By Clark Fair
A few weeks ago, the historic Clam Shell Lodge was offered up to Central Emergency Services as a practice site for firefighting. According to Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Brent Johnson, CES turned down the offer and spared the lodge from flames because of the expense necessary to mobilize equipment to a location on the edge of its district.
Then the word went out that the lodge would likely be torn down.
Now, however, that plan — and the ownership of the lodge itself — is in dispute.
Although not all of the details are clear, according to area residents Brother Tom Patmor and Lee “Gus” Wiley, the dispute centers on the sale agreement between Rose Moorefield (who owned the lodge from 1984 until about 2009) and Guy and Patty Baker. Guy Baker died in a one-car rollover last May, and at the time the Bakers were in arrears in making payments on the establishment. After the accident, Patty Baker closed the lodge, which stopped the payments entirely. Moorefield then stepped in, foreclosed on the property, and reclaimed the site.
Moorefield, who returned to her native Hawaii after the original sale, has since then been trying to figure out what to do with the property, which some speculate will be easier to sell as a “view lot” if the old lodge is gone. Darlene Coyle, a former contractor who once expanded and vastly remodeled the kitchen at the lodge, said that she believes a “major upgrade” to the lodge’s structure would be necessary to make the establishment viable again.
Coyle said that the changed nature of the Clam Gulch area and the Kenai Peninsula in general
would make it more difficult for the lodge to resume its former status as a community center. She said that it’s more likely that someone with a large bankroll would swoop in and create a swanky, exclusive and seasonal operation that would not be a natural gathering place for locals.
But in its heyday, the lodge was a center of the Clam Gulch universe.
The Clam Shell Lodge was built by Arlyn H. “Speed” and June Thomack in 1959-60, after they moved to Alaska from Arizona and purchased a piece of the Per and Fran Osmar homestead at about Mile 118 of the Sterling Highway. The Osmars had run the Clam Gulch Store since 1950. The first business above the beach, it carried groceries, gas, liquor and a post office. Later Per added cabins to rent, and he followed up that addition with the Clam Shell Bar in 1957.
In February 1960, the Osmars transferred their liquor license to the Thomacks, and in 1962 they sold their store and post office to Walt and Beverly Christensen. The Thomacks erected a medium-sized structure on their new property and dubbed it the Clam Shell Lodge. In this earliest incarnation, the lodge featured only a nine-stool bar and a pair of tables, according to the Thomacks’ daughter, Laurel Watts.
Just two years later, however, the Thomacks went big, constructing the much larger and more familiar Clam Shell Lodge with numerous rooms for rent, a gas station and garage, and eventually a big flashing star on the top of the main building. The lodge, which doubled as the Thomack home, became a community center and a favorite stopover for snowmachine enthusiasts, fishermen and clam diggers. It also became a regular hangout for locals.
In 1965, when “Speed” was the president of the Tustumena Chamber of Commerce, he helped push through an eleventh-hour proposal to make Clam Gulch a candidate to be the seat of government for the fledgling Kenai Peninsula Borough. The chamber reminded borough residents that the original Borough Study Group had recommended that the borough seat be placed near the Tustumena School in order to centralize its location and avoid the divisiveness of selecting any particular city that was already established.
Besides, “Speed” announced, Clam Gulch had the necessary amenities to support the borough seat — the “modern facilities of store, post office and hotel,” referring mainly to his own establishment and the one owned by the Christensens.
Eventually, though, the chamber withdrew the Clam Gulch candidacy, and the area never achieved the notoriety that might have come with becoming the center of borough government.
Watts said that in the mid-1970s when her father’s health began to fail, her parents sold the lodge to Byron and Hope Alexander. Several years later, after Arlyn had died and when the Alexanders began falling behind on their payments, June Thomack took the lodge back and then sold it to Ed Fletcher, who used the place’s certified kitchen to produce a line of made-in-Alaska clam chowder, the ingredients of which apparently did not originate in Alaska, according to Wiley.
During the late 1970s, according to Coyle, the lodge received an additional shot of notoriety when internationally renowned mountaineer (and founder of the Patagonia clothing line), Yvon Chouinard, came to Alaska to climb and posed for a photograph in front of the Clam Shell Lodge. That photo was later published in the Patagonia catalog.
In about 1984, Fletcher sold the lodge to Rose Moorefield, and she ran it for a quarter-century — part of the time under the management of Jim Hansen — before selling it to the Bakers.
According to Clam Gulch resident Cathy Perry, who worked briefly at the lodge in the summer of 1985, the Clam Shell Lodge was a “classic roadhouse,” featuring a bar and grill, shower and laundry facilities, a gift shop, gasoline and propane, and lodging.
Over the years, it has served as the host site for numerous events, including music festivals, charity fundraisers and racing checkpoints.
Now, said Brother Patmor, the nights are no longer lighted by the blinking red star, the tall lighted signage, and the line of vertical windows facing the highway. The lodge has gone dark, and its future appears dim.