No, we’re not talking about Whittier, California. This  special spot is Whittier, Alaska. This is the remote, small  town ensconced about 58 miles southeast of the city of  Anchorage. Incorporated in 1969, it’s now known to some  as the “town under one roof.”

A port for the official Alaska Marine Highway, Whittier is  technically accessible by ferry, but the only other way to  get there is via a two-and-a-half-mile-long, single lane  Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. Also known as the  Whittier Tunnel, It’s only 16 feet wide so while it’s rarely if  ever crowded the traffic flows in one direction with that  direction changing every half hour.

Travelers must wait patiently for lights to signal the right  of way. Chosen and constructed in 1943, and originally  designed for trains, it was used to transport supplies from  the deep-water base of Whittier to Bear Valley. More than  six decades later, this pathway through Maynard Mountain  remains the longest highway tunnel on the entire  continent.

In the late 1960s, the federal government turned the little  inlet over to the locals. Residents thought the lengthy,  lonely entrance was in sore need of a makeover. They  gave it a fresh, new coat of concrete and made the steel  rails even with the road to allow both motor vehicles and  trains to use the tunnel.

Today technology rules and a computer now controls the  timing of both the traffic and railway schedules but there  is always someone on call in case of an emergency. After  all, this could very well be the only way to help anyone in  trouble. In order to fend off potential claustrophobia,  reputed “safe houses” were installed at different intervals.  In case of a cave-in or some other emergency situation,  anyone unfortunate enough to be caught midway through  could wait it out somewhere (somewhat) safer.

Of course, there are other everyday concerns as well. With  only one place to enter and exit, all the vehicle exhaust has  no place to go. Thus real jet engines have been installed  to continuously pump fresh air into the tunnel in the  current direction of traffic. This was done so that if there  was ever a fire in the tunnel, all the flames would be blown  behind the vehicles on their way out as opposed to being  blown into oncoming traffic.

By the time claustrophobic visitors reach the end of the  dimly-lit tunnel, they will discover a welcome albeit  unusual sight that includes all the essential ingredients of  a city. In this case, however, rather than urban sprawl,  Whittier has been built to include almost everything into  what appears to be a single, solitary tower. Whittier is  literally a handful of buildings, few of which are still used  for their original intent.

Just how small is Whittier, Alaska?
This lonely-looking  spot covers an area of less than 20 square miles.  According to the 2016 census, the population was  estimated to include 214 people. It is estimated by  various online sources that between 75 and 80 percent of  the locals presently reside in the above-mentioned single  building.

Whittier’s two most significant buildings are named the  Buckner Building and of course the Begich Towers. Both  of these buildings were built at the close of World War  Two. These structures, built by the Army Corps of  Engineers, along with the previously-noted railroad track  leading into Whittier, cost a total of 55 million dollars and  provided the American military a home base for logistical  support at what was then considered the outer edge of the  “Cold War frontier.”

The military abandoned the Buckner Building a mere seven  years after it was completed. It did not take all that long  for military intelligence to come to see that the United  States did not actually have a lot of use for this far-flung  military outpost. The Begich Towers, which is actually  composed of three structures, is also known by the locals  as the BTI.

In essence, once it was legally deeded over from the  United States Army to the city sometime in 1974, this  building became the city in that it reportedly houses between 75 and 80 percent of the permanent and  seasonal population. The fourteen-story structure  includes 196 condominiums. Residents are allowed to  make use of the space in the main basement as well.  under the main building. Each individual condo owner is  provided a specific storage area to keep anything he or  she is not able (or chooses not to) keep inside his or her  actual condominium.

The Begich Towers also includes almost all of the  expected municipal essentials. Most of the basic city  functions can be found on the first floor. In fact, within the  building one will not only find the city offices but also a  church, a clinic, a convenience store, the police station, a  post office, a school, and a grocery store as well.

This former Cold War-era army barracks also hosts  vacationing visitors in the comfortable bed and breakfast  units situated on both the 14th and the 15th floors.  Guests are always welcome to observe just how life is in a  nearly one-building city.

The locals boast of the  breathtaking views of the glaciers, ocean and even the  waterfalls cascading down from the nearby towering  mountains that surround this unique place.   Indeed, veteran visitors confirm that one can “see pretty  much the whole town from the top floor of the condo.”

There’s even a pen of real live reindeer outside the front of  the building. (How fun!) Also dotting the local landscape are a few other, smaller  buildings. There are a few apartments that are not part of  the main structure. Additionally, there are a couple of inns  that also serve as a bar, laundromat and restaurant, and a  sizeable ex-military gymnasium. Finally, there is yet  another store about the size of a typical gas station too.  Thus concludes our official tour of Whittier, Alaska, the  famous “town under one roof.”
Don’t forget to tell them  just who sent you if you decide to visit!


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