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Originally published Friday, September 10, 2010 at 10:01 PM

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Neighborhood of the week

Normandy Park: Close location, distant feel

Unknown to many Seattle-area residents, secluded Normandy Park was developed nearly a century ago with grand plans and a strong sense of community.

Special to The Seattle Times

Normandy Park

Population: 6,540

Distance to downtown Seattle: About 12 miles

Schools: The Normandy Park neighborhood is served by the Highline School District.

Recreation: Nature Trails Park, at Southwest 191st Street and Marine View Drive Southwest, is an environmentally sensitive area with 19 acres of wooded terrain

with a creek and small holding pond.

Historic fact: When conceived in the 1920s, Normandy Park was to be a community of distinctive architecture in the French Normandy style, and there was to be a yacht club, two community beaches and a golf course. The Depression put a halt to those plans and the city was finally incorporated in 1953.

— Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf

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"The freshness of the inland sea, the fragrance of the forest — what a place to build a home!" describes the secluded Normandy Park community as well now as it did in the 1920s promotional material that describes the grand plans for its development.

Tucked between First Avenue South and Puget Sound between Burien and Des Moines, Normandy Park has long been a quiet place that not many people around the Seattle area know much about.

"When I tell people where I live, they say 'Where's that?' " longtime resident Debbie Hearst says of her neighborhood.

"The secret is how close we are to Seattle," adds Shirley Muller, especially to usually uncrowded Highway 509, referred to as "our private freeway" by locals.

Most homes are on large lots of a half-acre or more on winding roads and dead-end streets, many bordered by greenbelts and many with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

"Nice waterfront homes here are $1 million to $4 million, a good buy compared to Eastside neighborhoods," says Normandy Park resident Dustin Keeth, who works as a Windermere Real Estate agent.

"Most people who buy here are from the neighborhood, moving up, or grown kids moving back to raise a family, or people from Burien and Des Moines."

Normandy Park appeals to families with young children; nearly all homes are large and Marvista Elementary School is a focus of community pride and involvement and a big draw for families.

First settled by a few homesteaders in the 1850s, the area was a popular picnic spot accessed by excursion steamer boats on Puget Sound in the early 1900s.

Major plans in the 1920s for a planned community with buildings in the French Normandy style started with an elegant clubhouse at the Cove and paved roads and a water system before the project was abandoned during the Depression. Construction in Normandy Park finally took off after World War II. Many houses were built by prominent architects, including 1962 Seattle World's Fair designer Paul Thiry, and the city has one of only three dwellings in Washington state designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Normandy Park incorporated in 1953 and has its own police department and more than 100 acres of parkland, including nature preserves, pocket parks and six major parks, including Marine View Park with Puget Sound beach access.

Homes are priced in the $500,000 range and up, down from an average of $650,000-$700,000 a few years ago, according to Keeth.

Homes recently listed for sale included a 1929 brick Tudor on nearly an acre with waterfront for $1.6 million; a four-bedroom, 3,560 square-foot home on 3/4 acres for $640,000 and a 2,500-square- foot rambler with three bedrooms and a gourmet kitchen for $525,000.

According to Seattle-based Zillow.com's Home Value Index, the median value of all single-family houses in Normandy Park, not just houses recently sold, was $416,700 in July, down 13.9 percent year-over-year.

Normandy Park is primarily a residential city and nearly all the homes are single-family houses, with a handful of condo developments in the Manhattan area on and around First Avenue South priced in the $200,000 to $350,000 range.

What are called "Lot A rights," allowing membership in the Cove with use of its clubhouse and beach, are based on address, a selling point for houses included and a sore point for some residents who are excluded. Many residents are members at two private community pools.

The few businesses in town are in two shopping areas along First Avenue South, with more shopping and services available in nearby Burien and Des Moines and the Southcenter area of Tukwila.

Back in the 1920s, Normandy Park was billed in its promotional brochure as "The South Shore Suburb Destined to Popularity."

Even back then, there was a sense that the South End was overlooked by many potential homebuyers in the Seattle area as it is today.

"Recent new improvements in the south outlets of the city have turned the trend southward where the highways are free of traffic ... where health abounds and play is a natural part of the home life," the brochure said. "Normandy Park will become exceedingly popular as the months roll by."

Zen McManigal of NP Arts Commission chuckles over the perception that some have about South King County.

"This is a great, small community, close to the city and the airport. There's not a lot of airplane noise, in spite of our proximity to the airport's third runway."

The Arts Commission plans and hosts neighborhood events throughout the year, including an Arts Festival, Music in the Park in July and August and the annual Fourth of July children's parade and ice-cream social attended by nearly everyone in town.

"It's a wonderful place to raise children, like a small town," says Hearst, the longtime resident.

"Everyone knows everyone else or knows someone who does."

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