Editor’s note: With 2014 marking the Homer News 50th anniversary, it’s the perfect time to look at Homer’s past. Land’s End Resort is one business that’s been in Homer more than 50 years.
Whoever said location, location, location was important must have had Land’s End Resort in mind. This year, owner Jon Faulkner celebrates 56 years since the end-of-the-Spit business opened its doors.
“The Homer Spit’s new hotel and restaurant opened on Memorial Day to a good crowd of tourists and fishermen,” announced the Homer Herald in its June 5, 1958, edition.
The event was marked with visiting anglers casting their lines into Kachemak Bay, some from the beach, some from the dock, some from rental boats provided by Land’s End’s owner at the time, Earl Hillstrand. According to the 1958 article, Hillstrand’s plans included installing a boat launch and offering 16-foot skiffs for rent.
Hillstrand homesteaded in Anchorage in 1941. He was a real estate broker and served in both the territorial and state legislature. He loved the Spit and, in 1958, built a small cabin as the family’s temporary summer home while constructing Land’s End. Materials for the hotel and restaurant came from a sawmill on the Spit.
Items for the business’s nautical theme were collected during family travels around the United States. Among those items was the large ship’s wheel from the bridge of the Mississippi riverboat, the “Joseph Bud,” that still greets guests to the dining room and lounge. A sunken fireplace was a favorite gathering spot for Hillstrand and his family, as well as guests. The fireplace was removed during a 1963 remodel.
In the beginning, Land’s End was open during the busy summer months, traditionally from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The Hillstrand family spent the summers in Homer while the business was in operation and returned to Anchorage in the winters.
When the March 27, 1964, earthquake struck Alaska, Land’s End was one of many area businesses damaged.
With the Spit having dropped as a result of the quake and high tides just around the corner, Hillstrand turned to Don Clark of Anchorage to raise Land’s End six feet. The project required special equipment flown in from the Lower 48, including 11 hydraulic jacks Clark positioned so the building could be raised uniformly. It also required all the available timber Clark could find to construct cribbing to hold the raised building in place. The effort to protect Land’s End and other Spit businesses paid off.
It wasn’t until 1967, however, that repairs to Land’s End were complete and Hillstrand was able to reopen. The celebration included a skydiver who made a picture-perfect landing on the strip of beach separating Land’s End and Kachemak Bay.
“Travel by land, sea or air but STOP at Land’s End,” was the theme of the day.
The business passed from Hillstrand to two more owners before the current owner, Jon Faulkner, was able to purchase it through foreclosure proceedings. When Faulkner, who was 27 at the time, began operation in May 1988, he had some familiar names on staff: Shari Daugherty, well known in Homer for her involvement in Share the Spirit, managed the restaurant and bar; Cari Thurman, one of the owners of Two Sisters, managed the front desk and hotel; Dave Olsen, formerly of the Double Musky in Girdwood and now of Café Cups, was hired as chef.
In 1993, local historian Janet Klein helped Faulkner pull together Land’s End history for an exhibit that stretches through hallways of the resort’s “port wing.” Surprising Klein was the discovery that parts of the resort have history pre-dating its construction.
“One of the buildings was actually up on Ohlson Mountain and had been moved down to the Spit,” said Klein.
That structure was purchased from the Alaska Air Company Aircraft Control and Warning Center and was originally built on Ohlson Aircraft Control and Warning Center and was originally built on Ohlson Mountain sometime between 1955-1958. Two-thirds of that old building helped form the Harbor Room.
Some big names have performed and stayed at Land’s End through the years. Jewel Kilcher’s last Homer performance as her music career began to skyrocket was to a sold-out crowd at Land’s End.
“Four months later, literally four months, she was on the cover of Time magazine and on the Jay Leno show,” said Faulkner.
Last summer Ashton Kutcher was a guest of the resort. Blues singer Taj Mahal has overnighted at Land’s End. Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee actress Ali McGraw has enjoyed the end-of-the-Spit hospitality.
“There are too many to name,” said Faulkner of the guest list.
When Land’s End opened, it had about 40 rooms. It now has 84, including 20 privately owned nearby lodges that are managed as rental units by Land’s End. There’s the Chart Room Restaurant, gift shop and spa. Employees average about 50 throughout the year. Land’s End Resort’s guests number from 14,000-18,000 annually, including those staying in the lodges.
Since 1991, the resort has been open year-round, a change that required adding insulation to the structure and involved room remodeling based on the layout of rooms at the Millennium Hotel, formerly the Clarion Hotel, in Anchorage.
Faulkner also took a risk that year and priced the most expensive room at $120 a night.
“No place else in 1991 on the Kenai Peninsula was charging $120 a night for a hotel room, but I said to myself, ‘Can I get $120 a night for a ‘Clarion’ room on the water?’” said Faulkner. The answer was yes.
In 2001, when construction began on the lodges, he took another risk and went even higher.
“Those units are going for $350-$400 a night,” said Faulkner, who sees that as a reflection of Homer has changed from “a very summer-only destination for primarily Alaskans to a really world-class, globally recognized destination in a very short time period.”
Reflecting on the lodge’s 56-year history and all the people that have passed through its doors, Faulkner said, “There isn’t anybody in Alaska that isn’t aware of Land’s End. It’s a near sacred Alaskan vacation destination. And it’s not just about Land’s End. It’s about the magic of the Homer Spit.”