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January 12, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Is there some kind of zoning ordiance in Seattle that all apartment buildings with above a certain number of units must have a name?

My sweetie and I are apartment hunting in Seattle (U district area--if you know of a one bedroom, holla!), and I've noticed that a large number of the apartment buildings we've looked at have a name of some sort. Some of them are pretty straightforward (Eastlake Manor) and some make me laugh (The Minty) and some seem just weirdly inappropriate for the Pacific Northwest (The Palms).

So I'm wondering why this is. My husband, who is from Seattle and works in planning, insists it's just a sort of cultural in-joke. But I don't know--it's just too consistent and some of the names are so stupid I feel like it must be some kind of rule (or maybe a former rule that is still visible).

I tried googling and didn't find much. Does anyone know the story?
posted by Ideal Impulse to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I noticed this in West Philadelphia. I think that there was a tendency to name apartment buildings at some particular moment in history (early 20th century?) and so neighborhoods where a lot of building were built around that time tend to have lots of named apartment buildings.

(It may be possible to shoot down my theory if you know more about Seattle than I do.)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:46 AM on January 12, 2011

It's not unique to Seattle. I think it's just a way to "fancy up" the property. You're not staying in the apartment building at the corner of 1st and Main, you're staying in The Tides. Some of them make no sense, it's true. I like to think that there's some guy sitting in a cubicle somewhere endlessly turning out trite names for real estate developers to pick blindly out of a hat. Like the guy who writes the fortune cookie fortunes.

The naming convention has been used to hilarious effect in cartoons, movies, and sitcoms. For example, The Bachelor Arms in the Simpsons, where Milhouse's dad stays after his divorce.
posted by phunniemee at 10:50 AM on January 12, 2011

It's common land development practice. Individual houses don't get names--most of the time--but subdivisions do. Larger buildings almost always have names independent of their addresses. For example, the tallest building in my town is One Summit Square, even though it's located at 101 E. Washington. The latter just fails to roll off the tongue.

More practically speaking, the developers, architects, engineers, and zoning officials need something to call the project while it's being constructed, and addresses are frequently not even assigned until well into the planning and sometimes even construction phases of a project. So the name of the project identifies it before an address is even available a lot of the time. Going back even further, buildings had names even before an address system had been instituted.

In short, no, it's almost certainly not a zoning ordinance--though Pacific Northwest land use laws may just be screwy enough to do that--but rather a long-standing practice of developers, albeit one which makes a certain amount of sense.
posted by valkyryn at 10:53 AM on January 12, 2011

It's a marketing thing, adding a sense of differentiation to the product.

I like to think that there's some guy sitting in a cubicle somewhere endlessly turning out trite names for real estate developers to pick blindly out of a hat.

I recall the Orange County Register newspaper doing a parody of this, where you pick one random name from three columns and slam them together to make a name for a subdivision. Armani Chardonnay Estates. Canyon Manor View. Pinot Beach Prada.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:56 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The Palms" was once a date palm orchard.

Not in Seattle, no.

This is a very common custom/fad/what have you, not a local ordinance. It goes in streaks, too--in Worcester, Massachusetts, for instance, all the apartment buildings from the 1880s are called "The Vendome" and what-not, and all the apartment buildings from the 1950s are called "Glen Crest" and what-not, and all the apartment buildings from the 1990s are called "Arbor Pointe" and similar.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:08 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

They name them for what was destroyed to build them.

If this were true, then I totally used to live in "The Gutted-Out Factory Space #7".

They name them for whatever they think sounds rich and opulent. For instance, my uncle's fancy neighborhood is called Black Diamond (because rich people go skiing). He lives in Florida. Not a lot of downhill skiing in Florida.
posted by phunniemee at 11:13 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: But, in general, because we are poor, these are not opulent, impressive, rich buildings--they're kind crummy and run-down, and the names aren't particularly impressive either. I have a hard time believing that this is purely to make the places sound moneyed.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 11:30 AM on January 12, 2011

Virtually all of the larger apartment/condo complexes and buildings in the bay area have names. I don't think there's a law, it's just a marketing exercise.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:32 AM on January 12, 2011

Ideal Impulse, it's a fad, not a law. Crummy apartment buildings have more incentive than actually fancy apartment buildings to try to sound fancy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2011

these are not opulent, impressive, rich buildings--they're kind crummy and run-down,

Yes, but nobody ever intends to build a crummy, run-down building. It's as nice as they can make it at the time, and they name it, and the name sticks. Then it gets run-down.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:50 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two of my favorite apartment names are on Capitol Hill, the Undre [sic] Arms and the Erewhon (nowhere backwards). I've lived in Seattle apartments whose 'name' was just the street address written out. It is just marketing.
posted by nomisxid at 12:08 PM on January 12, 2011

Even buildings that don't obviously have names, have names. I used to be the resident manager of an apartment building on 1st Ave N between Mercer and Republican, and it was called the Gordon even though this wasn't written above the door or anything. It's easier, when talking to the bosses (who had a huge portfolio of rental properties) to say "The Gordon" rather than "521 First Avenue North". I agree with Valkryn; it's a convenience for the people working on the building.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:14 PM on January 12, 2011

I think I'm confused. Don't all apartment complexes have names? What apartments don't have names?
posted by kmz at 1:30 PM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: kmz--When I lived in Minneapolis and Nashvill, none of the larger apartment buildings had names--only multi-building complexes did. If they did have names, they weren't visible on the building, mentioned in postings, or used by the landlords and caretakers. I've also noticed that any building in Seattle that has fewer than five units (even ones that are clearly apartment buildings, not modified houses) don't have names.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 1:37 PM on January 12, 2011

Yeah, I think it's just that more buildings in Seattle date from the 1905-1920 period because basically every building in the city went up then. A lot of buildings on the east coast from that period do the same thing -- but there are a lot more buildings from the 1890s and 1930s on the east coast.
posted by zvs at 3:00 PM on January 12, 2011

I think city apartment buildings built in the early 20th century are more likely to have names. It was a fashion. Each one of these 3 apartment buildings in Wilmington has its own name. The middle one is the Lewes and I think the right one is the Cynwyd.
posted by interplanetjanet at 4:58 PM on January 12, 2011

In Seattle there's a (definitely non-opulent) building on Market Street with a sign saying "Gregs' Apartments." Every time I drive by it I think: "I really hope that place is owned by two or more guys named Greg."
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 8:32 PM on January 12, 2011

Many years ago, I was apartment hunting in Everett (about 30 miles north of Seattle). We just had to go check out one place because the name was so wacky- "The Magenta". When we got there, it was a dank, greasy dump with gold shag carpeting and blond veneer cabinets. No magenta in sight. The creepiest part? One of the bedroom doors had a slide bolt lock... on the outside. My friend and I stared at it in Lovecraftian incomprehension for about 30 seconds before she whispered with horror, "it's for keeping someone IN...".
posted by evilcupcakes at 12:01 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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