97% of the town is owned by Alaska Railroad and thus no one can buy individual property in the town.
Imagine if you never had to leave your building to go to the grocery store, to school, to the post office, the police station, or even the church. That's what life is like for the majority of the residents of Whittier, Alaska. The small town is surrounded by picturesque mountains and a beautiful lake but most of the town's 300 residents live in a 14-story building called Begich Towers. The building was a former Army barracks and now looks like an old hotel and homes most of the town's institutions as well. The story of the town went viral after Jenessa Lorenz, a resident of the building, posted about it on TikTok, reported USA Today. "I live in one of the strangest towns," reads Lorenz's TikTok bio. While it might seem the plot of a horror movie, it's a warm little town.
She's been living there for over seven years and posted a tour of the building, which has since gone viral on the internet. The video has been viewed more than 14 million times. She didn't really anticipate the response to the video. “I made the video thinking, 'OK, no one’s going to care about a tiny, tiny town in Alaska.' The next day, it had millions of views, and I was in shock,” said Lorenz. “Our town’s Facebook group posted my TikTok on their page too.” When you live in a town as small as this, dating can also be hard. When asked if there were any cute guys in town, Lorenz replied, "No, bestie"
The reason why there are no other buildings is that 97% of the town, including land, is owned by the Alaska Railroad. As a result, there are no individual houses in the town. The only other residential building in the town is Whittier Manor, a smaller condominium. The Begich Towers was built during the Cold War and were meant to house members of the army. “Things are different in Whittier, but most of our community is just a floor away, which is great,” said Lorenz.
TikTok users were stunned to learn of the town and there has been a lot of interest in the small town in Alaska. The building was created with the idea of the people living there never having to leave the building for any reason. Apart from all the amenities and institutions, it also hosts businesses where people can buy stuff. A trip to the post office or the police station is an elevator ride away. The building also has its own school — K-12 in Whittier Community School. Students of the town like Jenessa Lorenz attend K-12. Their classrooms are a short pathway from their building. According to the school's website, there are 60 students enrolled for this school year. Apart from Lorenz, there’s just one other graduating senior.
Accessibility to the town is limited. Those visiting can enter via a boat or a one-way tunnel that spans 2.5 miles. The direction of travel switches every 30 minutes, said Lorenz. TikTok was very curious about the small town and peppered Lorenz with questions such as “Where’s the nearest fast food restaurant?" “Is it a cult?” and “What is there to do for fun?”
Lorenz said kids usually played card games and hung out in the basement or building’s lobby to chill. The teenagers preferred the outdoors and go hiking, skiing, and light bonfires. Lorenz and her family originally lived in Anchorage, an hour from Whittier. They would spend weekends in Whittier and loved it in the small town surrounded by mountains and wilderness. Her family then decided to move permanently around seven years ago. Her father is now the mayor of the town while her mother is the school’s secretary. She's planning to attend Montana State University but wants to eventually come back here. “Whittier’s a great place to be so I’ll always keep in mind coming back and maybe even joining the city council and following in my dad's footsteps,” said Lorenz. She's hoping her video will promote tourism and encourage people to visit the town and generate income for the local people as well. "We’re just a huge community and we love it,” said Lorenz.