Fremont District, Seattle
By far the most famous feature of the Fremont District in Seattle is the Fremont Bridge Troll, but there is more to the story and neighborhood than just the troll.
This was once a very working class neighborhood with marine based industries along the water, and a railroad where the Burke-Gilman Trail now exists. As those industries closed the area became less expensive to live in, and so a certain group of artists moved in and started doing various creative things to the area.
Thus, as it became popular, many started asking about what was going on in Fremont. Eventually, the buzz was strong enough that a sign was erected declaring Fremont to be The Center of the Universe.
While the Fremont Troll is probably the most famous of the art works in Fremont, it isn't the largest. By far the largest are the remains of the manufactured gas plant, which was partially preserved as Gas Works Park on Lake Union. The Fremont Rocket is another large artwork, and there is also a statue of Vladimir Lenin to make things really off the wall. Tucked away in a far corner there is Peace Park. In fact, there are so many out of the way things that Fremont Hysterical Markers and maps are positioned to help visitors find their way around.
Every year, huge crowds arrive in Fremont for the Fremont Solstice Festival, which is a parade of eccentric getups. However, before the parade happens there is a semi-official naked bike ride that has basically become part of the weekend events.
The web site below gives you a bit more information, or go over to my Fremont Page.
The Fremont District has some very interesting artwork and mnonuments that have been discussed often and in depth before. This is one of the nicest areas of Seattle and I highly recommend a meal here at any one of the restaurants that align the streets. You can see the artwork in a few minutes so combine it with a meal.
At the very southern end of the Fremont District, you will find Gas Works Park. In the 1970s, the old city coal and oil gassification plant was being dismantled, and the city instead purchased the plant for use as a city park.
Parts of the dismantled gas refining equipment was kept in place as public art, other parts were kept as playground equipment, and parts of the building have been converted into picnic facilities. In an appropriate fashion, the old boiler room is now equipped with a large grill area, with part of the old boiler and tubes remaining.
A huge mount on the south side of the park (most likely parts of which are slag and other debris from the years of coal refining) features paved pathways to its summit, and an odd zodiac artwork compas and sundial. A very popular activity at the summit of this hill seems to be kite flying.
The park offers views of downtown Seattle and Lake Union. Not only is there the kite flying hill, but there are a number of other observation decks and platforms designed to provide a great view of downtown Seattle. To the west, if you are lucky, you might catch a few pieces of the Olympic Mountains.
A considerable part of the park to the north and west are grass play fields, so it isn't just the remains of the gas works that are here, but certainly that is the most well known part of the park.
In addition to the five photos of the park shown here, I also have a travelogue of the eccentric creatures that inhabit Gas Works Park.
The Fremont neighborhood of Seattle has always had a quirky alternative flair and historically has been home to eccentric artists and free thinkers. Once one of the more affordable areas to live close to downtown, it has seen real estate values rise and unfortunately has lost some of its counterculture mentality. There may be more places to eat or grab a coffee or beer now but you might not like the people grabbing one next to you. One thing that does remain is a statue of Lenin.
The 16 foot bronze statue took an unusual path in getting there. Originally, erected in what is now Slovakia right before the fall of Communism, it was taken down only a year later, and left to be sold as scrap metal. As chance would have it, a Washington State native was teaching English there and convinced officials it was a work of art. He managed to buy it for $13K but it cost him three times that to get it back to the US, mortgaging his home to do so. The poor guy died in a auto accident before he could get the okay to have it erected in Seattle. A year later, they did just that in free thinking Fremont, home to numerous unusual sculptures. It remains standing to this day, an odd proof of freedom of expression in the USA, the country that brought about the Velvet Revolution in the first place.
In the 1980s a statue was cast in bronze in Czechoslovakia of the late communist leader Lenin. After the collapse of communism, the statue fell, and was bought by an American, Lewis Carpenter. He brought it back to the Pacific Coast, and after his death it was installed in Fremont.
The 16-ft. statue is a strange sight in the middle of a major capitalist city, next to shops and restaurants and people milling about. But it is a distinctive piece in the Fremont area.
Take a city bus (#26 is fastest) over to Fremont and just walk around. There are many cafes,shops and a co-op (called PCC). At the PCC you may select a tasty, healthy and reasonably priced lunch or dinner from their buffet. The neighborhood is fun to walk around in and gives you a sense of creative, relaxed Seattle. Also, Gasworks Park is a delight, offering a unique view of downtown Seattle. Here you may see people dancing, hooping or practicing tai chi.
The Fremont Fair is held each year on the weekend of or just before Summer Solstice. Kicked off by the Solstice Parade at Noon on Saturday, it is filled with music, arts and crafts vendors, food, and, of course, a couple of beer gardens.
The Fair seems to get more an more popular each year, so parking is a nightmare. It's best to use public transportation - which is re-routed during the fair, as many streets used by the busses are blocked off for the fair.
One of the most liberal events in Seattle, The Solstice Parade is held by the Fremont Arts Council every year on Saturday nearest to Summer Solstice. The parade is notorious for its naked bicyclists (most covered in interesting body paint), and each year there is a big controversy over whether or not they will be arrested. They never have been, and probably never will.
All the entries in the parade must be human-propelled, and are devised by citizens. This is not a corporate-sponsored parade. It's pro-art and anti-establishment : )
The Freemont District is a great area to spend an afternoon. The Troll under the Aurora bridge at 36th Street is a fun thing to see on your walking tour of the area. The troll was scupted by four Seattle artists. Great photo opportunity :)
Trolls have long been a part of Scandanavian culture but this is definitely the biggest troll that I have ever heard about. The Fremont Troll is located at the northern end of the Aurora Avenue Bridge. It rises out of the depths, crushing a VW bug in one hand and missing an eye. It is made out of 2 tons of concrete and rebar and took seven weeks to make. DUring the festivals, including Halloween, it usually gets decked out for the occasion. It is something to see.
Only in Fremont, would a statue of the famous Russian Bolshevik leader be erected. The statue is 7 tons and is very impressive. It sits on the corner and definitely catches the eye. It was rescued from a town in Slovakia after the Cold War ended and brought to Seattle.
This by far was one of the most memorable experiences of my trip. The theatre was in a parking lot that filled up with locals all gearing up to was a cheesy movie and enjoy the seattle night. At one moment, I got up to stretch my legs and walked to the back of the crowd and just overlooked them with a sense of comfort. A couple hundred people there, families and friends, sitting on couches, blankets, rowboats, and chairs they all had brought and enjoying the night brought a huge smile to my face. If there was one moment that made me want to move here, this was it!
Because at the root of Seattle is a kind of Scandinavian-American culture, they've erected a stone troll under the bridge, just like Norwegian folklore. One eye glows at night, there's no charge, and its in an interesting part of the city. In fact, the whole north end of the ship canal strikes me as being very typically Seattleish, feeling very much like the city felt when I first arrived as an eighteen year old in a Navy uniform. When people wanted to see the "real" Seattle, this is one of the places I used to take them.
To find this, you need to go to the Fremont District and head just a tad east. He's under the bridge.
A seven ton bronze of Vladimir Lenin looks over a busy intersection in Fremont. If you can look past the surface oddity of finding this statue in the middle of a US city you will see some very beautiful lines. Lenin is portrayed striding forward with an heir of certainty and destiny. There is no hint of the surprise he must be experiencing.
Fremonsters believe that art can be more powerful than politics. The juxtaposition of Lenin and the cold war era rocket immediately South suggests we may sometimes be right. See my Fremont page for more suggestions on what to do in Fremont.
Location: one block West of Fremont Ave. and 36'th Ave. N. Take bus #5 or #28 to get from downtown to Fremont.
Under the Aurora bridge, there "lives" a troll. You might not even notice him if you didn't know he was there, so I'll have to make you aware of him... When you drive along the north edge of Lake Union, when you're under the Aurora bridge, look in the opposite direction of the lake, and tucked away under the bridge is a massive troll made of ferrocement. You can then turn onto the street and drive up to it. It was one of the odd art projects always being hatched by the Fremont folks, who are admittedly a little artsy and funky. I just discovered recently that a architect I know is the face of troll!