The Fremont Fine Arts Foundry — once envisioned as a hub for a burgeoning Seattle arts colony — has been sold and will be transformed into a restaurant, wine bar and shop. Its creator, artist Pete Bevis, is leaving town.
It’s one more step in the evolution of Seattle’s quirkiest neighborhood, Fremont.
Artist Pete Bevis, best known for bringing the aging ferry Kalakala back from Alaska, has sold the Fremont Fine Arts Foundry he started more than 30 years ago and is leaving town.
The foundry complex, where Fremont’s Lenin statue was assembled and countless other artworks sprang to life four blocks west of the Fremont Bridge, has been largely vacant the past few years.
It will be reborn, possibly as soon as next fall, as a restaurant, Washington-wine bar and shop, said Dhruv Agarwal, founder of the wine-accessory company True Fabrications, now based in Sodo.
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Agarwal said the development will pay homage to the site’s creative past, retain the foundry’s smelting pit and display some artwork created there.
“Our vision is to create this public space with a lot of art incorporated in it,” he said, as well as to be part of a “burgeoning new food culture in Fremont” that includes a chocolatier and other new restaurants. He expects the cost to purchase and develop the site at $2.76 million.
Not everyone in Fremont welcomes more night spots. Matt Gasparich, president of the Fremont Neighborhood Council, said some residents worry that additional noise at night and crowds on the street at bar-closing time are leading to a “Belltownification” of the area.
But Gasparich said every change in Fremont over the past few decades — the arrival of high-tech businesses, the creation of large condominium projects — has had its detractors. And through it all, he said, the community has continued to be one of the city’s most vibrant and desirable areas.
For Bevis, walking away from the foundry complex he envisioned as a cornerstone of a bustling art colony won’t be easy. “But as my grandmother would say,” he added, “it has served its purpose.”
The 17,000-square-foot concrete structure, with two main floors and a two-story penthouse on top, included work spaces for a variety of artistic media, as well as 11 apartments where artists could live and work
“My goal was to build a professional facility for professional artists to do a professional job,” he said. And in the early years, Bevis said, it worked. He said 30 to 40 percent of the artists who worked there went on to have studios of their own, which he says indicates the foundry was a successful incubator of talent.
The Lenin statue, which had been shipped from Slovakia in three pieces, was reassembled in the foundry in 1995. The Jimi Hendrix statue that now stands on Capitol Hill’s Broadway also was crafted at Fremont Fine Arts by sculptor Daryl Smith in 1997.
But Bevis said he believes that city restrictions on new work-and-living spaces for artists limited Fremont’s ability to develop an art zone on a grand scale.
Finances have been a perennial challenge for his complex. He worked in Alaska as a commercial fisherman to raise money for his art projects, but when he was away for extended periods of time, the foundry sometimes was not well kept up.
His infatuation with the art-deco ferry Kalakala, the streamlined vessel that had plied Washington waters from the 1930s to the 1960s, drained his savings.
Bevis found the Kalakala in Kodiak, Alaska, where it had been abandoned after being used as a seafood-processing plant. In 1998 he succeeded in a task many said would be impossible: refloating the vessel and getting it towed to Seattle.
But once in Seattle, the vessel’s luck ran out. Bevis’ attempt to restore it dissolved in acrimony with the project’s other backers, and the vessel eventually was sold. Now moored in Tacoma, the ferry has deteriorated further, and its future remains in doubt.
It may be fitting, then, that parked in the middle of the foundry is another project Bevis was unable to complete, a 28-foot-long “baby Kalakala” built on the chassis of a Winnebago.
Bevis said he had intended to have the replica available to drive around, stimulating donations for a Kalakala ferry restoration.
Now, though, the vehicle will go with the building, to the foundry’s new owners. Agarwal said he hopes it can be transformed into a food truck.
Bevis said his problems running the Fremont facility heightened a couple of years ago in a nasty dispute with tenants who moved in but refused to pay rent.
Bevis, who grew up in Peshastin, Chelan County, has been working on bronze re-creations of what he calls “roadkill and spill-kill,” animals that were hit by vehicles or that died in oil spills. They attest, he said, to a hidden, additional cost of society’s addiction to oil.
He expects to be out of his Fremont space in the next couple of months and to move to an acre he owns near Lake Chelan. “More room for bigger projects,” he said. “And fewer distractions.”
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org