Z. J. Loussac
Steven C. Levi
© Copyright 2018 by Steven C. Levi
Joshua Loussac. But usually it’s Z. J.
Loussac; a name synonymous with Anchorage, Alaska. He was the city’s
most colorful mayor, most notable rags-to-riches personal success
story and a philanthropist who shocked the city with his largess:
$500,000 by the time of his death in 1965, half his personal wealth –
about $7 million in today’s dollars. The city library is named
in his honor and his personal art collection – donated to the
public – is as close to an artistic fingerprint of Alaska as
one can find.
But Loussac was more than a local hero. His life was symbolic of the last century. He was an Horatio Alger character in the flesh. Born near Moscow on July 13, 1882, he was forced to flee the Czar’s secret police for “participating in a revolutionary movement.” He arrived in New York at 18 years of age, flat broke and unable to speak English. He rode the rails west to search for gold in the Klondike but ended up in Montana where he spent a year working in a drug store. He returned to New York in 1903 and earned a degree from the New York College of Pharmacy. He then spent four years working New York before heading to Alaska. His first sluice on the Snake River in Nome washed downstream so he had to hock his overcoat for a one-way ticket back to Seattle. He arrived broke. He worked in drug stores in Seattle and San Francisco until 1909 when he headed back to Alaska. He built a drugstore in Iditarod, which promptly burned down. After he rebuilt the structure, the boom played into a bust and back to San Francisco he went, broke. He returned in 1913, this time to Juneau where he opened yet another drug store. This time Lady Luck favored his enterprise. The Juneau enterprise was so successful he moved north to the newly established tent city of Anchorage. His one store in town grew to two which offered a wide variety of goods including books, furniture and tobacco products.
But it took him until 1939 to be debt-free.
Then money came fast enough that he could retire in 1942 and, in 1946, he established the Z. J. Loussac Foundation that pumped more than half a million dollars into local cultural structures and charities. He was a three-term Mayor, from 1948 to 1951, married for the first time in 1949 and retired to Seattle – wealthy this time – where he died in 1965, one year after the Great Alaska Earthquake.
But there have always been rumors that Loussac had a darker side. Old timers muttered that he earned his money as a pimp and running at least one gambling establishment. Insinuations of this dark side broke into the open in early 2001 when a local tabloid, the Anchorage Press, hinted at Loussac’s seamier side. There was an ensuing uproar, the outcome of which was this article. (This article was never printed.)
Over the course of four months, this author went through the historical record to see if there was any truth to the rumors. Believing that charges of this nature made against such an illustrious founding father should be substantiated beyond all reasonable doubt, interviews with pioneer Alaskans were not considered to be of primary importance. Documentation was. Criminal, civil, commissioner and land records were examined for every year that Loussac was in Alaska. The records of every community in which he claimed residence were examined as well.
The only evidence of Loussac ever being in Nome, Haines, Iditarod and Juneau was contained in two news articles and a handful of pamphlets in which Loussac himself provided the essential details. A search of the civic documentation from these cities turned up nothing. In fact, just about any information on Loussac was sketchy, other than that which he provided himself. Although he claimed to have come from Russia, according to the Ellis Island records, which listed all its entries into the United States from 1892 to 1924 on the Internet, no Z. J. Loussac or anyone reasonably, close in spelling appeared. This may not be unusual as paperwork circa 1900 was hardly thorough. Loussac did not appear in the New York Census for 1900, for instance, or in the records for the other states in which he may have been in that year: California, Alaska or Montana. There was no Soundex for 1910 so that Census year was not checked. Loussac did appear in 1920. He was living in the “Hotel Anchorage” with a roommate, Frank I. Reed.
