| I'm happy to be part of Ghosts
of Seattle Past, a soon-to-be-published atlas
conceived by Jaimee Garbacik. Tonight's Irish
Wake for Lost Seattle Places was a cavalcade
of visual art, readings, and performances. My
contribution to the book was a short essay about
Monkeyhut, which I expanded into this brief
slidetalk, presented tonight at Love
So I'm going to talk about Fremont, where I lived
I don't want to merely wax nostalgic for the good
old days, but instead try to isolate some of the
factors that made Fremont a special place to live at
the turn of this century. (Yeah, that's me
singlehandedly preserving the nude cyclist tradition
as documented by Seattle Times, but that's a story
for another day.)
Specifically I'll focus on this little triangle in
lower Fremont where a variety of conditions combined
to nurture a robust arts and activist community.
Call them the Four Factors: Favorable Zoning, Cheap
Rent, Public Spaces, and Community Catalyzers.
This area is zoned for industrial use, and some
actual industry remains today, but not much. This is
attractive because you can make all the noise and
mess you want 24/7--at least in theory.
Until about 2002, Fremont used to stink--literally.
What's now a multimedia production studio used to be
a Japanese dogfood factory mysteriously named
Uni-Heartous. Nothing helps keep rents low like the
lingering stench of rendering flesh.
Also important was a kind of neighborhood benefactor
and visionary, Pete Bevis, who built the Fremont
Fine Arts Foundry in the 80s and also was
responsible for bringing the Kalakala back
from Alaska, a feat on par with Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.
The 17,000 sq ft Foundry had 11 apartments and was
big enough for the
Lenin statue to be reassembled there. It
provided affordable live/work space to artists in
It was a lively place. People made highly refined large scale work...
...Ran a gallery devoted to socially engaged art,
and of course...
There was a side yard at the foundry that was itself
a sort of secluded mini-park (where I once saw two
guys tap a stolen keg with a nail and rock), but a
little ways down the street at the north end of
canal park there was a firepit with circular berm
around it that could seat dozens.
Every Sunday night, after the local flea market,
we'd have an all-night bonfire there, burning
...and the occasional goat effigy.
It was a place where artists, tech millionaires, and
transients gathered as equals to tell stories, sing
...and test flamethrowers. Not once did the cops
shut us down.
Fremont today is usually described as vibrant
or quirky, but back then it was synonymous with funky,
and no place was funkier than the Monkeyhut.
It was a low-rent shack with gutted interior near
the corner of 35th and 1st. It was rented by a
formerly homeless anarchist sculptor named Steve
Anderson, whose open-door policy made it a
combination art studio, rubber tramp encampment, and
photo courtesy of
North America's first
car-free day was headquartered there...
...and eventually Steve cobbled together a homemade
foundry in the backyard, sending flames shooting
skyward in his quest to melt and mold metal.
All that was more or less OK with the
neighbors--remember, industrial zone--but what they
objected to was how he'd run power cords out to
people reduced to sleeping in their cars and vans.
This act of charity got the neighbors complaining
and his landlord bowed to their pressure and evicted
So where is it all today? The fire ring was
flattened, the dogfood factory is now a film
production studio ("Conveniently located… in the
heart of Seattle's "Fremont Art District"), the
foundry is a catering hall ("The building morphed
with the times… Add to the history with your
event."), and Monkeyhut was torn down in 2002.
It's been a vacant lot for fourteen years. Recently,
the landowners put a fence up around it, but I'm not
sure what's left to protect. Thank you.
# # #
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