Seattle Now & Then: The Normandie Apartments at Ninth and University

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Built in 1909-10 on one of First Hill’s steepest slopes, the dark brick Normandie Apartments' three wings, when seen from the sky, resemble a bird in flight. (Lawton Gowey)
THEN: Built in 1909-10 on one of First Hill’s steepest slopes, the dark brick Normandie Apartments’ three wings, when seen from the sky, resemble a bird in flight. (Lawton Gowey)
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NOW: Now wrapped and under repair for new windows and a more waterproof façade, Horizon House’s West Wing crosses Ninth Avenue, which was vacated west of University Street for the Wing’s addition that was completed in 1984. It extends well into the corner formerly held by the Normandie Apartments.

A moderately large heading, “Going Up or Coming Down, It’s Still Progress,” is set between two press photos on page three in the Seattle Times for Monday, Feb. 25, 1974.  The illustration above the heading is an aerial of the Kingdome under construction, while below is a dramatic exposure of the Normandie Apartments being demolished by a wrecking ball.  The caption noted that the “five-story 112-unit condemned building” was 65-years-old but

From The Seattle Times of February 25, 1974, an illustrated page on the building of the Kingdome over the razing of the Normandie Apartments.
From The Seattle Times of February 25, 1974, an illustrated page on the building of the Kingdome over the razing of the Normandie Apartments. (click to enlarge for a chance at reading the captions.)

would be “razed by the end of the week.”   The Times reporter could not have known, of course, that “progress” for King County’s sports palace would amount to less than one-half that of the worn brick apartment building at the northwest corner of University Street and Ninth Avenue. As many PacificNW readers will remember, the Kingdome was reduced to rubble and dust in an instant with its implosion of March 26, 2000. 

Detail from 1926 map of significant destinations chosen to put the Normandie at the center at the northwest corner of University Street (the street name is out-of-frame) and Ninth Avenue.
Detail from 1926 map of significant destinations chosen to put the Normandie at the center at the northwest corner of University Street (the street name is out-of-frame) and Ninth Avenue.

The Normandie, designed by prolific local architect James A Schack, opened its unfurnished units to tenants in the spring of 1910.  The agents, West and Wheeler, advertised this newest addition to First Hill’s growing abundance of apartment houses as “absolutely fireproof [with] all outside rooms, free telephone, elevator service, disappearing beds, ample closet room, roof garden, porcelain refrigerators, gas ranges, etc., in fact every convenience of an up-to-date apt. house.”  In 1928, an classified ad for the Normandie promised “an ideal home for business people” with “no squeaky floors or thin partitions.” 

A Times clipping from December 4, 1926
A Times clipping from December 4, 1926

What was routine for local landlords during Seattle’s 1962 Century 21 World’s Fair was a regular practice for the Normandie as well.  Prices were raised.  Through the duration of the Fair, the Normandie’s managers referred to their apartment house as an “apartment hotel” and charged the higher “daily rates only.”  The Normandie was promoted as only “five blocks to the Monorail terminal and department stores.” After that half-year of sometimes unfair fair accommodations, news from the aging Normandie was limited to a few funeral notices for residents, and a 1974 notice that along with its close-by neighbors, Horizon House and the Cambridge Apartments, the Normandie was included in “area 197” of the federal government’s list of bomb shelters. 

ABOVE: Disregard the superimposed white circle in this 1929 aerial of the neighborhood, except that the three-winged Normandie appears directly to the right of it. BELOW: A 1946 aerial with another look down upon the roof of the Normandie.
ABOVE: Disregard the superimposed white circle in this 1929 aerial of the neighborhood, except that the three-winged Normandie appears directly to the right of it. BELOW: A 1946 aerial with another look down upon the roof of the Normandie.  The  unique overpass of the 9th and University intersection can be easily found in both aerials, or especially in the earlier one where its white surface startles like a florescent bulb lying on the floor.

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In spite of Seattle’s many hills and ridges and imbricating waterways, the lay of our land is much more picturesque than precipitous.  This First Hill intersection is an exception. After climbing east from 8th Avenue, the steep grade on University Street stopped here and the street took a right turn (to the left) down 9th Avenue to Union Street.  The alternative, continuing east on University, was strictly for pedestrians using the stairs evident in the featured postcard.  Normandie residents enjoyed the added convenience of a pedestrian bridge that accessed the apartments’ top floor from the upper and eastern half of this eccentric intersection.   

 

ABOVE AND BELOW: POST-NORMANDIE CHANGES AT ITS CORNER: First a clipping from the January 25, 1982 Seattle Times, followed by another from the October 16, 1983 Times: (bless its archive).
ABOVE AND BELOW: POST-NORMANDIE CHANGES AT ITS CORNER: First a clipping from the January 25, 1982 Seattle Times, followed by another from the October 16, 1983 Times: (bless its archive).

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WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, gents?  Jean, here’s a game.  Ron reminds us that we used the featured photo at the top in a previous feature as a “supporter” or more evidence for another subject.  Ron suggests that we invite the readers into a “hide-and-seek” for it, while assuring them that it is not included in the last of the dozen or so features he will next post below these salutations and explanations.

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THEN: Looking east on University Street towards Ninth Avenue, ca. 1925, with the Normandie Apartments on the left.

THEN: In the 32 years between Frank Shaw's dedication picture and Jean Sherrard's dance scene, Freeway Park has gained in verdure what it has lost in human use.

THEN: The city’s north end skyline in 1923 looking northwest from the roof of the then new Cambridge Apartments at 9th Avenue and Union Street. (Courtesy, Museum of History and Industry)

THEN: A circa 1923 view looks south on Eighth Avenue over Pike Street, at bottom left.

THEN: First dedicated in 1889 by Seattle’s Unitarians, the congregation soon needed a larger sanctuary and moved to Capitol Hill. Here on 7th Avenue, their first home was next used for a great variety of events, including a temporary home for the Christian Church, a concert hall for the Ladies Musical Club, and a venue for political events like anarchist Emma Goldman’s visit to Seattle in 1910. (Compliments Lawton Gowey)

THEN: The home at bottom right looks across Madison Street (out of frame) to Central School. The cleared intersection of Spring Street and Seventh Avenue shows on the right.

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THEN: As explained in the accompanying story the cut corner in this search-lighted photo of the “first-nighters” lined up for the March 1, 1928 opening of the Seattle Theatre at 9th and Pine was intended. Courtesy Ron Phillips

THEN: Revelers pose on the Masonic Temple stage for “A Night in Old Alexandria,” the Seattle Fine Art Societies annual costume ball for 1921. (Pic courtesy of Arthur “Link” Lingenbrink)

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THEN: Beginning with the Reynolds, three hotels have taken tenancy in this ornate three-story brick block at the northeast corner of Boren Avenue and Pike Street. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

THEN: Looking north-northeast from a low knoll at the southwest corner of Seneca Street and Seventh Avenue, circa 1916. By 1925, a commercial automobile garage filled the vacant lot in the foreground. [Courtesy, Ron Edge]

THEN: Swedish Lutheran (Gethsemane) Church’s second sanctuary at the northeast corner of Ninth Avenue and Steward Street circa 1920, photo by Klaes Lindquist. (Courtesy, Swedish Club)

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THEN: An early view of Virginia Mason Hospital, which opened in the fall of 1920 at the northwest corner of Terry Avenue and Spring Street. In 1980 for its anniversary, the clinic-hospital could make the proud statement that it had “spanned sixty years and four city blocks.” Courtesy Lawton Gowey

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