-JEFF. SMITH'S PARLOR-
The ad for Soapy's saloon as it
appeared in the Skaguay News
(Copies of this card can be purchased here.)
Men standing outside of the Parlor (May-July 1898)
most famous of Soapy Smith's saloons is Jeff Smith's Parlor in Skagway,
Alaska. It is also the only saloon of his still in existence.
the Spring of 1898 this
false-fronted, single-story wood building was located at 317 Holly Street (Block 3, lot 12), just a few doors west of Broadway on the north side. (Holly Street is Sixth Avenue today.) The Parlor, sometimes called "Jeff's place," was known as "the real city hall." The city had a local government that met elsewhere, but many important decisions regarding how business would be conducted within the city
were made inside the small office of this little dive saloon.
Soapy Smith (center) stands at his bar
Soapy stands in the center at his bar with a cigar. Partner John Clancy leans into the photograph to Soapy's right. Nate Pollack tends bar, and back by the stove pipe is believed to be John Bowers. Two other unidentified men stand to the far right. This photograph dates between March and July of 1898. "July 4, 1898" appears at the bottom, but this date is not thought to be exact. It is probable that someone added the date to sensationalize the photograph. Based on the flags behind the bartender, someone in possession of the photograph might have also assumed that they were for the July 4th celebration. A close inspection of the bunting reveals that it contains the U.S. and Cuban flags which signify Soapy's wave of patriotism that accompanied the outset of the Spanish American War, which in April 1898 was at fever pitch. The door to the office is open. A door leading out the rear of the saloon is shut. The light bulbs are exposed. Electricity was expensive, and Soapy no doubt did not want to hide the fact that he had electric lighting or diminish their illumination behind lamp shades.
Stationary from Jeff Smith's Parlor
Stationary supposedly from Soapy's saloon. This is published in Martin Itjen's book, The Story Of The Tour On The Skagway Alaska Street Car, 1938. It is not known if this is authentic as Mr. Itjen was known for faking photographs and such in his book. It is signed, "August 8, 1946 How am I do'in Martin Itjen Born Jan 24th 1870."
History of the building
In the fall of 1897 the building was home to the First Bank Of Skaguay. By the spring of 1898 the bank had moved its offices to another location,
and Soapy Smith obtained the building with Partner John Clancy.
City records are not clear as to who actually owned the saloon, but the
reality is that Soapy controlled the place. Changes made to
the building included moving the front entrance from the middle
the front facade to the far right in order to accommodate the bar. Two widows were moved from each side of the
entrance to the left side. A large sign was hung just below the
read, JEFF SMITH'S PARLOR. There can be little doubt that Soapy
ran the place his way.
Holly Street (now Sixth Street) 1898
The northwest corner of Holly and Broadway in 1898, after Soapy was killed. The large Hotel Mondamen where Soapy lived and where John Stewart roomed the day he was robbed. A few doors down is Clancy's Cafe, formerly Jeff's Smith's Parlor. Streaming across Holly down the street is a banner reading Clancy's Cafe.
A close-up of Clancy's Cafe
A close-up of the above photograph showing the old Parlor after John Clancy took it over as Clancy's Cafe.
Soapy was killed in the gunfight of July 8, 1898, his partner John
Clancy became the owner of the building. In quick order, his brother Frank
Clancy opened up the Parlor building as The Mirror Saloon. John soon renamed the Parlor Clancy's Cafe and advertised it as a "gentleman's resort." In 1899, under new management, it became The Sans Souci
(bastard French for "Without a care"). In its advertisements, this restaurant included an oyster bar. It appears the restaurant did
not survive very long into the new century. Photographs indicate
that the building changed very little during this period.
In December of 1900 the city's Fire and Water Committee was given use of the building rent free for its Hook and Ladder Company. In
January of 1901 the city was given a bill of $69 for altering the
Parlor to fit the needs of the Volunteer Fire Department. The
Parlor became a Hook & Ladder and Hose Shed.
