If you’re like me, you’ve imagined Seattle’s future as one giant homogeneous apartment complex. The Showbox is long gone. All those quirky little neighborhood homes—they’re gone too, as is that rickety old powder-blue rooming house dubbed the Monarch, where I used to live in a subterranean room underneath the building’s stoop. Inside my place, the floor was one part blue wood, one part chipped checkered tile. It gave off a moldy odor in the summer and every time someone in the building flushed, I heard it. I lived there for five years, from about 2010 to 2015. The rent was low (about $450 a month; it’s much more than that now), and many of the Monarch’s spaces were filled with artists, writers and musicians looking for a cheap place to stay in the city; we’d often drink on the stoop until 3 am and smoke cigarettes in the same spot when we woke up in the morning.
Thankfully, Seattle is still weird and full of as many bizarre rental set-ups as the boring box-like townhomes that have been springing up in virtually every neighborhood across the city. To commemorate this reality, I asked a bunch of notable Seattle folks—most of whom work in the arts—to tell us about the strangest places they’ve called home in the Emerald City. Their responses vary greatly, from those quirky spots that make Seattle worth moving to and living in to begin with, to a few places it's hard to believe were ever considered habitable.
Kelly Fleek (musician): I've lived in a tree on the UW campus, in a murphy-bed closet in the U-district, and in an attic near the UW. I also lived in a basement closet of a sorority house. And my best friend lived illegally in a portion of underground Seattle off Yesler that became an art collective in the late ’80s.
Sarah Skilling (comedian): I rented a basement apartment that flooded every time it rained and the landlord always said he’d fix it “when it stopped raining.” It never stopped raining. I will NEVER MISS the slug infestation, either. Nothing like stepping on a slug with BARE FEET in the morning.
Eric Grandy (writer): I lived rent-free for a month in a ~ 5’x4’x4’ storage area cubby hole under the back stairs of a punk house. It had an exterior entrance and a latch for a padlock on the “door.”
Jared Harkness (musician): I lived in an old punk house that had two “bedrooms” that were actually just closets with the walls removed so the space extended into the crawlspace. I didn’t live in those rooms, however, I got a normal room.
Rani Weatherby (musician): Basement apartment in Newcastle, WA, that flooded when I took a shower, had a serious ant problem, exposed wiring, and was absolutely freezing in the winter. I got pneumonia while living there, and it took months to recover. It had a cool antique stove though! It kinda sorta worked.
Chris Estey (publicist): 1) I squatted for a while in the part of the Underground that extends to Belltown, which no one will see, as I joined the construction crew that sealed it up from the rest of downtown in ’92. It was probably where the Haunted Burial Ground was, but they’d all been moved to Denny before they built the New Washington Hotel (now the Josephinum).
2) Moved to Greenwood to a basement apartment previously owned by a woman with 20-30 cats for years; caught MRSA due to infections from the feline piss soaked into the carpet, and spent my time cleaning mushrooms and snails out of the closet before I moved out and ended up briefly homeless and in the hospital with Cellulitis.
Gabriella Duncan (photographer): The strangest place I lived was in Columbia City in a renovated chicken coop.
Corey Kahler (programmer): I lived in an apartment that was a refurbished utility closest in a basement. The bathroom door was like a sliding closet door so you could hear everything in there. The building had an old-fashioned boiler so when it kicked on it sounded like the police were kicking down my door. But on the plus side, there were no utilities because they couldn't keep track of it. Needless to say, I took very long showers.
Galen Disston (musician): My first room in Redmond was in a house with a former Hormel truck driver who had dogs that lived under the kitchen table. There was a drunk who lived in the basement who left a ham hock in the crock-pot all night and passed out. I woke up and the house was full of smoke. I quit my job at Half Price Books, moved out, and went to Brazil. The old guy loved to watch with Sex and the City with me. He loved that show.
Sarah Anne Lloyd (writer): I lived in a loft in a bedroom made out of doors once.
Sam Tsohonis (luthier): I lived in a loft at the Fremont Foundry back in 2007-2009. It was an active bronze foundry with a wild cast of artist characters renting out living- and workspaces. It’s where the Lenin and Jimi Hendrix statues were assembled. The owner was also the dude that was trying for so long to restore the MV Kalakala, an art deco ferry from Alaska that eventually ended up in Tacoma, I believe. The owner would cast bronzes of road kill and I helped out with a couple pours while I was there.
Liza Danger (bar owner): I lived in the “penthouse” on top of the “Dollhouse” on the Ave next to Finn MacCool’s in the U District. I had the whole roof to myself. The bedroom barely fit a bed, there was a weird storage closet, a Hello Kitty bathroom, and the kitchen was orange-orange. Kids kept climbing on the roof and often when I’d come home there would be some random kid trying to get into my place from crawling up the backside of the building. It’s when I adopted my pitbulls, Darlah and Chloe, and purchased a baseball bat that things changed.
Sierra Hinwood (artist): I lived in a closet under the stairs in the summer of 2015 before the landlord found out and almost evicted everyone in the house. It was too small to stand up in and I slept on a little piece of foam padding. The little room was shaped like an L, so my bed was up in the long part of the L and the opening of the closet was the short end.
Janine Chiorazzi (band manager): I lived above the Wildrose in those funky old and very cool apartments in 2001. Capitol Hill was still rad and my neighbors were all rich with Seattle history. One was a former Gits band member, another a budding burlesque performer, one guy always wore bunny slippers and would whistle to himself while getting the mail from the row of mailboxes that were close to my door. Boma Cho sold art just a few doors down and I would sit and talk for hours with him. Across the street the Comet was still beautifully divey and you could still smoke in-doors. At night I’d hear drunk lovers quarrel after a wild night at the ’Rose. The Hill was practically empty and everyone knew everyone walking down the streets. I had a blue and green kitchen and the rest of the apartment was pink, orange and white. It was a studio with beautiful wood floors and paper-thin walls. In my multi-shades of purple bathroom I found a Jesus statue that was under the grandfather claw foot tub and soon I began collecting Jesus kitsch - things found mostly from the amazing Value Village that was across from the Old Vogue, which is now some tragic bro bar. Eventually I had a bathroom full of Christs. It wasn’t a strange place, but strange in comparison to what the Hill is now. I miss those days.
Where's the strangest place you've lived in or around Seattle? Tell us in the comments...