Thus the search for the elusive past of Z. J. Loussac centered on Anchorage and its document archives. Since the crux of the rumors was that Loussac was a pimp, the natural place to start were the Anchorage criminal records. The search started with the early records, 1917 being the first case of prostitution found, and followed the document trail to 1953, when Loussac left Anchorage for Seattle. Civil case files were examined as well and when a date associated with Loussac surfaced, the pages of the now-defunct Anchorage Daily Times were examined. When an address was given, there was an examination of the land records to identify the owner of the property. Also examined was Loussac’s FBI file, now available at the Archives in the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
Before being submerged by the minutia, it’s important for the reader to understand a number of realities of researching Alaskan history. First, criminal and civil issues in Territorial days of Anchorage were either handled by the Third Judicial District, what most people now call “the court,” or the United States Commissioner. The Commissioner was a holdover from the days when bonafide federal judges only sat in Juneau, Valdez, Nome, and Eagle. (Eventually the Valdez federal judge came to Anchorage and the federal judge in Eagle went to Fairbanks.) Justice in other parts of Alaska was bestowed by commissioners, men and a few women who had more power than magistrates but less than judges. That is, they could do more than ‘marry and bury’ but could not send a man to the gallows. But, as Alaska history has shown, the commissioners’ word was law as long as a bonafide judge did not overturn the case. Thus, during the time being examined, there were two legal systems operating side-by-side in Anchorage. Thus there were two sets of legal document trials.
Second, documentation was sketchy at best. Many of the records were missing. Poor recording left tantalizing clues but no hard evidence. Names were spelled wrong, addresses vague or nonsensical and some files just ended. Sometimes the same case had four or five numbers because of the spread of charges. Other times there was a judicial criminal file as well as a Commissioner’s file. Sometimes the files were for the same person but for different offenses. Sometimes they were for the same charge and the same person on different dates. This is hardly surprising. It’s important to keep in mind that until the 1970s, Anchorage was a small town. When Z. J. Loussac makes his first appearance in the criminal record on July 12, 1926, Anchorage only had about 2,500 people. When he made the first on-paper appearance in a brothel case, May 24, 1938, Anchorage had only grown to 4,000 people. When he was mayor, Anchorage was still small even by Alaskan standards: 12,000.
What relation do sketchy files have to do with population size? In the early days of any city, record keeping is not at a premium. Everyone knows everyone else so there are not a lot of secrets. There was not a lot of money for the legal system – or any other public service for that matter – so arrests are made only when they had to be. Paperwork only followed if the case could not be dispensed with quickly. Thus, when legal criminal paperwork does exist, it was because the case was too ‘big’ to ignore.
In terms of civil cases for Loussac, there was more than a handful. Most were for debts Loussac was trying to collect, (279, 466, 723, 1055, 2227 and 2536 – new sequence 685, 378, 345.) In terms of the criminal record, there were only two arrest records for Loussac. One (330) was for “selling intoxicating liquors without the prescription of a reputable physician” on January 11, 1917. He was fined $500 and court costs of $18.15 as well as having all “liquor or appliances producing same seized as evidence in this court.” There was a front-page article in the Alaska Labor News admonishing him for the transgression on January 13th and that appears to have ended the controversy. The second and last criminal case was a speeding ticket (154) on November 11, 1926. He was going “faster than 12 miles per hour” and fined $20.
Examining the case files at the National Archives in Anchorage, I only found two arrests for the specific charge of prostitution and four for being a pimp. These cases stretched from February of 1917 to April of 1946. Commissioner Case 5021 related to prostitution in the eyes of the law. On November 28, 1943, Elmer Leslie McGinty was arrested for being a pimp and “loitering in and around a house of ill fame.” During the same period, there were five cases of violation of the White Slavery Act. One of them, 1627, involved Loussac. On June 7, 1941, Mabel Knox and Marcel Demsey were arrested under the White Slavery Act for importing Hariette Scott aka Sunny Kent from San Francisco. The bail of $500 was paid by Z. J. Loussac and I. Bayles. (I. Bayless had been a neighbor of Loussac in Iditarod. Loussac eventually bought Bayless’ clothing store in Anchorage.)
