These First Hill apartments were coming down as the Kingdome was going up not far away.
A HEADLINE READING “Going Up or Coming Down, It’s Still Progress” was set between two photos on Page 3 in The Seattle Times on Feb. 25, 1974. The illustration above the heading was an aerial of the Kingdome under construction, and below was 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 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 the life enjoyed by the worn brick Normandie Apartments building at the corner of University Street and Ninth Avenue. The Kingdome was reduced to rubble and dust in an instant with its implosion March 26, 2000.
The Normandie, designed by prolific local architect James A. Schack, opened its unfurnished units to tenants in spring 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, a classified ad for the Normandie promised “an ideal home for business people” with “no squeaky floors or thin partitions.”
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What was routine for local landlords during Seattle’s 1962 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 neighbors, Horizon House and the Cambridge Apartments, the Normandie was included in “area 197” of the federal government’s list of bomb shelters.
Despite Seattle’s many hills and ridges and waterways, the lay of our land is much more picturesque than precipitous. This First Hill intersection is an exception. After climbing east from Eighth Avenue, the steep grade on University Street stopped here and the street took a turn down Ninth Avenue to Union Street. The alternative, continuing east on University, was strictly for pedestrians using the stairs evident in the photo. 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.