By Melinda Munson
The Skagway Borough Assembly voted March 16 to transfer ownership of the Rapuzzi House to Friends of the Klondike Corridor (FKC), for the price of $10. Ordinance 23-07 states that FKC “seeks to restore, maintain and repair the Rapuzzi House for the purpose of preservation and enjoyment of the public.”
In 2008, the Rasmuson Foundation gifted the Municipality of Skagway and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park more than 30,000 artifacts and documents known as the Rapuzzi collection. As part of the endowment, the municipality also received the Rapuzzi House.
The home, gifted by Phyllis Brown, heir to George and Edna Rapuzzi, has white peeling paint, lacked utilities since 1990 and is in need of stabilization.
Mayor Andrew Cremata estimated it would cost $2 million to repair the dwelling and regulations prevent the municipality from using it as housing. The municipality voted to give the Rapuzzi House back to the Rasmuson Foundation in Oct. 2021, but the process was halted when FKC expressed interest in the project.
“We have struggled to figure out what to do with it within code,” said Assemblymember Orion Hanson. And this organization … has come up with a very good concept, I think, for restoring the Rapuzzi House. It needs quite a bit of work. …I think they’re going to make it into a welcoming event space as well as a museum of sorts.”
“It’s exciting to see some movement on this, so that building is restored and that home is changed into a welcoming event space,” Orion added. “And I think they’ve got some really good ideas for artists in residence and other things like that.”
Hanson noted that the new plans for Rapuzzi House have already passed the necessary permitting steps for conditional use.
FKC is the official non-profit partner for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (KGR), and covers the Klondike Corridor from Seattle to Skagway, and Dawson City, Yukon.
Donna Larsen, executive director of FKC, said their organization was asked in the past if they would be interested in the Rapuzzi House, but the Municipality of Skagway decided to take responsibility. With ownership transferring to FKC, the non-profit’s job now is to satisfy the best interest of the national park and the community.
According to Larsen, FKC wants “a legacy place for Chikoot artists in residence” and a museum that “expands the story beyond just the gold rush.” The community voiced support for use as a small venue for events like book signings and a short-term abode for visiting art professionals, such as the piano tuner.
Larsen envisions restoring Edna’s front flower garden and George’s basement, complete with radio antennae.
Larsen stressed that all of the discussion at this point is just concepts.
“We’re throwing everything on the board right now,” she said.
A $9,000 grant from the Margaret Frans Brady Program Fund covered the cost of roof repairs to stop leaks. A grant from the Rasmuson Foundation will pay for an architect who will give an estimate for further repairs and a reality check for just how costly it will be to remove asbestos and lead paint and save the building.
Previously, local historian Jeff Brady spoke out against the municipality returning the house to the Rasmuson Foundation. While he would have preferred the borough maintain ownership and complete the project, he is satisfied that a solution has been reached. He noted FKC’s expertise at procuring restoration funding.
“I really think it’s the best alternative,” he said.