Cap Lathrop's keys for Alaska's riches

"I wake up in the middle of the night and think about the things I have to do tomorrow."
-- Cap Lathrop

Austin Eugene (Cap) Lathrop died four years before my husband and I came to Alaska in 1954. His name was still well-known in Anchorage because the Lathrop company owned a local radio station and two theaters. Like many young people who settled in the Territory after World war II, we enthusiastically joined the statehood movement with our new-found friends. They told us that Lathrop had been a leader of the anti-statehood forces.

Several years later we heard that Edna Ferber was in Alaska gathering material for a new novel that would help the statehood cause. When we read Ice Palace in 1958, we cheered Thor Storm, the statehood advocate, and booed Czar Kennedy, the exploiter patterned after Cap Lathrop. Ice Palace helped Alaska win statehood and then drifted into obscurity. Thirty years later, few Alaskans can tell their teenagers why Lathrop High School is so named. the Fourth Avenue Theater in Anchorage and the Lacey Street Theater in Fairbanks still stand, empty and forgotten except by those committed to historic preservation.

This is the story of Cap Lathrop who built these theaters -- and a lot more. readers can decide whether to remember him as the exploiter pictured in Ice Palace, or as a builder of modern Alaska.

Alaska was the biggest choice that Austin Eugene Lathrop made in his 84 years. While others took their fortunes south, Lathrop chose to stay and invest in Alaska. During half a century in the far northern Territory he tried, and usually succeeded, in a variety of enterprises that helped assure Alaska's readiness to become a full-fledged member of the United States. He captained a stem schooner; drilled for oil; hauled freight; built apartments and theaters; started banks and radio stations; published a newspaper; served as a city mayor, a state legislator, a university regent, and a Republican national committeeman; established a model salmon cannery; developed Alaska's most successful coal mine; and produced a motion picture. So diverse were his activities that each half decade of his long life provides a new story in Alaska's development. Having no immediate family, he considered all Alaskans to be his family. Alaskans called him their "first home-grown millionaire."

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© 1996 Dr. Elizabeth Tower