A French fry press, disco lights, a metal detector, an old jukebox, a duck ashtray, a popcorn maker, a pair of model ships, an ammo box, a carpet shampooer and an eclectic collection of cookie jars; these are just some of the many things that were for sale in the CoHo auction.
The Cordova Hotel and Bar, affectionately called the CoHo, is a 111-year-old historic building. As the sun comes up on Dec. 2, the CoHo sits there on Main Street, like it has for over a century, with snow on the mountains behind it. But on this day, there’s a backhoe, clawing its way through the back of the building. Boards are ripped into splinters, while clothing and papers fall from the attic. Many onlookers stand with phones and cameras, watching the iconic building slowly come down.
Willie Bell, supervisor at the Alaska Abatement Corporation, and his team prepared the building before the demolition. He had never been in the CoHo until this job.
“It’s a mess for one thing,” he said in his strong Alabama accent. “It’s one of the worst buildings we’ve done been in to do some work in, but I understand why because, you know, it’s been closed down and everything. It’s real dirty in here. It’s what we do.”
After the bar and restaurant closed in spring of 2018, and the windows were boarded up, whatever belongings were left inside remained. The building was bought by Cordova Telephone Cooperative earlier this year. CTC auctioned some of the items remaining inside in November. This was an opportunity for the community to keep a piece of CoHo history and a form of good will toward the community.
The CoHo was not just a wild, smoke-filled bar with a pool table and regulars sitting on bar stools. It was a hotel and beloved breakfast cafe for families and visitors who adored their sourdough pancakes. The walls were lined with a collection of quirky cookie jars. This building served many purposes to the community and made lasting impressions for anyone who entered.
It makes sense that some of the most popular auction items were the bar bell and a lighthouse cookie jar. A nod to both the rowdy times and wholesomeness the building encompassed. Perhaps the most telling of this duality was the sign that reads, “No smoking in cafe when children are present.” For the most part, the items from the auction found new homes. Some have not, but all the cookie jars did.
Raven Cunningham bid on a decorative mirror, possibly from the 1970s, and a box of hand-written cocktail recipe cards. The cocktail cards have a smoky smell, but she treasures them and hopes to share them with people in the community.
“I remember being a little kid and having breakfast here, and then all the way until I was an adult and it got closed down,” she said. “Having sourdough pancakes and bacon and getting the nice smell of cigarettes and the aftermath of last night’s party. I mean, it’s sad that it’s going away.”
Eloise Burnett, a bartender at the Alaskan next door, won an old trunk, an Art Deco mirror, and two cookie jars — one a cat holding a fish and one a cow. The trunk was full of pictures, memorabilia, letters and other little pieces of Cordova’s history, such as a pin from the 1976 Iceworm Festival and other things she describes as “random weird items.”
When she first received the trunk, Burnett accidentally closed the chest and it locked shut. She didn’t have a key, so she picked at the lock for 20 minutes with a bobby pin until it opened again.
“There were no keys for the trunk, but inside there were keys — only keys to a Ford,” she said, laughing at the irony.
For Judy Fulton, buying some items from the auction was about reclaiming some beloved items she used to own, two figurines of a boy and a girl.
“They used to belong to me years ago,” she said. “I must have sold them in a garage sale, I don’t know, and then I noticed them at the CoHo.”
In the early 1970s, there were home decorating parties and Fulton bought the figurines at one of those parties. She also won the lighthouse cookie jar for her son, who had good memories of eating sourdough pancakes at the CoHo. The light still works on the lighthouse, she notes.
Wendy Ranney, owner of the Whale’s Tale Coffee Shop, won teacups, a teapot, a large vintage colander and a whisk.
“So, with our new coffee shop, it’s also a tea shop,” she said. “The teacups and teapot were kind of a given, because now I can incorporate them back into the community and they’ll get some more use and not just put in a cupboard somewhere.”
The colander and whisk will be going to the Orca Adventure Lodge kitchen.
“I have one of the oldest industrial kitchens in Cordova and this stuff is hard to come by,” she said. “So, anything that goes back to the same time period as our kitchen, I’m interested in perpetuating, so we can keep the authenticity.”
Matt Myszka was picking up for the Moose Lodge, which won about 20 miscellaneous kitchen items.
