Fremont Worries Change Is Turning The Red Door Corner

There goes the neighborhood - literally.

The historic Red Door Alehouse building in Fremont is going to be moved one block to the west to make way for a large, six-story apartment complex that some locals fear will overwhelm the artsy neighborhood.

"It's big and it could be beautiful," said Bradley Ehrlich, president of the board of the Fremont Arts Council. "But if they build to the envelope, it will be a dagger into the heart of Fremont."

Fremont's obituary has been written before - in fact, each new development seems to spur doomsday predictions about funky Fremont's demise.

But this time the projects involved are symbolic. The Red Door Alehouse is a local landmark, housed in a gray two-story wood-frame building that has stood at Fremont's entrance since 1903. The door is painted a bright lipstick red, offering motorists on the Fremont Bridge a come-hither kind of welcome.

Replacing it would be a new project with underground parking, street-level retail, and up to 150 apartment units. Not only would the Red Door be displaced, but so would The Dubliner pub, a pottery shop, a vintage home store and the parking lot where Fremont's Outdoor Cinema and flea market are held every weekend in the summer.

Out with the rowdy, in with the Audi.

"I wish they would slow down the gentrification of the neighborhood," said James Weimann, owner of the popular Triangle Tavern. "If you quote me on anything, it's that: Just. Slow. Down."

That's not likely. Fremont land owner Suzie Burke, who holds about 30 acres in the area, wants to develop her properties and has leased the Red Door site to Security Properties.

Bryan Fish of Bumgardner Architects, which is designing the project, says the building will fit in with Fremont's historic character, featuring high windows and ceilings in retail spaces.

Particular emphasis will be placed on the Red Door corner. "It screams for a landmark of some sort," said Fish. "It's really the gateway of Fremont."

But the biggest challenge is "to mitigate the scale away from a monolithic feel," said Fish, noting the project's six-story height potential. He said the design will be sensitive to community concerns.

"They'll do a quality project," agreed developer Dan Cawdrey, who built the handsome brick building that houses Dad Watsons, a local eatery. "I'm an advocate - we really need to upgrade that area." Will new building fit in?

Others agree, but question the project's scale. "If the design is wrong, it will be a monster," said Mike Peck, a Fremont land owner and developer. "It's going to be a whale in a china shop."

Actually, one might expect to find a whale in a funky Fremont shop - Fake Willy, the 16-foot killer-whale replica, was once housed in a hot tub at Fremont's CBM Chocolates. The neighborhood is known for its odd sights - a rocket affixed to the side of a junk shop; a statue of Lenin; a troll lurking under a bridge.

The Red Door building isn't as outrageous, but it's beloved. A team of horses pulled it into Fremont during construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1903. In 1917, it was hoisted up on stilts when Fremont Avenue North was raised.

"It's like a forest under there," Burke said of pilings beneath the structure. For the move, "we'll just roll down the street to the west." The building will come to rest on a parking lot she owns at Evanston Avenue North and North 34th Street. Burke is proud of her effort to save the Red Door building. Thrifty by nature, she wants to recycle the old building and expects the alehouse to move with it. The business owners are considering it but haven't made a final decision, said co-owner Deanna Duskin.

Saving the structure would help soften opposition to the new project, although Burke makes no apologies for the development. She argues that apartments are a good addition to Fremont, citing the need to house some of the 500 employees at the Adobe Systems headquarters east of the Fremont Bridge, also on Burke property.

On the west side of the bridge, Quadrant is planning another 250,000 square feet of office development. Those buildings will be five stories high, of which three stories will be visible from the sidewalks of Fremont.

That type of development has spurred new business ventures and other property development in Fremont. For example, Peck plans to build a four-story structure on Fremont Avenue North, across from City People's Mercantile and below the Fremont Baptist Church.

It will be a quirky mix of parking, retail, office, and live-work spaces, topped by a dome skylight and propeller. In other words, the building will sport a beanie.

The Fremont-inspired design is getting good reviews, although one merchant politely lamented the "Disney-ization of Fremont."

Peck is undaunted. He owns five properties in Fremont, which lease from $16 to $36 a square foot annually, rivaling rents in some parts of downtown.

"It's good times," he said of Fremont's success. "The businesses are successful here and are able to support that rent."

Others disagree.

"A little artist craftsman can't make it here," says John Page, who owns a pottery gallery on North 34th Street, but will move to the Olympic Peninsula when his shop on North 34th is displaced by the new apartment complex.

"Fremont, as we know it, is dead."

Linda Keene's phone-message number is 206-464-2210. Her e-mail address is: