After I moved out of my last apartment building, a classic 1920’s red brick charmer with plenty of crown molding, I was told that the tenant before me committed suicide in my bathtub. And ever since I’ve been fascinated with, and hyper aware of, all the different people, families and lives that have been lived inside every apartment building and home. How many times did someone fall in love in my apartment unit? How many people died? What sort of strange, disgusting, illegal, beautiful, creative and unique things have taken place in that single space?
Caleb Thompson plays his guitar on the steps of the Monarch Apartments, a big, blue decaying 109-year-old house, adorned with white columns, in Seattle’s University District, that’s split up into a bunch of apartment units.
“If you look at the building here, it’s sort of a charming wreck is how I think of it,” Caleb said.
The apartment is home to a mix of curmudgeonly old men:
“A lot of what I call pranksters, cranks and the curious,” says Monarch resident Jake Uitti.
As well as a close knit group of artists, writers and musicians in their 20s and 30’s.
“There’s Caleb who lives in the other basement apartment who, at any point in time, could be writing music, could be writing an essay or composing a poem. There’s Evan who lives on the second floor, who might be playing double upright bass. There’s Michael Zabrek who lives above Caleb, who has a very messy apartment, but who also plays organ.”
Jake Uitti is a musician, poet and co-founder of the Monarch Review, a literary magazine named in honor of the building he lives in. Musicians, like bass player and composer Evan Flory-Barnes, live there because the rent is cheap.
“It was $500 a month for a one bedroom and now it’s $545. The rent’s gone up twice!”
But also because of the community that’s formed.
“I think that it’s pretty rare to find a living space where there are like-minded people living in such close proximity,” said Caleb.
The building is rumored to have been an old fraternity house and it was also apparently hoisted from its foundation and moved several blocks in the 1920’s. I called upon local historian Feliks Banel to tell us the story of the Monarch.
“Well, the cool thing about this building is it could be any building in Seattle, right, because every building has its own story to tell. As you drive by you look and you just see the address, you don’t really know anything about it. But if you do a little bit of typing on your computer you can find out that there was a law student here, who went to the University of Washington, who committed suicide in the 1950’s. There was a guy at the back of the building who’s shooting blanks from a gun. Police came and surrounded the building, they arrested him, beat him up, took him away. There was a fire here caused by an electric blanket back in the 60’s. There was a pretty well known local Vietnam war protestor.”
A man who has been called a hero during Seattle’s tragic Cafe Racer shooting also lived in the building until recently.
A brand new apodment building just went up next to the Monarch; the neighborhood is changing. So the Monarch residents write poems and songs, inspired by it, to memorialize the building before it eventually disappears.
“It’s not like something monumental happened here,” said Feliks. “It’s pretty ordinary. But that’s why it’s interesting. That’s who does the living and the dying, who makes the city what it is, it’s the people who lives in a place like this and the things that happen here, decade after decade.”
If you have a building you’re curious about, Feliks’ sleuthing method is available to anyone.
“You emailed me and told me the address of the building. So I went to the Seattle Public Library website where they have the Seattle Times, online, searchable by keyword from I think 1900 to 1984. I clicked on it, I see the pdf and read the article about it. I also went directly to the Seattle Department of Planning and Development and they had permit information about when the building was moved in 1925, that it was built sometime around 1903 or 1905.”
You may or may not want to know what’s going on in the building or house you live in:
“Every floor has its own scent,” I comment as we walk through the halls and up the stairs of The Monarch. “We go from the mildew floor to the marijuana floor. What is this scent? Cat litter?”
But you are making history just living wherever you’re living right now.