Soapy's old saloon around 1915
At the time of this pre-1916 photograph, Soapy's old saloon (directly behind the woman) is owned by the city fire
department. It was used as a garage and went through some changes in order to accommodate the city's needs. The
front door was moved from the right side to the left, and the
large windows were downsized. The building on the left of
the Parlor became the property of Hose Company #1 and was used for storage
of the Skagway city fire department's hoses. A large two-door
opening was built into the
front in order to wheel the hoses in and out, and a large tower was
constructed on top from which to hang hoses to dry. The wheels of a hose wagon can be seen parked inside the building. The
building on the far left became the Skagway Undertaking Parlor, owned
and operated by Martin Itjen.
1914 Sanborn map of 6th Avenue and Broadway.
The corner of 6th and Broadway. The black arrow points to the Hose and Ladder truck and hose sleds building that was once Jeff Smith's Parlor. Numerous additions have been added on.
A restored Jeff Smith's Parlor
photograph at the right is of the Parlor and the Hose Company building after the
city moved them in 1916 from their location on the north side to the south
Holly (renamed Sixth
Street). Note that the buildings are now opposite in their relationship to one another. Sometime around 1935 Martin Itjen obtained at least
five buildings along Sixth Street, including the Hose Company building
and the old Parlor. In the photograph at the right, Martin
Itjen has already remodeled the front to
very closely resemble the look of the original building when it was Jeff Smith's
Parlor. Perhaps the only main differences are the missing top
cornice and the shorter windows. Martin is said to have obtained
Soapy's original bar and reinstalled it in the Parlor. Not known is whether the city also moved the additional buildings that appear on the 1914 Sanborn map. In later years additions were known be attached to the Parlor when it was a museum. The Jeff Smith's Parlor museum was one of the main
destinations in Itjen's Skagway Streetcar Tour, until his death in 1942.
A 1920s era Soapy Smith Museum postcard. Martin Itjen is to the right.
Martin Itjen gave out complimentary souvenir postcards in the 1920s inked with his own identifying brand (see above).
After World War II Jack Grelsbach re-opened the museum until his
health failed in 1950. In 1945 George Rapuzzi (born in
Skagway, 1899) took over paying taxes on the building and kept the
museum closed after 1950 for lack of time and funds to repair the
The Parlor is moved to Second Avenue
1963, George Rapuzzi moved the Parlor from Sixth Street to the south
side of Second Avenue, just west of Broadway (Block 37, Lot 2). A few years later George re-opened the museum to the public for a number of years
and suddenly closed it in the early 1970s. Jeff Smith and his family
met George in 1974, after the Parlor had closed to the public. George gave the Smiths a grand private tour.
THE SOAPY SMITH AUTOMATON Martin Itjen built an automaton effigy of Soapy and placed it on display inside the Parlor. Martins mancanical abilities and spare Ford auto parts created a moving Soapy that greeted visitors to the saloon museum.guests.
"I was sixteen at the time. When entering through the front door, we were greeted by an effigy of Soapy standing at the
bar. By means of hidden mechanical chains and pulleys hooked between the door and Soapy, he turned his head towards visitors, his eyes lit up, and his left hand, holding a beer glass, rose in a welcoming toast. George poured rootbeer into glass mugs, and we all toasted Soapy. For the fourth of July parade in Skagway, George started
up one of Martin Itjen's old tour buses and we all rode inside for
George Rapuzzi pours a glass for "Soapy," the mechanical effigy inside Jeff Smith's Parlor
Rapuzzi died in 1986, and the collection soon made its way to niece
Phyllis Brown, who is currently working with the Klondike Gold Rush
National Historical Park on the purchase of the building and its
vast collection. The current understanding is that the Park
Service will restore the building to its original look in 1898 when it
was Jeff Smith's Parlor. It is our hope that one day visitors will be
able to open the front door of the parlor and see exactly what it
was like to enter the saloon owned by the King of the Frontier Con Men.
On May 11, 2007 it was announced that the Parlor had been sold to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. It will go through a decade of restoration before it is opened to the public but little expense will be denied to bring the building, inside and out, to it's original state when Soapy Smith stood at the bar for photographs.
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