Southeast of Anchorage, Prince William Sound has water deep enough for supertankers, surrounded by steep, jagged mountains. The effect is sublime. The largest settlement on the sound is Valdez, which served as a port of entry to the Alaska goldfields as early as 1897–1898. Its importance increased with the construction of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail (Richardson Highway) just after 1900. In 1964, however, an earthquake measuring 8.4 on the Richter scale, whose epicenter was 50 miles west of Valdez, destroyed the city. The people of Valdez moved 3½ miles west and rebuilt in three and a half years.
City Planning Associates of Mishawaka, Indiana, oriented the new city to the water, with the commercial district at the water's edge and the residential area behind. All of the residential streets end in a park strip, an open space that extends from the city hall to the mountains. The elementary school was built in the center of the park strip, on a site now occupied by Prince William Community College. The city, which had a population of eight hundred at the time of the quake, was planned to accommodate fifteen hundred; Valdez's population is now twice that. A new residential subdivision has been built to the west. In the portion laid out in 1964, the houses are a mixture of tract and manufactured housing with a few of the surviving buildings from old Valdez sprinkled among them. The municipal building, designed by Crittenden Cassetta Wirum and Jacobs, has a steeply pitched roof, reflecting the spectacular mountains that surround the sound. Most of the houses in the old town of Valdez had steep roofs—to shed the extreme snow load, as much as to respond to the terrain—but little of the new construction bears any relation to historic Valdez architecture.
Valdez experienced an enormous influx of people during construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the mid-1970s. The deep-water port facilities have rendered it an ideal location for the terminus of the pipeline. Alyeska's Marine Terminal has berths for four supertankers, enough tanks on land to hold the entire contents of the pipeline, the operations facility for the pipeline and pump stations, and facilities for treating ballast water. Valdez has a small fishing industry, but most of the city's economy depends on the oil pipeline.
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