The highly walkable Fremont neighborhood of Seattle has many artworks in easily observable outdoor settings.
Some of the best-known artworks are the statue of Lenin located just west of Fremont Avenue, and the Fremont Troll on North 36th Street underneath the Aurora Bridge.
The Fremont Troll is such a popular attraction that the City of Seattle re-named the segment of street under the bridge “Troll Avenue” to make it easier to find.
Walking along North 34th Street which parallels the ship canal, we can see three-dimensional art pieces, sculpture, mosaics, planters and landscaping which tell the stories of history and events in Seattle.
This article will highlight only the artworks along North 34th Street from the intersection of Fremont Avenue, eastward two blocks to the corner of 34th & Stone Way.
A stroll across the Fremont Bridge
A scenic, enjoyable and free activity is a stroll across the Fremont Bridge which spans the ship canal. The bridge itself is decorated with artworks including Rapunzel, the maiden of folklore who let down her hair from her tower so that her prince could climb up the tower to be with her.
The neon Rapunzel sculpture is by local artist Rodman Gilder Miller. He has several other art installations around Fremont, including glass flowers in the fence of the Starbucks at the intersection of 34th & Fremont Avenue.
From the Fremont Bridge, which is the lowest of the ship canal spans, one can watch marine activity and enjoy the skyline of the city across Lake Union.
At the bridge approach to North 34th Street, a sign proclaims the entrance to the Center of the Universe. The commercial district along North 34th Street features outdoor artworks.
The south side of North 34th Street
The Within Reach bike rack at 701 North 34th Street is the first art piece at the north end of the Fremont Bridge. The sculpture by Troy Pillow was installed in May 2013 and has multiple aspects. Its shape recalls waves and water while also functioning as a bike rack in recognition of the nearby Burke-Gilman Trail.
The artist, Troy Pillow, said that “it’s an honor to create an installation for this community. Fremont is known for its cycling culture and appreciation of art. Within Reach was created in celebration of both — in a style that was inspired by nature’s simple movement.”
Intersection of 34th & Fremont Avenue
The life-size sculpture at the intersection of 34th & Fremont, just north of the bridge, is called Waiting for the Interurban.
Designed by Fremont resident Richard Beyer in 1978, Waiting for the Interurban is made of cast aluminum and depicts six people and a dog. The sculpture is highly interactive, a favorite spot for taking photos and for dressing up the figures in seasonal costumes.
Waiting for the Interurban commemorates the rail line which used to cross the Fremont Bridge and continue on northward to the city of Everett.
Fremont has a strong history as a transportation hub with the bridge, water transport, streetcar and rail lines. The original developers of Fremont were investors in the streetcar lines of early years, because they knew that access to transportation would increase the value of their housing developments. Other developers, such as William Wood of Green Lake and Guy Phinney of Woodland Park, connected their lines to the “hub” point at the intersection of 34th & Fremont.
The first streetcar line to Fremont was built along Westlake Avenue, out from from downtown Seattle. Later the Interurban Railroad continued that route, and Fremont got its nickname as Center of the Universe in part because the intersection of 34th & Fremont was a hub for lines in every direction.
Near the Waiting for the Interurban sculpture is the Quadrant Lake Union Center Mosaic, a piece of art imbedded in the sidewalk. The name of that cluster of buildings at 701 North 34th Street is spelled out in bricks around mosaic tiles. A geocache is imbedded in the mosaic to mark the site which is the headquarters of Geocaching.com and Waymarking.com.
Eastward along North 34th Street
A companion to Waiting for the Interurban is another sculpture called Late for the Interurban, located at 837 North 34th Street, about 250 feet east of the Fremont Bridge. The bronze figures of television clown JP Patches and his sidekick Gertrude commemorate their show which was one of the earliest broadcasts for children in Seattle. It was broadcast on a local station from 1958 to 1981.
The JP Patches and Gertrude sculpture was created by artist Kevin Pettelle and paid for primarily by donations. The sculpture was unveiled in 2008 in the presence of the real JP and Gertrude, Chris Wedes and Bob Newman (both are now deceased). The two men spent decades doing charitable work such as fundraisers and visitation at Childrens Hospital in Seattle, so the sculpture commemorates that work and features a donation station.
The building behind Late for the Interurban has the Solstice Plaza at 801 North 34th Street. The plaza is set back from the sidewalk and is a center planter in the shape of the sun.
Materials of the Solstice Plaza artwork are terrazzo and cast bronze planets, glass stars, and bronze text. The planter illustrates earth’s progress around the sun. The Solstice Plaza was created by Judith & Daniel Caldwell of Caldwell Sculpture Studio, 1998, commissioned by the Quadrant Corporation.
