BY THE ESTIMABLE authority of Diana James, the Comet Apartments at the First Hill corner of Spruce Street and 11th Avenue, is a solid example of a building form she calls “Seattle-Centric.” In “Shared Walls,” her book recounting the history of our city’s apartment houses, James notes that in Seattle neighborhoods that have concentrations of apartment buildings, you often see a similar form — “rectangular or square in shape and featuring at least one bay on either side of a centrally located and recessed opening at each floor above the entrance.”
King County tax records show that the Comet was built in 1910 with 28 apartments. West and Wheeler, the Comet’s real estate agent, described it in The Seattle Times listings for March 4, 1912, as “an unusually attractive building.” We still agree.
The Comet ad touted “large light rooms” and “very reasonable rates” ($20 to $30). The building was also in a “paved district” that was conveniently in “walking distance.” Pacific Grade School was three blocks north, and professional baseball, a mere two blocks away at the Seattle Athletic Field. The Comet was also surrounded by carriers, including the trolleys on Broadway and 12th avenues, and the cable cars on James Street and Yesler Way.
On Nov. 21, 1938, the Comet — by then the Star, the name that stuck — joined the year’s list of victims of the nearly 60 apartments and homes visited in the night by the then best-known person in Seattle: a firebug. Of the four apartments — three on First Hill — ignited “by a pyromaniac” that early morning, the city’s Fire Chief William Fitzgerald described the Star’s as “the most successful.” It was set in a dumbwaiter shaft, did $2,000 damage and “routed 100 persons from their beds at 3:30 in the morning.” Addressing the city, the chief asked for “intelligent assistance” rather than “mass hysteria.” Fitzgerald may also have had Police Chief William Sears in mind, who earlier had let it out that he “feared a catastrophe if the firebug is not apprehended.”
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