‘The Trees’ – Growing up in Normandy Park in the 1950s and 1960s


Barb Sleeper, riding her horse, Dandy at the “farm”. It was taken by Gail Knapp’s dad, Russell Knapp The Knapps lived across the street from the pasture (“farm”) at 19251 Normandy Park Drive. Most of us rode bareback, as saddles were expensive. Both Gail and Barb were friends of mine and they had horses at the horse farm.

MargirMillerby Margie Miller

The trees, those magnificent trees! The year was 1954; I was only 4 years old but I distinctly recall the impact of seeing and smelling those giant conifers for the first time when we arrived from southern California. Mom and dad found a wooded lot for sale in the heart of Normandy Park and the excitement of going there each day while the house was being built was overwhelming. My brothers and I would run through the brush and under the trees in our Davy Crockett coon skin caps and Hop-A-Long Cassidy sweatshirts.

It didn’t take long after we moved in to find other neighborhood children to play with. After all, this was post World War II, the baby boom generation was in full swing. My brothers and I had friends within a short walk of our house and we played hard. In fact, we played into the evening and had to be called home with a whistle. Summertime activities included playing “Capture the Flag” and a game we must have made up that we called “Wax and Waves”. I think the Waves were the girls and so it was girls against boys in a war-like kind of way. We used bracken ferns for spears and spent most of the time running through the woods. One girl received a bracken fern spear to her leg and I remember my dad carrying her home to her parents. He was my hero (although he was a pilot of the B-24 Liberator during WW II, he rarely talked about it). Other outdoor activities included playing in a large swamp and collecting fairy shrimp and tadpoles. This swamp was located near the intersection of 200th and Marine View Drive. On summer days, we rounded up the neighbor kids and played baseball in Nestegard’s field of tall grass which was inhabited by a large bull. An even more daring activity was tree climbing. The woods are still standing (between 202nd and 208th) where we would climb as high as we could in the tall fir trees. My brother, Greg, and his friend, Dick Benedict, built platforms in the trees complete with little wooden shelves and books. Until recently, I could still look up and see those platforms. Dick’s sister, Diane and I would sometimes play and pretend we were pioneers. Our Red Flyer wagon was our covered wagon and our dolls the pioneers. We would bury “treasure”, too. One year, dad built wooden stilts, a pair for each of us. We walked all over the neighborhood in them and were the envy of the other kids. A few years later, my aunt Betty sent me a pair of “Rocket Shoes”, big metal shoes that fitted over regular shoes with springs on them so you could bounce, instead of walk. I don’t know of anybody else who had a pair, but I later saw them in the movie “Back to the Future”.

As we grew older, we wandered and played further from home within Normandy Park. During those years, the “horse farm” (now Normandy Province) became my second home. This expanse of pastures was the exclusive domain and a hub of activity for girls from age ten through sixteen. Between the pastures was “the lane” that connected to a large corral and on the opposite end was a gate that led to a barn. In the rafters of the barn was the remains of an airplane that apparently had crashed at that site in the 1940s. I also recall in those rafters a small collection of Barb Sleeper’s pet rats and mice. Although I didn’t have a horse during those years, I will never forget the first time Pam Johnson (Silvermoon) lifted me onto the back of her horse. To this day, I can still recall the names of all the horses owned by each girl. What I do not recall is ever seeing a parent or any adult on the farm. This is what I mean by exclusive domain. The girls were entirely responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of their charges. What haunts me still is the condition of the water trough at the top of the lane—it was filthy!

Adjoining the horse farm was Albright’s humus lake, Arrow Lake. It is now surrounded by beautiful homes but in those days, it was pasture. In the winter, we built a bonfire and ice skated on the lake (no parents there, either)! Other winter activities in those days involved the usual— stamp collections, marbles, Lennon sister paper dolls and playing with pick up sticks. An activity my brothers and their friends enjoyed when they were young was building with Lincoln logs and playing army. As they grew, they tinkered with chemistry sets and short wave radio sets. My older brother, Greg, was interested in photography and he learned how to develop his pictures in trays of chemicals down in a dark area of the basement.

In later years, an ice skating rink was built in Burien and we would often skate there. We did have a black and white television but viewing was restricted to evenings only, one hour at a time. If I was home from school sick, I got to watch all I wanted…Wunda Wunda and Queen For A Day were my favorites.

The bookmobile was a big part of my life. It would come once a week to the intersection of 208th and 1st Avenue. I would pedal my balloon-tired Schwinn to meet it and come back with my basket loaded with animal stories, especially stories of horses. Because of my love of animals, I paid particular attention to the wildlife of Normandy Park. There were lots of mountain beaver in the woods behind our house and those beautiful chartreuse tree frogs were everywhere. On the playground at Marvista, I would often see Kildeer birds. They built their nests on the ground and would feign a broken wing to keep predators away from their eggs. In the early years, deer roamed throughout Normandy Park.

Gail & Terry 3rd grade

Gail Knapp (right) and my best friend, Terry Gibbs. This is how we dressed to go to Marvista in those days. Terry taught me to ride and was a big part of my life growing up. She died at the age of 13 from an inoperable brain tumor.

Although I started my formal education at Des Moines Elementary school, I switched to Marvista in the first grade soon after it was built. I received a very good education there and I have good memories. In those days, I believe all the children walked to school. I don’t recall buses but there must have been. I do know that parents did not drive their children to school. I don’t think it ever entered our minds that walking alone could be unsafe. On nice days, I would walk home for lunch.

Each day at Marvista began with the flag salute. We often sang patriotic songs such as America the Beautiful, it’s a Grand Old Flag, etc. I remember how scared I was when it was my turn to bring the flag down at the end of the school day. I was terrified I would somehow fumble and the flag would touch the ground!

Another activity outside my immediate neighborhood was hiking down to Murphy’s beach (a short distance north of Normandy Park Beach). Getting to this beach involved walking down a series of switchbacks and crossing a creek. I don’t recall ever seeing adults here, either. One level area next to the creek was rumored to be the former home site of Mrs. Murphy. When I was older, a friend and I built a raft and took it across to Vashon Island from this beach (no parental knowledge of this activity either!)

One interesting old woman (Mrs. Menell) lived in the forest between 202nd and Marine View Drive. This was before the woods above our house was developed into Normandy Forest. My brother and I used to visit her; I think we thought she was interesting and mysterious because she lived alone. She had a very small house full of birds and she was kind to us. She also babysat us when we were younger.

As a teen, my summers were divided between Murphy’s Beach and Olympic View Swim Club (OVSC). My dad was responsible for getting the pool put in and I remember the work he and mom put into recruiting members. I had taken swim lessons at Steele and Angle Lake (can still recall trying to float on my back in icy water with rain coming down in my face). But it was at Olympic View where I swam on the team, life guarded and learned some office skills.

I am sixty-five years old now and with the passing years, I have come to realize what a unique experience I had growing up in Normandy Park. My mom, Jean Weeks, still resides in the house I grew up in. Thank you, mom for giving me such a wonderful childhood!


25 Responses to “‘The Trees’ – Growing up in Normandy Park in the 1950s and 1960s”
  1. Amber Raven says:

    What a cool story, thanks for sharing your history with us!


  2. Colleen says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your childhood with us. This is a treasure for your family to have for all the next generations. I talk to our grandchildren all the time about how our parents lived & how we grew up too! I believe it gives them a strong sense to appreciate their own childhoods too.
    Your storytelling is remarkable. Ever thought about writing children books?

    • Margie says:

      Thank you. I have thought of writing a book about a girl who is hiking and she finds an injured horse in the mountains. I miss the kinds of books I read as a young girl but I am not sure girls today would be interested in what I liked.

  3. Margaret Bailey says:

    Did you know Jack & Virginia Landstrom? Or their kids, Jack & Chris Landstrom, or Robert Lutz? They lived in Normandy Park back then. Cool history!!

  4. Julie says:

    Thank you so much! We have recently returned to the Normandy Park home I grew up in (70s & 80s). We are raising our three school-age kids here. I remember the horse pasture fondly. I was hoping I had pictures of it somewhere (besides my mind!) Do you? I learned to ride on a horse named Pharaoh. My friend and I took lessons there. We also spent summers swimming Arrow lake, and a winter or two we could skate it. I also remember being a free range kid here, roaming and bike riding everywhere.

    • Margie says:

      I have some small black and white photos somewhere taken at the farm but they are not very good quality. I didn’t own a camera until I was a teenager but I think I know of someone who does have some photos. i will contact her and ask her.

  5. Jean Burkhart says:

    Oh Margie, What a wonderful piece you have written

  6. Robyn Arnold-Jones says:

    Ahhh, I remember those days. I, too, kept a horse at the farm from 1957 to 1960. We formed the Normandy Park Saddle Club and one year rode in the Daffodil Parade. Those were magical days. We rode all over the Park. We followed a trail that started a the head of Miller’s Creek at 1st Ave. and trailed through pristine woods all the way down to the beach (across from the pool). I think of my childhoood living in the Park often and consider any of us that were a part of that time as very fortunate indeed. Hopefullly others will share their memories of our “Camelot’ also.

    • Margie says:

      I graduated with your sister, Wendy, I think (class of 1968). And didn’t you have a brother who life guarded at Olympic View Swim Club? Did you ever ride at Dode DeDonato’s? She had a nice ring right on first Avenue and a lot of girls brought their horses to ride at her place. I can remember a horse named “Sugar” but I can’t remember the name of the girl who owned her! I never did the ride you described (I had to wait until I was 17 to get my first horse because my parents said I was just going through a “phase”. I did ride a lot in Pollard’s field, though. Do you still have horses? We have three and I love to ride in the mountains. Do you still live in Normandy Park?

    • Robyn Arnold-Jones says:

      Margie. I will mention you to Wendy. She lives on Vashon.
      And our brother John was a lifeguard at Olympic and Normandy Park pool.
      Dee and Dode were my idols. Jan was a good friend and I spent a lot of time with them and their horses. Rode at the Pollards, too. Good times back then. Will connect again with you after I talk to Wen. Take care.

  7. Jerry Davis says:

    Hi Margie,

    I’m writing this from 19251 Normandy Park Drive (the address listed on the 1st photo). My folks purchased this house in 1969, I was a senior in high school. Before Normandy Park Drive we lived on 174th. I too enjoyed growing up in Normandy Park. My parents, Chuck and Faye Davis lived in this home from 1969 until their passings, Mom’s in 2013 and Dad’s just this December. I remember the pasture across the street from our home, and also when a plane crashed there about 1956 or ’57. Dad was volunteer fireman and I got to accompany him to the crash site and see the downed plane. We are now in the process of settling my parents estate, and will soon be putting the family home up for sale. My brother, sister and I have many wonderful memories of growing up in Normandy Park and it saddens me to leave this place behind. Thank you for sharing your stories.
    Jerry Davis

  8. Margie says:

    Jerry, you are welcome. I am sorry you have to leave Normandy Park but you will always have your memories. Thank you for sharing…

  9. Luey Anderson says:

    Hi Margie, ,what a fun read! I remember many of those spots and times too. We lived on 202nd and 8th avenue on North Hill above Normandy Park. I remember playing at the swamp, and picking blackberries in teh fields..they were everywhere! My brother got in big trouble for going into the swampt with his brand new shoes on and getting them soaking wet. We used to love to play in the woods when we were very young too..those particular woods, full of ferns and bracken so magical were torn down to build Olympic Junior High School, our old alma mater. Did you go to the Saturday matinees at the Burien theatre and spend all afternoon there? I remember a teacher, I think his name was Mr. Brown, had a “moonlighting” job ushering the mobs of us kids that came to watch Zorro! and other such gems in and out on Saturdays. Your article brings back a lot of images smells adn thoughts of those times. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  10. Margie says:

    Hi Luey, Did Mr. Brown teach at Marvista? I did go to the Burien theater and, for awhile, another theater right off first avenue (but further north) that looked like a metal quanset hut. I think it was torn down before too long. Most of the time, though, we went to the Des Moines theater to see matinees— Frances the Talking Mule, The 3 Stooges, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, etc. We would sometimes smuggle in our own popcorn under our coats.
    I am surprised you and i didn’t cross paths, sounds like we both liked swamps and playing in the woods! I do remember meeting you for the first time in Miss. Vandenberg’s Glee Club class (3rd period, Olympic Jr. High).

  11. Luey Anderson says:

    Hi Margie! We have had mutual friends since we were young kids, and it is surprising we never got to spend time together back then with each other! I always remember you from school days though. It would be a lot of fun to get together with you the next time Barb S. and I get out. We are working on a plan…want to be a part of it?! Message me on FB 🙂

    I am not sure where Mr. Brown taught. I went to North Hill Elementary. One of my best friends then, Mary Cross, lived in Del Rose Manor around that time…she had lived across the road from me on North Hill from when we were 4 years old, and then later moved but we stayed in touch for many years…maybe Mr. Brown taught around there, as Mary was the one that pointed him out to me as being a teacher.

