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Jeff Smith's Parlor



First Bank of Skaguay, 1898

T he 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.


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 of 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 cornice that read, JEFF SMITH 'S PARLOR. There can be little doubt that Soapy ran the place his way.

First Bank of Skaguay, 1898
Close-up of the photograph below

After Soapy was killed at the Shootout on Juneau Wharf, his partner, John Clancy, took over the business. In quick order, his brother, Frank, opened up The Mirror Saloon. It was renamed 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 itself changed very little during this period.

The northwest corner of Holly and Broadway in 1898, after Soapy was killed.

Post Soapy, July - Aug., 1898
The Parlor as Clancy's Cafe

The photograph above shows the 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.

Woman directly in front of Parlor


In December of 1900 the city 's Fire and Water Committee obtained 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 building to fit the needs of the Volunteer Fire Department, becoming a Hook &Ladder and Hose Shed.

At the time of this pre-1916 photograph on the right, 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.

The Parlor building was moved in 1916 from its location on the north side to the south side of Holly (renamed Sixth Street) to make room for the new bank parking. In 1935 Martin Itjen obtained at least five buildings along Sixth Street, including the Hose Company building and the Parlor building.

Inside Soapy's museum
Martin Itjen mans the bar

1914 Sanborn map
The Parlor with add-on buildings

T he 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.

The saloon when Martin Itjen owned it.

The photograph at the left shows the Parlor and the Hose Company building after Martin Itjen has 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. In later years additions were known be attached to the Parlor when it was a museum.

In later years additions were attached to the Parlor to increase the size of the museum. The Jeff Smith 's Parlor museum was one of the main destinations in Itjen 's Skagway Street Car Tour, until his death in 1942.

Soapy Smith Museum postcard



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 building.

Geprge Rapuzzi moves Parlor to Second Ave.

In 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. Author Jeff Smith and his family met George in 1977, after the Parlor had closed to the public. George gave the Smith family a grand private tour.

In the 1930s Martin Itjen built an automaton effigy of Soapy and placed it on display inside the Parlor. Martins mechanical abilities and spare Ford auto parts created a moving Soapy that greeted visitors to the saloon museum.

The Soapy Smith Automation Man

Of the Soapy me chanical manikin, Jeff Smith recalls,

I was eighteen 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 root beer 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 the parade.

Rapuzzi pours one for Automation Soapy


George Rapuzzi died in 1986, and the Parlor was handed down to his niece. On May 11, 2007 the Parlor was sold to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Great work and expense was put into researching every inch of the Parlor, dating and restoring the damage. Only the outer building shell dated from the 1897-98 period, whereas all of the inside dated from the late 1930-1950 period. This fact, along with the entire Itjen collection of gold rush artifacts convinced the Gold Rush National Historical Park to make a public exhibit representing the Soapy Smith museum period. It would have been nice to see the Parlor restored into a replica of the original saloon, but to do so would have meant destroying the portions built between 1935-1942 and the Park Service rules forbid doing so.

At the time of purchase in 2007 the building was leaning as the foundation of wood was rotting away. Emergency steps were taken to shore up the building to save it from collapse. The fact that it might not have survived another Alaskan winter makes us grateful that it was saved in time. Once again visitors are able to enter the Soapy Smith 's saloon via a ranger guided tour. It isn 't difficult to imagine what it was like to enter the world owned by the “king of the frontier con men."

1998 (centennial of Soapy's demise)
Jeff & Ashley Smith in from of the Parlor

Jeff. Smith's Parlor restored

There are actually two more Jeff Smith 's Parlor buildings! One is located at the "Auria "Gold Village in Tankavaara, Sodankyl ä, Finland. In building Gold Village, the creators decided to reproduce at least one historic building from each of the major gold rushes in history. Jeff Smith 's Parlor was chosen to represent the American side of the Klondike gold rush.

The second reproduction of Jeff Smith 's Parlor was built, with my assistance, at the Whitehorse Ranch in Landers, California.


Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel


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