Imagine living in the same building as everyone else in town.
In the small Alaskan town of Whittier, where 300 people reside, that’s the reality.
Back in 2015, everyone lived under one roof, and by 2023, just 85% of inhabitants lived in the 14-story building, known as the Begich Towers.
The self-sufficient structure, which was previously used as a Cold War behemoth, includes a hospital, a school, a police station, a grocery store, a church, a post office and city government.
Within the building are pathways to get to each individual institution.
Located 1.5 hours southwest of Anchorage, the town is accessed only through a tunnel under a glacier, or by sea.
In the dead of winter, the only way to reach Whittier used to be by train, when the weather permitted.
That was until 15 years ago, when Alaska converted a World War II rail tunnel to handle cars, too.
Whittier’s residents arrange their lives by the tunnel’s timetable — cars can only cross once an hour in either direction. Residents have until 10:30 p.m. to make it back to the town before the tunnel closes for the night.
“I think that idea when you hear one town living under the same roof, that I think that creates a certain amount of fascination,” Erika Fitzgerald, who jumped at the opportunity to teach in Alaska after graduate school, previously said in an interview with Indie Alaska.
“At first people think that’s really weird. That’s zombie apocalypse. And then all of a sudden, there’s this evolution of like ‘that’s interesting … I want to know about that.’”
Fitzgerald, who lived in Whittier for five years, detailed the struggle of making it back to the town in time.
“You know, the tunnel creates its own sort of isolation, and that it closes every night at 10:30,” she said. “Trying to explain to visitors or people who aren’t from they’re like, no, we really have to go. If we don’t go, we’re not gonna get into Whittier right now … It is an interesting, strange place to live.”
According to the school’s website, there are about 60 students enrolled for the year.
Meanwhile, a resident by the name of Janessa Lorenz, went viral on Tiktok for taking viewers inside the building.
The video showed the many hallways, the post office, grocery store and school — all being an elevator ride away.
According to Lorenz, the building was created so no one had to leave if they didn’t want to during those rough winter months.
“I made the video thinking, ‘OK, no one’s going to care about a tiny, tiny town in Alaska.’ The next day, it had millions of views, and I was in shock,” Lorenz told USA Today. “Our town’s Facebook group posted my TikTok on their page too.”
She also shows viewers the abandoned building in the town, known as the Buckner Building — which at one point was considered the largest in the entire state.
Once used as a former US military site during World War II, it then housed a bowling alley, a movie theater, a kitchen, plenty of units and a pool before the property was eventually shut down.
The description on her entire account states “I live in one of the weirdest towns.”
The other 15% of the town lives in a two-story private residence known as Whittier Manor — a smaller condominium.
“Things are different in Whittier, but most of our community is just a floor away, which is great,” Lorenz said.
Mary K. Jacob