Welcome to Whittier, Alaska, the “town under one roof.”
You could say Whittier, Alaska has a small-town feel—the only way in is via a 2-mile railroad tunnel that closes at 10:30 p.m. Before you start claiming your rural Iowa town has the same feel, consider the fact that the majority of Whittier’s 218 residents live under the same roof — literally.
The 14-story building is a former Army barracks built in 1956, yet it houses all the amenities you’d expect from a small town: a laundromat, health clinic, corner store, police station, church, video store, city offices and the homes of nearly 200 residents.
The top two floors are run as a Bed & Breakfast for tourists looking to enjoy the scenic summers in Whittier (think whale watching, birding and fishing). But in the harsh Alaskan winters, Begich Towers allows residents to exist completely indoors to avoid the 60 mph winds and 21-feet of snow the coastal town regularly sees.
The city even built an underground tunnel between the Towers and the school building so students don’t have to walk outside. When they’re not in class, kids can amuse themselves at the indoor playground or container garden.
Residents of the building are used to tourists thinking their lifestyle is a bit odd, but “it’s just home,” explains teacher Erika Thompson, who has lived in the building for 5 years. Like any high-rise or community, there are people who love the Towers because of how social they can be while living under the same roof as the entire town, and others who love how reclusive it feels.
So, when you’re looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, try Whittier. Who knows? You may end up staying for good.
All photos from California Sunday Magazine