Martin Itjen House

People walk around a bright blue building with a sandwich board reading "Museum Store"
The Martin Itjen House, painted bright blue, is one of the first National Park Service buildings that greets visitors arriving by water to Skagway.

NPS/S. Muether

 
Line drawing of a house building
Drawing of Marting Itjen House

NPS

The Martin Itjen House is located on the west side of Broadway between First and Second Avenues (Block 37, Lot 1) but it is not in its original location.

The House is Built (but not by Martin Itjen)
This is a one-story, "T" shaped, wood frame residence with horizontal board siding and a wood-shingled gable roof. David J. Rich, a painter and hardware store owner, built this modest home originally on piers beside the approach to Moore's Wharf (Block B, lot 7). Construction started sometime after September 1901 and was completed by 1902. The house is reminiscent of cottages designed for White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad employees by Seattle architect Henry Dozier. Although the actual designer is unknown, Dozier's influence is evident and David Rich may have worked on Dozier's railroad cottages and thus gained information or drawings for his own home. David and Mary Rich lived in the house for twenty years but made few alterations to it. Rich operated "The House of Rich," a business on Fifth Avenue that sold "Wall Paper, Building Paper, Paints, Oils, Glass, and Building Material – Mail Orders Promptly Attended To" according to an advertisement in the local newspaper, the Daily Alaskan. With the decrease in new building starts in Skagway, the Riches moved to Seattle in the early 1920s. On June 21, 1922, they sold their home to Martin Itjen for $300.

Martin Itjen Moves In and Promotes Tourism
Itjen had been a storekeeper in Florida tempted north by the Klondike Gold Rush. Between 1898 and 1905, he divided his time between working for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad and dashing off to mineral strikes. Failing in his ventures as a miner, he returned to Skagway and began working for the railroad as a laborer. During the summer months he began operating a hack service for the increasing number of tourists coming to town. By 1922 the Itjens had become attuned to the summer tourist trade. From their door, Martin and Lucy Itjen greeted people passing by and sold rides on their "Skagway Street Car" to such attractions as Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith's Parlor Museum, tame fish, the Gold Rush Cemetery, Reid's Falls, where Martin built wooden walkways, benches, a comfort station, and the world's largest "gold" nugget, and other Skagway attractions. Inside the house, Lucy rented rooms to the Bay View Hotel, a converted barge across the wharf, and sold magazines, boxes of confectionery, fruits and nuts. Martin added two portholes in front of the house to attract the attention of tourists and to let in the light without getting the full cold weather effect of larger windows. The house was located on the east side of Moore's wharf and the Itjens put up a large "Welcome to Skagway" sign across the wharf in front of their house. Martin died December 3, 1942 and his wife Lucy, December 27, 1946. Also in 1946, the railroad tracks were relocated cutting off the front of the wharf and isolating the house. After Lucy's death, this building was moved off the wharf and eventually, after two moves, ended up on the south side of 6th Avenue, just west of Main Street. In June 1978, the NPS purchased the Itjen house (without the surrounding lot) from Jack and Marjorie Brown.

The south part of Block 37, Lot 1, across Broadway from the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway Broadway Depot and south of Second Avenue, was a mostly vacant lot during the early gold rush period. The lot was within the regular, although perhaps not daily, tidal range which limited its use. It was an area where freight was offloaded to temporarily reside on the beach before being taken to more permanent secure storage inland. As Skagway grew, this area saw the construction of several small sheds and a larger barn like structure all on pilings. Although their function is unknown, these buildings may have been used as offices and storage facilities for local freight transfer companies. Whatever their uses, these small buildings were gone by May 9, 1908, when the three story Dewey Hotel was moved to the north half of the lot. This hotel burned in 1940 and was replaced shortly thereafter by the union hall of the International Longshoremen's Association.

Final Move and Historic Preservation
In the late spring of 1978, the south half of this lot, which had been vacant since 1908, was purchased by the NPS. A short time later, the NPS obtained the Martin Itjen House and in July 1978 moved the house a third time to the empty lot, 300 feet west of its original site. The building was restored during the 1990-1991 period to its 1921-1942 appearance at a cost of $262,000. More recently, the Martin Itjen House was the home of the joint NPS and Parks Canada Trail Center. Today it is the home of the park's partner museum bookstore, Alaska Geographic.

 

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Last updated: April 30, 2018

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Mailing Address:

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
P.O. Box 517

Skagway, AK 99840

Phone:

(907) 983-9200

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