“The fact that it would have gone to the dump, we didn’t want to see that,” he said. “It will be put to good use.”
Linda Johnson Ecolano is a lifelong Cordovan who worked many jobs at the CoHo since she was “barely 21.” She tended bar, waitressed, cleaned rooms, was a bookkeeper, but most notably, “I had my weekend fun in there, I played tambourine for every band that was in there — they loved me” she laughs.
“It was the good old days back then,” she said. “Now the town is kind of dead, you know. And all the bars were making money, you know, big crowds every night. All the bars were full, you could go bar hopping and every bar would be stuffed. The Club Bar, the Elks even, the Anchor — all of them. Same amount of people, but there was crabbing in winter and only one or two cops running around.”
Ecolano won a collection of beer bar lights, some fluorescent lights that hung in the window and some that were lamps, like the Budweiser light that hung over the pool table. As she walks throughout her home, she points out the places she plans to put her lamps, like over the table where she does rock paintings. She also won three cookie jars, an owl, a duck and a slot machine.
“I wanted memories of the place,” she said. “If I had my way, I’d take the whole back bar, but I have no place to put it.”
In 1963, Ecolano was in the building when a city block on Main Street burned down.
“I was up in the attic of the CoHo when the Northern Hotel and the North Star Theatre burned down,” she recalls. “We were watching the fire, as kids, up in the attic watching from the windows up there.”
Tiffany Castillo first came to Cordova in the 2000s as a young teen and remembers playing records on the jukebox in the CoHo. She won the records, hundreds of 45s that have one song on each side — songs by Elvis Presley, Archie Bell and the Drells, the Forester Sisters, Elton John and Johnny Cash.
“They [the records] are personal choices. People chose those songs because they liked them,” Castillo said.
Some of the records were covered in mold and mildew, some came in their sleeves, some without, and some were in great condition. Regardless of the condition they are in, Castillo values these records because they were the background to so many fun nights at the CoHo.
“I want what made everyone dance at the CoHo,” she said.
Jessie Carter won the clawfoot tub and bar stools. He’s currently rebuilding a bathroom and putting the tub in prevents him from having to wall in a tub and it also adds character.
“It has a little Cordova history,” Carter said, “I think it’ll be a nice little tub.”
He plans to get the outside of the tub refinished so it looks like new again.
Carter also has a plan for the stools, replacing the worn and tattered seats.
“I’m going to take those bar stools and redo the tops of them,” he said. “I got some John Deere tractor seats at an auction.”
Amanda Adcock ate at the CoHo in one of her first few days ever in Cordova and explored some rooms upstairs.
“We opened this door,” she said, making a creaking sound, “and there was a corner sink behind that door, and I was like, ‘oh that’s so cool!’ ”
She didn’t see any of the doors or sinks she wanted on the auction list, so she put in her request with a bid that was accepted. She ended up with a door and a sink. She plans to clean up the door a little, but keep the hand painted signs on it. One reads, “NO VISITORS after 11pm”. Adcock thinks she’ll sand it down and put on a clear coat so that the layers of paint can be visible.
“You can see that there’s 20 layers of paint on it,” she said.
In addition to her memories, her son Henry, 6, has a special attachment to the building as well.
“He loves the CoHo,” she said. “He went in there since he was a baby.”
When Adcock told him the building would be torn down, “he cried in the back seat for a minute.”
At one point he even asked her, “Where am I supposed to get a pancake and two sausages?” She took pictures of his last breakfast there and also said, “If he walks into a place that smells like cigarette smoke or cats, he’ll say, “Smells like the CoHo” in a loving and nostalgic way.
Adcock enlisted Jeff Thelen to help her remove the sinks and door. He won one of the corner sinks as well.
“I was her handyman,” he said with a smile and he was happy to be back upstairs in the CoHo. “I’ve been up in all the corners of the building.”
Like Adcock, Thelen also wanted a corner sink and knew where they were. He took care to ensure he found the authentic faucets and fixtures to go with them. Thelen noticed that the porcelain cast iron sinks were cast dated 1909.
“They don’t make them like that anymore,” he said.
In the end, while the CoHo building no longer exists, CoHo keepsakes will remain around town, hopefully sparking conversations, memories or just a thought back to a piece of Cordova history.
Editor’s note: the author of the story was the winner of the brass bar bell in the CoHo auction.