[published August 24, 2012 in the News Tribune]
What's amazing about The Fremont Tour is that when tour guide Mark
Ukelson gets a tourist to dress up in a mad-scientist getup and light
the Rocket, everyone plays along. What's even more amazing is that
passers-by stop and play along too.
But that's just the way Fremont is. The tour is just one way to
explore Seattle's funkiest neighborhood - including the famous
rocket-shaped sculpture - but it's a great way to get yourself into a
playful mood before hitting the rest of what the Center of the
Universe has to offer.
"A Fremonster is someone who's playful and who appreciates public art,
" declares Ukelson. Not wanting to argue with a guy who's dressed in a
yellow T-shirt and leggings, blue shorts and a rocket-shaped helmet,
the dozen or so tourists who've lined up in Solstice Plaza to take
Ukelson's Fremont Tour nod their heads earnestly.
For more than a year now, Ukelson has been leading the 90-minute tours
about the quirky public art that turned Fremont from warehouse blight
to vegan-alternative-yuppie magnet in just three decades. He covers
most of the art visible from the street, from "Waiting for the
Interurban" to the Fremont Troll, giving a detailed backstory but -
and this is key - turning every stop into a playful performance that
draws in not just participants but innocent passers-by.
After visiting the J.P. Patches statue, newly adorned with
commemorative flowers for the recently passed clown's alter ego, Chris
Wedes, Ukelson begins the fun at "Waiting for the Interurban, " that
line of gray-metal people endlessly waiting for a trolley that never
comes. He explains how sculptor Richard Beyer chose his own work
despite being on the selection committee himself, how he stashed wine
bottles inside the hollow metal figures, how the dog has a human face
and who it resembles. (Don't know? Take the tour.) He also explains
the local habit of "art attacks" - decorating the sculpture with
anything from scarves in winter to "happy birthday" placards.
Then he really gets going. Roping in Sandy Hagan, a good-natured
participant from Minnesota, he dresses him in a gray wig and Groucho
Marx nose, hands him a yellow rubber chicken, sticks him in front of
the sculptures bearing a sign saying "Welcome to Fremont, Center of
the Universe, " and proceeds to hail folks stuck at the traffic
signals. One bicyclist plays along, reading the sign aloud with a grin
before moving off.
"I think it's fun, " says Hagan, whose daughter booked him on the tour
thinking it would be a wacky thing to do.
And it is. Ukelson - a Fremonster himself awhile back and still a
member of the Fremont Arts Council - pauses in between each piece of
art to chat with shoppers - "Hey, we're on a Fremont walking tour,
wanna play?" - and shows both passion and considerable knowledge about
public art. At The Rocket, a ballistic missile relic from the 1960s
now mounted on the side of a building, he persuades a New York
participant to don a white lab coat and goggles, and about a dozen
passers-by stop to count down before the "launch" (a
strategically-placed fire extinguisher, which goes off rather
At Lenin's statue, he explains communism and its opponents - like the
artist, who depicted the leader leaving a trail of guns and fire - in
a way that the tour's kids could relate to. He points out Kurt
Cobain's first recording site and the in-ground bronze works by Anita
Fish that symbolize local trades.
Finally, he ends up at the Fremont Troll, the concrete monster famous
for holding up the Aurora Bridge. Explaining both the way it changed
the neighborhood from dump to destination and the way folks use it now
(Trolloween, wedding ceremonies, Shakespeare shows), he persuades a
Spanish tourist to put on a gorilla mask and pose for photos. Just
before winding up at the flowing water channel sculpture next to the
library, Ukelson also points out the Troll's neighbors: three metal
goats set into someone's front yard.
It's all good fun, and Ukelson's so gently enthusiastic, it's hard not
to come away with a feeling that if there were more art like this, the
world would be a happier place.
If you're in Fremont to eat burgers and fries, you're in the wrong
place. The epicenter of all things alternative, Fremont is the place
to go for hemp milk lattes, vegan breakfasts and organic salads. There
are plenty of eating options for any meal of the day, but a few stand
out for originality.
