By Melinda Munson

In 2008, the Rasmuson Foundation gifted the Municipality of Skagway and the National Park Service Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park more than 30,000 “artifacts and other historical objects and documents” known as the Rapuzzi collection. As part of the endowment, the municipality also received the Rapuzzi House. On Oct. 21, the assembly decided to give it back.

The home, gifted by Phyllis Brown, heir to George and Edna Rapuzzi, has white peeling paint, has lacked utilities or maintenance since 1990 and is in need of stabilization.

A letter from Diane Kaplan, president of the Rasmuson Foundation, dated Sept. 20 states:

“…the Rapuzzi residence deteriorated while the community continued to debate its value and use. Though the Skagway 2020 Comprehensive Plan adopted November 2020 sets a purpose for the building, we are discouraged because the plan does not include a commitment of resources. 

…The Foundation is challenging the municipality to generate and adopt a financial plan to realize the stated goals for the use of the Rapuzzi House within five months of the date of this letter. By Oct. 1, 2022, the municipality will have contracted for completion of the work within two years.”

Borough Manager Brad Ryan explained that priorities have changed with the pandemic.

“…Pre COVID, we were laying plans to invest in the facility and really make it a community resource. However, this letter is asking for funds committed by October of ‘22. And we’ve suffered a lot of economic loss. And if you had been staring at my CIP list all day like I have, you’d be as nervous as I am about where we’re going to get all this money to invest in our community,” he said.

Mayor Andrew Cremata agreed, noting that it could cost $2 million to rehabilitate the home, which could not be used for housing.

“So the other option is to say, here you go, you can have it back. I prefer the latter one, that’s my personal opinion for what it’s worth, especially right now. If it was pre-pandemic, I think that, you know, we would be looking at a way to perhaps get some kind of reasonable use out of the house … but as of now, I don’t think it’s realistic…”

Local historian and author Jeff Brady wasn’t at the Oct. 21 assembly meeting. He made sure to attend the Nov. 4 session to share his disapproval.

“I think it’s a sad statement by the assembly, basically turning your back on an important piece of Skagway history. I think you gave up too easily,” he said. 

“…I know it’s gonna cost a lot to restore that house. But I also know that you, the city, better than anyone, can leverage that gift to procure restoration grants for this historic home and keep it a public property. I’d ask you to reconsider. I’d ask that you maybe work with the Rasmuson Foundation for more time … Don’t use COVID as an excuse, use it to your advantage.”

Brady offered to be part of a committee to help the borough save the Rapuzzi home.

In an Oct. 28 letter to the Rasmuson Foundation, Cremata requested that the foundation “relieve the MOS of the gift of the Rapuzzi House.”