with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

The Troll Under the Aurora Bridge, Seattle

Seattle Troll under the Aurora Bridge photograph by Lorelle VanFossen

I lived for many years on the north point of the Aurora Bridge in downtown Seattle, Washington. In 1990, neighborhood arts programs brought a long time childhood bedtime story – or threat – to life under the bridge.

Growing up as a native of Washington, specifically Seattle, parents threatened their children with punishment from the troll living under the Aurora Bridge. It’s real name is The George Washington Memorial Bridge, but this famous bridge built in 1932 was part of the long Pacific Highway – US Route 99 that ran from Mexico to Canada, later replaced by Interstate 5. The bridge was named for the first president of the United States as it was opened on his bicentennial anniversary of the president’s birth, part of a huge nationwide celebration.

Transients lived under the two ends of the bridge for many years. Building the giant cement troll called the Fremont Troll, grasping a VW Bug in one hand, brought a lot of attention and no room for the homeless under the north end of the bridge.

The first time I encountered the troll, I’d heard about it and was out driving at night to find it. I drove up from the road under the bridge from the canal waterfront and my headlights reflected in a huge reflective headlight at the top of the hill which turned out to be the single visible eye of the troll. It loomed up at the top of the hill in the dark recess of where the bridge connected with land, an intimidating and frightening sight.

The “headlight eye” is reported to actually be a hubcap, but it reflects lights and looks more like a headlight. The Troll measures 18 feet in height (5.5 m) and weighs 13,000 pounds (6,000 kig) of steel rebar, wire, and concrete cement.

The VW was originally red and held a time capsule. Vandals broke into it repeatedly, so they filled the inside with cement and coated it on the outside so it’s the same color as the cement troll.

To find the troll yourself, exit off the Aurora Bridge at the north point and make your way down to the Fremont community. Turn left on any of the streets towards the Aurora Bridge and look for what was the Aurora Avenue North and is now called “Troll Avenue.” Turn north up the hill, and you will find the troll at the top of the hill where the bridge meets land.

The Aurora Bridge figured greatly in my life, a passage across the lakes and canals into downtown Seattle, specifically to Queen Anne Hill where my father went to high school and delivered newspapers, the Seattle Center, and continued on across the famous Alaska Viaduct along the waterfront of Seattle to the shipyards of the Duwamish River fill and flats where my father worked for many decades, and eventually to the Seattle-Tacoma airport, my route in and out of my home city, and then on and off all the way to Mexico.

The Seattle government and state highway department had many proposals for bridge crossings, and a lot of controversy came up with the decision to build Highway 99 across the Woodland Park Zoo property, but it was the straightest path, taking a bit of valuable property from the world famous zoo.

Seattle has suffered its fair share of earthquakes. As bridge after bridge build long after Aurora/George Washington Memorial Bridge collapse or suffer pains, every inspection of the Aurora Bridge has found it still viable, though “functionally obsolete,” holding up thousands of vehicles passing across it daily.

It took about 3 years to build and complete. Oregon and Washington States are facing the construction of a new replacement bridge for the I-5 Bridge in Portland, Oregon, crossing over to Vancouver, Washington. It took many decades to “talk” about the new bridge to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. A final decision has been reached recently, predicted to cost $4.2 billion and take years to build. The Aurora Bridge cost $2 million in its time, in today’s dollars $28 million, and it still holds up. Makes me wonder how long $4.2 billion will last in a bridge.

And I’m sure the Columbia River I-5 Bridge replacement won’t feature a troll under it.

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