The Dark Underbelly of Seattle’s Bridges - Atlas Obscura
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Seattle, Washington

The Dark Underbelly of Seattle’s Bridges

Join landscape architect Elizabeth Umbanhowar for an exploration of Seattle's remnant spaces as creative places in our urban fabric.

In the remnant corners of the city, through narrow alleys, among dense tree groves, oozing from sodden earth, at tangled, odd-angled intersections and under bridges, emerge unexpected encounters with remnant spaces bearing public art.

On this 2-hour walking tour, we’ll explore the history and influence of the Fremont Troll—one of Seattle’s most beloved and recognizable icons in the urban landscape—to learn the the story of how a group of inventive and non-conformist artists and architects re-appropriated the seedy, abandoned space under a bridge, and created a safer, and more memorable place, at the heart of a neighborhood and in the spirit of the City.

Tucked under the University Bridge at 40th along the Burke Gilman Trail, the Wall of Death ushers us into the strange world of the motordrome and the lurid and thrilling phenomenon of riding motorcycles and small cars perpendicular to a circular wooden track. This “pitstop” will plunge participants into the daring-do world of stuntdrivers, who as early as the 1920s stunned audiences by racing American Indian motorcycles at breakneck speed, seemingly defying physics. We’ll poke and prod at the history of the sport known in some reaches as The Demon Drome and why it spawned a series of similar phenomena around the world, including India, South Africa and the United Kingdom. We’ll clarify the principles of centrifugal and centripetal force and how physics meets madcaps and performers.

We’ll examine how a father and son artist team, Mowry and Colin Baden, using the Wall of Death as their theme and meme, took on the challenge of designing a public art piece for a sketchy location at the University Bridge and 40th on the Burke Gilman Trail. We’ll explore questions that include the obstacles and frustrations faced by the artists and ask how public art can enliven the neglected corners of our urban fabric.


  • This event welcomes ages 13 and up.
  • Parking is available throughout Fremont and specifically along Troll Avenue at 36th Avenue.
  • Portions of the site, including Troll’s Knoll Park, are ADA accessible. Climbing on the Troll, which is encouraged, may not be feasible for all participants.
  • Although at this stop we will be under the cover of a bridge, please plan accordingly with appropriate clothing and comfortable walking shoes.
  • The group will carpool between the Troll and the Wall of Death (distance is approximately 1.7 miles).
  • Photography and your own stories are encouraged. Tag #atlasobscura for anything especially interesting.

About Elizabeth Umbanhowar

Elizabeth A. Umbanhowar is a landscape architect and lecturer in landscape at the University of Washington. With a background in English literature and public art, she brings her passion for storytelling, artmaking and shaping great public places to the less “polished” parts of Seattle, including below the ground, around the corner, within the recessed niches, through the door, behind the curtain and under the bridge.


Email Shin Yu Pai at

Advance ticket sales only. All ticket sales are final. No refunds or exchanges. 

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