In this two-part paper, responses of two, adjacent, seven-story buildings in Norwalk, California, to the Whittier-Narrows, Calif, earthquake of Oct. 1, 1987 are studied. Building A, instrumented according to code recommendations, and building B, extensively instrumented, are offset by 16.3 m from one another. The data set includes motions from the superstructure of both buildings, from a downhole below the foundation of building B, and from three free-field sites. Part I of the paper includes descriptions of the buildings, site, instrumentation, and analysis of the data of each building. System identification and spectral analysis techniques are employed in part I. Building A has identical first-mode frequencies of 0.65 Hz for both building axes. The strong-motion response characteristics of building A are considerably different than those determined from low-amplitude tests. Building B has fundamental modes at 0.76 Hz and 0.83 Hz in the major and minor axes, respectively. Torsional and diaphragm effects in building B are negligible.