Wendler, Anton J. "A.J." or "Tony"
1868-1935 | Community and Civic Leader, and Alaska Railroad Employee
Anton J. "A.J. or "Tony" Wendler first arrived in Alaska at Valdez, in 1909. He relocated to Ship Creek in the summer of 1915. He became one of the most public-spirited citizens of his time and envisioned a bright and prosperous future for Anchorage. He was among a small group of leading men and women who sought to promote the community’s early development and weathered the early crises that determined the town’s destiny. In the short eulogy offered by the Reverend Father Warren Fenn in August 1948, he gave this summary of Wendler's contributions:
“He may be termed one of the fathers of Anchorage, having been on the original [townsite selection] commission . . . to select the townsite, . . . was a member of the first school board of Anchorage, was a charter member of [the Elks] lodge, and participated in many civic services and shared fully the activities that made for the establishment of the best institutions of the city.”
In 1915-1916, Wendler served as the first president of the Chamber of Commerce and dedicated his efforts to the development of Anchorage. His prime interests were the development of schools and education. Wendler Junior High School (now Wendler Middle School) was named in his honor.
Anton John “A.J.” or "Tony" Wendler was born in Gemen, Westphalia, Germany on August 29, 1868. He immigrated to the United States in 1892. In 1898, he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen.
Wendler traveled to Oregon, at some point, where he met and married Florence Juanita Lucas. She who was born in Canyon City, Grant County, Oregon, on December 28, 1883, the daughter of Martin Anderson Lucas and Anna Walker Lucas. While they lived in Canyon City, they had two daughters; Myrtle (born in 1906) and Clarice (born in 1907). In 1909, the family visited Valdez, expecting to stay only a few days, but they decided to live there for the next six years. In Valdez, Wendler owned and operated a brewery until April 1915, when he moved to the tent city of Anchorage.
Arrival at Ship Creek (1915)
In the spring of 1915, the federal government announced plans to establish the construction headquarters at Ship Creek for the Alaska Railroad, which was being constructed from the port of Seward to Fairbanks. This touched off a stampede of squatters and a population surge of more than two thousand people that was similar to earlier gold mining stampedes to the Yukon and Alaska. There were at least a hundred more additional people who debarked weekly from steamers or hiked the end of the Alaska Northern Railway line at Kern Creek (Mile 72, head of Turnagain Arm). A tent city, which was later described as “a collection of ragged, unsanitary tents and temporary wooden buildings,” sprang up along the flat basin where Ship Creek meets the Cook Inlet. However, this area was designated for the shops and terminus for the Alaska Railroad and so these people on the flats were moved off from the tent city. Under an executive order issued on June 15, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson authorized the laying out of the new townsite. The plateau north of the Ship Creek flats, now called Government Hill, was set aside as a railroad housing area. On the tableland to the south of the Ship Creek flats, a townsite of 350 acres was surveyed, cleared, and platted into 50-foot by 140-foot lots.
On July 5, 1915, the Wendler family debarked from the steamer Mariposa on the shores of Ship Creek. They set up two tents, one for sleeping and one for eating, at Ship Creek. The Wendlers, or Ray T. Larson and Wendler together, built a wood frame and canvas building in tent city and started a partnership by operating a grocery and mercantile business there.
On July 10, 1915, approximately one thousand to three thousand people attended the first sale of town lots at public auction, with 1,290 lots offered for sale. The sale of town broke all former records in the sale of town lots in a federal government auction. When the sale was closed on July 18, 1915, a total of 655 lots had been sold at just under $150,000. Florence Wendler and Ray T. Larson bought Lot 1, Block 38, the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and I Street, for $555. In the late summer of 1915, the Wendlers, with Ray Larson, built the first grocery store in Anchorage, calling it Larson & Wendler Grocery. This Victorian-type frame building included living quarters for the Wendlers on the second floor. In 1920, Wendler closed the grocery store. On June 1, 1920, he began working for the Alaskan Engineering Commission (AEC), the federal agency in charge of construction of the Alaska Railroad, as the supervisor of the cold storage department. After the agency’s name was changed to the Alaska Railroad in 1923, he continued working for the railroad until his death in l935.
In 1920, Florence Wendler converted the Larson & Wendler Grocery into an apartment building. In 1948, she and her daughters started Club 25, which was initially opened as a women-only private club with a refined atmosphere. Men were soon welcomed, and for almost thirty years, Club 25 was one of the Anchorage’s finest restaurants and a center of the city’s social scene. Ownership in the building was transferred to their daughter, Myrtle Wendler Stalnaker, who owned and operated the restaurant for almost forty years until 1982. In 1983, the structure was donated to the Municipality of Anchorage with the provision that it be relocated. It was moved to its present site on the southwest corner of Fourth Avenue and D Street. The Wendler Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Community and Civic Activities
Wendler was closely involved in the development of the original Anchorage townsite. One of his first interests was the Pioneer School, which was built on the corner of 6th Avenue and F Street. The four-room wooden structure had been built in less than a month by the AEC in the late summer of 1915. The school had no running water and did not meet the town’s own sanitary regulations.
Then, through Frederick Mears, one of the three members of the AEC, Wendler convinced the federal government to provide $36,000 to build a new, three-story school building on 5th Avenue between F and G Streets. Finally, under a broad interpretation of the grant of power in the Alaska Railroad Act (38 Stat. 305), the AEC received permission to construct a school building in the fall of 1915. The $5,000 contract was given to Parsons and Russell. The school opened on Monday, November 15, 1915, with roughly one hundred primary and secondary students and four teachers, with Orah Dee Clark as principal.
On August 2, 1915, Wendler was elected to the first Anchorage school board and was appointed as secretary and clerk. In 1916, he was re-elected to the school board, and was appointed as clerk. Serving on various committees and commissions, he received acclaim for being Anchorage's most public-spirited and active citizen. His public service and dedication to the development of education in Anchorage was later recognized when A. J. Wendler Junior High School (now Wendler Middle School) on Lake Otis Road (now Lake Otis Parkway) was named in his honor in 1959 and dedicated in December 1960.
Wendler’s activities were diverse and numerous. He was elected president of the first Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and was exalted ruler of the Anchorage Elks Lodge, No. 1351. He was a member of the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs and also served as an officer in various organizations. He was a life member of the Eagles.
Florence Lucas Wendler left a legacy of community service in support of her husband's efforts. She was a charter member of the Anchorage Woman’s Club, of which Jane Wainwright Mears was the leading organizer. The Woman’s Club was a major catalyst in the creation of the first Anchorage public school, with its members pressing Wendler and Frederick Mears to approach the federal government for funds. Florence Wendler also participated in many other committees and organizations in the city. In l964, she was selected as Queen Regent of the Fur Rendezvous by the Women's Auxiliary of the Pioneers of Alaska.
Anton John Wendler died at his Anchorage home on July 12, 1935, after a short illness. Florence Lucas Wendler died on January 24, l965, in Anchorage. They are both buried in the Elks Tract of the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. They were survived by two daughters, Myrtle Wendler Stalnaker (1906-1990) and Clarice Wendler Weiss (1907-1972).
 “Large Assembly in Last Tribute to A.J. Wendler,” Anchorage Daily Times, July 15, 1935, 6.
 Typescript, “Greater Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Past Presidents,” Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Records, 1946-2013 (HMC-0048), Series 4: Subject Files, 1915-1984, Box 5, folder 9, Chamber of Commerce Past Presidents, 1915-1966, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK.
 Anton J. Wendler, 1900 U.S. Census, Canyon City, Grant County, Oregon, ED 14, page 11B, National Archives Microfilm Publication T623, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Roll 1347, 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 10, 2016); and Antone J. Wendler, 1920 U.S. Census, Anchorage, Third Judicial District, Alaska, ED 11, page 6B, National Archives Microfilm Publication T625, Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920, Roll 2031, 1920 Federal United States Census [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 10, 2016).
