Legend has it that the first condominium project in the Seattle area was built by John Ehrlichman, the local land-use lawyer who gained fame from his involvement with another condo project called Watergate.
What sticks in my mind was the dorky name of the project: El Condo. It's like one of those attempts to class something up by adding an exotic prefix. Like Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe.
Ehrlichman had been inspired by the condominium concept, the story goes, on a trip to Hawaii. He wanted to bring it to the Northwest mainland. Back in the early 1960s, the word "condo" was both descriptive but also probably rather new-sounding.
Naming conventions fall in and out of style. Anyone who's lived in the suburbs knows that there has long been a vogue to make everything sound settled, and classy, like a wee bit of Britain: English Hills, Canterbury, Sherwood Forest. Co-opting Native American names has also been a winner: Klahanie, Snoqualmie Ridge, The Salish Lodge.
Big development demands creative naming, and marketing strategies use those names to set a tone.
I don't know about you, but I have been getting all kinds of jumbo-sized postcards in my mailbox lately, the kind you usually get during political campaigns. Only these are for new Seattle condo projects. Maybe it's because I am a renter. Are you getting these, too? I'd like to hear if you are.
They're all pretty much the same: color photographs, pictures of lavish granite countertops and lovely views, and beautiful people who are living "just steps away" from an unspeakable number of "urban amenities." Some show couples riding scooters on cobblestone streets in bellbottoms. Yes, you'll love the smell of macchiatos in the morning.
This junk mail is selling the fussy Seattle lifestyle we once saw on Frasier.
But the funniest part is the naming conventions that are in vogue.
I have postcards for Trio, Trace, Tavona, and Tobira. Some consultant must have told them about the magnetism of the letter "T". But it's also striking that these names don't really mean anything.
Trio and Trace sound like new model hybrids, and Tavona is probably next door to Lark. And Tobira, wasn't that the place Gen. Rommel stormed with the Afrika Korps?
The latest issue of Seattle magazine is out (disclosure: I write a monthly column for them). It features a "Condo Buyers Guide."
It confirms that, like carmakers and drug companies, local developers are coming up with nonsense words, or real words that sound utterly random when applied to glass towers and converted warehouses. Here are some examples: Veer, Enso, Revo 225, Equinox, Lumen, Element (the consultants seem to like "E" too).
Or then there's Brix on Capitol Hill which is made of, guess what? Bricks. We're reassured that this residence is "completely Capitol Hill," brix and all, which is an "evolving" community. I presume this doesn't refer to evolving as in "enlightenment" but evolving in that it's being gentrified by big-monied hipster wannabes who seem to have the carefully cultivated casual Gap look that is de rigeur now among Microsoft employees. Whatever happened to pocket protectors?
Some like to pun on their location, like Fini which is on Phinney Ridge. Get it? If you don't, they explain: "Fini, On the Ridge, Infinitely Northwest." And infinitely barf-inducing.
Perhaps the last condo in town should be named Finis.
No, that would make too much sense.