Monstrous New Fun In Fremont

Meet the Fremont Troll - long-nosed, stringy-haired, knobby-fingered - a menace that evokes a smile.

Its abode is the northern end of the ``Hall of Giants'' - the towering cathedral-like tunnel formed by the dozen concrete columns supporting that part of the Aurora Bridge.

With only half of its torso showing, the 16-foot concrete statue appears to be emerging from the ground. Its lone eye (once a hubcap) stares down the tunnel. The fingers of its right hand creep forward like the legs of a spider, while its left hand clutches a VW Bug that strayed too close.

``I love it - it's different!'' said Elaine Jones, a relief Seattle meter reader, who stopped by recently.

She wasn't alone. A steady stream of vehicles on North 36th Street slowed, swerved to the curb for a closer look and moved on.

The home of the Fremont Bridge, the Fremont Fair and the ``Waiting for the Interurban'' sculpture has another attraction now - the menacing troll.

Recently finished and dedicated, the troll is the work of a quartet of artists whose scale model won by a 2-to-1 ratio over three others among 1,300 votes cast by Fremont residents at last summer's Fremont Fair and later at the Fremont Community Center and Public Library.

Barbara Luecke, statue project director for the Fremont Arts Council, said the goal was to clean up an eyesore under the bridge and give the neighborhood ``a sense of place'' and a voice in selecting the art work.

The city accepted the council's proposal and awarded $20,000 in neighborhood matching-grant money, which the community equaled, primarily through donation of materials and labor, although it also is selling troll T-shirts at $15 each.

Luecke said 40 proposals were received from artists and artist teams from all over the country.

A panel of Fremont judges - Judy Jurji, who teaches design; Peter Bevis, a foundry operator and sculptor; Genevieve Vayda, an architect and painter; Terry Denton, community newspaper publisher; Mary Johnson of the Fremont Neighborhood Council, and Gordon Lagerquist, architect - narrowed the finalists to five. Four submitted scale models for the voting.

The troll is the brainchild of two Seattle architect-artists, Will Martin and Ross Whitehead, and of Steve Badanes and Donna Walter of the Jersey Devils, a nomadic art group with a New Jersey post-office box who crisscross the country doing art projects.

``It's one of those dumb 15-second ideas that just fits so well you can't really explain it,'' Martin said. But among other factors, the size of the Germanic-Scandinavian fairy-tale giant (although sometimes portrayed as a dwarf) was right for the area under the bridge, he explained.

Why is the troll snatching a VW?

``There are an awful lot of VWs in Fremont,'' Martin said, ``so, logically, what the troll would grab as it passed is a VW.''

The engineless Bug, which was donated for the project, also houses the project's time capsule. Whitehead said the artists covered the car interior with about 2 inches of reinforced concrete to provide a secure repository for the ``treasures'' some future generation may open.

The capsule includes a letter to a future governor of the state and some of the construction materials to give those who unearth it an idea of how the troll was built.

Many volunteers helped clear the area, dig the foundation and tie the wire mesh by hand over the statue's steel frame.

``We used 80 sacks of cement and 7 yards of sand on the upper structure of the troll, including the skin and hair, and, I believe, two yards of concrete for the foundation,'' Whitehead said.

Luecke said landscaping, irrigation and lighting remain to be done in the area, known as Bridge Park.

Whitehead said that one nice feature is that the troll is right under a bridge expansion joint, so when it rains, the troll's shoulders get a little wet, which the artists hope will promote some plant growth there.

``Trolls aren't too distinguishable from the landscape, according to Norwegian legend, which is what we hope happens to ours,'' Whitehead added.

But not everyone is enamored of the Fremont Troll. One local art critic described it as a ``cement monstrosity'' and a visible example of what can happen when the populace, rather than art experts, is allowed to decide on which art work public funds will be spent.

Luecke disagrees. It was important that the community have a vote, she said. ``It's already working to be what we want it to be,'' Luecke said. ``People already are stopping by after lunch or taking people there from out of town.''

Jones, the meter reader, tends to concur.

``I think the Fremont District is really old and unique,'' Jones said. ``It's different from Bellevue, and I think the art work should be different.''