De Libertas Quirkas: Seattle’s Fremont District


The mock Latin phrase De Libertas Quirkas, unofficial motto of Fremont and proudly encouraged on the side of The Rocket, roughly translates into “Free to be Strange.” No other place in Seattle can make that boast when Fremont has a statue of Lenin, a troll under the bridge, the Solstice Parade led by nude, painted bike riders and a sign that proclaims Fremont as the Center of the Universe. This is the People’s Republic (or People’s Soviet) of Fremont, as some would have it. To continue what we started last week with Pike Place Market, my wife and I decided to explore another of Seattle’s neighborhoods. We’d driven through Fremont many times, even stopped to eat at a restaurant or two, but never spent a half day just walking around and appreciating all the examples of its quirkiness. And there are many.

It has finally started to rain in earnest around here, but the forecast for today was partially sunny skies (high of 76o) with a 10% chance of precipitation. Fair enough for us to venture out without bumbershoots. As it turned out, the sun didn’t break through until the afternoon.

To avoid the frustration of finding parking spaces in Fremont which is largely RPZ-zoned or limited to two hours, we simply parked our car on the other side of the Fremont Bridge. This gave us the perfect opportunity to walk across the bridge, arguably the neighborhood’s most distinctive feature.

Painted in blue and orange, but now fading, and spanning the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the bridge is a double-leaf draw bridge (bascule) that operates frequently throughout the day to allow passage of high-clearance boats that are on their way to or returning from Puget Sound. It is the most opened bridge in the country, as many as 35 times a day. As if to emphasize this point, we were immediately stopped in our tracks, warning bells pealing, when we were ready to walk across. When the bridge drew down a few minutes later, an amazing number of bicyclists crossed the pedestrian and bike lane in both directions. At the northern end, we noticed high up on the two towers neon sculptures of Rapunzel on the west side and Kipling’s Elephant Child on the east (how the elephant got its trunk), which are best observed when lit up at night. Fremont Bridge is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fremont Bridge's southern leaf drawn up

Fremont Bridge’s southern leaf drawn up

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