The Fremont neighborhood has had an annual summer celebration, the Solstice Parade, since 1989, so the Solstice Plaza artwork is in tribute to that event and to Fremont’s claim as the Center of the Universe.
The plan of the Plaza shows earth’s progress around the sun and the imagery of the passage of the seasons. Cast bronze text set into the top of the planter quotes a passage about the sun and its progress from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost: “What if the Sun be Centre to the World?”
The north side of North 34th Street: under the Aurora Bridge
Over the years of history in Fremont the buildings in the commercial district along North 34th Street have gone through several transformations.
When Fremont was first incorporated and lots began to be sold in the summer of 1888, there was a land-rush type event with both businesses and houses built along North 34th Street. Then in the early 1900s more commercial businesses went in.
The industrial buildings of the early 1900s along North 34th Street, such as a steam laundry, iron foundry, auto repair and radiator shops have given way to another phase of development: gleaming office buildings for high-tech companies.
One of the newest buildings is DATA 1 at 744 North 34th Street. Completed in 2017, the DATA 1 building is the home of the Tableau software company.
The DATA 1 building is next to the Aurora Bridge which soars over North 34th Street and out over the water, spanning the ship canal. Aurora Avenue was an ordinary street until it was made into a highway in 1932. It is also called Highway 99.
Underneath the bridge is the remaining segment of the residential Aurora Avenue. In the year 2005 the City of Seattle changed the name of this two-block segment, between North 34th to 36th Streets, to Troll Avenue. (City of Seattle Ordinance #121877.)
The Fremont Troll art piece is directly under the bridge on Troll Avenue at the intersection of North 36th Street, two blocks uphill from the point of North 34th Street pictured here.
The DATA 1 building on North 34th Street is the site of two art installations which celebrate freedom and the triumph of the human spirit. On the east side of the building along to Troll Avenue is mounted a fragment of the Berlin Wall. The fragment has a plaque explaining where it came from and how it was brought to Seattle.
The Berlin Wall divided East and West Germany and was torn down by its citizens on November 9, 1989, during the collapse of dictatorial rule of the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. We remember this significant historical event at the Berlin Wall and what it represents, the freedom of self-rule.
The Berlin Wall fragment is twelve feet high and four feet wide. It was originally installed in Fremont in the year 2001 close to the spot where it is now. It was put into storage while the DATA 1 building was under construction.
On the western corner of the DATA 1 building, facing North 34th Street, is a metal sculpture with the inscription Berlin 1936. The figure of a rower with his tall oar recalls the story of The Boys in the Boat, the crew racers from the University of Washington, Seattle, who entered the Olympic Games in 1936. In the face of Hitler, Germany’s autocratic leader, the American crew triumphed in their race and showed that free people of the USA, not under Hitler’s regime, could achieve greatness.
The metal crew-racer figure at the DATA 1 building does not have a name notation except for the plaque which says Berlin 1936. Passersby have begun to refer to the figure as “Joe Rantz” because of its resemblance to the main character in the story as told in the book, The Boys in the Boat.
Under the Aurora Bridge: the Watershed building
Like the DATA 1 building which has one corner under the Aurora Bridge on the west side of Troll Avenue, the Watershed building hugs the bridge on the east side of Troll Avenue.
The Watershed at 900 North 34th Street, completed in 2019, is one of the newest commercial office buildings in Fremont. One of the tenants is the Weber-Thompson architectural firm which designed both the DATA 1 and Watershed buildings.
A principal feature of the Watershed Building is its water-scrubbing landscape of plantings along Troll Avenue. These bioswales retain and filter rainwater runoff from Troll Avenue and from the Aurora Bridge overhead.
The bioswales are a series of outdoor terraces on the steep Troll Avenue where it meets North 34th Street. The natural filtering of rocks, sand and plants helps ensure that toxic runoff from the bridge and the roadways does not leach down into Lake Union.
Corner of North 34th Street & Stone Way North
A few steps farther east of the DATA 1 and Watershed office buildings is the corner of North 34th Street and Stone Way North. Stone Way is the official boundary of the Fremont neighborhood, with the Wallingford neighborhood to the east.
At the northeast corner of the intersection is an office building with restaurant and retail space at the sidewalk level. At the corner, the Brooks Running store has installed a metal sculpture called The Medalist.
The Medalist was created when Brooks Running invited customers to donate their race medals to be made into this sculpture. Donations came from twelve countries, and 1,100 medals were used to create The Medalist.
The eleven-foot high figure was created from partially-fused medals by artist Larry Tate of Fabrication Specialties, Seattle, in 2014. The sculpture represents the love of running and the inspiration to achieve personal goals.