Eagle River’s first car wash razed

Contents of swan ‘time capsule’ revealed
Thursday, April 7, 2016 - 13:04
  • Newspapers from 1991 and other items had been tucked away inside a large swan at The Duck Pond Car Wash. PHOTOS BY AMY ARMSTRONG FOR THE STAR
  • Years after the business closed, The Duck Pond Car Wash is now gone.

Demolition of an Eagle River icon began last week as the walls of the Duck Pond Car Wash were smashed in and the white wooden swan that hung out front of its coin changer suspended in a flight pose was taken down.

“It is pretty heavy,” Brad Gamble said. He and wife Tonya are the owners of the property where what was Eagle River’s first car wash was located.

Discussion of an official “time capsule” being inside the goose dominated several Eagle River-oriented Facebook pages on Friday, April 1. Those rumors were dispelled on Monday, April 4 when Gamble came by The Star offices with the contents of the goose.

Several zip-lock bags contained a variety of photographs of the swan’s construction and installation. One bag held a child’s drawing and poems written about swans by then 11-year-old Emily Angela Kerr.

According to documents found within one of the zip-lock bags, was a poem that had won first place in the Fur Rondy poetry completion. Newspapers from 1991 when the swan was hung were also inside its belly. A black Ferrari-styled cap with the words, “Eagle River Duck Pond,” in red on a white background patch that long-time locals may recall being consistently worn by the Duck Pond’s former owner, Larry Thomas, was also in a plastic zip-lock.

“Not exactly a time capsule,” Gamble said. “I hope to see Larry sometime this summer and will return the contents to him. Probably has more meaning to him than anyone else.”

Thomas bought the car wash in 1969. He later developed its locally famous duck pond by lining it with boulders moved during the process of expanding the car wash from two to eight stalls.

In 1991, he asked Charlie Horsman – a former local with well-known wood-working skills, to build a swan to be displayed on the property. The swan was hung in Oct. 1991 with a bit of local fanfare in recognition of the success of the car wash.

Brad and Tonya bought the four-acre property in 2004. By then, the pond was well established. In 1979, the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game began bringing ducks to the pond. Folks often stopped at the pond with their children or grandchildren to feed the ducks after getting a car wash. It became an attraction for waterfowl and those that enjoyed watching them.

It was on the “to-do” list of many; visits to the duck pond were nearly akin to a rite of passage toward being considered a “local.”

But that was then. This is now.

The Duck Pond Car Wash closed five years ago. The creek running in to the pond from, which the car wash had water rights to, had begun running too erratically to ensure adequate water availability, Brad said.

He and Tonya once fed an enormous flock of ducks, geese and other wild waterfowl that flew in and out of the pond as well as domestic chickens and peacocks. As the domestic birds died of old age, they stopped replacing the birds about ten years ago when the decision to sell the property was made.

Once the car wash was closed, the number of people visiting the pond dwindled as well. Without a constant stream of breadcrumbs being thrown in the pond, waterfowl visits have also decreased.

While community members recall fond memories of visits to the pond, most say they understand why the car wash building must go.

“It is very sad that it’s leaving. It was an icon for the community,” wrote Linda Pike of the Eagle River Valley on a Facebook post soliciting public comment on the demolition. “But for the Gamble family, it is a financial burden that I’m sure they’re glad to be done with.”

Patti Wilson, a long-time Chugiak resident, remembers when the Duck Pond Car Wash was the only one in town.

“For many years it was a lovely business and a landmark in the community. So sorry to see it go,” Wilson wrote. “It was wonderful place to take the kids for a picnic lunch and feed the bread crusts to the ducks—hours of free entertainment. At the time, it was the only car wash in the community and always so well-maintained, too.”

For the past year, the property was under contract with Alaska Regional Hospital for purchase from the Gambles as the site for a proposed freestanding emergency department. That deal fell through when the Alaska Dept. of Health and Human Services denied Regional’s application.

It put the Gambles back to square one.

There is interest in the property, but the Gambles are not publicly discussing the details.

For now, Brad’s is focused on the demolition being conducted by Alaska Demolition.

The car wash, its office that was located between the car wash stalls as well as the small home and garage behind the tree line on the backside of the car wash lot and across from the duck pond are being torn down.

The walls of the small home – that dates back to the 1950s – are unstable and caving in, Gamble said.

The car wash, the small house and its adjacent garage are all “unsafe,” Gamble said adding the time has come for their demolition to make the property more “sellable.”Community members seem to understand.

“It might be an icon, but it was an eye sore,” wrote Hazel Kruse of Eagle River.

“They are tearing it down, not a big deal. It has been around forever; it has not been running for the last 5 years. The property is listed at 1 million dollars,” wrote Ricky Moore of Chugiak. “From what I read, they cannot touch the pond only the buildings. So the only good part of that property will still be there.”

Talk of turning the pond into a municipal park never saw action.

Some in the community think the duck pond itself could be preserved for waterfowl watching.

“The pond requires refurbishing. I think this would be a good community project depending on whether or not the water supply is still available and adequate,” wrote Jim Eyles of Eagle River. “I haven’t seen ducks there in years.”

Contrary to coffee shop rumor, the Gambles efforts to sell the property are not related to a potential move out of state now that their youngest child is nearly finished with high school. Tonya recently began comptroller at Eklutna, Inc., and Brad said they have no plans to leave Alaska. He recently sold the Hands Off Touchless Car Wash located just down the Old Glenn Highway. He plans to remain active in the Eagle River Rotary and currently is the District Governor for Alaska and Yukon.

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