The Art Inventory

As Fremont Surges Westward

by Kirby Lindsay, posted 29 April 2013


North 36th Street once lined with houses and industrial workshops now has bars, restaurants, boutiques and industrial workshops. Photo by K. Lindsay, Sep '09

The legend states a river of beer runs through the west side of Fremont, underground.  That legend, carefully crafted to create awareness of the thriving retail and industrial businesses here in the 1990s, contains not a kernel of truth.  It does however point to a theme of the development of West Fremont – we like our adult beverages and small indulgences.

Of course, the same could be said of, well, nearly all of Fremont.

Climbing Up?

For Fremont’s first 100 years, our retail district congregated in a relatively small area near the north end of the Fremont Bridge.  In 1880, the few businesses here – hotel, drug store, post office, opera house, etc. – existed near the intersection of Lake and Ewing Streets.

In 1980, long after Lake had changed to Fremont Avenue and Ewing converted into N 34th, the retail heart of Fremont still only covered a few blocks.  It had grown up-hill, a bit.  Downtown Fremont ended at N 36th St on Fremont Avenue where the Fremont Public Association rented space for offices and a food bank.

Still, a gulf remained between the FPA and its next commercial neighbor up the hill – The Buckaroo Tavern at N 42nd.  A few enterprises were started, and ended, in that gulf but most found limited foot traffic as those down the hill failed hike up – and those in Upper Fremont, or the Top Of The Universe as it can be called, rarely saw reasons to toddle down (I did mention The Buck, right?)

From Taverns To Breweries

McMenamin's Dad Watson's brew pub, located in Fremont Village Square - seen here a few days before in closed in June 2011. Photo by K. Lindsay

Fremont also had taverns in its Downtown, and to the west as well.  For decades, a tavern set the westward boundary of Downtown – in 1980, at 3507 Fremont Place N, sat The Classic.  Farther west, explorers could find The Midget at 206 N 36th St.

Between the two other businesses, mostly industrial or artist’s studios, did dot the landscape.  A former grocery operated at 462 N 36th as a training and distribution center for Safeway stores.  Next door, Baby Diaper Service had laundry facilities that filled the air with clean, fresh scents dryer scents which competed with the yeast smell from Tyrell’s Dog Food factory at 155 N 35th St.  Maritime suppliers, a mattress distributor, Wright Bros Cycle Works, Hoffner Fisher & Harvey Funeral Home, and a violin craftsman also operated on this relatively flat valley that hugs the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

In 1981, Peter Bevis would convert a warehouses into the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry (at 154 N 35th St,) and rent (without City permit) artists’ studios – with tenants sharing use of the bronze foundry.  Then, a few years later, the film processing company ProLab Inc. built a large, shared office building at 1st Avenue NW on N 36th St.

M&S Deli Mart opened before Pro-Lab, possibly in 1980, and served the area with groceries – and some beer – yet it would be 1987 when a small, independent brewery converted the former trolley barn, at 3400 Phinney Ave N, into an outrageously, and inexplicably (unless you believe in underground rivers of beer,) successful pub called ‘The Trollyman’ and a label, called Red Hook.

The retail tide turned soon thereafter.  In 1991, Ladybug Books opened up on N 36th near Dayton Ave N, which many declared ‘too far’ from Downtown Fremont, begin two blocks from The Classic – or The Triangle Tavern as it had been renamed.  Yet, within a year a Christmas decorations liquidator rented space halfway between the two, and then Baby Diaper Service bought the Safeway training center and converted it into retail spaces for a consignment shop, Bagel Oasis and Rain City Video.

Small, independent boutiques lining N 36th Street farther and farther west each year. Photo by Bill Crossman, Apr '13

None of these had any direct connection to the rivers of beer, but they did feed off a new vibrancy that Red Hook and each successive restaurant, bar and boutique fed into.  The rivers of beer myth came when, in 1995, Hale’s Ales Brewery converted a rubber hose factory at the true western boundary of Fremont (4301 NW Leary Way) into a brewery, and in 1996 when McMenamin’s opened a brew pub, called Dad Watson’s, in Fremont Village Square (the FPA long having relocated from the site.)

Chocolate, Whiskey & A Parade

If people dismissed rumors of beer, or were blind to the new neon and increased activity that sprang up, month-by-month, in West Fremont, they may have found the area as one of 50,000 people that line the streets for the summer solstice.

In the mid-1990s, organizers of the Fremont Arts Council Solstice Parade decided, in a rare moment of collective brilliance, to reverse their route.  Rather than pushing the sweat-powered parade up-hill (okay, it’s really just an incline, but still…) from Stone Way to the Fremont Fair grounds, they moved the launch area to an area, at that time, ‘just beyond’ West Fremont.  From NW 2nd Ave the parade now rumbles by an ever increasing number of storefronts along N 36th St.

In a comprehensively converted grocery store, Norm's Eatery & Roxy's Diner keep West Fremont fed at 462 N 36th St Photo by K. Lindsay, May '13

In 1998, when Red Hook outgrew the Center of the Universe, the surge westward had its own momentum.  In 1999, whatever ran in the water, or underneath it, attracted two thirsty Dino topiaries to our shores, and the enthusiasm for Fremont, and all things fun, also drew Fremont Studios to the now defunct dog food factory and Fremont Mischief distillery to Canal Street.  In 2004, Theo Chocolate took over the brick trolley barn – and led to rumors of the beer river having converted into a steady stream of the most high-quality, organic, fair-trade kind of chocolate.  Perhaps the Dinos drank all the beer…

It took nearly 100 years for Fremont to find its way west, but now the surge seems almost unstoppable.  Explore West Fremont and find its treasurers for yourself!

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©2013 Kirby Lindsay.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.


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