Interactive Fremont

Fremont is a piece of interactive art. Its buildings, streets, public art, restaurants and stores seem to compel creation and recreation.

The neighborhood was first created out of a 240-acre plot of land purchased for $55,000. The new town was named Fremont, after the Nebraska hometown of Edward Blewett, a millionaire pioneer real-estate developer. Blewett returned to the Great Plains shortly after his Seward-like bargain buy, but people were fond of the place, and stayed to assist in its evolution.

While Fremont became a part of Seattle at the beginning of the 20th century, it retains a feeling of independence from the sprawl of the city. The Ship Canal on one side and Phinney Ridge on the other have kept the neighborhood tucked away, like a mountain village sheltered from the outside world. The locals flaunt this free-spirited streak. There was a mock secession vote in 1994 and one of the town's nicknames is, in true Texas style, the Artists Republic of Fremont.

Indeed, no matter what type of starving artist you are, Fremont is a good place to reside during your formative years. The neighborhood is host to a pottery studio, a foundry, a glass works and a few framing stores. The artist-friendly atmosphere has resulted in Fremont becoming the home to some of Seattle's finest public art, which make even walking through the neighborhood an enjoyable day-long activity.

The Interurban Sculpture is the most interactive piece of art in Freemont. Located between multiple lanes of automobile traffic, the statue commemorates better days of mass transit, when the light-rail interurban line connected Downtown with the outlying neighborhoods. Richard Beyer created the sculpture of five people and a dog with a human face in 1979, but it is in the constant process of recreation. Over the years, the statues have been dressed and decorated in a panoply of styles, from wedding congratulations to Mariners paraphernalia.

Another piece of public art, the Fremont Troll, is most interactive if you like climbing. The monolith beneath the Aurora Bridge is made of steel, wire, two tons of concrete and an old Volkswagen. Steve Badanes and a team of artists constructed the troll in seven weeks.

If you are a musician, the Fremont Drum Shop and Dusty Strings can supply you with an instrument. Once you are able to carry a tune, you can earn tuition money busking outside Adobe Software's headquarters or see if The Dubliner will let you take the stage on a Friday night.

If you are a writer, Twice Sold Tales of Fremont and six other bookstores can offer you authors to emulate. The Still Life Cafe offers a good place to read whatever book was purchased or write your own. If you write poetry, you can trundle downhill to a reading at Wit's End Bookstore and Teashop. If you write plays, you can amble uphill to try and get yours performed at Empty Space Theater, an avid supporter of new plays and writers.

Fremont has thought of itself as the center of the universe for some time, but only in the early 1990s did the local businesses decide to commemorate their axis location with a monument.

When AJ's Surplus decided to scrap the circa-1950 Cold War rocket fuselage attached to its Belltown building, Fremont acquired the large metal shell. The monument sat in Freemont for two years before attempts to erect the rocket began, which were not completed until 1994. The rocket bears the neighborhood crest and motto: "De Libertas Quirkas," which means "Freedom to Be Peculiar."

In Fremont, this freedom has led to a proliferation of the peculiar and the out of place. Tucked in the courtyard next to a Taco Del Mar is a seven-ton cast-bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin.

The Soviet-sized piece of art, created by Emil Venkov over 10 years, was originally erected in Poprad, Czechoslovakia. The statue was toppled during the 1989 revolution and brought to the Puget Sound by an American teacher who mortgaged his house to pay for the acquisition. As if having a statue of Soviet communism's ideological leader was not unique enough, the statue itself is an aberration. It is one of the few, and possibly the sole representation of Lenin as a soldier instead of a teacher, surrounded by guns and flames instead of holding a copy of Karl Marx's work.

It seems the rest of the neighborhood falls around these pieces of art like the trappings of royalty. Restaurants serve foods of every flavor -- Thai, Japanese, Caribbean, Greek, Mexican and even Mama's Brown Bag lunches. The neighborhood is also host to a new Puget Consumers Co-op, allowing home cooks to serve their own flavors. Antique stores fill the alleys, and import shops such as Istanbul Imports spill their wares onto the streets. While there is no Wal-Mart, stores like Delux Junk offer an amazing array of items, from eight-millimeter recorders and eight-track tapes to pins endorsing and condemning every political opinion to nostalgia for every generation since World War I.

Every Sunday these small eclectic shops explode into the neighborhood. The weekly market is as thriving as any in a consumer society that has produced too many goods, as Lenin preached. As a result, you can pick up whatever you need for a bargain, just how Blewett got Fremont.

For more information, visit www.fremontseattle.com.

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