The Fremont Troll
Before the Fremont Troll moved in, the space beneath the Aurora Bridge was a dump site. Trash, weeds, and drug dealers. Then four local artists won a competition hosted by the 1990 Fremont Arts Council and the Troll moved in. Volunteers built it and grants funded it, and after two tons of ferroconcrete and seven weeks of work, Seattle had its own Troll under the bridge.
The Troll is forever crushing a car—a real VW Bug that used to be red. The Bug used to have a California license plate, too, before someone stole it. Despite one popular theory, this doesn’t symbolize a protest against people owning cars. It’s a statement against Californians moving to Seattle. The artists didn’t like Golden State culture contaminating the Emerald City, so they expressed their frustration via the Troll.
One mystery still remains, though: In late 2013, one of the Troll’s neighbors woke up to find a dozen bloody sheep skulls in his yard. A prank? An offering to the Troll? (The sculpture was partially inspired by The Three Billy Goats Gruff, after all). No one but the perpetrator knows who did it.
Waiting for the Interurban
This is, supposedly, the most popular piece of public art in Seattle. All of them, the dog included, change every few days. Locals dress them up to celebrate birthday parties, promote organizations, and protest public policy. When we took these pictures, Waiting for the Interurban had an orange, anti-cancer flair.
The sculpture includes five people, but the dog has the most personality. He has a human face—and not a very pleasant one. That face belongs to Arman Napoleon. He was one of Fremont’s founders, and the man who created Seattle’s recycling system.
Richard Beyer built this sculpture in 1979. Beyer had no formal art training, and no one really knows what’s inside the sculpture. Many claim the people are filled with empty wine bottles. Another, less-popular theory: they’re filled with wood. But the artist died in 2012, and short of cutting the sculpture open, no one can prove whether the rumors are true.
Late for the Interurban
This one’s new. In 2008, this sculpture brought J.P. Patches and Gertrude back to Fremont. The J.P. Patches Show had entertained kids in Western Washington throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s as a genuine cultural icon. Not to be outdone by all the other Fremont sculptures, this one, too, is interactive. You can hang buttons from J.P. Patches’ jacket lapels.
Both Late for the Interurban and Waiting for the Interurban pay homage to the old Interurban streetcar that used to run through Seattle. There’s only one streetcar line in the city these days, but it’s growing again, and in another decade, more people than J.P. Patches and Gertrude might be running late for the Interurban.
If you like controversy, read reviews about this Fremont icon. There’s even a Facebook page called, Seattle, Tear Down This Vladimir Lenin Statue. The page’s negative reviews and number of “likes” fight each other for dominance, because everything about this Lenin statue, it seems, turns into a fight between those calling it artistic and those calling it offensive.
It all started in Slovakia. Emil Venkov made the sculpture it, but he didn’t build your run-of-the-mill 16-foot-tall, 7-ton Lenin statue (the run-of-the-mill ones depict Lenin with books and peaceful things, and yes, there are a lot of massive Lenin statues). This one depicts Lenin with flames and guns–aggressive and edgy, back in 1988. Emil Venkov made sure this statue would start fights.
In 1989, a revolution broke out in Slovakia, and after the people knocked the statue over, Lenin lay face-down in the mud at a Slovakian storage yard until a man named Lewis Carpenter found that statue and saw art. He kicked out the homeless man who had been living inside the hollow sculpture, and he bought Lenin for $13,000. Then he mortgaged his house, and for another $41,000, he shipped Lenin to Fremont.
Carpenter died in ’94, but his family still owns Lenin. They were asking $150,000 for it back in 1995. As of 2006, the price is up to $250,000. No one has made a serious offer, but if it happens, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce will get a 35 percent commission and give that money to local artists, and there will, hopefully, be another iconic sculpture in Fremont.