 Florence Lucas, Oregon, Select Births and Christenings, 1868-1929 [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 10, 2016).
 John P. Bagoy, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001), 24-25.
 Following the first auction of July 5, 1915, the AEC issued an order to clear the flats of the tent city with the removal of all tents by August 16, 1915. See, Alfred Mongin, An Evaluation of ‘Anchorage Cultural Historic District: A Proposal’ to Determine Eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places (Anchorage: Office of History and Archeology, Alaska Division of Parks, 1974): item no. 8, pages 6-8 and 18; William H. Wilson, Railroad in the Clouds: The Alaska Railroad in the Age of Steam, 1914-1945 (Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Company, 1977), 101-102; and Evangeline Atwood, Anchorage: All-America City (Portland, OR: Binfords & Mort, 1957), 8.
 Alfred Mongin, An Evaluation of ‘Anchorage Cultural Historic District: A Proposal’ to Determine Eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places: item no. 7, page 35.
 According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Wendler listed his occupation as a clerk for the Alaska Railroad. See, Antone J. Wendler, 1930 U.S. Census, Anchorage, Third Judicial District, Alaska, ED 3-14, page 45B, National Archives Microfilm Publication T626, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Roll 2627, 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 10, 2016).
 Myrtle Wendler Stalnaker called the restaurant that she and her sister, Clarice, operated Club 25, after the name of her bowling team. Obituary, Myrtle Sophie Wendler Stalnaker, Anchorage Daily News, August 25, 1990, B-12.
 Fond Memories of Anchorage Pioneers, Vol. II (Anchorage: Pioneers of Alaska, Igloo 15, Auxiliary 4, 1996) , 4-7; Michael Carberry and Donna Lane, Patterns of the Past: An Inventory of Anchorage’s Historic Resources (Anchorage: Community Planning Department, Municipality of Anchorage, 1986), 69; Rae Arno, Anchorage Place Names: The Who and Why of Streets, Parks, and Places (Anchorage: Todd Communications, 2008), 76-77; and Alfred Mongin, An Evaluation of ‘Anchorage Cultural Historic District: A Proposal’ to Determine Eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places: item no. 7, pages 34-35.
 William H. Wilson, Railroad in the Clouds: The Alaska Railroad in the Age of Steam, 1914-1945, 106-107.
 Evangeline Atwood, Anchorage: All-America City, 12.
 Helve Enatti, “Anchorage Public Schools, 1915-1951: A Thirty-Six Year School District Development Study,” Master’s thesis, University of Alaska, May 1967, 355.
 “Junior High Named for Anton Wendler,” Anchorage Daily Times, February 25, 1959, 9.
 “Anthony Wendler, Prominent Here, Taken by Death,” Anchorage Daily Times, July 12, 1935, 1.
 “Wendler Rites Set Thursday,” Anchorage Daily Times, January 27, 1965, 2.
 Anton John Wendler, U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 10, 2016); and Florence Juanita Wendler, U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line], http://ancestry.com (accessed October 10, 2016).
This biographical sketch of Anton J. Wendler is based on an essay originally published in John P. Bagoy's Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1935 (Anchorage: Publications Consultants, 2001), 24-25. See also the Anton Wendler file, Bagoy Family Pioneer Files (2004.11), Box 8, Atwood Resource Center, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Anchorage, AK. Edited by Mina Jacobs, 2012. Note: edited, revised, and expanded by Bruce Parham, October 23, 2016.
Preferred citation: Bruce Parham, “Wendler, Anton J. ‘A.J.’ or ‘Tony’,” Cook Inlet Historical Society, Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, http://www.alaskahistory.org.
Major support for Legends & Legacies, Anchorage, 1910-1940, provided by: Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Atwood Foundation, Cook Inlet Historical Society, and the Rasmuson Foundation. This educational resource is provided by the Cook Inlet Historical Society, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt association. Contact us at the Cook Inlet Historical Society, by mail at Cook Inlet Historical Society, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, 625 C Street, Anchorage, AK 99501 or through the Cook Inlet Historical Society website, www.cookinlethistory.org.