The sign was installed in 1991 and has been mowed down twice by cars and replaced once before, but this is the first time someone has made off with the whole guidepost.
The guidepost that officially marks Fremont as the center of the universe has been gone for more than a week, stripping the Seattle neighborhood of its scientifically-proven* identity.
Earlier this month, the marker was swiped and taken apart by an apparent serial sign thief, part of a long history of art being destroyed in Fremont. Most of the “welcome to Fremont: the center of the universe” road signs have been stolen, and the donation lock box at The Troll has been badly damaged, for instance.
“You can break, you can steal our art, but we’re going to make more,” said Maque daVis, a retired state safety official who designed the original “center of the universe” sign.
On Saturday, daVis and a dozen or so local artists began to rebuild. They started the work for the new sign at the Fremont Arts Council Powerhouse — the open workshop space on Fremont Avenue where solstice parade floats are made.
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The (former, and future) guidepost says “center of the universe” in vertical letters and is topped with planks pointing to various destinations both nearby (TROLL; 2 BLKS), far away (LOUVRE; 9757 KM), and far, far away (MILKY WAY; 69 LT. YRS.). At the top is a signpost pointing up: “NOOGIE; TOP OF HEAD.”
They plan to stake the new sign back into the ground next Saturday, weather permitting.
“The center of the universe is a landmark, not just in Fremont but in Seattle,” said Cameron Larnerd, one of the volunteers who came out to help with the “resurrection” of the sign. “I like the history of it — the fact that it was put up in a rogue sense.”
daVis, his wife and a few artist friends installed the guidepost in 1991 on the pedestrian island at the busy intersection of Fremont Avenue North and North 35th Street, just north of the Fremont Bridge.
“It never had a permit,” daVis said. They got the idea over beers when someone mentioned that art felt like “the center of my life, the center of my universe,” a phrase that “really struck me,” daVis said. They picked the destinations based on their various interests — Timbuktu, for example, because it has a great library (and a funny name).
“It was the way Fremont was then,” he said, noting such “art attacks,” — or unauthorized art installations — were fairly common. “Before gentrification, there were a lot of artists in Fremont.”
As housing costs have soared — the average rent in Fremont is now above $2,000 and home values have topped $800,000 — those artists have mostly disappeared, he said. Even he now lives in the Frelard neighborhood between Fremont and Ballard.
In this case cost won’t be an issue for the new sign because Dunn Lumber donated the wood and Stoneway Hardware the paint. Typically these roadway projects carry permit costs to install or cops to direct traffic but that probably won’t happen in this case judging by the fact that daVis rubbed his chin and said “hmmm” when asked about permits this time.
This will be the sign’s third iteration. It’s been knocked down twice before by cars but never stolen. The latest sign will be largely the same but will include at least one new directional marker, to the March/April Moisture Festival, and one of the foreign cities might disappear, but daVis couldn’t remember which one and left his list at home.
Although it is accepted fact now that Fremont is, indeed, the center of the universe — the Metropolitan King County Council made it official with a proclamation in 1994 — it wasn’t always that way. The Fremont Chamber of Commerce says the calculations were made in 1991 by a group called the Fremont Scientists “after a careful and considered study.” daVis and pals got the proclamation after writing to various entities — from City Hall to the United Nations — asking to secede.
“When you get close to (the sign), you feel the centrifugal winds,” Mark Ukelson, who is involved in the Fremont arts community and leads the Fremont Tour, said while making grand hand gestures.
Nonetheless, it may offend some Fremonters to know that the Wikipedia page for “List of places considered to be the Center of the Universe” lists dozens of cities that have been claimed, in fact, to be in the middle of it all.
So what exactly happened to the guidepost?
The Fremont Arts Council posted a three-second video on its Facebook page that appears to show a woman breaking apart the sign in the darkness.
daVis said a Seattle police detective told him the woman is a “serial sign stealer” and that they were considering forwarding the case to mental-health court, which he recommended. (“She needs help in a different way,” he said.)
Initially, “I was angry,” daVis said. But he’s moved past the theft and is looking on the bright side; the sign was getting weathered and needed some work, anyway.
The Fremocentrist blog says neighbors at the ETG Coffee shop have video of the woman driving away in an Audi. daVis said video has been turned over to Seattle police.
Seattle police said their detectives are working on the case but declined to say if there was any suspect information, or comment on the whereabouts of the stolen guidepost.
The exact timing of the theft is apparently somewhat of a mystery, as well. Police said they received a report on the morning of Nov. 2. The arts council reported the theft happened on the evening of Nov. 6. The Fremocentrist blog has the theft as occurring on the afternoon of Nov. 7. One of the volunteers at the sign painting said he heard it happened in broad daylight at 5:30 p.m. before being reminded that it is now gets dark earlier here.
daVis said ultimately he’s happy that local artists could restore the signpost and noted that a few people who had never been down to the Powerhouse showed up Saturday to help.
“I was surprised by the amount of concern for this,” daVis said. “I’m gratified that people want to be a part” of this.
*note: no science involved