In This Town in Alaska, Everyone Lives Under the Same Roof

By: Savvy Dime Staff | Published: Feb 18, 2024

Alaska is full of remote communities. Throughout the entire state, many communities are isolated, thanks to factors such as extreme weather. However, Whittier, Alaska may be the most remote community in the region — as all residents live under the same roof.

Located about 58 miles southeast of Anchorage, Whittier experiences torrents of rain when it isn’t winter. During the colder months of the year, it experiences excessive snow. As a result, the town thrives living close together in two main buildings.

The History Of Whittier, Alaska

In the 1940s and 1950s, the military built two main buildings where the members of a secret military base could live. As a result, these two buildings became home to hundreds and thousands of military members and military families.

A body of water around the mountains of Whittier, Alaska during a hazy and cloudy day.

Source: cpeng/Pixabay

When the military eventually left, regular residents were able to move into these buildings. While one of these two buildings became abandoned after the war, the 14-story Begich Towers became the main roof the majority of Whittier’s population lived under.


A Small Town Lives Together

Begich Towers currently has 197 apartments. These apartments are mostly two and three-bedroom units. However, one-bedroom bachelor efficiency units are also available for the population to live in.

A view from the docks of apartment towers in Whittier, Alaska, with green mountains in the distance.

Source: Gillfoto/Wikimedia Commons

While most of the 214 Whittier residents live in Begich Towers, a second building was built to house others. Called Whittier Manor, this slightly more expensive option has fewer apartment units.

Town Necessities in One Building

Begich Towers isn’t just full of apartment units. Because of the extreme weather that Whittier experiences, this building was made to truly be a town under one roof.

View of the entire town of Whittier, Alaska, including one apartment building, in front of brown and green mountains.

Source: Enrico Blasutto/Wikimedia Commons

This means that you can find everything from shops to medical clinics in this building. Residents can visit a post office, laundromat, church, grocery store, theater, and even the town’s mayor’s office in Begich Towers. They can do all this without even stepping outside!

The Tunnel Under Whittier

Severe snow and weather conditions keep many Whittier residents indoors throughout the year. Because they don’t have to go outside to go shopping or to church, they often stay inside their building. However, they do have tunnels underneath the building if they need to travel about town during extreme weather.

Tunnel that runs under Whittier, Alaska, lit up with lights overhead.

Source: Enrico Blasutto/Wikimedia Commons

Often, this tunnel is the best way for residents to get their kids to school. The Whittier School is connected to the Begich Towers by a tunnel. As a result, the 48 schoolchildren who go to the public school can always get to class, even when it’s snowing.

The Tunnel’s Timetable

While the tunnels under the Begich Towers are often the best ways to travel during periods of extreme weather, they aren’t necessarily the easiest. This is because the tunnel has its own timetable.

Snow-covered mountains before a body of water in the daytime in Alaska

Source: Rod Long/Unsplash

Whittier residents can only cross the tunnel once an hour in either direction. The tunnels also close at 10:30 pm. Therefore, if they don’t make it back home in time before this closing, they’ll have to sleep in their cars until the morning — something many of them have done.


The Building’s Timetable

Commuting throughout the Begich Towers can also be time-consuming. Because just about the entire town lives under this one roof, there are rush hours that see a lot of people going to and fro.

Close-up view of pink, blue, orange, and white Begich Towers in Whittier, Alaska in the daytime.

Source: sf-dvs/Wikimedia Commons

As a result, the elevator has a rush hour timetable that sees it stop on every single floor during one journey. If a resident is trying to get to work or school during this busy time, it can take quite a long time.


What Whittier Residents Hate about Begich Towers

While many residents of this small town understand the positives of living together under one roof — especially because of the severe weather — there are some aspects of tower living they do not like.

Close-up view of colorful Begich Tower apartments in Whittier, Alaska, with boats and cars parked in front of it.

Source: Enrico Blasutto/Wikimedia Commons

One of the biggest complaints from residents has to do with the outdated designs of the towers. Built in 1954, the apartments still have many old-fashioned features. This includes metal wardrobes and other vintage functions. Plus, the entire building only has two boilers. One of them happens to be broke.


One Big Family

Whittier residents truly do enjoy living together under one roof. They often liken it to living with one big family. They have some issues, sure. But they all take care of each other and love each other — even when they know everybody’s business.

A train in Whittier, Alaska moving on tracks, with mountains behind it.

Source: Bonnie Henderson/Pixabay

The residents of Whittier still go about their daily lives, even when they all live together. Most residents work in tourism, recreation, and fishing occupations. Others work for state-run railroads and ferries.


School In Whittier

Traveling to go to school in a tunnel every morning is already different from the average American school kid’s experience. But going to school in Whittier also differs from most, as many kids live under the same roof as their teachers.

Distant view of Begich Tower apartments in Whittier, Alaska, which lie in front of snow-covered mountains.

Source: Jessica Spengler/Wikimedia Commons

Teachers in Whittier admit this can be difficult, as they always see their students. However, because everyone lives harmoniously together, it doesn’t often result in any major issues.


Problems In Whittier

Though living together under one roof has mostly been successful for the people of Whittier, they have had issues. In 2007, a 27-year-old man was charged with killing his girlfriend’s two-year-old daughter.

Green and brown mountains surrounded by foggy clouds in Whittier, Alaska.

Source: Taylor Murphy/Unsplash

During the COVID-19 pandemic, issues also arose as the population worked to try to keep everyone from getting sick. While six residents in the Begich Towers came down with the virus, they did manage to keep the entire town’s population from falling ill.


All Generations Under One Roof

Some people in the building do want some changes, even if everybody does get along quite well. For example, some elder residents would like to see the Begich Towers become a retirement community.

A green and brown plant on a ceramic plate indoors in Whittier, Alaska during a snowy and cloudy day seen outside through the window.

Source: Tyler Moore/Unsplash

However, others disagree with this notion. They believe that everybody is happier when all of the generations live under one roof. They think that if the kids weren’t around any longer, many of them would become depressed. Therefore, they tout their current living situation as the best possible scenario.