Austin E. Lathrop
Austin Eugene "Cap" Lathrop (October 5, 1865 – July 26, 1950) was an industrialist and outspoken opponent of Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 statehood. He has been called "Alaska's first home-grown millionaire."

Early life

"Cap" Lathrop was born in 1865 in Lapeer County, Michigan
Lapeer County, Michigan
-Demographics:As of the census of 2000, there were 87,904 people, 30,729 households, and 23,876 families residing in the county. The population density was 134 people per square mile . There were 32,732 housing units at an average density of 50 per square mile...

 to Eugene Lathrop and Susan Miriah Parsons Lathrop. He was expelled from school in the ninth grade for damages caused when he tampered with a water heater.

After the Great Seattle Fire
Great Seattle Fire
The Great Seattle Fire was a fire that destroyed the entire central business district of Seattle, Washington, USA, on June 6, 1889.-Early Seattle:In the fall of 1851, the Denny Party arrived at Alki Point in what is now the state of Washington...

 of 1889, Lathrop moved to that city and worked for a time as a contractor
General contractor
A general contractor is responsible for the day-to-day oversight of a construction site, management of vendors and trades, and communication of information to involved parties throughout the course of a building project.-Description:...

. He made plans to settle in Anacortes, but the Panic of 1893
Panic of 1893
The Panic of 1893 was a serious economic depression in the United States that began in 1893. Similar to the Panic of 1873, this panic was marked by the collapse of railroad overbuilding and shaky railroad financing which set off a series of bank failures...

 disrupted his business and he was forced to return to Seattle. In 1895, he purchased a steam ship, the L.J. Perry, and embarked on a new venture, transporting goods to the Territory of Alaska. Once the Klondike Gold Rush
Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Yukon Gold Rush, the Alaska Gold Rush and the Last Great Gold Rush, was an attempt by an estimated 100,000 people to travel to the Klondike region the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1897 and 1899 in the hope of successfully prospecting for gold...

 started, business picked up, and soon he was transporting both prospectors and the goods that they required.


Lathrop married a widow, Mrs. Cosby McDowell of Seattle in a 1901 ceremony in Valdez, Alaska
Valdez, Alaska
Valdez is a city in Valdez-Cordova Census Area in the U.S. state of Alaska. According to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city is 4,020. The city is one of the most important ports in Alaska. The port of Valdez was named in 1790 after the Spanish naval officer Antonio Valdés y...

, where Lathrop had taken up residence. The marriage did not last, however, and within a year Mrs. McDowell Lathrop and her daughter relocated to Seattle. In 1902, Lathrop's California-Alaska Mining and Development Company set up a camp at the mouth of the Kluvesna River, and in 1903, Lathrop drilled unsuccessfully for oil in Cold Bay
Cold Bay, Alaska
Cold Bay is a city in Aleutians East Borough, Alaska, United States.Cold Bay is one of the main commercial centers of the Alaska Peninsula, and is home to Cold Bay Airport.-History:...


Lathrop moved to Cordova
Cordova, Alaska
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,454 people, 958 households, and 597 families residing in the city. The population density was 40.0 per square mile . There are 1,099 housing units at an average density of 17.9 per square mile...

, where in 1911, he was elected mayor. In 1916, he converted a clothing store into a movie theater, The Empress. He went on to construct Empress movie theaters in Anchorage
Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage is a unified home rule municipality in the southcentral part of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is the northernmost major city in the United States...

 (1916) and Fairbanks
Fairbanks, Alaska
Fairbanks is a home rule city in and the borough seat of the Fairbanks North Star Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska.Fairbanks is the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska, and second largest in the state behind Anchorage...

 (1927), as well as the Lacey Street Theater (Fairbanks, 1936–1940) and the Fourth Avenue Theatre
Fourth Avenue Theatre (Anchorage, Alaska)
The Fourth Avenue Theatre, also known as the Lathrop Building, is a movie theater in Anchorage, Alaska that has been described as Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Art Moderne in style...

