Most local history buffs know the old Empress Movie Theatre was built by Capt. Austin Lathrop. That building is still here and is known today as the Co-Op Plaza. Capt. Lathrop was also known as one of the early Fairbanks coal barons and was instrumental in switching Fairbanks over from a town that ran on wood as an energy source to one that ran on coal from Healy, as the following article describes:
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner January 12, 1918
COAL BARONS ARE TO ARRIVE TONIGHT
On this evening’s train we expect to have with us Coal Barons Lathrop and Donaldson of the Healy River Coal Corporation, who are active heads of as husky a bunch of go-getters as ever tackled a Big Thing in the Far North. May their days be long in the land they have annexed, including the mines beneath it.
It begins to look as though Capt. Lathrop is deserting the silent drama for a speaking part in that great industrial drama entitled: “Down in a Coal Mine, Underneath the Ground,” the way he is sticking tight to the coal industry, some of which is sticking to him. To be sure, he keeps his theatres open and supplied with up-to-date films and has time to direct the financial salvation of the moving picture industry of Alaska, and do a few other little shores on the side, but it is self-evident to those who run, whether they can read or not that he is thinking coal a whole lot.
Incidentally, for Bob Donaldson’s benefit, it might be mentioned that those Coal Barons are not so barren of coal this year as they have been in the past year, and that Fairbanks now has a full and continuous supply of the coal which makes your hands dirty when you handle it.
Note: The success these men enjoyed in their coal business was due to the building of the Alaska Railroad. It brought Fairbanks into another era and fully connected us with the rest of the world. This dirty little History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska.