Whittier, Alaska is a small town situated about 60 miles from Anchorage at the top of the Passage Canal. There are some pretty creepy stories about the state of Alaska but the town stands out for a number of reasons: its small size, its natural beauty, its remoteness and difficulty to access, and the fact that everyone in Whittier lives in one building. That's right; most of the 220 year-round residents live in Begich Towers, a condominium-like complex that not only houses about 80% of the town's residents, but most of the town's businesses and services as well. It is an entire community that lives under the same shared roof.
The area surrounding Whittier had never been a particularly populated place, so during the Second World War, the government thought it would make an ideal military base. Over the next few years, two of the town's only structures were built: the Buckner Building, which is now abandoned, and the Hodge Building, now known as Begich Towers. The military base became defunct in the 1960s and Whittier became a port for cruise ships.
Daily life in Whittier, Alaska, resembles life in other small American towns, but for the most part, living in a one-building community is a singular experience.
The Top Two Floors Are A Bed And Breakfast
Considering both its unique character and natural beauty, Whittier attracts its share of tourists. Most are understandably curious to see just how an entire town manages to live peaceably under one roof. The top two floors of Begich Towers are a bed and breakfast, by far the swankiest digs in town.
June's Whittier Condo Suites offer a variety of rooms and amenities, and the views, of course, are stellar. Guests can experience what it's like to live as a local while still having all the comforts of home.
Most Of The City Services Are On The First Floor
There's no Main Street or municipal buildings in Whittier; such things would be a logistical impossibility. Instead, the majority of the city's services are located on the first floor of Begich Towers. A police department, post office, convenience store, medical clinic, and grocery store are among the services you'll find.
The school is connected to Begich Towers via an underground tunnel. For the residents of Whittier, going to school or work rarely requires even leaving the house.
There's A Church In The Basement
Begich Towers isn't just home, work, and community to Whittier residents; it is also a spiritual haven. There is a church in the basement of the building. The Whittier Christian Community Church offers twice-weekly services, and you never even have to step outside. There is also a Samoan church that shares the same space.
The Malamalama Fou, or New Light Church, provides Samoan language services in the tiny Alaska town.
Binoculars Are An Important Part Of Whittier Life
"Most people in town, particularly on the harbor side of the building, seem to have binoculars," one Whittier resident said. It definitely makes sense, considering the abundant wildlife and marine life within view of Begich Towers. Photographer Reed Young encountered another reason for the binoculars.
"A lot of people keep them there to watch whales breaching and mountain goats grazing and things like that," he told NPR. "But June [Miller who owns condos in the tower] always told us that [binoculars] are basically for finding out if your husband's at the bar."