But when it came to arrests for running a brothel – also known as bawdy houses, houses of ill repute or houses of ill fame – there were more than a few. During the same time, there were 32 arrests that are included as an attachment to this article. One of the more interesting cases involved a Mrs. Glen Parker, a nineteen-year old girl named Amanda Sternberg, and a nineteen-year old boy named Joseph Tyler, (4121, 4122, 4123 and 4124 along with Commissioner Case 1470.) The case was such a mill for local gossip that it made the front page of the June 16, 1938 Anchorage Daily Times. The trial was “heated” but the evidence must have been convincing because the jury was only out for 20 minutes. What tipped the case was testimony of the two 19-year olds and the “profit-sharing agreement between Mrs. Parker and the Sternberg girl for the girl’s activity in the house.” Mrs. Glenn Parker of the Parker Rooms at 320 Fifth Avenue – where the Fifth Avenue Mall is today – was found guilty of running a bawdy house. She was fined $500 and sentenced to year in jail. Of importance to this article, half of Mrs. Parker’s bail of $1,000 was paid by Loussac.
Sticking with the theme of linking Loussac with prostitution with documents, I attempted to match arrest records for bawdy houses with land records. The very best that could be said about land records in early Anchorage is that they are an intertwined, knotted, rat’s nest of documents of which some exist, many are misfiled and all require a land attorney’s background to interpret. It was thus far beyond the scope of this writer’s time to delve into the intricacies of the land titles in early Anchorage. Worse, even if the land records could be deciphered and the actual names of the individuals on the land titles at the moment in question were known, there was so much buying and selling of property for $1 and $10 per parcel that it would be impossible to know who really owned the property. In terms of documentary evidence, the basis for this article, cross referencing arrest records and land titles, there is solid evidence to link Loussac with at least three known brothel owners: Corinne Benny, Zula Swanson and Darlene Reynolds. Documentary evidence could lead one to conclude that there were at least three more. [A truncated pastiche of Z. J. Loussac’s property from 1917 until his death in 1965 is available in the Anchorage Museum of History and Art archives.]
Of note for future researchers, the documentary history of Loussac’s lots 6, 7 and 8, Block 44 – the Loussac-Sogn building today and the financial wellspring for the Z. J. Loussac Foundation and Library – would be fascinating. It is the popular belief that Loussac sold the property and building in that Block and presented half the money to the city to build the library. Actually, the truth is a much more fascinating than that. The Bank of Alaska – later National Bank of Alaska and today Wells Fargo Bank – funded the Foundation to the tune of $280,000 – and for Loussac himself another $280,000 – in October of 1946. From a documentary point of view this may not have been the case. What Loussac sold Bank of Alaska is unclear but it was not the property. The Bank of Alaska did not get Lot 6 free-and-clear until March 15, 1963 (414/80) – but not until Loussac had re-mortgaged the property back to Bank of Alaska at least three times!
What makes this convoluted history so fascinating is that it involved two of Anchorage’s brightest, most fiscally astute wizards: Elmer E. Rasmuson and Z. J. Loussac. These two men were the unquestionable masters at playing financial chess with property mortgages and titles back and forth across the city.
For anyone interested in piecing together the Loussac land record, be advised that the man was an absolute genius at maneuvering both property titles and their records. As an example, Loussac sells Lot 10, Block 7B Third Addition to Eleanor M. Munter for $4,000. He then buys it back from Munter for $1 and sells it to Jack and Emma King for $1. When the property records are examined, these three transactions are listed in three separate books months apart even though all transactions happened on the same day, August 18, 1944: 41/199, 42/132 and 46/119. Further, Jack and Emma King officially bought the property August 14, 1945 even though it officially did not become Loussac’s until September 14, 1945 as appears in the handwriting of the United States Commissioner at the top of 41/199.
But this still leaves us with the burning question with which we began. Is there a smoking gun that proves with documents that Z. J. Loussac was involved with the traffic of prostitutes in Anchorage? Perhaps the strongest case is Loussac’s FBI file. Under File Number 62-75147-22, Serial 18 and Serial 20, are two crime surveys of Anchorage for 1948 and 1949. In the 1948 survey, page 2, is the following paragraph [blackened] the D&D Bar, is definitely associated with prostitution in Anchorage. He and [blackened] bail out practically all who are arrested as prostitutes. In addition, [blackened] the Liquor Dealers Association and has been foremost in endeavoring to have the current drive against gambling and prostitution relaxed. According to [blackened] Anchorage Police Department, [blackened] associated with ZACHERY J. LOUSSAC, present mayor of Anchorage.
On page 6 of the same report, is the following paragraph:[blackened] the D&D Bar, has recently negotiated a lease with the owner and lessee of the Quality Market, Anchorage, which property adjoins the D&D Bar. Under the terms of this lease, renting the front part of the basement of the Quality Market and has arranged to have a false wall constructed, which wall is to separate the basement of the D&D from the leased property. [blackened] presently has a number of gambling tables and devices stored in these premises but is not operation at present and according to [blackened] Anchorage Police Department [blackened] plans to postpone his operating until the present heat on gambling has died down.
Several paragraphs above, still on page 6, is a reference to Loussac’s “vigorous opposition” to the gambling clean-up drive then underway. The 1949 Report repeated the same charges as those made above but added the critical words “[blackened] is associated in business with ZACHERY J. LOUSSAC, recently reelected Mayor of Anchorage.”
According to the 1948 and 1952 Anchorage phone book, the D&D Bar was located at 327 West 4th, where the Ship Creek Mall is today. Photographs of the D&D can be found in association with the 1964 Earthquake so it was in business at least that late. As far as longevity is concerned, the D&D is listed at the same address in the 1935 phone book. According to Case 2379, the owners of the D&D Bar in August of 1950 were Albert and Lucille Fox. According to Albert’s obituary in the July 3, 1952 Anchorage Daily Times, he had sold his interest in the D&D Bar shortly before his death from colon cancer and bought the Spenard Cocktail Lounge. As an interesting tidbit, according to the obituary Al Fox was hardly unknown in Anchorage. Well known for his support of local sports, Fox raised a large part of the money for Mulcahy [Park.] The Al Fox trophy is given to the winner of the Fur Rendezvous dog team races each year.
Greater Anchorage, Inc., (GAI) the corporation that oversees the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous, had no record of an Al Fox in their archives and does not currently give an Al Fox trophy. Nor had the Executive Director ever heard of Al Fox or the Al Fox trophy. Further research revealed that there was no reason for the current GAI to have ever heard of the trophy; it was a dog racing trophy from the 1950s. In this case the Anchorage Daily Times had it wrong.
The Al Fox Memorial Trophy was given out by the Alaska Sled Dog Racing Association in the 1950s, a separate organization from the Fur Rondy and GAI.
Looking over the historical record, in this case the collection of annual programs for both the Anchorage Fur Rondy and the Alaska Sled Dog Racing Association in the 1950s and 1960s, it is clear that there were ongoing political tiffs. Sometimes the two were in the same annual program and other times they were separate. I found a collection of annuals of both organizations at the Z. J. Loussac Library and found references to the Al Fox Memorial Trophy as early as 1952 and as late as 1967. The 1967 combined program even had a photograph of Lucille Fox with well-known musher Dr. Lombard – as well as an advertisement for the Spenard Cocktail Lounge at 3103 Spenard.
With specific regard to the Alaska Sled Dog Racing Association, which still exists, Bonnie Jack of Anchorage has three articles, undated, from the Anchorage Times that refer to the Al Fox Memorial Trophy. Jack’s father was Dick Mitchell and during the mid-1950s he was President of the Alaska Sled Dog Racing Association. In one of the articles is a picture of Mitchell being presented the “Al Fox Trophy, emblematic of dog sled racing supremacy in the Territory.” Later in the article is the statement that “mushers must win the Alaska Championship three times to retain permanent possession of the trophy.” The article also references a 1954 Al Fox “traveling trophy” won by Raymond Paul, a “Galena Indian” who won the Fox trophy in 1951, 1954 and 1955 and thus retained the trophy. Apparently smaller trophies were given for each of the first two victories and on the third win, the musher was given the large trophy to take home. The award had not been given recently.
Returning to the primary subject of this article, documentary evidence clearly indicates that Loussac was not only involved in prostitution but drinking establishments and gambling as well. But then again, all three seem to go hand-in-glove and Anchorage was no different than any other community in America.
