Anchorage's most endangered historic site has been pulled off death row, thanks to an agreement this summer between the U.S. Army, local preservation groups and other government agencies. The Nike missile site in Arctic Valley, taken out of service in 1979, has been ravaged by 30 years of weather and pillaging by souvenir seekers and vandals. From the Army's perspective, the simplest course of action was to demolish the entire complex of 26 buildings and be done with it.
But that would have wiped out a rare remaining relic from the nation's Cold War history. The Nike missile site, known as Site Summit, was one of about 275 across the country that stood guard against a potential Soviet missile attack. Site Summit is one of the few with any substantial buildings left. Its distinctive "clam shell" radar towers are visible from the Anchorage Bowl on a clear day, perched on Mount Gordon Lyon, above where the Christmas star is lit every holiday season. The complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the rare designation that it is a district of "national significance."
With the June 17 agreement, the Army will use its money to stabilize most of the large structures instead of tearing them all down. It won't be anything like a restoration to museum-style standards. That would be too expensive -- $8 million by an estimate made nine years ago. Rather, the Army will use its limited funds to secure the exteriors against weather and mischief-makers.
The Army will also put up some signs explaining the site's history and prepare educational materials. Local groups will get 18 months to raise the money to save a handful of other buildings on a delayed demolition list.
For the first time, the general public will get a chance to see the surviving buildings. The Army agreed to permit three guided tours each summer. Part of the site's access road crosses an active military training area, so the Army doesn't want to see thousands of tourists running through there.
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