The Flying Apron (3510 Fremont Ave. N.) serves up only vegan and
gluten-free fare. The kale-sesame salad is super fresh, the brown rice
pasta lasagna is intensely tomato-ish, the banana bread meltingly
moist. It has a wide range of flatbread meals, salads and bakery
goods, plus coffee, in a we-take-ourselves-seriously brown leather
Pie (3515 Fremont Ave. N.) does, well, pies. Standards in the U.K. and
Australia, savory personal-sized pies are hard to find here, so Pie is
well worth the visit. The mac-and-cheese is a portable kid meal, the
broccoli-cheddar is creamy, and meat-based varieties include English
meat, triple pig, chicken and bacon/cheddar/egg. They also do chunky
fruit-filled ones such as mango peach and key lime, and serve locally
brewed beers, including Fremont Brewing.
For more dessert, Bluebird Ice Cream (3515 Fremont Ave. N., next to
Pie) is locally made and delicious, and Royal Grinders (3526 Fremont
Place N., behind the Lenin statue) does homemade gelato in funky
flavors, including sparkling basil-pineapple.
Silence Heart Nest (3508 Fremont Place N.) is one of the few diners
around with all-vegetarian breakfast food.
And don't miss a tour at Theo Chocolate (3400 Phinney Ave. N.), home
to the first U.S. factory that roasted and made its own fair-trade,
organic chocolate. The tour is interesting, but the tastings are even
better; you can then shop for your faves at the store.
As with eateries, there are just too many shops in Fremont to list, so
make sure you go with plenty of time and a full wallet. Among the
hit-list for goods you won't find anywhere else:
Fremont Sunday Street Market (North 34th and Evanston Streets, 10
a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays) is a treasure trove of everything from vintage
typewriters to hand-made jewelry frames to organic hemp clothes.
Mishu (465 N. 36th St.) does Harajuku-inspired fashion, combining army
jackets with Marie Antoinette skirts and lacy arm-warmers.
Hub and Bespoke (513 N. 36th St.) caters to cyclists with refined
retro taste: Think 1920s caps, belts made of inner tubes, and fancy
Bitters and Co. (513 N. 36th St., Suite A) has made all the upmarket
design mags with its driftwood-meets-eco-chic house décor.
Dream (3427 Fremont Place N.) does tribal print clothing and
tie-your-own-design Sseko sandals; Bliss (3501 Fremont Ave. N.) has
Euro-shirts and leather bags; while Burnt Sugar (601 N. 35th St.)
stocks pretty French paper goods and cowboy boots.
Find vintage stuff at Vintage Mall (3419 Fremont Place N.), books at
Ophelia's (3504 Fremont Ave. N.), and old LPs at Jive Time Records
(3506 Fremont Ave. N.).
Get a dose of sunshine at The Indoor Sun Shoppe (160 N. Canal St.),
which stocks sun lamps and lush indoor plants - great for a winter
Still have energy? The walkable option from Fremont center is the
Fremont Canal Park, a quiet walking/cycling track lining the north
side of the Lake Washington Ship Canal from Phinney Avenue to Third
For a bit more physical exertion, head to Gasworks Park (2101 N.
Northlake Way) where the old gasworks pipes, repainted in preschool
colors, make a great adventure for all ages. Try your parkour skills
on the firemen's poles over the sandpit. The conical hilltop is a kite
- - -
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GET TO KNOW FREMONT
The Fremont Tour
When: 3 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 1 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 30
(other times by group request, see website). Tour lasts 90 minutes,
rain or shine.
Where: Tours depart Solstice Plaza, 711 N. 34th St., Seattle
Cost: $20 advance or $25 day-of for adults; $16 seniors and students;
free for 10 and younger
Information: 800-838-3006 #1, thefremonttour.com
Theo Chocolate tours
When: 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 12:30 p.m. 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 4 p.m. daily
Where: Theo Chocolate, 3400 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle
Cost: $6 per person, ages 7 and older only; reservations necessary
Information: 206-632-5100, theochocolate.com
See us on King 5 Evening Magazine (June 01, 2015)