    I spent lots of time at the Des Moines Theatre too. I remember having my mom take me and several friends to see “Gone with the Wind”, which was my favorite book at the time, to celebrate my 12th birthday. Another time Mom dropped off me, my sister, and some neighborhood girls to watch the current “double feature”. As you know, very little adult supervision took place on the spot then! I still recall seeing how shocked and horrified Mom looked when she walked in at the end of the movie to pick us up and saw on the screen a bunch of naked white men running down a dirt road with their backs/butts to the camera. We girls were pretty tickled with it, understanding it was surely a mistake they put a show like that on for the audience of mostly kids! But we just thought it was funny and naughty and surprising, and Mom was flummoxed as to what to say. . I still remember the name of the movie, surely only because of the special experience related to it, and I have no idea what the thing was about…it was called “What’s Up Jack?”

    BTW, I loved that Glee Club class…what special times those were!



  12. Kari Toye says:

    Your story is so totally awesome my name is Kari Toye- I could cut and paste your story and change the names to Kari Miller, 1017 SW. Normabdy Terrace, Normandy Park Elementary, Normandy Park Swimming Pool, Normandy Park Cove , I probably ride my horse weekly to The Farm and if ever there was an icon in my mind of Great moments in my child that was it. And add my friends Jane Hanley, Susie Harstad, Linda Mitchell, Charlotte Clayton.
    Your story puts us in parallel worlds just miles apart. I to am (last month) 65 years old- I climbed the trees and played in the ditches looking for polywogs and tadpoles and rode my bike’s and horses Thunder and then Ringo- a few miles from you.I’m sure we crossed pass at the moment I just can’t think.I’m going to read it over and over again and it’ll come to me. What a special story I can’t wait to share with my kids. I just don’t know if they can appreciate and get the chill that I had reading it. I’d love to see you again. My phone number is 509-952-2383 my head is just flooding with memories at the moment. Thank you thank you
    Please check my Facebook pages: Toye Thoroughbreds and Kari Toye
    Thank you big brother Burt Miller for finding this and sharing!

  13. Jan Orton Homel says:

    Hi Margie! Great story. I’m so happy my friend sent me a link to your article! I think our families knew each other. I remember going to your house! My brother and sister, Jeri and Doug, probably knew you better than I did, though. I got to enjoy all those wonderful parent-free experiences, too. I was lucky enough to get a horse when I was 13, and when I was 15, moved him to the Farm (no airplane in the rafters then, though). I can’t believe how far and wide we roamed. I used to ride bareback to the beach, and jumped logs with him. No helmet. No one knew where I was, I could have died! One experience I didn’t get, was playing in the swamp. I was forbidden! “Ours” was near the intersection of Normandy Park Drive, and Marine View Dr. Only once did I dare go in a little way. It was magical, with moss hanging from the trees!
    Thanks again for bringing back such good memories!

  14. Jan Orton Homel says:

    Julie! I was your riding teacher! I’m glad you have good memories of Pharaoh. He was a great horse.

  15. Lynn says:

    Do you remember the army bunkers behind the police station by Marvista? Was that a Nike misdle site? The air raid siren would be tested every day at noon and just about split my ears

    • TaLitha Bunch Terry says:

      Hi Lynn; I think I can answer your question. I myself grew up and went to school at Marvista Elementary. My parents were personal friends of the Murphy’s, who had originally owned the property you are speaking of. Joe Murphy owned all the property from 200th street all the way down to Arrow Lake. As a patriotic act during WWII, Joe tried to “give” the property to the US government. The government would not accept the land for free, but would paid him $1.00 for all of what that the old police station was located on. During the war, the government used the location as a helicopter station.

  16. Leslie Nuttman says:

    I also grew up in Normandy Park a few years after the writer, and she nailed it with her description of our childhood. I lived about half way between Marvista and the Cove on Marine View Drive, and our “swamp” was where the little City Park is now off Marine View Drive near Marine View Circle and 8th Ave. I walked up the hill through the woods behind that area to get to The Farm where a friend had a horse I got to ride a few times, also bare back. My recollection is that the teacher from Marvista who worked weekends at the Burien theater was Mr. McKinney, whom I had in 5th grade . (See comments). I remember being surprised that teachers had another life outside of school. And Mr. Brown was my 6th grade teacher at Marvista. His wife, Doris, was one of the early women marathon runners in the Puget Sound area and somehow, that translated to us running a lot in PE, too. Our summer evening game of choice was Kick the Can. We walked to the beach at the Cove and brought home clams in our pockets, and walked up through Pollards field to get tot he Dairy Queen to buy ice cream. And we walked the mile to Marvista and back unless it was really raining when one of the neighborhood mothers would pick us up. All without parents accompanying us. All in all, such a wonderful place to grow up. How fortunate we were to have the freedoms we had in another safer time.

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