Hideous Times For Fremont Troll -- Vandals Damaging Under-Bridge Sculpture

A menacing troll sculpture under the Aurora Bridge has slowed traffic, attracted climbing children and provided a community focal point - but also has drawn troublemakers.

From the time the eye-catching, Volkswagen-snatching monster was finished in November, neighbors say it also has attracted a handful of vandals.

First, they chipped away at the concrete veneer that coated a battered red VW bug, a part of the artwork. Once vandals uncovered the glass in the windows, they battered that away, too.

Some homeless people who live under the bridge apparently have used the troll's shaggy mane for target practice with bottles, leaving glass shards behind.

However, one of the troll's creators, Ross Whitehead, believes the homeless are not the main problem.

``The people doing the damage are the 2 a.m. bars-closing crowd who are coming out of bars and driving past the troll and checking it out,'' he said. ``Neighbors around the troll said the bar-closing time is when the vandals show up.''

In any case, said neighbor Judith Jurji, the most recent vandalism occurred when trouble-makers pried open the Volkswagen's engine cover and spirited off a plaster bust of Elvis, which had been buried among other time-capsule items.

``I guess with urban art comes urban problems,'' said Jurji, whose husband went out with a flashlight to try and foil the midnight raid.

Community members selected the troll design from four sculptures to counter bridge blight. Artists and residents chipped in materials and labor to match a $20,000 city grant. They expected some vandalism; it's typical.

``We didn't think it was going to be that aggressive that soon,'' said Barbara Luecke, a Fremont Arts Council member and former sculpture project director. ``The troll was pretty much impenetrable, impervious to damage, but the VW is a VW.''

In an attempt to prevent further vandalism, members of the arts council last week filled the car with concrete. They welded the trunk cover shut. The outside will be painted with paint that simulates granite.

The arts council also has been working with the city to get floodlights to illuminate the dark recesses of the bridge. They will be installed by March 14, said Scott Forslund, a Seattle City Light spokesman.

The council is also forming a protective Troll Patrol - a stepped-up version of the loosely organized neighbors who regularly pick up litter and beer bottles.

Less certain is how the group will confront the larger issue of the homeless who dump trash and break glass around the sculpture. The squatters were there before the troll.

Jurji believes the artists who created the sculpture are responsible for coming up with some sort of solution.

``We hate to put up signs saying children can't climb,'' said Jurji, also a arts-council member. ``Children get such pleasure from climbing. It would be a sad thing to say no - and probably not very successful.''

Whitehead, a design-builder and one of four artists who made the sculpture, said efforts to landscape and otherwise improve the site were put on hold last November to await spring planting weather. He said installation of temporary lighting by the city, and hoped-for permanent lighting later, will encourage efforts to keep the area clean and should discourage vandals.

Whitehead and another artist, Will Martin, are selling T-shirts through Fremont-area merchants to pay for the work.

``The troll will get a certain amount of abuse - we can't help that,'' Whitehead said, ``but we hope the design will prevent permanent damage.''

One Fremont neighbor suggested making the slope leading to the flat earthen plateau steeper - and less comfortable for sleeping squatters.

Even though the bridge is state-owned, the city maintains the land underneath and would work with neighbors to reach a solution, said Kirk Jones, an Engineering Department supervisor.

``Maybe we can contribute some labor with donation of material,'' Jones said. ``Maybe we could donate the material, people could donate the labor.''