 (Anchorage, 1941–1947; construction was interrupted by World War II). From 1920 to 1922, Lathrop served in the Alaska Territorial
Alaska Territory
The Territory of Alaska was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from August 24, 1912, until January 3, 1959, when it was admitted to the Union as the State of Alaska...

 House of Representatives
Alaska House of Representatives
The Alaska House of Representatives is the lower house in the Alaska Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alaska. The House is composed of 40 members, each of whom represents a district of about 15,673 people . Members serve two-year terms without term limits...

. In 1924, he produced The Chechahcos
The Chechahcos
The Chechahcos is a 1924 silent film about the gold rush days in the Klondike. Chechahco, more commonly spelled cheechako, is a Chinook Jargon word for "newcomer", and the film focuses on a group of would-be prospectors sailing for Alaska....

, the first feature-length film shot entirely in Alaska.

Lathrop moved to Fairbanks, and in 1929, purchased the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner is a morning daily newspaper that serves the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the Denali Borough, and the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area in the United States state of Alaska. It is the farthest north daily newspaper in the United States, and...

. In 1937, he began work on the building that would house KFAR
KFAR is a commercial radio station programming news/talk in Fairbanks, Alaska, United States, broadcasting on 660 AM. It airs Fox News Radio and carries national radio programs thru Compass Media Networks, Premiere Radio Networks and Westwood One, amongst others. Of the two AM news/talk stations...

, Fairbanks’s first radio station licensed under the Communications Act of 1934
Communications Act of 1934
The Communications Act of 1934 is a United States federal law, enacted as Public Law Number 416, Act of June 19, 1934, ch. 652, 48 Stat. 1064, by the 73rd Congress, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, codified as Chapter 5 of Title 47 of the United States Code, et seq. The Act replaced the...

. The call-letters formed an acronym for "Key for Alaska’s Riches". KFAR made its inaugural broadcast on October 1, 1939. In 1948, Lathrop opened his second radio station, KENI
KENI is a radio station broadcasting a News/Talk format. Licensed to Anchorage, Alaska, USA, the station serves the Southcentral Alaska area...

 in Anchorage.

In 1932, Lathrop became a member of the Board of Trustees of the Alaska Agricultural College and the School of Mines. In 1935, the college's name was changed to the University of Alaska
University of Alaska Fairbanks
The University of Alaska Fairbanks, located in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, is the flagship campus of the University of Alaska System, and is abbreviated as Alaska or UAF....

. The Board of Trustees became the Board of Regents. Lathrop would continue to serve in this position until his death.

Lathrop feared that Alaska statehood would entail taxes and regulations that would harm business, and the Daily News-Miner took a stance challenging pro-statehood Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening
Ernest Gruening
Ernest Henry Gruening was an American journalist and Democrat who was the Governor of the Alaska Territory from 1939 until 1953, and a United States Senator from Alaska from 1959 until 1969.-Early life:...


On July 26, 1950, Lathrop was killed in an accident when he was struck by a railroad car in the yard of his Suntrana
Healy, Alaska
Healy is a census-designated place in and the borough seat of Denali Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska. The population was 971 at the 2007 census.-Geography:Healy is located at ....

 coal plant.


The Fairbanks Empress Theater was the first concrete building constructed in Fairbanks. Lathrop set out to prove detractors wrong who had said that a concrete building would crumble in the extreme winter climate. As of 2009, the building still stands.

Austin Lathrop is said to have been the model for the character of "Zeb 'Czar' Kennedy" in Edna Ferber
Edna Ferber
Edna Ferber was an American novelist, short story writer and playwright. Her novels were especially popular and included the Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big , Show Boat , and Giant .-Early years:Ferber was born August 15, 1885, in Kalamazoo, Michigan,...

's 1958 novel, Ice Palace. Kennedy was played by Richard Burton
Richard Burton
Richard Burton, CBE was a Welsh actor. He was nominated seven times for an Academy Award, six of which were for Best Actor in a Leading Role , and was a recipient of BAFTA, Golden Globe and Tony Awards for Best Actor. Although never trained as an actor, Burton was, at one time, the highest-paid...

 in the 1960 film adaptation
Ice Palace (film)
Ice Palace is a 1960 motion picture adapted from Edna Ferber's 1958 novel of the same name. The film, directed by Vincent Sherman and starring Richard Burton, dramatized the debate over Alaska statehood...


