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Katharine “Kit” Crittenden

Photo of Katharine “Kit” Crittenden
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Categories: 2011 Alumnae, Historic Preservation, Parks, Urban Beautification

Biography

As the eldest child of the Rev. Ralph Carson and the granddaughter of another Baptist minister, Kit was inspired by the power of their sermons. When Kit was in high school, her family settled into Bloomington, Ill., — a community with old oaks, beautiful buildings and a strong history. Kit was a successful student, following the model of her family. She excelled in speech and drama, and was a star in many of the college theater productions at Illinois Wesleyan, her alma mater. Clearly, she was inspired not only by the skillful speech she saw in her father’s sermons but by the commitment to community which her parents instilled in their children. With the tenor and strength of her father’s sermons as a backdrop, Kit employed her voice and stage skill to move mountains, including giving testimony for statehood before Congress, and testifying before the Anchorage City Council on many community causes.

As a young college graduate, Kit traveled to Ketchikan, Alaska, to visit a childhood friend who had married a coast guardsman stationed there. In Ketchikan she was asked to do a radio show for “shut ins”, using her voice as an inspiration to others. Short months after arriving, she met Edwin Crittenden, a young Coast Guard lieutenant. They were married within the year. After World War II, the couple returned to “the states”, but their love of Alaska brought them back to Anchorage in 1949. They raised their family of six children and numerous Irish setters in the home Ed designed for them below 15th and F Streets. It was this union of Kit, Ed and Alaska that provided the background for her achievements. Kit was awed by the physical beauty of Alaska. Married to an architect, they were committed to bringing the beauty of the physical world to the growing city of Anchorage. This was to be the basis from which she was able to inspire community leaders to see what Anchorage could be: a city beautiful enough to “match its mountains”.

In the KSKA “Forget-me-Not” interview Kit provided, she describes how she was able to use her vision and speaking skills to persuade city officials to redesign the proposed expansion of C Street – elevating it to pass over the Chester Creek greenbelt instead of bisecting the land with a large road.

“I could see that we had to have more trails, so I began to make the case to citizens and leaders from all over town. We could not have the children and bikers walking up and over C Street with cars rushing by; we needed an underpass for safe trails. As I spoke with people, they would say, ‘I believe in that, I will vote for that, we WILL have that!’ Soon, we formed the Citizens Committee to Save Chester Creek Greenbelt Park, and our group was able to win our case in court. At the time, the city manager said, ‘If we are going to have pedestrian underpasses at C Street, we are then going to do it for all the roads that are built over the Chester Creek greenbelt’.

Never paid for her work, Kit devoted endless hours to inspiring Anchorage mayors and other elected officials to envision the beautification of Anchorage as well as the preservation of its historic buildings through wise planning and development. Historic preservation of a community that was only 50 years old was a radical notion in 1970. In 1974, the late Lucy Cuddy wrote: “New York has Ada Louise (Huxtable, then-architecture critic for the Wall Street Journal and outspoken advocate for preservation of New York’s historic landmarks); Anchorage boasts Kit. We are proud!

Kit will be remembered for her role in the creation of the Chester Creek greenbelt, as well as the preservation of the Oscar Anderson House at Elderberry Park, establishing the Urban Design Commission and the Anchorage Historic Preservation Commission, which she chaired for ten years. Most recently, she authored “Get Mears!” a nationally recognized biography of Col. Frederick Mears, who supervised the construction of the Alaska Railroad. He was also responsible for the planning and the design of the town site that became Anchorage. Kit’s significant efforts all carried the honorable objective of bringing the people of Anchorage to a sense of our community’s beauty and history. Whether providing testimony to Congress for statehood or arguing for the preservation of historic homes, Kit had a vision that was infectious. With her skills and tenacity, she inspired us to work toward a community that celebrates its beauty as well as its past. Kit was a pioneer for community involvement. Her accomplishments show that with a strong vision, tempered speech and firm persistence, a voice for beautification and preservation can be heard. Kit Crittenden made Anchorage a better place to live.

Created from her family’s personal memories and experiences.

Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/VJ6y9HSYOyE