What is the name of this street?

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(Sept. 14, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith / The Cordova Times

Le Fevre Drive? LeFever Avenue? Lafevre Street?

Every Cordovan knows the 1,400 foot road that gently winds around the western tip of Eyak Lake, connecting residential areas to the Copper River Highway. However, no one seems to agree on what this path should be called.

The city’s utility database refers to the street as “LeFevre Street” while its property tax database uses “LeFevre Avenue”. Even the signs at both ends of the street do not match, naming them both “Le Fevre Street” and “Le Fevre Avenue”. Unofficial sources hardly show any consensus: a survey plan for 2020 drawn up for the Cordova Historic Preservation Commission simply refers to the street as “Lefever”, while other documents and directories cover the scale from “Lafevre Street” to “Le Fevre Drive”.

A much-quoted video by journalist Phil Edwards claims that while a street is any path that connects two points, “street” and “avenue” only refer to streets with buildings on either side. In theory, streets and avenues run perpendicular to each other, with streets running east to west and avenues running north to south. The fact that Cordovas Street intersects Lake Avenue at right angles indicates that it may be a street. However, the fact that it runs roughly from north to south speaks for its classification as an avenue.

Edwards defines a “drive” as a road that often takes its contours from natural features such as mountains or lakes, which makes it plausible that the untracked road could be a driveway. However, the name “Le Fevre Drive” does not appear to appear in any property database, zone map or other source that requires a high level of official scrutiny.

So what should we call this street? Perhaps the most definitive answer comes from a US Bureau of Land Management zone map drawn up in 1959, just five years after the road was built, called “Le Fevre Street”. While this map is in some ways inconsistent with the currently accepted street naming – for example, it refers to Lake Avenue as “Lake Street” – it provides the most vetted source of street name available.

Whether street, avenue or driveway, where did the street get its name from? Often repeated local folklore claims that “Le Fevre” was the name or nickname of a border period brothel owner. The truth is more prosaic, however: the street was named after businessman John Stotera LeFevre, who would later become mayor of Cordova.

Street signs give contradicting names. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith / The Cordova Times

Born in Fresno, California, LeFevre traveled north to work on the Alaska Railroad in 1923, according to contemporary news reports. Upon arriving in Cordova, LeFevre took on a variety of jobs, first as a manual worker and then as an auto hardware dealer, eventually opening a car dealership out of a facility on First Street renamed the John LeFevre Building.

Some time after LeFevre arrived in Cordova, he sent for a woman named Pearl, whom he married when she arrived in town, according to a report compiled by the Cordova Historical Society. By the end of LeFevre’s life, his family had grown to six children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandson, many of whom had moved from Cordova.

A look at LeFevre’s résumé reveals several decades of correspondingly feverish activity: he was president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce at various times, president of the local Pioneer Igloo, commander of the Cordova American Legion Post, governor of the local Moose Lodge, and a member of the local Elks Lodge and by various motorway and public building committees. In the 1950s, LeFevre advocated the expansion of the local road infrastructure and the connection of Cordova to the motorway system before the US Department of the Interior.

After 12 years on Cordova City Council, LeFevre was elected mayor in 1961 and later ran for the Senate as Republican.

Photos of LeFevre from this period show an edgy man with gray hair cut short. A photograph used in an Alaskan Senate campaign ad shows LeFevre in a dark trilby and a stern expression.

“VOTE – For JOHN LeFEVRE”, warned a campaign flyer. “JOHN KNOWS AND UNDERSTANDS your SPECIFIC and URGENT needs! LeFEVRE is a very determined fellow. You can trust that HIM is really WORKING for your district. “

A stern-faced John LeFevre. Photo courtesy Cordova Historical Society / 06-25-143

Official sources render the former mayor’s last name fairly consistently as “LeFevre”, although some semi-official documents – including one of LeFevre’s own Alaskan Senate campaign ads – use variants such as “Le Fevre” and “LeFever”. His tombstone in the Cordova cemetery provides the last word: “LeFevre”, without an interior.

LeFevre died of a heart attack on July 4, 1964 – just minutes before the start of an Independence Day parade he organized.

“He was said to have worked day and night on the celebration and it was just too much for him,” reported the Cordova Times.

The tone of coverage and comments on LeFevre’s unexpected death suggest that he was genuinely appreciated by the Cordovans for his willingness to work for the city on multiple fronts. The centerpiece of LeFevre’s funeral was a somewhat hagiographic speech by the Democratic State Senator Harold Z. Hansen.

“There are few of us whose life book contains such a large balance of good deeds, self-sacrifice and devotion to a good cause,” Hansen told the gathering. “John’s life story has the main theme of self-denial to the end so that his community, state, and people thrive and have a better life and a better place to live.”

Alaska Governor William A. Egan also made telegraphic remarks commending LeFevre for his work and high integrity, which Hansen read aloud. Now, 57 years after his death, John LeFevre is commemorated for his service as Mayor of Cordova and for his work building the city’s road network through a street that – somehow – bears his name.


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