Gracing our gates

If you haven't noticed Lucca Statuary in its new location, don't worry - you will.

At lunch the other day with co-owner Francine Katz, she criticized their current signage and assured me they'd soon have better, and hopefully some neon. Personally, I like its current signage, especially the one that says, "Open."

Lucca took over a once floundering spot in west Fremont - a blister on the bend where North 36th Street curves into Leary Way. The heavy-equipment companies that long resided there never caught the eye and often made one look away.

Across the street, Hoki's Teriyaki, with its brilliantly colored, painted fish, drew all the attention, until now.

Francine began Lucca Statuary in 1991, when divorce left her with $5,000. desperate to find a way to support herself and her daughter, she hunted a merchandizing opportunity and found statuary. If she'd thought about it rationally for long enough perhaps she wouldn't have taken the risk, but instead she took the gamble on herself.

In 1996, she allowed her friend Peter Riches to join her, and she now says, "I wouldn't do it without a business partner. Peter has a very good eye. We both care so much about visual details, certain qualities of balance, beauty and that the thing just looks right."

Having a business partner makes work easier. "Both of us consider we have common sense," she says, and they find that a vital component of success. "We couldn't stand not doing it right."

When they debate a decision, Francine will argue it out, and if Peter can get her "knocked off" her position, she'll admit he has a point and she'll look again. If he can't, she'll go ahead.

Lucca long resided on 15th Avenue Northwest, on the ragged edge between Ballard and Crown Hill. After several years there, they received notice that they'd rented property zoned as a residential buffer. In this zone, they could not display statuary within 50 feet of their residential neighbors. Francine and Peter spent a year and $30,000 trying to resolve the issue.

Francine spoke to the home owners, and they told her they preferred statuary under their windows over the legal option - parking.

With the help of Ballard activist Rudy Pantoja, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and former Seattle City Councilmember Judy Nicastro, Fran-cine and Peter had a meeting at the mayor's office to resolve the list of "complaints." After that, Francine noticed, the city sent no more notices.

However, when it came time to renew their lease, they looked for a new place. Peter had his eye on the property here in Fremont for four years. Their new landlord likes their business. Plus, they'd felt isolated in the old place.

When I asked why Fremont, Francine smartly responded, "It is the Center of the Universe. We're happy to be part of a community."

Lucca sells statuary and espresso. I'd always thought this an odd pairing, but Francine says it's symbiotic. Most statuary customers come to make major decisions. They take time to plan a landscape, and they like to have coffee while they do it.

I feared that they'd lose customers by moving so far away - Ballard and Fremont exist worlds apart to some - but "a lot of customers moved with us. There is a lot of loyalty," she admitted. "Plus, we're now on the [Burke-Gilman] trail."

From fighting zoning issues up the road to building code problems here, Francine and Peter continue to struggle. With the assistance of Fremont architect Curtis Boozer, they've managed to stay on the right side of the city this time and do everything asked of them, but it has made the move more costly than they'd budgeted for or ever imagined.

It also led them to a new sideline. Towering over the statuesque forms in their yard stands a most eye-catching, pagoda-like building. Francine and Peter shopped around and finally went to Calgary to check out the "relocatable, insulated membrane structure" that they wanted.

Once there and talking with the manufacturers, they liked it so much that they signed on as dealers.

Francine and Peter filled their building with chandeliers and trees to create a greenhouse atmosphere inside, complementing the art and beauty outside.

Beyond their fence lies Fremont, a community always ready to embrace, or confound, those with an eye for beauty. Could there be a better business to stand sentry on our westerly gateway? I hardly think so.

Kirby Lindsay looks forward to spring and reawakening her much-beleaguered Fremont garden with art. She welcomes your comments at

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