The saloon business in Anchorage in those days was particularly lucrative. “In 1947 you didn’t need a lot to run a bar,” Joe Reilly of the now defunct Cheechako Club told me. “You didn’t need a permit. You just rented a building, bought your glasses and booze and threw away the front door key. Bars never closed in those days. A couple of years later we had to close at 1 a.m. but that was only for the bars in town. The end of town was Gambell and everything beyond that was the ‘flatlands.’ Bars there were open 24-hours a day.” Prostitution was clearly profitable as well. When Marie Cox opened the Chili Parlor, Reilly recalled that it rapidly became an expression around town that men would say they were going to “get a $20 bowl of chili. That was the price of a woman in those days.” ($20 in 1956 is about $250 today.)
By the Second World War, Loussac was a wealthy man. So wealthy, in fact, that he retired. Most newspapers quoted him as saying that he retired from his pharmaceutical business in 1942 because “it’s no fun to run a business when the money comes in bushel baskets – that’s no fun, just work.” So, on July 1, 1942, he sold his two drug stores and to “give his full time to civic and charitable work,” as he in stated the Alaska Sportsman in Loussac’s obituary. The truth was a bit more racy. While Loussac may have given up his legitimate interests to polish his public image, his underworld activities had not yet peaked. He ran those for another eight years, until 1950.
But if prostitution was so lucrative, why did Loussac get out of the business? He was in the best of all possible positions. He was Mayor of Anchorage and thus had the protection of his good name and connections. He was wealthy beyond his wildest dreams, in good health and had just married for the first time. His brothels were being run by a competent underling who was becoming wealthy as well. What could possibly have made him get out of the business?
Since Loussac is no longer with us, the documents must tell the story. Perhaps what made Loussac leave the business was criminal case 2379 filed in June of 1950 whose title is longer than this article because all 45 defendants were named. Basically, the United States government charged the Anchorage Retail Liquor Dealers Association for price fixing. In the words of the indictment, the Association and its members, collectively and individually, were guilty of a “conspiracy to raise, fix, and maintain arbitrary and noncompetitive prices and uniform terms and conditions in the sale of bottled alcoholic beverages to consumers in Anchorage, Alaska and vicinity.” More than a handful of other industries in Anchorage were hit with indictments as well and the trials – certainly expensive for the defendants – lasted for more than a year. Clearly the United States government was serious when it came to bringing Alaska’s business in line with what were accepted business practices in the rest of the country.
Of all the terms used by those who knew him, two words never used to describe Loussac were “dumb” or “stupid.” He was an astute man and clever in both the positive and negative sense of the word. This writer believes that Loussac saw the shadows of the future starting to form. After all, he had lived in three pioneer communities – Nome, Iditarod and Haines – so he understood what it meant when civilization came knocking. He knew when it was time to leave.
Generally speaking, communities go through four stages of development. First come the pioneers and there are no rules except those the pioneers make. Then comes the colonial period where the sons and daughter of the pioneers try to make money the old way but find ‘things have changed a bit.’ Then come the settlers who bring the old rules to the new land. Finally, there are the urbanizers who make the frontier ‘just like every place else.’ Loussac was comfortable with the pioneers and the colonials. When he realized the settlers were knocking on the door, it was time to leave.
Other factors probably played a role as well. According to Al Fox’s obituary, Fox had sold his interest in the D&D Bar in 1950 and moved on. Perhaps there had been a falling out with Loussac. This would have deprived Loussac of his competent link with the underworld. Loussac’s new wife also had a son and by all accounts he treated the boy as if he, the son, were his own. In a town of 12,000 it would have been hard for his new wife and son not to have discovered the truth of how Loussac had come by his wealth. Loussac probably knew it was time to go. He had run his race and run it well. He was wealthy, married and in good health. What better time to leave? But he would be back. In the decade and a half left him he would polish the luster to his name after his contemporaries had died. With half a million dollars he would leave a legacy of civic philanthropy that would overshadow how he actually earned his wealth.
In the end he was correct. A century from now the name of Zachery Joshua Loussac will still be honored in Anchorage, Alaska – even if there is some snickering in the historical community.
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