Downtown Anchorage: Trouble on Fourth Avenue

Comedian Bob Hope called Anchorage’s Fourth Avenue “the longest bar in the world.” The 80’s saw those bars converted to strip clubs. Strip clubs associated with organized crime. The outgrowth soon spread beyond Fourth Avenue, but Fourth was the hub. There was trouble brewing. Actually, the trouble had gotten out of hand.

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Fourth Avenue, Anchorage (courtesy Doug Vandegraft)

Booby Trap Starts A Trend

The changes started, innocently enough, in 1975. A theme bar called the Roaring 20’s became a topless club called the Booby Trap. Then, in a related move, the money forces behind the Booby Trap ventured into what was to be a restaurant. But, in a pattern duplicated by organized crime interests throughout the western U.S., when the restaurant failed, there came an “urgency” to convert the property into another type of establishment. A strip club. This one was called the Wild Cherry.

Soon a third bar was added to the conglomerate. That was the Good Times lounge on Dimond Boulevard in south Anchorage. Strategically squished between the Anchorage International Airport and the Seward Highway, the Good Times catered to folks who didn’t want to make the long trek into downtown Anchorage. The attraction, for a crime organization, was that they could also shuffle dancers between the clubs, keeping a fresh lineup for their easily jaded patrons.

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Courtesy Alaska Archives & Special Collections

Danger On Fourth Avenue

If there was a theme among these clubs, it was the combination of easy liquor and buck-naked women. A combination that, too often, proved dangerous. There were, so to speak, a number of incidents. In June 1982, an enraged customer emptied a 9mm pistol through the front door of the Wild Cherry. The shots barely missed the club’s manager and hit a topless dancer in the leg. She survived.

That was the iceberg’s tip. Between 1977 and its 1983 demise, Anchorage police investigated 88 “disturbances” at the Wild Cherry, ranging from larcenies, bomb threats and shootings to assaults. A nearby Fourth Avenue club, Alaskan Express, had 207 police calls between 1977 and 1982. Anchorage police dealt with incidents that ranged from rape, to concealed weapons complaints, prostitution and murder. And the Good Times? Fifty-two calls in three years, as police answered bomb threats, one high profile shooting and an alleged extortion scheme.

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Anchorage Night Scene (courtesy Steve Cysewski)

Bouncers and Motorcycle Gangs

To deal with these recurring issues, the Wild Cherry hired a series of bouncers, whose job description not only included breaking up disturbances, but keeping the pimps out. The clubs felt they “owned” the rights to these dancers, having paid their way to Anchorage. The pimps, on the other hand, had no compunction luring the dancers into “The Life.” Fourth Avenue became a battle ground.

Against this background, The Brother’s motorcycle gang — later to affiliate with the Hell’s Angels — was able to wriggle their way into the strip club scene, offering “protection” and, ultimately, claiming a financial interest in at least one of the strip clubs.

Hiding in plain sight, though, was someone far more insidious.

This was the world Robert Hansen inhabited. It was his beat when he ripped a slash through the heart of Fourth Avenue’s dancers and sex workers. Compared to the other denizens of this world, Hansen seemed shy, homely and harmless. It was the perfect cover.

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Hansen Hides His Face
(copyright Anchorage Times)

COMING NEXT: Shutting It Down


Copyright Leland E. Hale (2021). All rights reserved.

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