Gift shop grizzly is back on duty in downtown Anchorage

Feb. 6—After a brief hibernation, a Fourth Avenue bear is back in downtown Anchorage.

The recognizable 300-pound, 9-foot-8 fiberglass grizzly was hoisted into position Monday morning, then mounted above a gift shop entryway where it has kept a southeasterly view of downtown for 25 years.

Watching from the street, Casey Neumann said the moment was an emotional reminder of her father, Bob Neumann, the longtime owner of Grizzly's Gifts and the Historic Anchorage Hotel, businesses located inside the building at Fourth Avenue and E Street where the bear is mounted. Bob Neumann, who first added the bear in 1998, died in September of cancer.

"I wish he was here," Casey Neumann said as a crew from Glacier Sign and Lighting tightened its bolts.

Since the figure was removed in December, people have frequently asked why, Casey Neumann said. The bear simply needed restoration. Ronnie Collins, an artist and muralist based in Jennings, Louisiana, traveled to Anchorage and undertook the job.

"It was peeling in some places and it had a lot of pitting on it, a lot of little pinholes and stuff in it," Collins said.

Collins said he worked long days for a week and a half at an Anchorage warehouse, first sanding the sculpture, then priming, painting and coating it with an ultraviolet protectant. He reshaped the eyes, which had been positioned too high on the bear's head, he said, and reattached its long claws.

"It should last a while," Collins said. "Longer than me, probably."

Though he has been painting murals for 30 years, Collins said the job was a rare opportunity to work on such a recognizable sculpture. Last year, Collins watched as person after person posed for photos near the bear during the Iditarod's ceremonial start.

"I love being a part of that, and just the history of something from downtown Anchorage," he said.

Casey Neumann said her dad, who was born and raised in Anchorage, opened Grizzly's Gifts with his wife, Carolyn Neumann, and his father, Gerald Neumann, in 1985, seeing a chance to capitalize on Alaska's tourist influx. He also restored the Historic Anchorage Hotel, saving it from possible demolition, she said.

"He's really always had a passion about tourism, showing people Alaska," Casey Neumann said of her father.

The hotel has roots in its current building dating back to the 1930s, according to its website. The building once housed the studio of painter Sydney Laurence and features prominently in oft-told Anchorage ghost stories.

Casey Neumann said that before Bob Neumann died, she and her two brothers sat with him as he spoke of his hopes for his companies, which include Phillips Cruises and Tours.

"He said that it was just important that we kept it going and kept it in the family," she said. "He worked tirelessly to have all this for us."

Now, Casey Neumann and her brother Ben Neumann are managing partners of the companies. Casey's brother Carson Neumann, who had also been actively involved in the businesses, died in October.

"I just feel very honored I get to be part of what my dad left behind," Casey Neumann said. "I feel good coming here every day, just knowing my dad and brother's memory is carried on.