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There be dragons in Renton … no, seriously

There be dragons in Renton. Well, one dragon at least. The newest public art installation sits atop a nearly 100 year old building in downtown — an imposing, giant, silver dragon peeking over the top of the structure.

“I love dragons,” said Marsha Rollinger, a member of Renton’s Municipal Arts Commission. “I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons, so mythology and dragons are endearing to me. Renton is pretty diverse, so we have dragons in almost every culture. And Wizards of the Coast is headquartered in Renton, so a dragon just made the most sense.”

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Art generally comes through moments of insight and inspiration. Such is the tale of downtown Renton’s rooftop dragon. It was 2016. The Renton Municipal Arts Commission had a fairly small budget to work with, so commissioners were brainstorming for any ideas that would convince city leaders to provide more funding.

That’s when Rollinger, and a few others from the local arts community, were hanging around Common Ground Coffee & Cupcakes at Third Street and Wells Avenue.

“We looked across the street, and the building there has settling from seismic damage … there’s old scars, there was a crack that has been repaired at the top,” she said. “We thought, ‘How can we play off of that?’ Because it looked like something hit the building from the top pretty hard.”

The building is 109 years old, and pretty quirky to begin with — different sections are painted different shades of green, blue, purple, red, and yellow. Rollinger took a photo of the brick building. She planned to present it to council as an example.

“When I was Photoshopping images for our presentation to council, I decided on a dragon,” she said. “…So I Photoshopped it in, not really thinking it would become an actually project; it was just supposed to be a demonstration,” “But at the end of our presentation, Councilmember Randy Corman was like, ‘Hey, we need to make this dragon happen.”

That kicked off a three-year journey to make Renton’s downtown rooftop dragon a reality — working with artists at Seattle’s Western Neon; and also working with the building’s owner (luckily, they thought it was a great idea). The result is an aluminum dragon weighing just 710 pounds, that lights up in two different colors.

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I have long-argued that Renton is the nerdiest downtown in Washington. Perhaps even the Northwest. A walk down the city’s main drag — 3rd Street — is evident of this. There’s an independent comic book shop, two retro video game stores, and an 8-bit arcade. Then there’s a sci-fi inspired pizza shop. Renton also has it’s own comic con — RenCon. And as Rollinger pointed out, Renton is also home to Wizards of the Coast, the company behind Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering.

“The whole downtown core right now, is pretty nerd-centric as far as the Comic Hut, Game Explosion, D-Pad Gaming, there’s a lot of geek oriented things,” Rollinger said.

“I think it was more that I love dragons, than anything,” she laughed.

The dragon has slowly been installed over the past week and can be seen atop the building at Third Street and Wells Avenue. But the grand lighting event will be from 4-9 p.m. Saturday, April 13. The event will include glass dragon eggs hidden throughout downtown (blown by a local glass artist); live music; a naming contest for the dragon; and Wizards of the Coast will be handing out Dungeons & Dragons starter packs. And rumor has it, a cluster of medieval cosplayers will descend upon the event, too.

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