On Thursday, 4-year-old Emmett Heimbigner was doing some wobbly laps on a bike that recently got pedals.
“I am Emmett, and I’ve learned to ride a bike, and I haven’t done it by myself,” he said.
His dad was keeping an eye on him, and so was Alaska civil rights leader Elizabeth Peratrovich — in the giant, three-story mural behind him. Emmett didn’t recognize her, but the decked-over lot along Juneau’s Seawalk could soon be renamed for her: “Peratrovich Plaza.”
Right now, this prominent public space is called “Archipelago Lot 2A.” Few people know it.
Officials with Juneau Docks and Harbors think Peratrovich Plaza is a better name that fits with the new public art. It would also help teach throngs of cruise ship visitors a little about Alaska civil rights history.
The archipelago name seems to come from a boring legal description of the property. Kirby Day, who’s worked for the cruise industry in Juneau for decades, said it’s not well known.
“When you say ‘Archipelago Lot’ no one really knows what that is or what that means,” he told the Docks and Harbors Board on Wednesday.
That checked out with people walking by during the lunch hour on Thursday. Emmett’s dad, for example, didn’t know the archipelago name but knew Peratrovich.
Docks and Harbors officials want to rename the lot, both to fit with the new mural that was finished in September, and to help people get around the waterfront better.
“There’s a natural flow to naming it Peratrovich Plaza, given the mural’s existence there,” said board member Mark Ridgway. “And we’re talking about people who are just walking off of a boat. I’d like it better than, say, ‘the Norwegian Nook’ or ‘the Carnival Corner’ or ‘the P&O Outlook.’”
A board committee voted 7-1 on Wednesday to recommend the Juneau Assembly formally change the name.
Paul Grant voted no. He said he’s an “unreserved admirer” of Peratrovich but thinks she’s already well-known and recognized in Alaska. And he said the public ought to be more involved in picking a name. The board did get one letter about the name change, asking that it be named for miners or fishermen.
Ray Wilson was also walking the waterfront on Thursday. The Lingít elder has lived in Juneau most of his life and wears a hat that says “Native veteran.”
“I think for a long time, the City of Juneau hasn’t recognized Native people,” Wilson said. “And haven’t given them enough credit for what they do and what they put into the pot, so to speak.”
Wilson also has a fuzzy memory that he might be a distant relative of Elizabeth Peratrovich.
“To include Peratrovich in Juneau history is a big step towards recognizing Native people,” Wilson said.
Before the recommendation goes to the Juneau Assembly, the Docks and Harbors Board has to vote on it at one more meeting.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Ray Wilson’s age. The Lingít elder will turn 89 in December.