversary on June 30, and at the end of the season from Sept. 25 to 28.
Comments on the project are welcomed and should be sent to KGRNHP Chief of Interpretation and Education Ben Hayes at Benjamin_hayes@nps.gov or 907-983-9206.