Lathrop High School
Lathrop High School
Lathrop High School is a public high school in Fairbanks in the U.S. State of Alaska, part of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. It is named for early Alaska businessman Austin E. "Cap" Lathrop. Lathrop is the largest high school in Fairbanks....

 was constructed in Fairbanks in 1955, and named to honor the late Fairbanks resident. The Austin E. Lathrop Residence Hall of the University of Alaska Fairbanks
University of Alaska Fairbanks
The University of Alaska Fairbanks, located in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, is the flagship campus of the University of Alaska System, and is abbreviated as Alaska or UAF....

 was opened in 1962.

Many of the top Lathrop Company lieutenants went on to have substantial business success of their own. Augie Hiebert
Augie Hiebert
A. G. "Augie" Hiebert was an Alaskan television pioneer. Hiebert is credited with building Alaska's first television station, KTVA in Anchorage in 1953. He is often called the "father of Alaskan television."...

, who Lathrop brought to Alaska to put KFAR on the air, started Northern Television. Al Bramstedt, another of Lathrop's broadcast engineers
Broadcast engineering
Broadcast engineering is the field of electrical engineering, and now to some extent computer engineering and information technology, which deals with radio and television broadcasting...

, started Midnight Sun Broadcasters. Both had failed to convince Lathrop of the need to invest in the emerging field of television, as Lathrop felt it would take business away from his movie theaters. Both companies started television stations in Anchorage in 1953 and in Fairbanks in 1955. Both companies also owned and operated numerous radio stations. Midnight Sun Broadcasters would operate both KFAR and KENI through to the 1980s.

Harry Hill, another Lathrop lieutenant, became a real estate developer. Anchorage's city hall, originally known as the Hill Building, was built by Hill in 1962 as office space for the federal government. The Hill Building was one of the first skyscrapers built in Anchorage's central business district. All three of these individuals were seeded with money from Lathrop's estate.

In the 1970s, Lathrop's theaters and their successors were owned by a media conglomerate
Conglomerate (company)
A conglomerate is a combination of two or more corporations engaged in entirely different businesses that fall under one corporate structure , usually involving a parent company and several subsidiaries. Often, a conglomerate is a multi-industry company...

 named Wometco
Wometco Enterprises
Wometco Enterprises is a company headquartered in Coral Gables, Florida; a suburb of Miami. It was a large media company but today it is known only as the owner of the Miami Seaquarium.- History :...

. In Alaska, they were referred to as "Wometco-Lathrop Theaters."

In the 1980s, the downtown core of Fairbanks was the subject of discussions related to urban renewal
Urban renewal
Urban renewal is a program of land redevelopment in areas of moderate to high density urban land use. Renewal has had both successes and failures. Its modern incarnation began in the late 19th century in developed nations and experienced an intense phase in the late 1940s – under the rubric of...

 in the wake of the completion of the trans-Alaska pipeline
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System
The Trans Alaska Pipeline System , includes the Trans Alaska Pipeline, 11 pump stations, several hundred miles of feeder pipelines, and the Valdez Marine Terminal. TAPS is one of the world's largest pipeline systems...

 and the shift in business following the completion of 3 shopping malls in 1977. The buildings constructed by Lathrop on Second Avenue were considered for demolition until the intervention of persons concerned with maintaining Lathrop's legacy in the community. The Lathrop Building (516 Second Avenue, completed 1936) would be sold to Jim Whitaker
Jim whitaker
Norris J. "Jim" Whitaker is an American politician of the Republican Party who served as mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska, from 2003 to 2009. Prior to his mayoral term, Whitaker served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1999 to 2003. In October 2003 he was elected borough...

 and his wife for what has been publicly described at numerous civic meetings as being pennies on the dollar.

In 1988, Alaska Business Monthly nominated Lathrop to the Alaska Business Hall of Fame.
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