Various bands of Lushootseed speakers, including the Duwamish and Puyallup, originally traveled through the area around Normandy Park (as well as bordering Burien and Des Moines) to hunt and gather. Beaches along the coast were loaded with clams, and tribes canoed down Miller Creek to fish the salmon runs in the summer. Reports of Indians camping on Miller Beach (in the northwest coastal corner of what is now Normandy Park) continued into the early 1900s.
The Homestead Act of 1862 provided for 160 acres to anyone who lived on the land for five years. As the Surveyor General's office started platting sections of land to create townships, an early outline of Normandy Park was established. The book Wonderful World of Woods and Water, a history of Normandy Park authored by the Normandy Park Historical Committee, relates that eight people filed for homestead claims in the Normandy Park area during the period of 1869 to 1885.
In 1853, one man beat them all to the punch: William H. Brown was the earliest homesteader in the Normandy Park area. He made a claim on 163 acres and settled near what is now Shoremont Avenue. He built a cabin near an Indian trail that snaked by Miller Creek, eventually ending at the Duwamish River. This was a convenient path for a settler who might want to make it through the brush to Seattle every once and awhile.
By the 1880s, a few families had established themselves in the area. George and Elizabeth Oulette had bought 100 acres from William H. Brown's son in 1875, and the younger Brown threw in "cabbage, turnips, and all farming utensil of every kind and all the house-hold furniture on said ranch" for good measure (Wonderful World of Woods and Water, p. 5). On the south end of the Oulette property, E. Charles and Anna Gardner farmed their own homestead. Since both families had children, demand for a school grew and a one-room classroom was built near Miller Creek (in what is now Burien) to accommodate the three Gardner and two Oulette children.
Boats making the trip from Seattle to Tacoma stopped regularly at Burien and Des Moines, carrying cargo and passengers. Wonderful World of Woods and Water reports that during the late 1800s, Normandy Park residents seeking to hitch a ride could flag down a dinghy to row them out to the big steamers.
Miller's Beach (near Normandy Park Cove) became a popular recreation area early in the history of the region. Controversially, it has remained a community property -- but exclusive to those who have residences within the original tract.
Around 1890, the Gatzert-Schwabacher Land Company began buying up 1,700 acres of land in what is now the Normandy Park area. No one quite knew why, but speculation was that the Schwabacher family was hoping a new Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company rail line would go through Des Moines, putting a premium on the land around it. There was also talk of Des Monies becoming the capital of Washington state, due to its convenient location between Seattle and Tacoma.
Alas, neither came to pass and from the 1890s on, the Schwabachers leased the land to farms. Little growth or development took place, aside from the area receiving electricity in 1915 and the construction of a few roads. By 1926, the Schwabachers were ready to sell and Alvon Alvenslaben and Russell Phinney purchased the entire tract under their newly formed Seattle-Tacoma Land Company. Now development of the Normandy Park townsite began in earnest.
The Seattle Times announced the formation of Normandy Park in a 1928 story that pointed out the area's "unusual opportunities for the development of a residential suburb of high character" ("Residential Park Will Rise ..."). The story rather breathlessly cites the shore-to-mountain vista, and is quick to promote the planned amenities, including an 18-hole golf course and yacht clubhouse -- all in the French Norman style of country estates, of course, which lent Normandy Park its name. Advertisements for Normandy Park sales from the period also reiterate the reputation that Normandy Park founders desired: high class, suburban, and protected. Profit sharing in the Seattle-Tacoma Land Company was also offered to entice prospective Normandy Park buyers.
A Town's Ups and Downs
Appeal for a community like Normandy Park seemed to be strong. The Seattle Times followed sales of the lots quite closely, and reported when an investor from Chicago was interested in backing the development. The development sped along in the late 1920s, as $42,000 worth of road and landscaping improvements took place. Ads promoting Normandy Park and boasting of amenities under construction continued to fill The Seattle Times. The formal opening of Normandy Park drew huge crowds, and within a few months seven homesites were sold with the promoters promising "great value" for the "shrewd investor" ("7 Homesites Sold. . .").
Unfortunately, the year was 1929 -- not a historically propitious year for economic growth. As the Great Depression took hold in late 1929, Normandy Park sales withered. Instead of animated descriptions detailing the wonders of the new development, the little community made the news when The Seattle Times ran stories about the once-wealthy president of the Northern Radio & Telegraph Company committing suicide after fearing the loss of his Normandy Park home.
The Seattle-Tacoma Land Company folded in 1934, and several of the homes built in Normandy Park were not the country-estate behemoths once anticipated. They were now being marketed as "budget homes," appealing to the more reasonable Depression-era customer. Normandy Park resident Bernice Redington (1891-1966) -- who went by the byline Prudence Penny as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer home economics writer -- even promoted "Prudence Penny Budget Homes" to entice interested buyers to Normandy Park open houses.
The tide began to turn in 1939. The Normandy Park Company was formed, and began auctioning off lots and selling acreage. New development began slowly taking place and by 1940 a community club was established to "enforce building restrictions in the area, foster new improvements and provide a social program for the community" ("Normandy Park Club to Form"). But the activity slowed once again as the United States entered World War II.
After Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was put to modern civilian use in 1949 and The Boeing Company grew in the post-war economy, Normandy Park saw a steadier influx of residents. Population estimates during the early 1950s put the populace at just under 1,600, and in March 1953, a hearing was set to discuss Normandy Park incorporation. The Normandy Park Community Club encouraged incorporation as an attempt to enforce the residents' right to the beaches of the small community, amid fears that King County was looking at the area for a sewer treatment plant.
The May 1953 vote was quite close: 261 residents voted for it, and 254 against. The town was officially incorporated on June 8, 1953, as a town of the third class. It chose a council-manager system of governance. The move apparently sat well with quite a few; The Seattle Times reports that almost 300 people moved to the area in the six months following incorporation.
Exclusive and Reserved
And no wonder, as Normandy Park continued to be on the receiving end of glowing media attention. One 1954 Seattle Times feature points out that Normandy Park had the honor of largest seaport between Seattle and Tacoma -- a title in name only, simply because four-times-larger Burien wasn't incorporated. The feature goes on to brag about the copious numbers of clams on Normandy Park beaches and the reserved atmosphere in the little city, where no bars or dance halls existed to cause a nuisance.
One huge boon for certain residents of Normandy Park remained the private beach, a community property for those within the original ("Lot A") tract of the townsite. But the boon of the beach was not retained without a fight; often the Normandy Park city council or King County stirred anger among the homeowners by trying to acquire parts of the beach, or areas around it. In the mid-1950s, many were eager to turn the area into a park or playground. Homeowners opposed them, worried that the city would encroach on private beach property.
The area's reputation for exclusivity showed again when a municipal league formed in 1960 to combat a proposed development of apartment buildings in the area, with one eye still to the community beach debates. Municipal league president Lloyd Morgan was quoted in The Seattle Times:
"The building of apartment houses, however fancy the lawn and trimmings and however expensive the rentals, will mean the influx into Normandy Park of large numbers of nonproperty-owners. The presence of these rental units will raise difficult problems in relation to the use of the beach property now owned by all of the property-owners in Normandy Park in a common tenancy" ("Normandy Park Folk Plan...").
Normandy Park's reputation for exclusivity arose again in 1971, as King County eyed beach property for a public park. The idea first arose in 1969 when Forward Thrust funds (bond propositions to fund various county improvements and development) were available, but Normandy Park was none too pleased with the idea of opening beach property to the public.
Insularity provided advantage to the residents. In 1977, Normandy Park was reported to have an extremely low burglary rate in comparison to other King County communities. The lack of multi-family housing and relative wealth of the area didn't hurt, and Normandy Park's police sergeant pointed out that "we pretty much know who belongs here and who doesn't belong here" ("Town Has Quiet Success. . . ").
The security of the town was also cited when a 1978 proposal to annex nearby North Hill was voted down; opponents were disturbed that North Hill might bring with it a motel-apartment complex, and seedier growth. But Normandy Park was happy to annex the community of Manhattan in 1983 -- and receive the $90-million tax boost that came with the 1,800 new residents.
The mid-1980s and early 1990s proved to be a fraught time for political officials in Normandy Park. From 1987 to 1990, the town went through four mayors. Six city managers helmed the town from 1982 to 1995. Some of the resignations were rather abrupt, as in 1987 when Jack Dawson, an 18-year veteran of the city council and mayor for 12 years, walked out of city council meeting with two years left in his term. He cited the election of new city council members as fostering an "ugly, suspicious environment" ("Normandy Park Mayor Quits ..."). City politics in Normandy Park became even bumpier after Dawson's replacement. A 1989 mayor resigned after a failed recall against two city council members; his replacement quit nine months later, accusing council members of undermining him.
Just a year later, City Manager Ehman Sheldon was given a vote of no confidence from city employees and the Normandy Park Police Officers Guild. Sheldon agreed to resign his post, on the condition he receive $18,000 in severance pay. City employees described Sheldon's behavior as "detrimental to the efficiency and morale of the staff," whereas Sheldon claimed he "imposed an accountability structure that the employees didn't like -- 'cause they don't like accountability" ("Embattled Normandy Park Chief ..."). The city council fired Sheldon within two days (giving him $14,700 in severance after taxes) when he kept showing up to work -- while the rest of the city employees stayed home in protest, leaving the police to answer telephones at city hall.
Normandy Park remained a wealthy enclave. The average 1992 household income was $67,000, and the average house was around $225,000. Apartments were still verboten, and the town boasted a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house built in 1954. And as long as you were willing to pay the $25-a-year dues, families in the entitled area were still enjoying the waterfront, beach, and community club that excluded the general public. Despite years of controversy, only 1,800 households in certain areas are given membership to The Cove (or Normandy Park Community Club), which entitles them to the private beach access.
Today's Normandy Park
But Normandy Park wasn't entirely insulated from outsiders. Like nearby Burien and Des Moines, the town budgeted money to fight a third runway proposed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in 1993. After a 10-year fight, the communities agreed to drop their opposition after receiving $150 million for school improvements, insulation for homes that would be affected by jet noise, and strict permits to protect the environment.
As recently as 2012, Normandy Park was facing a cash shortage that caused a layoff of one-third of its employees. Residents were asked to raise property taxes to help with the budget. The 2012 measure was approved with 65 percent of the vote. The city has more than 100 areas of public parkland, including nature reserves, and six major parks.
The 2010 census cites Normandy Park's population at 6,335 residents.