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Footloose In Fremont

If local proclamation (and signage) is to be believed, the Center of the Universe is located just North of the Lake Washington ship canal, over a drawbridge with a neon Rapunzel in the control tower window. To the immediate East, the much larger and more sinister George Washington (aka Aurora) Bridge rises high above, spanning over the water and continuing overhead, cloaking the road beneath in its shadow. This is, of course, Seattle's famously weird Fremont neighborhood.

By the late 1970's, decades of hard luck had transformed the traditionally blue-collar area into a low-rent district.

This attracted a high concentration of college students, artists, hippie holdovers, and eccentrics. In other words, a rich assortment of free spirits who were just off-kilter enough to tip the neighborhood's precariously balanced sanity. The locals developed an especially tight community bond which not only inspired them to be good stewards of their home turf; it encouraged and reinforced their inherent weirdness.

This influence exists to this day, thanks to its residents and groups like the Fremont Arts Council. Fremont's official motto is “Delibertus Quirkus”— allegedly Latin for “Freedom To Be Peculiar.” An outing to see Fremont's roadside oddities — easy enough to do on foot — verifies that this freedom is exceedingly flaunted on its colorful streets.

Directional Sign
If, as the locals claim, Fremont is the Center of the Universe, the signpost at the intersection of Fremont Avenue and Fremont Place designates the exact center, for those who like to get specific about such matters. For your convenience, it also points to several other destinations of interest. Among them: The Louvre (9757 km), Atlantis (663 fathoms), Wall Drug (1053 miles), and Noogie (top of head).

The Lenin Statue
A bronze statue of a Soviet patriarch in modern-day America? It just goes to show that anything is possible in Fremont! Naturally, displaying such a relic has led to a polarizing effect. Some folks, especially immigrants from former Iron Curtain countries, denounce the statue's presence as an outrage, a monument to totalitarian misery. Others claim that it's strictly intended as a curio, and the only statement attempting to be made is that art outlives politics. (Although Communist Party USA does offer literature in an adjacent newspaper box!)

Whatever your take, the facts are these: the statue, by sculptor Emil Venkov, spent 5 years in a Slovakian junkyard following the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. In 1994, Lewis Carpenter, who was teaching there at the time, purchased and shipped it to his home in Issaquah as an investment in bronze. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident shortly thereafter. This left his family to deal with a 7-plus ton metal Bolshevik taking up space on their property. Arrangements were made to temporarily display the statue in Fremont until a purchaser came forward. So far, no serious offers have been made, so Lenin remains at the corner of Evanston Avenue North and North 36th Street, seemingly always about to jaywalk.

The current asking price is $250,000. The Fremont Chamber of Commerce has been working towards raising funds to purchase it themselves, so that the Lenin statue – already widely considered a Fremont mainstay — can truly stay.

The Rocket
Leave it to Fremont to recycle a symbol of Cold War anxiety into neon-accented, steam-spewing ornamentation! The Rocket is an authentic, circa-1950 Russian missile fuselage. In 1991, the 53-foot tall relic was salvaged from a defunct military surplus store. It spent some time in storage around Fremont, and in 1993 endured a failed attempt at assembly. A second go in 1994 finally yielded success, as the Rocket was secured to a retail building at North 35th Street and Evanston Avenue. Now adorned with space-age fins, portholes, neon, graphics, and a steam-spraying mechanism to emulate liftoff, the space vessel remains the perfect complement to the center of the universe! The locals hope to eventually incorporate a transmitter to the top of the Rocket, to broadcast neighborhood radio programming.

Troll Bridge
A favorite of many locals and tourists (not to mention publications and web sites), the gigantic Fremont troll continues to amuse and amaze at his hilltop haunt beneath the George Washington Bridge. The Fremont Arts Council, ever interested in fostering community identity through art, solicited proposals for something to occupy the bleak space beneath the bridge. The Troll, devised by a team four local artists, was voted the winner, and the Council sponsored his construction in 1990. Made of metal, wire mesh, and concrete, the Troll clutches a real (though by now, very decrepit) Volkswagen Beetle and stares at admirers with a shiny hubcap eye. In 2005, Aurora Avenue North, spanning the underside of the bridge and leading right to the Troll, was renamed Troll Avenue in his honor. In the summer of 2006, he sported a suspicious hole in his beard. It was later patched up, but for a little while some folks wondered if something even weirder was living inside!

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