UA Journey

History of the Presidents' Residence Part 1

Bunnell House

Built in the summer of 1922, the first president's residence is the oldest surviving structure on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus and the first building built by Charles Bunnell.

The small white frame-constructed house was a six-room frame "cottage" with a concrete basement and was centrally located allowing Bunnell to observe all campus operations and activities from his home. In 1931, a fire gutted the interior, but it was immediately rebuilt and the cause of the fire was never discovered. However, it was suspected to be arson. No other presidents or chancellors have resided in the home.

From 1956 until the 1970s, the structure was used for faculty housing. The house was moved around 1957 to its present location on Chatanika Drive to be used by the Home Economics Department. In the 1970s, the facility housed the Tanana Valley Community College's Bunnell House Child Development Laboratory. It changed to in the 1980s to Kiddie Campus Day Care operated by a private provider. The Bunnell House Early Childhood Laboratory returned to the house in November of 1991.

If Houses Could Talk
In the late 40's Bunnell became increasingly ill with diabetes and after much concern over his ability to continue as president, was quietly offered "president emeritus" status in exchange for his resignation. He submitted his resignation in 1948 to be effective July 1, 1949.

In the summer of 1949, Terris Moore was to take over, as president but the question of who would occupy the president's residence became an issue with the Moore family. When the Moores arrived (Terris, Katrina, Kit and Henry) on campus, they were temporarily housed in the infirmary, which was the first floor of Hess Hall, the women's dormitory. Given the awkward circumstances with Bunnell, the infirmary was really the best that the university had to offer.

" A slight dank, musty odor typical of earthen-backed concrete seeped up from the basement living quarters one floor below to add a special tang to the antiseptic smell of the place. Dr. Bunnell made no mention that day of how soon he would be leaving the president's official residence, noting that construction was underway on several new houses . . . . The Moores were to live in the infirmary somewhat longer than expected, in fact, for the next seven weeks." -1

After discussions between individual regents and Bunnell, it was revealed that Bunnell had no plans to move from the President's Residence. He was soon to be officially named "President Emeritus" and his plan was to continue living on campus and in that house. To force his hand on this issue, Bunnell told the regents that the university would not inherit the property he owned around the campus (which was substantial) if they insisted that he move from the home.

Terris Moore decided this was not a battle he would choose to take on and that he and his family would make do with the housing that was available. And with any luck, one of the new small houses under construction would be finished by September. Ultimately the Moores' moved into faculty housing before it was finished, as the infirmary was needed for the fall semester.

Moore continued to have similar issues with Bunnell in regard to the president's chair at regent meetings and the President's Office. One day Moore physically took over the Office of the President, (after helping Bunnell move to occupy the office across the hall); the office area was small but nicely situated on the second floor of the Eielson Building with a view toward the southeast. Moore had a spectacular view of the Alaska Range, the campus entrance and the president's residence, which was still occupied by President Emeritus Bunnell.

During the winter of 1949 and spring of 1950, a controversy surrounding the resignation of Dr. Stuart Seaton, director of the Geophysical Institute, and the quality of ongoing research arose, Moore asserting himself as president, and Bunnell doing some political maneuvering to try and oust Moore, ended with Bunnell being fired. The Board of Regents' minutes read:

    "It was moved by Mr. Rhode, seconded by Mr. O'Neill that Dr. Bunnell's salary be discontinued as of July 1st, 1950, and the question of further benefits or salary be left until the October meeting as well as the question of employment for him. The motion carried. The question of office space for Dr. Bunnell was left to the administration."

Later, the Board of Regents made a financial offer to Bunnell hoping he would move from the campus. If Bunnell would leave the president's residence and president's office, the university would compensate him $10,000 per year. If not, he would get $7,500 per year. Bunnell choose the lesser amount. This was the one and only effort the Board of Regents made to entice Bunnell to leave.

After much reflection of the presidential situation and his future role in the continued development of the University of Alaska, Moore tendered his resignation May 1952, to be effective July 1, 1953. Moore arranged to stay connected with the university as "Professor of the University" allowing him to work on a Mount Wrangell Inter-University Research project. Interestingly enough, the too-many-presidents situation seems to have just been compounded as an incoming president would now have to juggle the presence of two former presidents - one "emeritus" and one "professor."

As a condition of acceptance of the position of president of the University of Alaska and written into the compensation package, Dr. Ernest Patty negotiated for a fine new president's residence. The construction of the new home began in the summer of 1953.

In September of 1956, Dr. Bunnell's health rapidly deteriorated. He was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Fairbanks and then transferred to San Francisco for treatment and convalescence. He died of a heart attack November 1, 1956, shortly after being transferred to a nursing home in Burlingame, California. Dr. Bunnell had kept both his house and his office until his death at age 78.


History of the Presidents' Residence                                                                                                      Part 2

Sources:

-1 Regents' Minutes, 25 May 1950, B 5, p 159.

Davis, Neil. The College Hill Chronicles, University of Alaska Foundation, 1992