Sunday, December 5, 2010

Farewell to the Undre Arms

I don't remember the first time I noticed The Undre Arms apartment building. It's located on Capitol Hill in Seattle, in a funny little wedge-shaped block created by Madison Street as it cuts its way diagonally across the street grid.

The Undre Arms faces west. It takes the entire meager block of 11th Avenue East between Madison and Union.

It's a totally nondescript two story wood frame building, sheathed since at least 1979 (when I first came to Seattle) in beige-colored asbestos shingles. The squared bay windows on the top floor and curved bays on the sides hint that the building might have been built before 1900. A long open porch runs the length of the building at the rear, creating open balconies for the upper apartments, and damp shaded hovels for the lower.

The only thing that distinguishes it is the tongue-in-cheek title displayed over the front door: "The Undre Arms."

Sometime in the last decade, a clever wag added a "dot com" to the name. Readers note: the although the url is a simple one-page site, it is NSFW.

An article about the odd little building, its history and its quirky residents was published in the Seattle Weekly this summer, as the news came that a delayed construction project that would demolish it was back on track.

Historically, the neighborhood was a home to blue-collar industries - auto repair shops, printers, and a large tool supply shop. Since the '70s, it was also home to a growing arts, gay, and rock and roll scene.

Now, the immediate neighborhood includes an AIDS assistance non-profit, a tired and shabby looking gay bar, a copier-printer shop, a paint store and an office for nearby Seattle University. A few block north and east, new condos similar to those proposed here are already up and flourishing, their retail spaces already filled with coffee shops and restaurants.

During the years I lived on the hills east of here, my daily commute took me past the Undre Arms. I often looked at the shabby building, when the morning sun slanted onto its rear balconies, and wondered what it would be like to live there. I even once wrote a story about a character who lived in the Undre Arms.

Three years ago, the building's owner sold it to a developer who planned to replace it and other buildings on the wedge-shaped block with a six-story 105 unit residential building. The downturn in the economy slowed the process, and the tenants have been living on a month-to-month basis.

According to the article, the project is back on track again, and demolition of the Undre Arms is slated for spring of 2011. Farewell to another quirky little piece of history.


21 Wits said...

Thanks for taking us to the Undre Arms, it is a charming and mysterious name isn't it? I wonder if they ever used it in a movie, as it looks like one I've seen before. Your words give this place such meaning and a desire to know some of it's characters! Thank you!

smalltownme said...

Oh, that name! Reminds me of an apartment building in Santa Barbara, the Twin Pines only people keep switching the I and the E.

Unknown said...

That is fascinating. Can you imagine the stories the walls could tell? I love thinking of all the families and people who have dwelt withing those walls.

I always love coming here to visit. It is a treat.

Anonymous said...

You see so much! I've driven along Madison multiple times and never noticed it.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Aptly named building.

carmilevy said...

I'm thankful you were able to preserve the memory before this delightfully unique building is gone.

You have such a cool way of viewing your 'hoods. I need to follow your example as I figure out how to capture my immediate area, too.